Home Automation Unplugged Episode #199: An Industry Recap with Ron Callis and Taylor Whipple
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ron Callis, CEO & Founder, and Taylor Whipple, VP of Operations & Finance, at One Firefly share 2021 Highlights from Automation Unplugged
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis and Taylor Whipple recapping on 2021. Recorded live on Friday, December 31st, 2021, at 12:30 pm. EST.
About This End of Year Episode
For this special End-Of-Year Episode, we flipped the script! We reviewed the highlights and accomplishments from 2021 for both Automation Unplugged and One Firefly.
Automation Unplugged is a live show recorded weekly, hosted by me, Ron Callis. In each Automation Unplugged episode, I speak with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. We produce this show to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.
One Firefly is an award-winning Inc. 5000-recognized marketing agency catering to residential and commercial custom integration markets.
- 2021 Highlights from Automation Unplugged
- One Firefly’s achievements during 2021
- Goals for 2022 and upcoming industry trends
Ron: Today is Friday, December 31st. It is 12:30 p.m. Our normal time, but certainly not our normal day. Cued up this show to enable us to express our thanks and gratitude to all of our guests, all of our listeners out there of the live shows on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as our podcast listeners. So I have something special in store for you today. We're going to do a bit of a look back at twenty-one. You're going to be stuck with yours truly here for the next few minutes as we go through some of the highlights from Automation Unplugged, the podcast. We're going to talk about some of the superlatives in terms of most views on different platforms and some of the show highlights. Then in the second half of the show, we're actually going to bring in Taylor Whipple. He's my VP of operations and finance at One Firefly. He and I run the company, and we're going to do a bit of a look back at 2021 for One Firefly. If you're out there and watching live, we'd be happy to field any questions that you might drop into the comments. So again, if you're out there, I see that we have some live viewers starting to tune in; definitely drop into the comments. Say "Hello," let me know that you're there. We'll try to keep the show short, concise and fun here and then get you back to your normal festivities for the new year.
So let's go and get started. What I did is I put together a little PowerPoint of some superlatives, some of the details about 2021 for Automation Unplugged. The first detail is that we did forty-six shows in 2021; believe it or not, it feels so funny because it feels like it was just a blink of an eye ago, and it was Show 100. I remember we had Lee Travis on from Wipliance out of Seattle, and that was pre-pandemic. So, here we are; we've cranked out about 100 shows over 2020 and 2021, which we're very proud of. I hope you have fun festivities planned. I know most of you are off, so it'll be fun to see who's able to tune in with us live here. So definitely appreciate all of you. We had 48 guests; now, why did we have 48 guests? Because we had a couple of shows where we had husband and wife teams, or I'm thinking of one of our shows where we had the two business partners that were on. So we're always open to that; when the opportunity is right, we'll definitely have multiple guests on. Our first show last year was Andrea Hoffer Show 153, and she talked to us about recruiting because we suspected going into 2021 that hiring and staffing was going to remain an issue. If you are still having those issues, you might want to go back and listen to show 153. She offers a lot of great tips, and she also offers services. I know a number of people that tuned in actually did engage with her and had great experiences. Then our last show of the year, our last guest, this is the last show, but our last guest of the year was Michael Libman for Show 198. And you're going to see his name pop up a few more times here because this was a highly viewed, highly paid attention to show. And it's no surprise to me because lighting is really such a big category for our industry. Lighting is one of the fastest-growing, up-and-coming categories, and DMF lighting have made tremendous inroads in serving the industry. So definitely, if you haven't already, you want to go back and tune into that show.
Want to give special thanks for all of you that like watching the show or listening to the podcast. I definitely want to thank all the team members at One Firefly that participate in making this happen. This list has changed over the years. We have different members of the team at One Firefly that have jumped on board with participating in the show's production and different staff members that have transitioned out of supporting the show and are doing other things in the organization. Jessica, we call her J.G. Jessica Gorkowski, is certainly some of that glue; she's our project coordinator. Carly, she does all the transcription work. Carlos does all of our editing, so he does our audio and video editing. So for those of you listening to the podcast, he's the gentleman that does that. Luke, David and Jessica Weiss are all help with show guest coordination. So we are reaching out to members of the industry, and there's just a lot of I don't want to say, chasing, chasing sounds bad, but there's a lot of follow up required when we have guests, getting all of their bios, getting the show topics, getting the headshots and then putting all that artwork together so that it gets scheduled. As you know, if you're an avid listener, we are generally trying to get shows put together at least a few months in advance in terms of our guests and scheduling. And this is the team that does that. So special things from me, and I know all of you listening and watching, to this team at One Firefly for all of your hard work in helping us get this show done every week.
Now, in terms of the show, the show is available in multiple formats, and I'm going to go through that here in a little bit. But the most maybe logical format when you call it a podcast is the downloadable format. So we use a piece of software that then takes our shows puts them into all the main platforms Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Apple Podcasts is actually how I do most of my listening to podcasts. What's really neat in these stats is that four of the five top downloaded shows. And remember we've been doing Automation Unplugged since 2017. Four of the top five happened this year in 2021. Now that is logical because we've had this show, and we'd like to think that we're growing our subscriber base. There are simply more of you tuned in and getting these shows dropped into your podcast software every week. So the most downloaded show, which is pretty cool, is show 178, Chris Pearson, President and CEO, at Service Tech. He is just running an awesome business out of Austin, Texas. If you want to hear about a fun journey from where he came from to the business that he's running, he's one of the largest residential integration firms in the state of Texas. And he is one of the or, if not largest, Lutron dealers in the state of Texas. So he's just running a powerhouse business. Lots of good philosophies. I really jived with listening to Chris's show or participating as the host in that show. Frankly, I found it quite inspirational about his opinions around people and culture and really driving forward to hit your goals and objectives. So if you haven't tuned in, listen to the podcast again. If you'd like to see his facial expressions or see mine as we engage, you can always go over to the One Firefly page or to LinkedIn. My personal profile Ron Callis on LinkedIn. You can also watch the video live, and I also I can't forget YouTube. We don't pay a lot of attention here at One Firefly to YouTube; that might be changing next year, but we do at least drop the shows on YouTube. So if you go to YouTube and go to One Firefly, you can actually find all of the live interview shows are posted up there on that channel as well. Now, the next most downloaded of all time was Tom Farinola. He's at Southern California, show 181, and Tom was a tremendous amount of fun. I personally had the opportunity to get to know Tom this year, and we're doing some work for him at One Firefly for full disclosure. So we're his website and some marketing and had Tom on the show, and Tom, I've never met someone more passionate about audio and particularly a particular audio brand, and that is Steinway Lindorff. He is one of the biggest advocates shouting his love and passion for that brand and for music from the mountaintops. In this interview, we talk a lot about his strategy and how does he position music and audio and technology in the lifestyle of his customers. He talks about having many of his customers for many decades. So definitely recommend you tune in to show 181.
Next was show 158. This was a repeat guest. I've only had a few of those here on Automation Unplugged. This is Matt Cwiokowsi CEO, at AVIDIA. They are out of Chicago, and we came on to the show because we had had Matt on the show a few years ago. He was back last year for Show 158. He really went forensically into his growth strategy and how he achieved such significant growth over in 2020, over the previous year, 2019, and his business has continued to grow. He's a good friend and a good client at One Firefly, and he's just really got a fantastic business and a fine-tuned attention to the importance of marketing and branding in his marketplace. He's really been able to demonstrate that and take that all the way to the bank and grow his business both top line and bottom line. So a lot of good sharing. He also talks in that show 158 a lot about his work-life balance, and I just so happen to know, just speaking of balance, he took a couple of weeks just recently and went sailing in the Caribbean for two weeks on a boat, detached, no internet. So I'm pretty sure when I grow up, I want to be Matt, very proud of his ability to manage his business and his personal life, which is pretty cool. Then the last of the top downloaded shows of all time, had that happen this year, was Show 154. This is Jason Roberts, general manager and board member at Bravas. For those of you that are not aware, Bravas is the largest residential integration firm operating in the United States. I want to say the world, but that would mean I'd be speaking above my pay grade. I'm not quite sure of all what's going on around the world. Bravas is the group that did that roll up for a reverse merger type deal a few years ago, and they brought together 15 of the leading integrators around the country, and they became this new entity. And Jason, it was neat for me to interview him on this show because I actually met Jason when Jason entered the industry many moons ago. He came into South Florida and actually purchased an integration firm. That integration firm that he purchased had been one of my accounts back when I was a Crestron and Lutron rep in South Florida. So I had known that business since that business's inception, and then Jason bought the business and grew the business to ultimately be acquired by Bravas. Now Jason is a leading thought leader in the Bravas organization. Great interview, great conversation from Jason. He's always willing to share and give of himself. So I definitely recommend tuning in to show 154. It was an awesome show. Now, where were people listening to the show from? Most of our listeners are here in the United States. That's 87 percent for those of you that are listening to the show and six percent from Australia, three percent from the UK. A little bit in Spain, a little bit in Canada and a little bit sprinkled around the rest of the world. So what do what does that mean? That means we have a lot of opportunity to share the word and share the message out around the world. So we're going to continue to work on growing this show in the years ahead. Now we also stream this, and many of you, I know a handful of you right now, even though it is New Year's Eve, are watching this live on Facebook, and our most views on Facebook are as follows Show 165, Paul Bochner, CEO and Founder at Electronic Concepts. Now what I'm going to do is for my listeners, I'm going to talk to you through the visual that I'm about to put on screen, but I am going to go to my website, and I'm going to share my screen so that my audience can see it. So here's our website. And if you go to learn, you'll see all of our shows; we're actually getting caught up here and getting the balance of shows for 2021 on the site. I think at the moment we're at, we're up through December 8th. We should have the balance of the shows up by next week on the website. But over here, let's say that you want to check out that Paul Bochner show that was our most-viewed show of 2021 on Facebook. Then you can simply come down and alphabetically here on the right-hand side; you can look for Paul's name. And if you click on Paul's name, it's going to load the show, and there it is show 165. So when I go in, and I see this summary, there's a nice quote from Paul from that show. For my listeners, I'll go ahead and read it says, "When someone talks to me, I'm constantly looking at where their eyes are going to get a sense of where people's heads are at. Just listen too many sales guys talk, and they've already thinking about the next thing. They're not actually listening to the content that a customer is giving them." So there you go, one of the pieces of advice from Paul. So when I click on Paul's face or on the play button there or continue reading, it gives me a full breakdown of the show content. So at the top, I've got the pod audio from the podcast. So if I want the pure audio of the interview, I have that, and you can share that or subscribe. If I go down, I get the bio, I get the quick recap of main points from the show, and then I actually get right below that embed of the Facebook video. So if you want to watch the video and aren't quite sure how to find it on Facebook, you can just click right here on our website and watch the video. If you're one of those people that have detached from Facebook, and you know, I know it's popular to hate Mark Zuckerberg right now, so you don't want to be on the Facebook platform, then you can consume the video version right on our website. You also can read the full show transcript. So if you prefer to read rather than listen or watch, we're trying to give you this content. Remember, my team does this show for you, the industry so that you're able to listen to your peers and really learn from them and absorb what you can from what they're doing and the lessons they've learned. So all of that content is right there. Then at the bottom again, we put the podcast. So as I'm going through, and I'll put it back up on the screen now as I go through these most viewed shows on Facebook; remember, you can check all of these out right there on our website. Amongst all the other platforms.
Now show 156, this was fun because this was actually yours truly, I was the subject of the interview, and Chris Smith, the fantastic industry consultant Chris Smith, interviewed me in that show. Now what's funny is we did this earlier this year, I think in February. We had actually planned to do this in 2020. Then when the pandemic hit, we said, Well, let's just not do that. Let's give everyone the chance to settle, settle in and get their feet under them. So we did it a year later, and it was one of the most viewed shows. Then again, Chris Pearson popped up again. Show 178 again, Chris Pearson of Service Tech, then show 193 Theo Tsavoussis he's an integrator out of the Bahamas, and he and I talked bitcoin and cryptocurrency, so that's Show 193 and then show 163. This was one of our tandem interviews, this was Aaron and Andrew of Fusion Audio Video, and they run a hybrid integration firm with equal focus on residential and commercial integration, and just a tremendous amount of wisdom shared in that interview. So show 163. Again, this is not me telling you these shows are great. I'm giving you the facts. This is what you guys and gals in the industry decided that you wanted to view at the highest rate compared to the full library of 200 or so shows. Most viewed on LinkedIn, 2021 was a big deal because we did launch LinkedIn. Now we've launched it, and we haven't fully baked it. What does that mean? That means right now, we launch, and we stream on my personal page, Ron Callis, on LinkedIn. And we haven't quite got the connectivity to work so that we get it streamed into our corporate page. We're working on that. But pretty early in the year, I want to say right after Q1, maybe around Q2, we started streaming into LinkedIn, and what's really cool about LinkedIn is we're getting a completely different audience that's able to tune in to the show, but are our highest views of the show on LinkedIn, number one was Show 186. Jeff Binette, founder of Smart Home Solutions, out of Maine, runs a great business. Show 178 again, Chris at Service Tech. Clearly, you're noticing some repeats here. Show 198, Michael Libman, National Sales Director of DMF Lighting. Why? Because lighting is hot? If you think of those past two shows, Service Tech and DMF, both of those primarily talked about lighting control. Show 187, Sean Hanson, CEO and Founder at Logic Integration. Sean was, I want to say, if you get Commercial Integrator Magazine, he is on the cover of Commercial Integrator this month. He runs a fantastic business out of Denver, Colorado. He does primarily commercial, but he also does some residential and is definitely worth tuning into. Then show 183 Chris Edelen, President at Sterling Home. If you tune into 183, you're going to hear a lot of wisdom, and it's now public knowledge, Chris has recently sold his business, so he bought into the business and now sold the business, I want to say over a span of six or seven years, so a tremendous amount of business acumen and knowledge there. Definitely worth tuning in and listening to Chris. I highly recommend it. All right. I'm going to keep moving here. I know you guys have things to do. Then the longest show here's a fun fact. The longest show, not only of 2021, it's the longest show we've ever done on Automation Unplugged, was Show 193. I don't have that exact date. Actually, I can pull it up because we talked about cryptocurrency. For those of you that know me, personally, that's one of my hobbies. I, unfortunately, didn't get into it back in 2011, like Theo did. And Theo is a soon-to-be retiring integrator because he does not need to be doing integration because he's had such a success in the cryptocurrency space, and he even advises the Bahamian government on topics related to cryptocurrency. If you do tune in to that show, you will learn very quickly that he is very passionate about bitcoin and all things relating to this emerging technology. It was a lot of fun for me to have him on the show to do that. All right, that's it, folks. That's Automation Unplugged. We are going to continue to drive forward with shows into 2022. We have guests booked out months in advance. If you know, there's someone that you would like to see us have on the show. I would love you to email me or email Jessica Weis or any member of my team. Drop into the comments if there's anyone that you would love to see us have on the show. Again, we do these interviews, and we do the show to help you and to help our industry, to lift our industry up. I believe there's a lot of wisdom and power in learning from each other. Often when you're running a business, you feel like you're in a silo, and maybe sometimes you feel like you're the only one that might be going through this hardship or this lesson that's being learned. The reality is there are many, many others that have come before you, and there are many that are probably in a very similar place as to where you are right now. So I find that hopefully, sharing and exposing some of this knowledge and learning from your peers is in some way helpful to you. For those reasons and for the feedback on occasion that I get back that, in fact, it does make a difference; that's why we keep doing the show. Definitely let us know what you like and let us know who you'd like on the show. I'll do my shameless plug right now. If you haven't already gone over to Instagram, give us a like there. If you haven't gone to your favorite downloadable podcast app and given One Firefly or Automation Unplugged a review, I'd love you to do so. Ultimately, what that means is that it would boost us to make the show easier to find for people in the industry that might find this content helpful and interesting. So we'd love for you to do that if you took a couple of minutes, maybe this weekend while you're hanging out, relaxing, that would be super cool. All right, so now what we're going to do, we're going to bring Mr. T. internally here, folks we call him Mr. T. He might have been on The A-Team in a former life, not sure. He is a man of many talents and many skills, and he's been my right-hand man here at One Firefly for the last eight years. So we're going to bring in Taylor Whipple.
Mr. T, how are you, sir?
Taylor: Good. I'm missing my Mr. T gold chain today, so I apologize for that. I'm not wearing that, but next time for sure.
Ron: I was going to do a very poor rendition of BA Baracus, "I pity the fool," but there you go. I did it anyway. You get to work that into your repertoire.
Taylor: Clearly, I need to absolutely.
Ron: So, Taylor, we're going to just chat and share with our audience for those that might be of interest. How is One Firefly doing? How did 2021 go? Maybe we could even give a little bit of reflection of 2020 to 2021, just a high level. I know you, and I got some bullets here; we're going to go through those here in a minute. Give it your take on 2020 and 2021.
Taylor: Certainly, with COVID starting in 2020, that presented a lot of challenges and a lot of those, I think, kind of spilled over into 2021, at least for us as a business. But I think what it ultimately does; it's made us stronger. So we've risen to the challenge in many cases and succeeded and improved our systems of processes as a result. You know, it was not short of challenges in 2021. But ultimately, I'm very impressed by the way we handled those and I think we've come out stronger on the other side and really prepping ourselves for a strong 2022.
Ron: I agree. You know, I feel that we are in a better place as a business right now, December 31st, 2021, than we've ever been in 14 years.
Taylor: Without a doubt. Absolutely.
Ron: It's exciting. In 2021, first of all, high level, so we run the business with a lot of the philosophies around from a system called EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. For those that are listening, I've done shows where I've talked about that. I've actually had a couple of different EOS implementers on the show, including ours. Caesar from the Profit Recipe, we'll drop that down in the show notes so that you guys know what show that is if you want to tune into that. But within that structure, Taylor of EOS we have what we call EMT, and the EMT is the executive management team here at One Firefly. You are a member, and I am a member, and we have a strong team of EMT leaders here at One Firefly. One thing we did was we kicked off this year. I don't think we did it before. If we did, you can shake me and remind me of what we did in the past. But we started book clubbing.
Taylor: We did indeed. Yeah, I think this was indeed our first year of book clubbing as an EMT, and we accomplished two books, Multipliers and Five Dysfunctions of a Team, both of which I think have been instrumental in sort of opening our eyes as an organization of what's possible. We're starting to implement those ideas has been a really neat endeavor.
Ron: Maybe high level, Taylor share with our audience; What does it mean for the EMT to book club? What are the mechanics of that?
Taylor: Sure. So generally speaking, we'll read a chapter or two a week. It's not a race. It's not something we try to get done as fast as we can. So we really try to digest that content and think about ways that we can actually use or implement those ideas and concepts into our day-to-day. So what we'll do after reading a chapter or two a week, we'll meet for generally an hour, hour and a half, and we'll have a debate, and we'll discuss those ideas. What were your takeaways? My takeaways, and ultimately some of those, will end up as goals or, in our case, rocks for future projects that we want to accomplish here at One Firefly. It's been a really neat endeavor for sure.
Ron: We just recently wrapped up book clubbing Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. We even decided that we're now going to book club that with the balance of our team and we're going to be putting that strategy together in Q1 and Q2 to get that done. Any kind of big principle takeaway from you that you want to share with our audience that you found just really insightful?
Taylor: I think two main takeaways for me, one of which was this idea of promoting healthy conflict. So particularly in meetings when we're having healthy debate, healthy discussions around what should ultimately be best for our organization or department, whatever we're discussing and really ensuring that everyone has a voice that they feel heard and that we're ultimately all working towards the same goal. So that idea of all sharing the same goals as a team was really my second takeaway as well. I think sometimes we as leaders can have a tendency to say, "Well, these are my goals for this department. This is HR's goals, Sales goals, and if they hit their metrics, great. But ultimately, this is what I own." But in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, really, it's a team goal. So you might own a specific department or run a specific department. But ultimately, as teammates, we all share those same goals, so we need to work together to make sure they all get accomplished on time.
Ron: Yeah, I agree. And the base layer of that book, the base layer of any team, should be trust. When you have trust, then you can allow and create a comfort zone around that healthy conflict. When you practice these belief systems within a company, I can definitely envision a more aligned, a more powerful company accomplishing bigger, better things on into the future. At the same time, and I've worked in some companies before One Firefly, and I know you have as well, it's easy to look around, even at different periods of One Firefly we've evolved over the last 14 years. It's definitely possible to look at organization and teams that are, in some cases, dysfunctional and yet maybe still achieving great things. And I want my listeners to process, like what if they're achieving great things, but they're still dysfunctional? My goodness, what if some of those things were worked on? What could you achieve then? I think that it's super exciting, but just the big principle of book clubbing. I know that we are next going to book club for those out there that want to book club this with your teams and then share with me on maybe a future Automation Unplugged. We're going to be reading Patrick Lencioni's next book, which is called The Ideal Team Player. We're going to be doing that here in the coming quarter. So next, 2021, The Great Recession. It hit everybody in every corner of society. Including us at One Firefly, including our integrators and our manufacturers and our reps and our consultants, everybody in the industry has seen some version of this, and yet we hired 18 people this year. What's your take on that?
Taylor: Yeah, well, our HR team certainly stay very busy with recruiting. That was a major challenge, and it's a great accomplishment when we look back on that and what it takes to hire not just 18 people, but the right people and the right fit and those who we feel confident are going to gel with our organization, gel with our culture. So, you know, kudos to them.
Ron: Oh, no, Mr. T dropped out. Let's see if we can get him back. As those of you that are tuned in here know, sometimes technology doesn't behave. So we'll see if we can get it back. Hey, you are you're back!
Taylor: Can we add technology challenges to our list of challenges.?
Ron: My audience is; fortunately, I think used to our guest or me dropping in and out, and I told them not to panic. I said he'll probably be back. Well, go ahead if you want to maybe restate your thought there.
Taylor: Yeah, so I'm giving a quick shout-out to our H.R. team, Alison and Tina, for doing just a fantastic job to get those 18 people. But you know this idea, this great resignation, a lot of small businesses in particular, as you mentioned Ron, have struggled with keeping and retaining staff this past year. What it's done for us, as it has many other businesses, is it has forced us to refocus on ways to keep us more competitive as it relates to staff containment—so looking at the suite of benefits that we provide, internal promotion work opportunities, things that make us more sticky so that we can ultimately, attract and retain that talent. I think what it's done since is, like many of these other challenges, it's forced us to be better, and we are now better as an organization moving forward.
Ron: I agree, and we did just have a most recent member join our team, and we had Andrew Pino join as our new Director of Digital Marketing. We are super excited, and I'm excited for our industry and our team in terms of what we're going to be able to continue to grow and accomplish in 2022 with that new leadership on that team. So that's super exciting. Now we strongly believe here at One Firefly in the principal as we're growing and we're growing organizations, there are always new roles being invented. Then the question is, well, do we go and hire people from the outside world or do we try to look at our team? We have a strong belief that when possible, we want to promote from within? This year, in 2021, we had 14 internal promotions. That is our most ever in company history, and what's neat is this our 14th-year look at that 14 years, 14 internal promotions because that means we need to do 15 next year.
Taylor: Yeah, definitely.
Ron: How do you feel, Taylor, about the folks that we've been able to promote from within the team?
Taylor: I think it's one of the things that I'm most proud of that we do as an organization is we're constantly looking at our own staff that we have internally and looking at ways to help them grow their careers, help them in a mutually beneficial way, where the company also benefits by them taking on increased responsibilities and to help us accomplish these future goals. It really is paramount when you have a growing organization, as we've been growing year over year for the past six or seven years now. It's really important to have a plan in place in terms of how you're going to get where you want to go. Oftentimes that means promoting staff or having staff in a seat that they're taking on additional responsibilities, that they're managing different projects and services, etc. So really doing that with that care in mind and taking into account where they want to go and what they want to do it's something we do pretty well here as an organization.
Ron: Yeah, 14 internal promotions. For those listening, the way that happens in our company, for us to just pull a string on what Taylor or a thread on what Taylor was saying is, we're really mapping out our designed growth. I know I have these types of marketing conversations frequently with my clients, and I'm talking about, "Well, where do you want to be next year?" And then I'll get people looking at me with a blank stare. "What do you mean? Where do I want to be?" "What are the goals? What are your ambitions? What are you driving towards?" It certainly is an option to just exist, but that's not very exciting. What's more exciting is actually saying, "Well, here's our target and then working backward into modeling and objectives that are going to help you achieve that, and one of those is organizational growth. So it's fair to say Taylor and the EMT and I are mapping out what we look like years into the future and, in fact, are inventing roles that we need to grow into that. It's not preordained, but I can tell you, we've gotten pretty good at achieving those growth goals. It's amazing when you put the goal on the board, and then all of your actions every single day, every week, every month, every quarter are aligned around those goals being realized. They happen at a pretty high frequency, would you say, Taylor?
Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, certainly small business owners and those who run small businesses throwing a goal out there can seem pretty intimidating at first because you don't know how you're going to get there to accomplish that. But as you said, Ron, if you kind of work backwards from there and you start to plan out things strategically, it can seem far less intimidating, and in fact, it seems very doable and very easy to accomplish in some cases, simply just by following the outline that you've presented.
Ron: Amen, and that includes growing your people and promoting them. Now this year, we did grow; we grew top-line about 25 percent. Are the numbers done, Taylor? We're not going to maybe disclose.
Taylor: Yeah, that's right. Not quite done. But yeah, we can pretty much safely say at this point, we're going to be twenty-five percent year over year—topline revenue.
Ron: So maybe help our audience understand the type of growth we've had. Maybe going back to the pivot, the major pivot, the 2016 pivot?
Taylor: Yeah. So, you know, beginning in 2016, we had made a decision really between Ron and myself that we wanted to pivot to solely doing marketing services. So prior to that, we were doing engineering services and programming services and really acting as a consultant within this industry who can do a number of different things. But we really saw the value that marketing services. We saw the demand, certainly, and we also saw the opportunity for us as an organization to scale more profitably. And that's indeed what we've done. So since doing that, we've launched many recurring marketing services, many of which have led to our RMR growth and has led to this sort of year-over-year revenue growth that we've been able to accomplish now.
Ron: Twenty-five percent, it isn't bad. How how did we do that? What are some of the big milestones? I'm going to first put on the board. We're eating our own dog food, folks. We have doubled down on our investment in marketing. Maybe take us through that, Taylor; what have we done?
Taylor: Yeah. So historically, you know, our own corporate marketing had been accomplished through a patchwork of different individuals in our organization. So I was involved with that, Ron was involved, various other team members were involved, but we really didn't have one sole person who was owning that and focusing on that. To be fair, we didn't really need that. What got us to where we are that was good enough. We were still able to grow year over year. But as Ron and I started to look out into the future, we started to see that we're going to need to do things differently if we wanted to continue to have these kind of results. So that led us to hiring Jessica Weiss, who is an industry veteran and a rock star. She's handling not only our corporate marketing programs but now also handling our own internal corporate marketing as well. So she came in June, and already we've seen a huge benefit from that and super excited to see her efforts continue into 2022.
Ron: Taylor, I'm getting a note here that Jason Griffin just wished us Happy New Year over on LinkedIn, so thank you, Jason. Appreciate that, sir. And James Barber, I think he's commenting back on our talking about promoting from within, but he says that's a great way to keep people around. We agree, James. I think it's frankly necessary and should be a top priority to take care of your people. If we take care of our people, then they're going to take care of you, our customers and our industry. That's definitely our belief system. Now something else, Taylor, we have been marching towards for more than a year, I'd say, probably going back to about two years, but we made big strides this year of entering the commercial integration space. Maybe from your perspective, talk about kind of what we've done there, and then I'll close the loop and talk a little bit about NSCA.
Taylor: Sure. Yeah. So that endeavor really started some time ago with us really doing our research. First and foremost, we wanted to know what we were getting into. I wanted to know what the market size was. I don't know what the opportunities were; we wanted to know what sort of competition we as an organization would have or face within the commercial integration industry. All of that kind of led to us sort of planning our initial entry, which has really commenced this past year or so. So we started working with some technology integrators who dabble in both residential and commercial that has since pivoted to having a few who just now do primarily commercial or solely commercial. So we're sort of slowly but surely entering and doing more and more. But, you know, from a high level, we definitely have seen that there is a strong demand for marketing services within that space. We're now crafting our products and services to best match that demand. We do realize that there are some differences between residential and commercial dealers, so you're going to see us continue down that path into 2022 and beyond.
Ron: Agreed. And earlier this year, we also officially launched Google Advertising Services. We call that SEM (Search Engine Marketing) to the entire channel. We've been doing some projects work in a, I would say, a lower volume type approach in the year prior to that. But in the spring of 2021, we said, "Hey, world, we're here to add this type of service to your integrated strategy," and from your perspective, Taylor, I mean, has that made an impact or a dent in us achieving the growth we have this year?
Taylor: Yeah, without question. Yeah, that's been an instrumental part of our growth, and I imagine it's going to continue to be into 2022 and beyond it. From what we're hearing too, as far as feedback from our customers that it's really helping them accomplish their goals too, by the way, which is, you know, is equally gratifying.
Ron: When you're a business like ours, and you have you charge your clients monthly fees, or I'll inverse that If your clients like monthly investments in their business growth. Just as we are making investments in our business growth, then you really want that client ultimately to demonstrate their happiness by staying with you and giving you feedback and maybe growing and doing different things. Every strategy is not right for every business, all the time. But what's really important is that approach to gaining the feedback, modifying the strategy and then staying together and growing together for years into the future. We've had many clients that have been with us for many, many years. I think we now could probably say close to a decade. And with SEM, we've seen very low churn around our Google Ads business, and that's a very high signal to us that we're doing something right, that the type of work that's being produced, the improved branding for our clients. What does that mean when someone searches for something, and your business is showing up on page one of search in the ad position and below the ad position. So the top is the Google ad, the bottom is, say, a blogger, an SEO position that's positive. That's leading to increased visibility for the business, and ultimately, they're staying, then that's a strong signal for us, and that is what we're seeing with SEM. I think that's been a little hampered, if I dare say, because of the awesomeness of the residential integrators' workflow. Many of you listening or watching have probably never been busier in the entire lives of your business, and so it's been nicely growing for us, but probably not what it might be in the future if the market or cycle changes. And guess what? What goes up comes down and what goes down comes up. Things run in cycles. So I think that's interesting. And then we just say a little factoid there happened this year. We did gain Google partner status, and that's because of the quality and the scale of our Google Ad services for clients, which is pretty cool. Lastly, around this growth concept, and I'll give you credit, Taylor, because you actually were at the inception of this several years ago, running these programs up until the middle of this year when we brought on Jessica. That is our corporate program initiative. Do you want to kind of speak about our vision there?
Taylor: Sure. So, you know, a couple of years ago or so, we started getting inquiries from major manufacturers within this industry about wanting to run marketing programs for the dealers, so they recognize the importance of marketing. They also recognize that dealers needed marketing as well. So we worked with many of them to craft specific campaigns for various products and services that they had on behalf of the dealers. So we'd work with them, and we might craft a campaign, for example, that integrates email and social and now LinkedIn ads and Google ads and things like that. And doing so on behalf of the dealer. So in many cases, the corporate partner or the major manufacturer is sponsoring these efforts. So there's little to minimal cost to the dealer. So it's really a win-win in that case. It knows it's a win for the manufacturer and it's a win for the dealers that they're getting marketing services again, a little to no cost, and they're already seeing great returns on those services as well.
Ron: Yeah, I agree. Some of the big names, folks that we're currently partnered with Sony, Savant Crestron and that roster Programs with those manufacturers are continuing to grow and scale into 2022. Those are awesome companies and awesome partners for One Firefly. The list of exciting new partners into 2022 is continuing to grow, and Jessica has her arms full, managing all of the inquiries that are coming inbound to us. They're coming into us at an accelerated rate. It's really, really neat. And if you're an integrator listening, there's going to be more and more neat opportunities where manufacturers are going to fund and help you improve your visibility to improve your brand recognition in your market and improve your lead generation. They are doing this at an accelerated rate, and we're kind of acting as the intermediary for some of those actions and activities, and the future is bright for that category. So that definitely is and did contribute to us achieving growth in 2021 and should in 2022. Taylor, year number two, 2021, year number two on the IG 5000. This year, we've moved up a little bit in position 2684. How do you feel about that?
Taylor: I feel great, you know, especially with 2020 being such a challenging year for many small businesses across the globe. Quite frankly, I think it's a pretty fantastic accomplishment. I think we moved up about 300 places or so from our previous year, which is neat. So yeah, 152% percent growth rate that measures over the course of three years in the case of Inc 5000. So from 2018 to 2020. But yeah, in my mind, it's really just a testament to the amazing team that we've built here. I mean, they've enabled us to hit that goal. So that's neat.
Ron: Yeah, it's the team. I mean, if we didn't have great H.R. bringing in great talent, great people, and if we didn't have such awesome people helping each other, pulling each other up, driving the organization forward, we wouldn't be able to achieve that. So, yeah, I completely agree. All right, here's just a couple of factoids, and we'll l close and get you guys out of here. I'm looking at the clock as well; we're coming up on the hour. Taylor, you win an award here; we sent as an organization six hundred and fifty thousand messages through Slack to each other. I don't know that strikes me as an outrageously high number, but then I look at how many you sent Taylor. You might interpret this for me. Does that mean you sent or received it? But you were number one on the list with thirty-nine thousand five hundred and eleven messages.
Taylor: Yeah, it's not an award that I was particularly striving for, I'll say. But you know, I think it's a testament to our increased growth as well, you know, bringing on more staff and us at One Firefly, being a team that works primarily remotely in a virtual space. Slack is one of the tools that we rely on most heavily for that day to day communication. And clearly, I'm sending a lot of messages, as Ron mentioned then, that maybe my New Year's resolution will be to maybe not be number one, but number five or something like that.
Ron: There you go. I got to give credit to some other members, and again, I don't know that this is really to be put on a pedestal, but it's a fun statistic anyway. Jordan Littman on our team was number two; we have the two Joe's. Jordan Littman was number two. Jordan Hutchinson, we call her Jo, is number three, and I was number four. So I sent twenty-eight thousand two hundred and seventy-six messages in Slack, which is just kind of mind-boggling, you know, boggles the brain. Now we have a comment that's just come in, and I think, you know this person, Taylor.
Taylor: I think I do; I think I know him very well, so Brian Whipple that's actually my dad. Dad, I appreciate you tuning in.
Ron: He says super impressed and proud of the great work you guys are doing. Best wishes for continued growth and success in 2022. Now, Taylor, your dad runs a very successful business up in Idaho, correct?
Taylor: Yeah, just outside of Boise, Idaho. He runs a commercial drywall construction company that he's owned and operated, I think, since 2010 and is doing very well.
Ron: How did 2021 treat your dad?
Taylor: I believe it was continued growth for him as well. Idaho has seen a real boom as it relates to people moving there, particularly from California and some of the other states that, during the pandemic, people saw a mass exodus, and Idaho was one of the premier destinations that people landed. So I think that's been to their benefit for sure.
Ron: We just had an integrator out of Boise. Sign up with us last week right there out of Boise. I won't mention their name. So Boise is happening, and that was his comment to me. He's like, "This place is blowing up. It's it's not the Boise that I moved to," and I think he had moved there 15 years ago. He's like, it is so different.
Taylor: Also, one of our newest employees, Andrew too, is just outside of Boise as well. So that seems to be the hot spot.
Ron: Idaho is where it's at. And last little fun statistic, and maybe we'll go just out of high-level talk about the principle of culture. What does culture mean in a company? What does culture mean in our company? And then how do we kind of keep culture alive? What is one of many ways we keep culture alive? And that is we use a piece of software called Motivosity, but maybe at a high level, Taylor, what is the culture at One Firefly like? And maybe give your take on that. We'll talk about Motivosity.
Taylor: Yeah, I like to describe our culture as really positive, quite frankly. We have five core values that we hire by, that we judge performance by, and trying to find staff that exemplifies those core values on a day in and day out basis has been paramount to us really keeping and retaining staff and keeping a positive culture where people want to work. You know, we're doing this, spending so much time, day in and day out, working with your co-workers and accomplishing goals and projects. You want to do so with people that you feel good about and you like working with, who are positive and upbeat and driven and growth-minded. So Motivosity as a tool has been really instrumental in our ability to recognize staff for demonstrating those qualities.
Ron: So Motivosity is a plug-in, it's a piece of software, it's a web browser environment for those that are going to go check it out. We'll drop a link to Motivosity in the show notes and then to the comment section on LinkedIn and Facebook so you guys can check it out. But it's a really neat way, particularly when you have remote staff. Now I'm imagining this works if you don't have remote staff, but we're a virtual company, so that's our reality. It gives you an opportunity to give shout-outs on an ongoing basis to your teammates. You're identifying and acknowledging them for demonstrating, and we call them out for our core values. So if you identify somebody that was really demonstrating speaking up because that's one of our core values, then you would go in there, and you would drop a core value; it's called a core value kudos slack channel, and you would give them a shout out, and you would acknowledge and publicly acknowledge them. Now there's nothing keeping you from privately acknowledging them, and you could certainly do that either via many channels, including a private slack message. But our core value kudos is a public slack channel. In 2021, we had one thousand four hundred and seventeen appreciations given. That is our staff, giving and receiving thanks to each other. That is 100 percent of our staff receiving thanks. So today, Taylor, how many do we have on-staff today?
Taylor: Just over 60 at the moment.
Ron: Just over 60. That's 100 percent of our team, being acknowledged for demonstrating really our core values; I say they're demonstrating and being called out because we know that it's important to have a culture driven around core values, and it's fun, and we put a little money behind it. How does the money work, Taylor?
Taylor: Yeah, so each month, we give every employee a budget where they can actually give out a dollar or two dollars for a core value shout-out, so they can't use it for themselves. They actually have to give it out. And that's been really neat. So when you receive a dollar or two dollars or whatever it is, you can actually accumulate that money and redeem those for gift cards through the Motivosity site, which is pretty neat. So it allows the fun little way to give thanks for people, and you know, they get to redeem it for a nice little benefit as well.
Ron: Love it, Taylor 2022. Looking ahead, what are you excited about in the year ahead?
Taylor: Man, it's so hard to say just one thing. I think that there's so much opportunity for us as an organization and for the industries too that we've mentioned as well. I think the future for 2022 especially looks really bright. So I'm excited about our continued growth. Each year presents new challenges and new opportunities for us to stretch ourselves to get better accomplish our goals. That's really most gratifying for me. I'd say it's just checking off those rocks or those goals at the end of the year or the quarter or whatever the frequency is and to know that you've accomplished those. So we're ambitious here between Ron and myself, especially; we set goals that do stretch ourselves a bit. We tend to go out of our comfort zone. But I think, as you've mentioned, Ron, on multiple occasions, if you're doing that, it usually means you're on the right path. You're just maybe a little uncomfortable. That means you're growing as an organization, personally, professionally, etc.
Ron: Amen, for those of you that might be of the type that are going to set New Year's resolutions. It's not a big thing that I do, so I'm not advocating that. But if you do that, it's common people say, "Well, I want to get fit," and then you're going to go hit the gym, and maybe you hit the gym next week, and that's part of your ambition to achieve some physical outcome for yourself. What's common is you go to that gym, and you hit that bench press or whatever it is, and you get off, and all of a sudden, man, that starts to hurt. That hurt is good for your body, and if you keep doing it and you keep doing it, you're going to realize whatever that weight you're lifting isn't so heavy anymore. And guess, what do you need to do? You need to add a little more weight, and then you're going to go lift that, and it's going to hurt. And you're going to do that for a few weeks, and then it's not going to hurt anymore; it's too easy. Well, if you want to continue to grow. You got to embrace the hurt. You got to embrace the grind because we have a growth mindset here at One Firefly; each and every member of our team understands that, is a part of that, was brought on to this team because they believe that for themselves, personally and professionally, and we believe that we can lift this industry up, or at least we can play our part in lifting it up. Right? Will there be more technology in our lives tomorrow than there is today? Yes, there will be; I don't even have to have a magic eight ball to tell you that one. There will be more technology in our lives tomorrow. So as an organization, Taylor and I and the executive management team and all of the One Firefly team members are very much focused on helping our industry grow. If we're helping our industry grow, then we're helping the members of the industry grow. As a side effect, we will grow. We believe that we practice that, and 2022 is going to be a big year for One Firefly; it will be another banner year for One Firefly. Taylor, I want to thank you for everything that you do. Thanks for joining me on the show today, and thanks for everything you do for us at One Firefly, sir.
Taylor: My pleasure. Likewise, thank you, Ron, and everyone else at One Firefly. It's been a terrific year, and I can't wait for 2022.
Ron: Awesome! All right, folks, I'm going to put our show art up on the screen and Taylor, and I are going to sign off. We will see you in the new year. Taylor, thank you again; it was great having you on the show to all of my Automation Unplugged people, David, I know you're there in the wings watching live and kind of controlling things in the background, and Jessica and everybody, thank you! Folks, we'll see you in the new year. Have a wonderful celebration tonight. Be safe and be mindful. There still is this virus floating around, so try not to get into too large of a crowd if you can help it, and we'll see you on the flip side. Thanks, everybody. Be well!
Automation Unplugged is a live show recorded weekly, hosted by me, Ron Callis. In each Automation Unplugged episode, I speak with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. We produce this show to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field. One Firefly is an award-winning Inc. 5000-recognized marketing agency catering to residential and commercial custom integration markets.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview: