The Virtual CPA Success Show: Episode 89
Tommy Nolan, Founder and Managing Partner of Vidionix, joins today’s show with Joey and Jody to discuss the future of meetings and events in a post-pandemic world. They discuss challenges and opportunities of remote and hybrid work, the cost savings and benefits of virtual events, and the importance of maintaining company culture in a remote or hybrid workplace. Collectively, they agree that the future of meetings and events is likely to be a mix of virtual and in-person options, with companies finding the right balance for their needs. What do you think?
[00:00:19] Jody: Hello, welcome to today's podcast.
[00:00:21] Pretty excited about today's podcast. We've got a long-term client on board here. And with that, we got guest starring today is Joey Kenny. Joey, welcome to the show again.
Joey: Thank you, Jody. Appreciate it.
[00:00:35] Jody: And the gentleman I'm talking about is Tommy Nolan. Tommy is the founder of Videonics. And Tommy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
[00:00:40] Tommy: Yeah, sure. First of all, Jody and Joey, thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure. Yeah, Videonics founded in 2015. We’re a B2B video-virtual hybrid onsite production company. Originally started out creating original content with a little bit of emphasis in event production.
[00:00:58] And then as 2020 rolled around, this pandemic hit that we're all aware of a little bit. And our business model really flipped and changed quite a bit into supporting virtual and hybrid events and now that we're getting back in person, trying to navigate those new waters as we head to 2023 and beyond.
[00:01:18] Jody: Tommy, so about your company in general, about how many people you have, where are they located? Brick and mortar, remote, what's the breakdown of your company?
[00:01:26] Tommy: Yeah. We tend to ebb and flow when it comes to staff quite a bit. Right now we've got six full-time, three owners that are heavily involved, and then probably 50 contractors that we keep busy on a weekly basis.
[00:01:40] The full-time staff increases as needed. Sometimes it can fluctuate up to a dozen or 15 and then drop down back to the level we're at now. So it does ebb and flow based on our production and event needs for the year.
[00:01:52] Jody: Nice. And then the type of client, what's an ideal client for you?
[00:01:55] So kinda give us some perspective there.
[00:01:58] Tommy: It's a great question and it's [00:02:00] something that we're really trying to narrow down really every day. What is our target client? Those Fortune 1000 clients seem to be our target market. We're not industry-specific or agnostic.
[00:02:10] So really that Fortune 1000 is our bread and butter, those enterprise level clients is where we have our most success with.
[00:02:16] Jody: Gotcha. Gotcha. So again, today talking a little bit about meetings and virtual in-person, all that kind of stuff. I'm trying to get an idea what the future kind of rides going forward there.
[00:02:27] Joe, I'm gonna kick it off with you and give me some insight on what your thoughts are going forward. We're obviously a fully remote company and have been that way, actually hybrid now that we're part of Anders. And we've got 70-ish people that work remote, and then another 350 people-ish that have brick and mortar space.
[00:02:43] And I know you'd mentioned you had some real estate experience in the past before joining Summit there, and I was just curious on what your thoughts are before we get in and talk to Tommy about his.
[00:02:52] Joey: I think it's an interesting question and that is the million dollar question here, right?
[00:02:57] What are we gonna do with all of this commercial infrastructure that we have built out in the country? Tommy, I'm really interested about inflection points and I want to hear your pivot point at some point with regards to how you decided to switch in 2020. But that was something that the real estate companies and a lot of companies in general just weren't prepared for.
[00:03:18] They had never thought about what would happen if people couldn't come into the office and now we're in this world where we can. For the most part, there might be a few things here and there that are popping up that are keeping people from wanting to come back to the office full-time. But I think the bigger question is what's it gonna be and how do you maintain some things like culture in a remote environment, even a hybrid environment culture is very difficult.
[00:03:44] So I'd love to hear from you, Tommy, quickly what you saw when you guys did that pivot in 2020 and recognized that at least for the foreseeable future, things were gonna be different.
[00:03:56] Tommy: Yeah I can't really speak upon the actual [00:04:00] in-person or remote workers as it comes to the workplace.
[00:04:02] My expertise is more revolves around events. I'm gonna speak about that for just a second. When the pandemic did hit we were traveling all over the place, all over the country, all over the world. Had trips booked everywhere and all of a sudden they came to a screeching halt and I was scared.
[00:04:18] I didn't think we're gonna make it as there's no way there's gonna be PPP loans large enough to keep this place afloat. This is not gonna happen. And then we started seeing this virtual experience start to take off when it came to events and trying to keep these events going just in a virtual capacity.
[00:04:36] And we looked at each other and we were like, we've been doing this for a long time, actually before it became synonymous with the world is doing a virtual event. When we were in person pre-pandemic we were creating incubated TV shows, live streams, engaging virtual audiences, and so we were in the right place at the right time.
[00:04:56] And we had all the infrastructure and all the experience needed and equipment and personnel, software, hardware, you name it, to pull everything we need to pull off. And so our clients came running to us looking for a solution to keep their business going when no one can meet in person.
[00:05:15] It was really interesting because a lot of these events that were taking place had ginormous budgets, huge budgets. And I've used one example of an event that I know one of the travel budgets for just that one event was over a million dollars just for the travel budget. And now you can produce this virtual broadcast for this entire event for all the same people, for a fraction of that.
[00:05:40] And I think our enterprise-level clients recognized, wait a second, maybe we can be smarter with our money here. I'm not saying that events in person have to completely go away as we're getting back in person. But there's so much cost savings that can be had and still get the messaging across in a different way now.
[00:05:56] And that's really those uncharted waters of where we are today and going the [00:06:00] next couple years.
[00:06:02] Joey: I think that's fascinating cuz I'm imagining Jody, that's the same thing that a lot of business owners are thinking about their infrastructure's office space. Your infrastructure is of course the production piece and how do you do it?
[00:06:13] And that's an interesting dichotomy. Do we do this thing or do we continue investing in good remote, good flexible type solutions and find the best of both world scenario and how do we figure that out from a culture perspective too, I think is really interesting. Jody, when you think about culture in a hybrid workplace what are some of the pitfalls that people can run across.
[00:06:38] Jody: Yeah, it scares me a little bit when he is mentioning,” hey, we might go do conferences completely remote all the time.” Or potentially moving a lot of conferences remote. I think there's some great advantage to that. Of course, the cost savings is huge, right?
[00:06:50] You don't have to drive, you don't have to fly everybody out to a conference, the setup on Tommy, on your end, all that kind of stuff. But I think the big thing or the big purpose Why we have conferences, and I guess it wouldn't be conferences necessarily, but it's more team retreats and events that we would see culture being in absence there if we didn't have it.
[00:07:08] Because I think culture is so important especially for a remote company like ours where we've got 70 folks that are all across the United States and we have gotten in other countries and that sort of thing. And to bring those folks together. I think that's where the culture part has to have it.
[00:07:24] You have to have that feel in touch where you can get a chance to hang out and grab a beer with somebody, coffee, eat dinner. Find out a little bit about them on a personal level versus just simply on a business level all the time that you'd see on a remote world.
[00:07:35] The camera brings a lot of that culture and feeling to the table. I'm not saying you can't have it without that, but I think there's just more to it. And so that's why when we have our retreats, we'll have two retreats a year. We'll take everybody, spend 3000 bucks a person, spend a lot of money to have these people at these retreats and to get a lot out of it.
[00:07:57] And that's the big thing there. Now with [00:08:00] conferencesthat we go to, I feel I get so much more out of the conferences being in person than I do actually in the virtual setting. Cause we've been through, everybody knows with the way that Covid hit, all the conferences were virtual and a lot of 'em, are staying quasi virtual.
[00:08:17] They're offering a virtual component to it, which I think the virtual component's nice for those that can't make it. But I think being there in person is just so important. Cuz it's no different than the team retreats where we're actually meeting our teammates there. The conferences a lot of times were there just to hang out and talk to our peers and see, hey, how's, how are things going?
[00:08:36] What are you guys doing differently than us? And really helping things on a more of a work related type of environment there. And so I think the in person stuff I hope it doesn't go away. And I hope it doesn't become the norm to be virtual, but maybe it will, maybe virtual will take over everything.
[00:08:52] Cuz again, people want their time and maybe traveling is not an option now for 'em, for whatever reason. It's gonna be interesting I guess what happens or what pans out over these next few years because I'm a big fan of in-person conferences, but there's quite a few people that love the remote.
[00:09:08] So there's a feeling for both of them. And that's what I'm seeing there. And Tommy, it sounds like you're seeing the same from your comments then.
[00:09:18] Tommy: Yeah, you hit it on the head. In-person events are not gonna go away.
[00:09:24] Just like the virtual component's not gonna go away. I think that we've just adapted and learned new ways to communicate through Covid. And the convenience of having a virtual option is very appealing to at least to our clients, right? Our enterprise level clients.
[00:09:40] That really have shareholders and board members to report to. And when we can get the message across to thousands and thousands of associates company wide, while saving thousands and thousands of dollars, it's appealing. And again, I'm not saying it's ever gonna go away.
[00:09:58] I don't think it's [00:10:00] ever gonna go back to the way it was prior to Covid with a large amount of spending that was taking place with these big events. Maybe at some point down the road. It's gonna take a long time just because companies have realized that there are cost savings that you can do and be smarter with your money.
[00:10:16] Jody: I think even before Covid though if you were to, if you approached the idea that, “hey, you know what? We're gonna do some of these virtual events.” You'd probably people scoff at you here. They'd be like, “ah, there's no way this, these aren't gonna work. That's not gonna happen.”
[00:10:27] And it wasn't until people were actually forced to do it that they realize, maybe this does work. And I think that's change period, right? Anytime we have something that's major change, whether it's something as simple as that or it could be changing from a co-located place to a brick and mortar to a hybrid or whatever, there's always that resistance and there's always that doubt that people, some people have.
[00:10:48] Cuz some people have to see it before they believe it and other people believe it before they see it. So you've got the majority of 'em probably in the former of that. So I completely get it there. And now you're smiling there cuz you probably have something you're gonna share with that one.
[00:11:01] Tommy: Yeah. You look at QR codes, right? QR codes were such a fad and such a, “let's put a QR code in the back of our business card cuz that's cool.” Right? And then we did that and then that was just silly. And then all of a sudden during Covid, no one could touch anything but QR codes were the things you could pull up your menu and all this other crazy stuff with QR codes. And then now my grandma is using QR code technology. It's just insane how these things can adapt and change over time and it's just wild.
[00:11:32] Jody: I do have the business card with the QR code in the back so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
[00:11:38] Now I got these wristbands with the basically the technology that can provide the similar thing. I completely get it. And it's funny you brought that up cuz it definitely hits home a hundred percent for me.
[00:11:49] Joey: Tommy I'm curious when you're thinking about putting on an event, is the hybrid option actually more difficult than either a fully remote or fully in [00:12:00] person event?
[00:12:03] Tommy: Yes.
[00:12:03] Joey: It feels like it'd be that way for an office too, where it's like you have two different, you almost have two different user experiences
[00:12:08] Tommy: That's correct. You have two different audiences you have to cater to. It's definitely more challenging. But again, I'm just speaking on behalf of our clients and our experience, having those options available at least in our experience for the foreseeable future, seems to be the way that businesses moving forward in the event space.
[00:12:32] Joey: What's some of the difficulties in terms of determining the differences and how do you build out that infrastructure ahead of time From the user experience to maybe go to a pitch meeting with a better suite of options depending on what the client might be looking for.
[00:12:46] Tommy: Yeah. At the beginning of Covid, it was the Wild West when it came to event platforms.
[00:12:54] And we all learned about Zoom for the first time.
[00:12:56] Tommy: Zoom, you name it there's just a ton of platforms out there and everyone was frankensteining their own platforms together and it was a disaster really that first year and a half. And we finally, I think the industry and the world finally figured it out.
[00:13:09] And so being able to have better platforms now has definitely made it easier for a lot of our clients and for us being able to have a solution or a couple solutions that we can take to a client depending on their needs. I'm not sure what was your original question, Joey?
[00:13:22] Joey: You hit it there, and where I was going with that is I'm curious about what lessons we can learn as business operators from your experience there with if someone's struggling with, how do I take a team remote or deal with a flexible workforce that's maybe part in offers part not one of the things with regards to how things work here at Summit and now that we're with Anders, again, a large component of the team in office. So we need two different user experiences is creating a common infrastructure for us to interact. We use a company called Sococo that has a website that allows us to create a virtual office space, but comparing [00:14:00] that experience with, say, my wife's experience at a CPA firm where she's a remote employee, but they don't have any of that infrastructure, it's a night and day experience from my perspective.
[00:14:07] So I'm curious if there's any bits that we could take away from your experience trying to figure out how to navigate that with your clients.
[00:14:20] Tommy: I can't really speak so much on the workplace environment when it comes to technology and infrastructure.
[00:14:25] I'm more so on the event side. But like I said a minute ago, the platforms that technology and just how we've been able to adapt and learn and get smarter over the last couple years when it comes to remote experiences, whether it be in the office or at home or watching something remotely, it's just become so much better and there's so many more tools out there, and more companies like ourselves that have been through, the fire and can make suggestions and recommendations for whatever those needs may be.
[00:14:57] Joey: So I'm thinking about a specific situation, say a company's doing a quarterly update meeting and they've got a remote workplace. How can we use someone like Videonics to help us improve that user experience?
[00:15:09] Tommy: Yeah, so luckily we've got an amazing team that's here with us.
[00:15:14] They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, mostly in live production, so producers, directors dedicated to working with those clients and listening to those pain points, right? Because it's hard running an event, whether it's online, in person, hybrid they're difficult, right?
[00:15:34] And so we have a dedicated team that works beginning to end, ensuring that the event runs smoothly, looks professional and meets the goals. And there's no hiccups, no one's on mute. No one's camera, pointed, up here somewhere. We work really hard and make sure that happens.
[00:15:51] And we also have, bigger capabilities as far as access to our studio here to make it look even more professional or come on site and make it look [00:16:00] more broadcast-like. So those types of things is what Videonics does. We just like to take things to the next level.
[00:16:09] Joey: Thank you for sharing that.
[00:16:09] That's something I think back to when we were all first learning how to use Zoom, and it's the hardest part about dealing with that remote environment. I still forget about it. I'm like, I'm the worst millennial ever. How do I still not know how to hop on Zoom and not be muted?
[00:16:21] Tommy: And we're basically running a TV show, right? That's basically what a virtual or hybrid event, right is? You're running a show and it's live, and you need to make sure that you've got the right people, the right redundancies, the right equipment, all the things in place if something were to fail or go wrong, you've got a backup plan.
[00:16:38] Joey: What would you say was the biggest like “aha” moment that you had during that? Whether it was finding the right piece of software or figuring out this is something that works and has traction
[00:16:49] Tommy: During the heat of Covid? What was the biggest “aha” moment? I think the biggest “aha” moment was, like I said earlier, we knew how to do it.
[00:16:58] We were already positioned to make it happen. We just had to basically almost flip the company upside down for a little bit and ride that wave and see where it took us. And it panned out because we now have a completely new revenue stream that we really didn't have before.
[00:17:14] It was just a small piece of the company. Now it's a significant piece.
[00:17:19] Joey: How are you feeling about that moving forward in terms of pipeline? Do you feel like that's an area that you're concerned? Were you worried about it swinging back the other direction and how you pivot away from it?
[00:17:28] Tommy: It's an internal debate every single day.
[00:17:33] Because, yeah. It was wild. Everyone was coming to us and now it's not as wild as it was before. And that's okay. We've been able to gain a lot of new clients over the past couple years, which has been great, but as we get back on site or in person, how does Vidionics fit in?
[00:17:51] That's where our next level of thinking and strategy is gonna be, is to how do we fit in when it comes to being top of mind, when it comes to going [00:18:00] onsite and we are doing that. We are going onsite with clients that are just doing onsite in person only. No virtual experience. Those happen too.
[00:18:09] Okay. But figuring out our next couple years trajectory is my biggest challenge. That's my rock.
[00:18:15] Joey: I'm sure it's not just you too. That's the question I think everyone's trying to figure out. When we think about, not just from a business planning perspective, how do we have the right people on board in the right place and where's our next client gonna come from?
[00:18:26] But from larger industries too, “what's the future of the office place look like?” I was having a conversation with my brother-in-law back in Texas a couple months ago when we were there, and he was talking about how the place next door to where his office is in Dallas is 70% vacant as a commercial space, and they're trying to figure out alternative uses for it.
[00:18:47] And it's gonna take people figuring out how to be flexible. Not unlike you guys had to figure out how to be flexible in March and April of 2020 with your resources to figure out what the future of this is gonna look like. So it could be a really interesting situation over the next three to five years as we figure out what the best way forward is.
[00:19:06] Personally, I like the remote nature of it, but I think it's nice to have what I think people would call an office optional approach. Let's create flexibility for everybody. Go where it makes the most sense for you to be. But the key, which Tommy you hit on earlier, is making sure that you've got that user experience being dialed in so that no one's suffering for one course versus the other.
[00:19:30] I think there's a really interesting lesson there for all of us as we're deciding what our businesses are gonna look like moving forward.
[00:19:35] Tommy: Yeah. And then you throw in inflation, recession fears, war. All those things combined just makes it for a tricky election year coming up.
[00:19:46] Tricky next couple years and positioning yourselves to be in the right place.
[00:19:52] Jody: Thinking through that with, transitioning yourself in the right place and putting yourself with the pipeline and everything. You think it's gonna be [00:20:00] easier for you to fill the pipeline based on all those different criteria, recession, war, all the things that could potentially and is happening right now versus the old way where you had to be impersonal all the time?
[00:20:12] Do you think being remote will help you and diversify you, take away some of that risk that you might have had before?
[00:20:19] Tommy: Yeah, I do. We've had several new clients lately that have come to us and we're basically the internal teams were just exhausted of doing their own virtual town halls, meetings, whatever it may be. They were just exhausted. It's very technically challenged. It's hard. You gotta wrangle a lot of cats to make sure that it all happens and it's hard work and I don't think that's going anywhere soon.
[00:20:45] When it comes to onsite in person, what we're finding is a lot of the cities that we're experiencing these issues in have had people- lemme back up the audio visual side of events. It's not where we live. We're not in the audiovisual space, right?
[00:21:02] So our clients will come to us and say, “we want to produce a virtual hybrid event at the XYZ Hotel. Make it happen.” Yep. What we're finding is there's a shortage of skilled workers. The customer service level is not there. And the attention to detail is not there. And so, we're having to really step in and fill that void of those the areas that are struggling in that that realm of staffing and crews for those experiences onsite in those properties. And I think we're positioned okay. I think we're positioned very well as we move forward because we now have clients and opportunities in that space that we're already living in.
[00:21:45] Jody: Yeah, it makes a ton of sense. Ton of sense. So Joey, let's let's go ahead and do our favorite part of this whole thing. What kind of question do you have for the two of us? I've given you the entire time to think of this amazing question.
[00:21:59] Joey: You did, and I think [00:22:00] I've got a doozy.
[00:22:00] I think I've got a doozy for you. Jody.
[00:22:02] Jody: You better be a doozy. If you say it's a doozy, it better be a doozy.
[00:22:05] Joey: I'm gonna, I'm gonna preface this with a little bit of a story. So I've been thinking a lot about this the last couple of weeks because my college basketball team, the Kansas State Wildcats, made a bit of a tournament run and up until Saturday we thought there was a chance we'd be going to the final four.
[00:22:19] It didn't happen, but shout out to Coach Tang and the boys for a great season. It was a lot of fun, but that got me thinking. Tommy, since you guys are in events and you do live events, what is one live event - sporting, concert, anything, that you haven't gone to that you would want to go to? Not as a producer, but just as a fan of what's going on?
[00:22:40] Told you it was a doozy, Jody.
[00:22:45] Jody: And while he id thinking of that I can't believe you brought basketball up. As bad of a mood as you were in this morning, Joey, I thought, man you would never bring basketball up ever again, but surprise me, man.
[00:22:55] Joey: Look, it's, it was unexpected.
[00:22:58] It was a great season, and I'm proud of the fellas. They did great. It's a lot of fun.
[00:23:03] Jody: Okay, Tommy, let's hear it.
[00:23:06] Tommy: Wow. That's a tough one. I'm going to probably have to say I would like from a production standpoint all the pieces that it takes to put on this particular event?
[00:23:20] I'm gonna say opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
[00:23:25] That's a big undertaking and I would like to see that in person.
[00:23:28] Jody: Okay. Why is that? Why does that come to mind?
[00:23:32] Tommy: Out outside of a Super Bowl halftime, right? Super Bowl halftime, that's an easy pick.
[00:23:37] The opening ceremonies at the Olympics is a several hour choreographed experience. There's tons of people involved, a lot of technology and I would just love to see it in person one year, especially out of the country. That'd be fun.
[00:23:54] Joey: For sure. Say you're gonna have a chance in Los Angeles in a couple of years, but that defeats the out of the country [00:24:00] nature there.
[00:24:03] Jody: Oh man, that's a tough one here. I'm gonna go to just a probably an old fashioned musical. I know you guys are gonna probably just die on that one there. But the choreographic, everything that goes into a musical is amazing. Probably didn't realize back in high school I was actually in musicals, which is funny cuz you never probably would've guessed that now.
[00:24:22] But with that, a lot of fun. There's a lot that goes into it. And the hours and hours of rehearsal and over the lighting, the background, everything. And then if you're to try to put that on for tv, made for tv, oh my gosh, it's even that much tougher.
[00:24:40] I can't even imagine,Tommy, what would actually it take to take a well-known Broadway musical and make it ready for tv. Because again, the TV audience is a lot different than the in-person audience when it comes to that. The experience is so much differently. How would you actually take that musical and do it?
[00:24:56] And there's been a couple that have been successful successful doing it, but I can't imagine that the undergoing that would take to from start to finish on that.
[00:25:03] Joey: It's funny you mentioned that, Jody. We have tickets to see Hamilton.
[00:25:11] And that was one that I thought that they did really well on the Disney Plus movie version.
[00:25:16] Jody: That was what I was thinking of.
[00:25:18] Joey: It was really cool. Yeah, really enjoyed it. All right, I'll wrap it up with mine. I think I know what my answer is, although Tommy just blew it out of the water with his. I don't know how I'm gonna beat the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
[00:25:29] Jody: I know when you said that, I was like, “oh he ca he brought A game.?
[00:25:33] Joey: Yeah, that was the dunk to start the game. So I don't know if I can finish it. I think for me it would need to be something, like you were saying, Tommy, where there's a lot of moving pieces and it's just such a well-oiled machine.
[00:25:44] So I think of something like, the Masters are one of those golf productions where again, if you could sit there and be behind the scenes and you think about, oh, we've got all these monitors and we're monitoring 72 golfers on the course at the same time, and this guy's watching this guy and we're gonna [00:26:00] feed in these things, but oh, we gotta go do a live shot here cuz someone just did something incredible.
[00:26:04] I think that would be a really interesting thing to just watch the choreography of how that goes. And then, thinking about the talent on that too. We talk about Jim Nantz as one of the greatest broadcasters of all time, but every single person who's doing a live broadcast like that is an absolute rockstar.
[00:26:21] So we'd love to see them do their thing live.
[00:26:25] Jody: Love it. So Tommy somebody in the audience there wants to get ahold of you or reach out. How would they get in touch with you?
[00:26:31] Tommy: Easiest place to go is our website, vidionix.com, V I D I O N I X .com, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:26:41] Jody: Yeah. Tommy, it's been a pleasure. I've had a great time. Hope you have too on this short 30 minute podcast. And again Tommy Nolan from Vidionix. Thank you very much for joining us.
[00:26:52] Tommy: Jody. Joey, thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
[00:27:01] Joey: Thanks, Tommy.