Home Automation Podcast Episode #58: An Industry Q&A With Brad Whitehead
Adopting EOS for Success
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Brad Whitehead. Recorded live on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Brad Whitehead
Brad Whitehead has been leading and developing entrepreneurial companies for over 20 years.
After growing Paragon Technology Group across four resort markets in Colorado, he served as COO of VIA International. Brad now works with leadership teams of companies with 10-200 employees to help them get what they want from their business by implementing EOS — the Entrepreneurial Operating System.
This simple, proven system aligns leadership teams around a vision and creates traction to execute it by instilling discipline and accountability for the entire organization.
As a professional EOS implementer, Brad serves as a teacher, facilitator, and coach for owners and their managers that want to take their business to the next level.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Brad:
- The different types of growth: revenue, business lines, geographic, capability, and profitability.
- Challenges that companies typically face that impede their growth and development.
- How EOS as a system can add order to chaos as a company grows, creating a framework to keep the team aligned and on track
- Success stories from various businesses in the CE integration industry
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with One Firefly and another episode of Automation Unplugged. This is episode 58. Happy Wednesday. Happy post voting day. I hope you went out and voted and had your voice heard yesterday. That is of course, if you're listening here in the United States, if you're listening in other countries thank you for listening. And there was a big day here in, in North America. It was voting day, the midterms, and you know, the country is now figuring out what they're going to do with all those results that have come in. I'm here in Florida, which is always kind of wacky in terms of its politics, but I'm glad that's over. And hopefully it will be saved from some of those TV commercials and radio commercials for at least a little while. Anyway. this is November 7th. We're 12:34 PM. Let me go ahead and just jump over to the Facebook page for One Firefly. Let me make sure that this is in fact feeding in live to the page. If you're out there watching, please like, and comment. And let me just make sure this is working as I always have to do. All right, cool. It looks like we are working well. I am excited to have here. You can see here in the show art, we have Brad Whitehead from VX Strategy. Let me go ahead and bring in Brad, let's see if I can make this happen. There we go. Let's bring in Brad, there he comes. Oh, what's up Brad? Look at that. So Brad, have you ever been live on Facebook before?
Brad: I have not. Ron it's first time for me.
Ron: There you go. Are you an avid Facebooker? Do you, do you use Facebook?
Brad: My wife is an avid Facebook user. I'm an avid Facebook reader.
Ron: Okay, so you're scoping out and reading content but you're not very active posting content.
Brad: Not so much. Like here are some brief experience I think.
Ron: Got it. Well, we are using this new fandangled software here. We're having a lot of fun with it. Sometimes too much fun. And we can do fun stuff like this. Look at this. Debbie's gives, gives you or me or the show a heart.
Brad: Thank you Debbie.
Ron: Liz gives us a thumbs up. Don't forget if you are out there. Hey Taylor. Thank you sir. Thanks for watching. And if you're out there, please like the show, like the post a comment. This would be fun. Maybe tell us where you're at, what city and state or country. If you're somewhere other than North America, let us know where you're at. Throw that down there in the comments. And if you're so inclined, if you're watching this live or if you're watching this on replay please share this. That way we can you know, help more of our friends see our guests and hear all of this valuable content. Well let's jump into it Brad. As I always do, I always love my guest to learn more about you and kind of where you come from. You're currently, I know doing this consulting business around the traction strategies which we'll get. I know there's other names for it and I probably just screwed that up, but we'll talk about all of that. And let you get me cleared up there. Tell the audience where you come from, a little bit about your background if you don't mind.
Brad: Great. Today I'm in Denver, Colorado. I'm in my home office in Denver, which is where I usually am unless I'm out on the road with working with clients. Quick background, after getting an MBA in Georgia at Georgia Tech, I moved out to Colorado and worked for a venture capital firm that was making investments in early stage and seed technology companies really focused around the wireless space. And as one of the things I had to do as an associate, I researched the smart home industry because we had a thesis about that becoming a big push for investment opportunities. This was back in '99 to about 2003. And then as luck would have it I met somebody who had a business up in Aspen, Colorado who was in that business and he and I became friends. This was David Wraith, who became my partner and he invited me to take an equity position in his company. And so I joined him up in Aspen and we grew that company in 2003 until 2013 from about two and a half million, up to about 14 million in revenue, expanded across the Rocky Mountain West to the resort markets. Aspen, Vail, Steamboat to Telluride primarily. And did a lot of projects really as a a CI integrator doing quote unquote smart home projects for large scale wealthy people. We used to say saving the world one billionaire at a time.
Ron: That's it. You know, they have needs too.
Brad: They do. And it was you know, it was a thrilling ride, very fun experience as that, as we lived through The Great Recession and towards the end of that we took part in the Via international roll up which was an exhilarating experience. It didn't end very well and everybody knows that. There's plenty of stories out there around that. But during the time, learned a lot of things, got a lot of scar tissue, work with some fantastic people in this industry. And really enjoy that aspect. Didn't enjoy the ending very much. But once it was over, I thought, you know, what am I going to do next? What's the next piece for me? And I realized that what I really am passionate about, I really love working with entrepreneurial companies. I'm a great, what I would call an integrator, a person who can work with people who have strong visions and I can make those visions become reality. And I wanted to have an opportunity working with a number of different entrepreneurial tech companies. And so that's what I did. I started getting some calls from people cause I had a big enough profile in the industry. They thought that I might be valuable. So I set up a little consulting company and started doing some work for them. As things went on, I started to develop a methodology and that methodology was very much in line with what is explained in the book. Traction by Gino Wickman.
Ron: Which I proudly was able to pull off my bookshelf and show you that I had the book, great book by the way, this was gifted to me by Mike Beam down at a SES Design Group down in Houston. He's a big believer in the EOS system.
Brad: So I have my Traction book and interestingly, it was given to me by David Rogers at Dallas Sight and Sound and I gave it to me back in probably 2011 or '12 and said, Hey, this might help you with, you know, what you're working on at Paragon or later at Via. And I said, okay, great. And set it on the side and never really looked at it. But then I did actually read it and I said, wow, this is a very simple system that helps entrepreneurs. So when I started developing my methodology, I certainly use that. I use some of Verne Harnish's stuff, Jim Collins, and so forth. And then it dawned on me, I said, why am I recreating the wheel when all these great people have come up with stuff before me? So I looked up EOS worldwide, which is the governing body for what the professional EOS implementer community is. And I reached out to them and got credentialed this past summer and I'm now what is called a Professional EOS Implementer. So now I work with companies that are, typically I focus on technical field service and sales companies, which would certainly be audio video companies, but could also be electricians, architect firms sales rep companies. Things of that nature to really help them get organized around what we call three main things. Vision, traction and healthy. Vision is really just getting an entire company organized around where the company is going, where it is today, and how it's to get there. Traction means getting everybody clear on what their accountability is, what they're responsible for, who's responsible for what, and putting some rhythm to it so that they actually get things done in a coordinated focused manner. Instead of everybody working on 50 things and get zero done, focus that energy on a few things, three to seven things and get those things accomplished and then work on the next series of things. And then healthy is making sure the organization has good core values. It is hard so that the culture is strong and open, honest and direct communication and if you can accomplish all of those things, people will become much more engaged in the organization and you'll see the organization really start to move forward with empowered people instead of just working for an owner who's basically setting it. He has an idea, but he hasn't communicated that very well to everybody else, so they don't really know what they're supposed to be doing.
Ron: I have a question, Brad. So you started Paragon with David Rafe and you ran that company. In what capacity, what was your responsibilities when you were at Paragon?
Brad: So David actually founded the company. Yep. I joined him about three years later and I became the Chief Operating Officer for that company basically in charge of everything related to operations and finance. He took over sales and marketing and we were to some extent a yin and yang for how the business goes. And it's an example of how EOS really works well because you typically you have a personality known as a visionary who was thinking longterm cares a lot about the culture of the company and what the external perception is of the company. And then you have a role called the integrator, which is somebody who's very internally focused and can manage a number of things that are going on in one of these organizations that team together can accomplish great things. And so I spend a lot of time as the company that was growing from 12, 13 people up to 70 people. Hiring, putting structure in place promoting people. So they became department heads and then keeping the department heads working well together, essentially integrating those functions. So that everything worked great. What's interesting is when I got..
"That $3 to $5 million category, most of the integration marketplace that I'm familiar with is smaller than that. And I'm gonna speculate that that's because of maybe a lack of systems and processes are structured that would facilitate or enable growth."
Ron: Few examples of integrators in North America, well I say keep saying North America cause that's what I know mostly. I see Kris is coming to us from the UK. Thanks Kris for tuning in. So Kris, you can tell us how things are over on across the pond there. By the way, we have Oliver's as he's freezing in Chicago. Sorry Oliver. It's pretty darn perfect weather here in Florida. You should come down and visit and we got Troy's coming us from Cleveland. Hey, what's up Troy? And look at that. Taylor's coming to us from the Paris of Broward. But no, there are very few examples of large, you know, companies or integrators that have maybe kind of grown past that. I'm going to make up a number, you probably know it better than me, but I'm going to say that $3 to $5 million category, you know most of, most of the integration marketplace that I'm familiar with is smaller than that. And I'm gonna speculate that that's because of maybe a lack of systems and processes are structured that would facilitate or enable growth. How did you figure out, cause this was before you read the Traction book, right? And this was before you knew of this system of EOS which I'm a big believer in. I've, I've read the book and we follow a lot of those principles actually here at One Firefly. But how did you do it? How did you and David grow from 12 guys to 70 people? I mean what do you attribute that to?
Brad: Well, a couple things. Number one, we were the benefit of a booming economy. If you recall from about 2003 til 2009 or '10, there was a lot of money flowing into the housing market. In hindsight, we all know that of that was somewhat fictitious money. Right. But that was certainly part of the case. The other thing internally for the company, I enabled David to focus on sales instead of his core skill is sales and marketing, business development. And my core skill is management and finance. So by me taking over that and the people, everybody in the company feeling that like I had the back office covered pretty well, that enabled him and his sales team to go out and focus on driving revenue, which led us to open up new markets. So it is, you know, having those two people working together, those two personalities really can unlock a lot of things for you.
Ron: Do you see that model around the country? Sir, sorry to interrupt. You were making a point.
Brad: Sure. you know, and I'll address that when I got in the industry, I thought, Hey, this is not that difficult of an industry. You're buying some things, you're selling some things, you install it, you move on. And then I, and then it dawned on me, you know, this is a very difficult industry. The, the custom integrator model is challenging in its own right. And it's challenging because you have a lot of different personality sets and you have to manage to be successful in the company. You have to have construction oriented people that are running wire and a house and you have to have programmers who are out there, you know, figuring out how software words and then everybody in between. You've got a sales team that is getting pressured by builders and architects and designers, their clients. A fickle client base to say the lease generally working for wealthy people who are used to the world revolving around them a little bit. So all of those things coming together, you have to have processes in place, you've got to build organizational structure, which I was good at doing. And in defining who the leaders are going to be for a department and getting them moving on improving their department and then working better with others. So to answer your question, do I think that it's a standard to have two people in leadership? I think if you look at the companies who've been successful in this industry, many of them may still be owned by one person or they've got shared ownership. But you'll see that one is really focused on external sales and market and business development. And the other is typically focused on internal coordination. And I think it's a worthy model for that. And companies that don't have that. If they have kind of visionary led company and they focus on sales, what I would be helping them with is to say, Hey, let's recognize that there is an opportunity in your company to have somebody get promoted. So they're coordinating the other facets of the business. Design, installation, back-office, which would be accounting contract administration, certainly purchasing all of those functions that have to work in concert to actually deliver a project profitably.
Ron: Got it. That makes sense. And ladies and gentlemen, if you're out there watching live or if you're watching on replay don't be shy. Post your questions for Mr Brad. This is a man with a lot of experience and a lot of great skills and offerings. So definitely take advantage here. Post your questions and I'll put them up on the screen and we'll have Brad answer them live. So that will be fun. Now Brad, I wanted to move on just for the Via thing. You know, I think Via, you said it was, I think you use some words in the nature of it was very exciting and I agree. I watched it from the press and the media side of things. Even there for a little bit One Firefly was actually brought in to help with some marketing things some award entries. And I was super excited to be hired by Via to do any work. I thought that was the coolest thing. And then of course we all know how that ended and that didn't end so well. What were some of your biggest lessons? Do you have like maybe a couple of takeaways, you know, real good nuggets that you think you learned and you could then apply or offer to others in the industry. So maybe they?
Brad: Sure. I think one, the business model makes sense. Yeah, it was starting to make sense for us. We were getting cross-pollination and from people who had homes in Texas and also a place in Hawaii and also a place in Colorado. So that we were getting a single client that had multiple locations, that was working out. One of the things I've learned is really trust your own sense. You know, I was initially the Chief Operating Officer of that company and the operational aspects of the company were going, okay, well we got to where we weren't able to ship product and that is you know, becomes a finance question. And certainly I was looking at the business model just like everybody else. I'm thinking, what's the deal? You know, we have a cashflow problem, not capitalized well enough for the ambitions of the growth that there were planned. Going after certain things. Maybe a little too earlier than than we should have because it wasn't quite stabilized. All of those things going back in time and looking at him and I think about that pretty much every day. Learned a lot in the process and if I can offer anything back with the industry, it would be to explain some of the things that would be useful to consider before you launch something as ambitious as that. It's kind of a crawl, walk, run kind of thing, you know, get it together and go real slow and get your integration completely figured out, your software in place really become an efficient operating model first before you think about anything else after that. And I think that would be the one key nugget of wisdom really. I'd say that for companies that are in the small side too, you know, when we talk about growth, everybody's always focused on top line revenue growth. But the fact of the matter is, what matters is bottom line growth more than anything else. So if you can build efficiency in your model through better process and systems, ensure accountability for everybody in the organization, and that everybody knows what they're supposed to be doing on a daily basis. That can actually lead to better bottom line growth, which I would submit is the first step before you try to push on sales and marketing.
Ron: So Kris just posted that he is again, he's over in the UK, says I have a two person management team, I'm technical and sales and my partner's business management and office management. And he says, I don't metal in the COO domain. I know what lane I'm meant to stay in. Does that sound like he's following some of the principles that you believe in?
Brad: Absolutely. Kris, I think you're on the right path there. You understand your domain very well, which is you're out there meeting with clients and you're doing some of the technical work because they're asking you technical questions and you've got somebody else who's handling the contract, administration, billing, making sure the money is coming in and flowing out appropriately. And that's a good way to get that business going.
Ron: Well, I've got a graphic here on the screen, Brad. I think our audience can see it. And it's the EOS model. And this is the system that again, this fellow Gino Wickman who wrote the book Traction. You know, I believe he created this system. Can you describe it maybe in general terms and how you help integrators apply this to their business?
Brad: Yeah, so very simply, Traction is a simple set of tools that are really timeless in business. That the model is referencing six key components of the business that you want to strengthen to 100% strong. And it starts with vision. So define the vision of where the company is going. Longterm. Break that down into short term, meaning three years, write down in the one year goals and then quarterly rocks and rocks is a term for initiatives. So establish that vision and then get everybody in the organization completely aware of it. So it's not just the owner's head, everybody knows where the company is going. And what they can do to contribute to that success. So that's vision. The next component is people, establish a strong culture. Define exactly what your core values are. Hire and promote people based on your core values and you'll begin to attract people that share those core values. And similarly, you'll begin to repel people who don't share those core values. So that's get the right people on to find the right seats, which has to do with the accountability chart. That's yet the organizational structure clarified. So you know what the roles are and each function of the roles and you put the right person in the right seat. It sounds easy, but a lot of times that doesn't work in companies. You get somebody who is a great person, but they don't really understand their job if you want them onboard anyways because you love them and you put them in this job and they're not really successful. So you just have to work through some of those issues. The next component is data, which is really getting down to the scorecard and measurables, trying to get some truly subjective facts on the table that you can look at and see the direction the business is going in. Once you have those three areas, clarify, you're going to identify issues in the company. So that's the fourth component. You've got to be able to solve issues quickly, understand what the art get to the core heart of the issue as opposed to just the symptom and then do something we call IDS, which is identify what the issue is, discuss exactly what's the cause of the issue and what some potential solutions are and then make a decision and solve it. Next component is process and this industry, you have to have good process. The more you can have process defined and have everybody following that process, the better off things are going to go. It gives you the ability to scale your business. It starts to drop dollars to the bottom line because you're not reinventing the wheel each time. You add systems on top of that to make your processes work better and you get everybody following those processes and you've got the ability to do a little bit better. And then the final key component is traction, which is simply establishing a rhythm within the organization to hold everybody accountable on a weekly basis. So the leadership team is meeting on a weekly basis so that they are holding each other accountable to get things done. And then the organization's also meeting on a quarterly basis, every 90 days to say, what did we do last quarter? What are the three to seven priorities? Did we get them accomplished? Great. Let's celebrate that now what are the next three to seven priorities? And get everybody focused on those next things in a 90 day cycle. And if you can get that going and maintain it because that's the key. Everybody can do this for a little bit of time. The great companies do it consistently over and over. Then you've got..
Ron: What is, when you're working with your customers. You know, I remember how I told you I was gonna wear earbuds so that I didn't get an echo and then look at that. I started and I didn't have, I just heard an echo. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna switch my audio and be responsible here. I always do that. I always forget. All right, there we go. You can hear me okay. Right?
Brad: I can hear you. Yes.
Ron: Perfect. What is the role that you play in participating with these companies? Through all of these, you know, understanding these processes and then actually implementing these processes?
Brad: Right. So I'm a Professional EOS Implementer. So I ended up working with a company and having the role of a facilitator and a coach. I teach them the process, I help facilitate them to the proper answers, the best answers, really building consensus within the company and then coaching them through the implementation process and helping them to become stronger in each of those components I mentioned. The way that starts generally is what we call a 90 minute meeting where I meet with a company that's interested in this. I meet with the entire leadership team, either in person or I can do a web meeting and explain what EOS is and what the processes they will be going through and see if there's a fit, it fits well for companies that are over about 10 people getting ready to go into this departmental organization and where the owner does not need to be in control of everything all the time. He wants to push some of that control to other leaders in the company.
"The owner or the principal has to be ready for delegation."
Ron: So the, the owner or the principal has to be ready for delegation.
"You may be serving one of the seats for the company, but you don't need to be serving all of them."
Brad: Exactly. If he doesn't want to delegate, you know, it's going to be a small company forever. But, and there are some companies that are very successful with that. It's just not necessarily the best fit. If you want to be, if you want to have all those problems every day, then that's a different company. What I would tell an owner is, are you sure that's you want? Don't you want your company to become worth more money, worth more value? And you can do that by having other people start to take on those roles and diminish your role in the company. You still own it. You may be serving one of the seats for the company, but you don't need to be serving all of them. Now you've engaged your people who are underneath you. You've empowered them to make decisions. Yes, they're going to make some bad decisions at some point and you're going to wish they hadn't, but that's how they learn and grow and develop. So the process, that's the 90 minute meeting. We explain that process and then it goes into three critical meetings to establish the foundational tools. One is called the focus day and then the next two are called vision building days. Focus days, getting focused on some key critical priorities you can address right away and get the company moving better and establish an accountability chart and an initial scorecard and start tracking some metrics. Vision building is really laying out the core values core focus where you want to be longterm a three year picture, one year goals, and then the 90 day plan to get there and getting down into the nitty gritty details on what you're going to do over the next 90 days to drive the company forward. Once you have all of that stuff established, you move into what we call quarterly pulsing, which is simply every 90 days, every quarter, you have another meeting where the leadership team gets together. Typically I'm in there facilitating and I'm doing that with a number of companies right now where they say, how did we do on the last quarter? What are we trying to do on the next one? What are our major issues? And you're basically just working with the team to come to the right answers. I think the value that I can bring as opposed to somebody trying to doing that internally, there's a lot of times the person who has the skill set to do it internally is the owner of the company. And effectively instead of him participating with this group of leaders, he's now to some extent teaching them or telling them what he wants them to do. And it's almost like marching orders. And so having an external facilitator, I can take him out of that role of being the facilitator for the group and we can get input from everybody. Cause really the answer is almost always in the room with a group of people instead of sitting quietly and waiting for the owner to come up with the answer.
Ron: Well what are some examples of companies in our industry that are currently practicing this system that you could share?
Brad: Sure. I make a point not to share my client's names unless they've specifically said it's okay. And I didn't do that before today, but I did provide a class at Azione and I also did one at HTSA. I did a self implementation class for a bunch of folks with HTSA. Many of them are implementing EOS and having some great success with it. Some I'm working directly with because they got into self implementation, said, Hey, this is a little harder than we thought. Maybe we should have somebody come in and us with the facilitation aspect, which is always a great thrill to do that. So I'm working with some guys in both of those groups. I'm actually gonna be speaking at one of the Pro Source events coming up in the end of March. So we'll see where that goes too.
Ron: So how has the transition been for you from, you know operating in these very large businesses in this space and now you've moved over to the consulting side? What's what, what does that feel like and, and what has you excited?
"The business will consume you if you allow it. The lesson I want to impart to people is don't let that happen. Trust that you've got good quality people on your team. Elevate them to the right place in your organization."
Brad: Well, like I said at the beginning, it's really I'm passionate about working with entrepreneurs. It's a lot of fun working with people who are motivated to see their business get better. And I like to be a part of that and contribute to helping them achieve that on a personal level. When I was running Paragon and then active in Via, you know, I literally got 150 emails a day and had to respond to maybe 70 or 80 of them. And not having that pressure personally for me at this stage of my life is a lot better. I work all the time unless I'm not working. So I'm not sitting around doing nothing, but I do get to have a lot more flexibility and spend some time with my family, which I think is great. And that to me, if I can share that any one thing to a business owner, particularly in the CE space where that business can literally consume you. I want people to understand that there's more to life than just selling the next deal, working the next deal, collecting for the next deal, trying to make another relationship with another architect. You know, the business will consume you if you allow it. So the lesson I want to impart to people is don't let that happen. Trust that you've got good quality people on your team. Elevate them to the right place in your organization. Delegate some of the responsibility off of your plate. You'll end up having a better life. Your company will end up being more valuable. Your people will end up feeling more engaged. What's wrong with any of that? So I love being able to share some of the wisdom I've learned with others and get them to that point.
Ron: No, for sure. Those I think that's a good place for us to end. Brad, and a good, some good thoughts for people to think about and consider. I am going to throw back on the screen. Kris is, I think enjoying this content. He says, come to the UK. You should do a class for CEDIA here. So, and like Kris, let me show you how you and the rest of the audience here. Let me see if I can do this, see if we can get this working. There we go, folks. There is Brad's email. What is his email the best way for anyone watching or listening Brad to get in touch with you? Are there any other methods?
Ron: Awesome. Brad, it has been a pleasure to have you on Automation Unplugged episode number 58. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this.
Brad: Thanks Ron. I appreciate it.
Ron: Awesome. All right, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Another episode of Automation Unplugged. Hope you enjoyed this one. Brad is an in demand fella, he is moving and shaking, traveling all over this country and I'm so happy and honored to have him here on this show. Now what I am going to do, I'm going to throw up on the screen a reminder. Let me see if I can make this happen here. Let's see here. There we go. Don't forget One Firefly has just joined Instagram in the last what month and a half, two months. We already have almost 250 followers on Instagram, which is pretty cool. And so definitely check us out there. And on that note, here's our contact information. There you see it, there's the website at One Firefly. There's our phone number. Get in touch, give us a call. And as always, thank you so much for watching. I will see you next time.
Brad Whitehead has been leading and developing entrepreneurial companies for over 20 years. He is currently a co-owner of VX Strategy, a management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, tactical execution, and organizational development for entrepreneurial growth-oriented businesses. After growing Paragon Technology Group across four resort markets in Colorado, he served as COO of VIA International. As a professional EOS implementer, Brad currently serves as a teacher, facilitator, and coach for owners and their managers that want to take their business to the next level.
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 became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.