Previous experience with a crisis and the Entrepreneurial Operating System® have helped maintain One Firefly’s upward trajectory
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping technology professionals grow their businesses. The COVID-19 lockdowns in March were an unprecedented challenge for most companies, including his. But despite the crisis, One Firefly reacted quickly and nailed its next quarterly sales and growth target and remains on track to hit 2020 objectives.
Ron attributes this flexibility to a strong team, his use of the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS), and experience. This isn’t his first time guiding a business through a crisis.
“I think many lessons that I learned in those early years have helped identify areas that we can ultimately work on,” says Ron. “And last summer, I finally implemented EOS traction and gained an Implementer.”
A classic entrepreneurial journey, begun at a tough time to start a business
After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2000 with a mechanical engineering degree, Ron embarked on a career in the custom integration industry, also known as the consumer electronics industry. He worked for two large vendors and manufacturers before deciding to found Firefly Design Group, which provided outsourced design and engineering services.
“For seven years, I worked for the big corporate brands,” he explains. “And in ‘07, I decided to take the leap of faith from working for someone else with a steady paycheck to being an entrepreneur because I had identified a need. And there was a fire inside of me that I wanted to be my own business operator.”
Unfortunately, Ron made some classic new-entrepreneur mistakes—he didn’t do enough market research, for one thing—and his timing wasn’t exactly great. His new business was almost immediately caught up in the Great Recession.
“For the first few years of Firefly, I only knew pain and suffering. I never knew what it was like to have a good marketplace or economy,” Ron explains. “And so we fought tooth and nail and learned how to be efficient and survive. We didn’t really learn how to thrive—that still took a few years. But we cut our teeth in one of the hardest economies up until that moment.”
The evolution to One Firefly and an introduction to EO
The company evolved to add programming and marketing services, eventually rebranding itself as One Firefly. The business had survived and stabilized, but Ron discovered that there was still a lot to learn by engaging with a peer group. In 2011, he learned about the EO Accelerator program and first met Cesar Quintero. Ron became immersed in an ecosystem of entrepreneurs learning things, reading a lot of books, and attending forums. The opportunity turned him on to new ideas—theoretical, practical, and experiential.
“It was instrumental in exposing me to the idea that there are systems and methodologies that can make a difference,” says Ron. “And feedback through other entrepreneurs and some of the EO Accelerator forums clued me in to a lack of focus. Perhaps the fact that my business was an engineering business and a marketing business and a programming business and a rep business was probably a flaw, not a benefit.”
It took Ron a few years to absorb the lesson—he “was stubborn and not a great listener.” And though One Firefly was stable, business struggles continued, and he lost a love for the work.
“We were always getting by. I always made a salary. It was just terribly, fantastically hard,” he explains. Ron considered quitting. As each day passed, he struggled through it and kicked the can down the road, telling himself, “I’ll quit tomorrow.”
Two significant decisions provided the inspiration that turned things around.
EOS Accelerator, Traction, and finding focus
Ron’s “first big leap” happened in 2013, after an EO Accelerator program.
“I had a breakthrough: I realized that I had been trying to hire sales, but I was doing a very mediocre job at operations,” he explains. Unfortunately, One Firefly was hyper-focused on growth by hiring salespeople, even though Ron was already great at sales—it was his superpower.
One Firefly needed the infrastructure to keep customers. The company had to raise the bar on operations, improve its product quality, and get a grip on finances.
“I didn’t have the infrastructure to keep clients, love them, and deliver the highest level of product,” he explains. “And I didn’t know my finances intimately. If I got a harebrained idea, I couldn’t model it out and really know whether that was a smart path.”
To meet the challenge, Ron interviewed over 60 candidates during a six-month national recruiting campaign, eventually finding the right person for the job. Taylor Whipple—who now serves as One Firefly’s Vice President of Operations & Finance—soon whipped people, processes, and financials into shape.
Narrowing his personal focus allowed Ron’s business to achieve its focus. He eventually realized that One Firefly should abandon certain underperforming services to achieve growth. It was a difficult decision since Ron is a trained engineer, and many of these offerings were close to his heart. “I needed someone to show me the facts so I could see that objectively,” he explains.
In 2015, One Firefly changed from a firm that provided outsourced design, engineering, and marketing services to one exclusively focused on marketing. It was the most scalable service with the highest growth potential. The switch was a success, and the company became “rocket-fuel profitable,” experiencing 35% yearly growth between 2016 and 2019.
One Firefly had pivoted successfully, but Ron searched for concrete steps to achieve another five years of similar growth. In 2019, he reached out to Tim Vogel, the CEO of Scenthound and a member of One Firefly’s Board of Advisors. His advice? Tim had adopted EOS to achieve traction and was experiencing stellar results.
Almost immediately, Ron asked Cesar to help implement EOS. And in less than six months, the system:
- Tightened up roles and accountabilities through “the accountability chart, defining the responsibilities of the leadership team, and the discipline of agreeing to Quarterly Rocks.”
- Structured Level 10 Meetings™ allowed One Firefly to “knock through issues that were critical to different team members.”
- Ron developed the discipline to “not overload my leadership team and staff with more than is realistically manageable.”
- One Firefly aligned all efforts around Rocks and yearly goals tied to long-term objectives.
- For the first time in company history, One Firefly outlined a clear company vision and well-defined core values—and built a team aligned with both.
The move couldn’t have come at a better time—many of these tools prepared One Firefly to deal with COVID-19. When the crisis hit, the team quickly mobilized to meet the challenge.
On March 9th, the company held its quarterly planning meeting in Las Vegas. The casinos were packed, and the pandemic’s scope was not yet realized. But Ron had “a suspicion that this was going to get very bad, very quick.” One Firefly’s leadership team held a contingency planning meeting.
“It discussed level-one, level-two, and level-three actions we’re going to take as a company to minimize the negative impact,” Ron says. “And we did that all with Cesar moderating the discussion.” The team left Vegas with a solid game plan and implemented it as soon as they returned home.
Despite the growing crisis and economic slowdown, the company hit its sales and growth goal on the head in March. And a combination of cost-cutting measures and well-targeted marketing and sales efforts enabled One Firefly to beat its April numbers. That goal—representing 35% growth over the previous year—was eclipsed by 7%. The company finished out quarter two on target, and continues toward meeting its 2020 goals.
“I am so thankful for EOS,” explains Ron. “I called Cesar and told him, ‘I feel so at peace with what we’re doing because of my team’s alignment around our mission and our vision. I don’t know how this crisis will end up, but I’m not stressed.”
Advice on navigating a crisis
Ron is unsure what the future will bring, but he’s ready to meet any challenges head-on. Weathering the Great Recession and now COVID-19 is valuable experience. And the structure and clarity of EOS have provided confidence. Ron learned useful lessons from the previous crisis on minimizing expenses and “running lean,” and he combines this approach with an aggressive push toward targeted growth.
“I think the next year in front of us has the potential to be very weird. But in a time like this, we have to ask ourselves: accept it or pivot?” he says. “On March 9th, I told my leadership team: ‘You don’t know this yet, but everything in the world is different, starting right now. But we are survivors, and we’re going to grow. In a market downturn, you are on the offense, or you’re on defense. And we’re on the offense.’”
Ron has some advice for other entrepreneurs grappling with this crisis—and those who may have been struggling before it hit.
“You’re not on an Island; you’re not by yourself,” he says. “Success depends on being open to new ideas. And sometimes, that involves getting out of your own way and being ready to receive counsel on how you can do something different to achieve the outcome you want.”
“That’s one of the things EOS does for us. It gives us precision. And while we were already a very talented athlete, we needed the discipline of a coach with the eye to point out areas we could work on to achieve an outsized impact on our business.”
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