Gustavo Serafini: I can do it so can you.
Gustavo and I met through altMBA ("alternative MBA"), founded by one of my favorite teachers, Seth Godin.
Over the course of 4 weeks including nights and weekends, we connected with dozens of likeminded people, learning about business and life.
If you can't see the player above, click here to listen.
"Where others see obstacles, Gustavo sees opportunity. Gustavo consistently challenges himself to overcome the obstacles in his life, while inspiring others to do the same. As a successful entrepreneur, Gustavo overcame the odds of a historic recession and a host of naysayers. He finds joy in opportunity. He knows that difficulty will never outshine persistence, belief, and courage. His motto is: If I can do it, so can you." - Gustavo Serafini
Originally from Brazil, Gustavo's family moved to the States when he was still a baby. Born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), Gustavo had to learn how to walk and live like other kids at a very young page.
Fast forward a few decades, Gustavo is now a successful entrepreneur who co-owns Pure Audio Video with his brother. We chatted about his startup days and how he overcame the economic crisis in the US in 2008. From studying buddhism, to going to law school, Gustavo transformed himself in pursuing endeavors that I couldn't help learning more about.
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[06:00] How and when did you move to the US?
[08:00] How long did it take for you to adapt to this society, overcoming your physical condition?
[13:00] During altMBA, you gave feedback in a very insightful way. Have you always been this way?
[15:00] What are some of the learnings you remember as the most important from altMBA?
[22:00] Can you share the story of your company Pure Audio Video?
[24:00] How old were you when you started your own business?
[25:00] What were some of the risks at that time?
[28:00] During the recession (2008-09), what were some of the hard decisions you had to make?
[32:00] There’s always an inflection point as an entrepreneur when you realize that your business is taking off and you decide to switch full time to it and commit 100%. When was that point for you?
[37:00] How did BJ Miller’s story resonate with you? What things do you have in common?
[43:00] What was your experience with bullying in school?
[45:00] What are the core business offerings of Pure Audio Video? What type of systems do you install?
[47:00] What is the installation process like?
[49:00] Can people contact you to get involved with the installation process while the home is being built?
[51:00] How do people (builders or clients) get in touch with you?
[55:00] For those people that live in other areas (outside of Florida), what would be your advice be when they look for a company that provides these services?
[07:00] The challenge was ‘figure it out, adapt’ and learn to adapt to your environment because that’s what you have to do anyways, and make it work. [..] Treat people the way you want to be treated.
[14:00] ...That was a good change of pace for me because it allowed me to get more out of the experience rather than trying to impose to the group what I think should happen, I’m gonna be more attentive, pay more attention and respond rather than react.
[16:00] That whole feedback loop was tremendous: Nobody was negative because everybody was genuine, and the feedback was delivered in a way that was thoughtful, made you rethink your assumptions and pushed you further to improve.
[19:00] The idea of perfection is a trap. You were given this ideals of ‘it has to be perfect’,’you have to be perfect’, ‘if you are not perfect, you don’t have anything useful to say’. Our society creates these ideals of perfection, somebody reaches it for a minute and then we break them down, we find a flaw, and then they are not useful anymore. That approach is idiotic and not productive.
[33:00] You want to find the people who are willing to show up every day, and put in the work, and put in the time, and be accountable. Those are the people that you want to associate yourself with, and engage with, connect with and build relationships with.
[35:00] I can overcome this, I can still engage with people and contribute, and it’s not the overriding factor in any way, it’s just another factor, another lens.
Transcript of Interview with Gustavo Serafini
Welcome to the Feisworld podcast, engaging conversations that cross the boundaries between business, art and the digital world.
The challenge was to figure it out, right? Adapt, be yourself, learn to adapt to your environment, because that's what you're going to have to do anyway, and make it work. And we're here to support you and help you, go do it.
That was a really good change of pace for me because it allowed me to get more out of the experience rather than trying to, you know, impose what I think should happen into the group. I said: “You know what, I'm going to do the opposite and pay more attention and be more attentive, respond rather than react”.
The idea of perfection is a trap, you were given these ideals that it has to be perfect, you have to be perfect. If you're not perfect, you know, you don't have anything useful to say. Our society creates these ideas of perfection, somebody reaches it for a minute and then they're not useful anymore, and I think that approach’s not productive.
You want to find the people that are willing to show up every day and put in the work, put in the time, be accountable, and those are the people that you want to associate yourself with, engage with, connect with and build relationships with.
Hello, it’s Fei Wu from Feisworld and I'm stuck inside my house right now in Boston while recording this intro. Yep, it snowed again in March. Can you believe that? It ain't usual snowstorm either, but the one, you know, that hits double digits.
More reasons to work indoors - and I'm sure those of you who live in colder climate know exactly what I'm talking about – a couple of months ago, I decided to challenge myself to a different sort of MBA. This one is called altMBA (I think it stands for Alternative MBA), founded by one of my favorite teachers named Seth Godin.
Over the course of four weeks, in between January and February 2017, nights and weekends, I connected with dozens of like-minded people, learning about business and about life. One of the people I met is named Gustavo Serafini. He is our guest today. Where others see obstacles, Gustavo sees opportunity. Gustavo consistently challenges himself to overcome the obstacles in his life while inspiring others to do the same. As a successful entrepreneur, Gustavo overcame the odds of a historic recession and a host of naysayers. He finds joy in opportunity. He knows that difficulty will never outshine persistence, belief and courage. His motto is: “If I can do it, so can you." Gustavo and I worked together in a cohort during altMBA, he was always thoughtful with his comments and feedback.
Originally from Brazil, Gustavo’s family moved to the states when he was still a little baby. Born with a birth defect, Gustavo had to learn how to walk and live like the other kids. Fast forward a few decades, Gustavo is now a successful businessman who runs Pure Audio Video in Florida with his brother. From studying Buddhism to going to law school, Gustavo transformed himself in pursuing endeavors that I couldn't help learning more about. So I welcome you to listen in on our conversation and leave a comment on our blog Feisworld.com or on social media. Without further ado, please welcome Gustavo Serafini to the Feisworld podcast!
Fei Wu 4:37
For my listeners who don't know how we got to know each other, which is just about a couple of months ago - believe it or not, we met through Seth Godin’s altMBA, which, I believe stands for “Alternative MBA”, like a different way of learning more about business and how to make it more practical. It was cohort-based, and we happened to be slotted in only one of the cohorts over the course of four weeks, and we connected right away. So I would love for this episode to be about a few things. One is related to the altMBA, one is about your origin story and how your family moved to the US, and one is about your upbringing, as well as you being an entrepreneur, currently residing in Florida. I can see your brand right on my screen, Pure Audio Video. So I would like to hear a little bit more about the origin story. Because when I read your bio, it hit me right away just how transparent, how vulnerable you are, writing such a bio in front of 100-200 people you had never met at that point. Tell me a bit more about how old were you when you moved over and why your family decided to immigrate to the US.
Okay, so when I was born, I had and still have a condition called PFFD, which is Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. There were only about 12 people in the world at that time, in 1976, who had that condition. I was born in a small town in Brazil, my father was a doctor, he had just finished his residency. So they went out and, you know, traveled and interviewed a bunch of doctors from all over the world: Japan, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil to figure out, was this treatable? Would I be able to walk? Would I be able to function normally in society and contribute? And the idea was, very few people knew about this and what was the strategy, what were the goals going to be. So they ended up really liking a doctor in the United States, and they decided to go ahead and make the move. It was really difficult. They obviously didn't know English, and moving to a foreign country, all of those challenges… And I was two when they actually came over to the States, and yeah, I had an operation. From there, it was, like, prosthetics, braces and learning to walk. It took a lot of time. I guess everybody was learning.
The challenge was to figure it out, right? Adapt, be yourself, learn to adapt to your environment, because that's what you're going to have to do anyway, and make it work. And we're here to support you and help you, go do it. So that's what I did. It was different, but I also didn't want to be treated differently from anybody else. I think the golden rule that I learned early on was “Treat people the way you want to be treated”. And for the most part that worked out really well for me.
Fei Wu 8:01
You mentioned you were only two years old, I didn't realize you're that young! And in a way, I guess, it was the best decision to do that, most kids only started to walk when they're about a year old.
Do you still have any recollection of that part of your life? You know, how long did it take for you to learn to walk and to adapt.
I remember very little. I remember, my mom was really the one that pushed and had the will. She gave me that sense of willpower, of overcoming the obstacles and pushing through them. I don't remember exactly, maybe at three, I was starting kindergarten, like a Montessori school, and I was already walking then with braces. But the school was really big, it was like kindergarten and first grade, and the land that they had was huge. So the playground was pretty far away. And I remember that they came up with a little car, so the teachers would push me in the car because I couldn't walk that far. Then I'd go and play with the kids, and then they push me back, or sometimes the kids would help push me back.
The classroom environment was fine, little creative things like that, that I think people helped participate in, helped solve little problems and make little concessions that helped me engage with everybody and feel comfortable in the schools. All of those school environments were really good like that. And as I got older, there wasn't really a need for that. So you adapt depending upon the school, the people and the environment.
Fei Wu 9:50
Wow, it's so funny that you mentioned Montessori School because I relatively recently interviewed a young man named Gordon Lau, who studied philosophy at New York University. His family immigrated to Canada when he was only three years old, and he went to Montessori school as well. And as a 22-year-old today, he remembers so fondly of how he was treated, how learning was managed, and how different it was. And he wanted to attribute so much of his current being to what he learned.
Also yesterday I was at my Taekwondo school, watching another podcast guest named Dan Cooper, who is a principal performer for the Blue Man Group, teaching a leadership workshop at the Taekwondo school for 20 kids between the age of 10 and 16. And it was a phenomenal watch, because one of the things he said is precisely what you just did, that if we support one another, we will be so much better together. And that notion of paying it forward, “If I help you, you’ll go help someone else”, it's really interesting. I can't believe, as a three-year-old, that's the bits and pieces that you did remember.
Absolutely. You know, in college, I dove really deep into philosophy and Buddhism, the self-discovery process. And there's a great notion in American pragmatism of unity and diversity. It's, you know, understanding how we're all different, but still staying unified and supporting each other, helping each other and not losing sight of the things that we have in common as human beings, that really works. And altMBA embraces that too: we're all unique, but we still share these fundamental similarities that we can relate to, help each other with and grow from it. And I learned a lot of that in school by engaging with people. And I hope I brought some of that back too, like, “Look, you can adapt, you can overcome obstacles and still give something back that's unique and interesting to people”.
Fei Wu 12:16
When I was taking altMBA, I found you to be incredibly insightful and very genuine in terms of your feedback, how you observe and listen very carefully a conversation that we're having. Many people listening don't know that many of our classes, the collaboration, lasted for three or even four hours at a time, then quick lunch break, and we'll regroup. So these were pretty intense sessions, and you were very memorable in a way that you had a lot to offer to the group, but you also listened carefully. So there's a really good balance there. How did you gain that level of insight? Have you always been this way? Does that sound foreign to you? Or is that sort of how you perceived amongst your friends as well?
I think you probably have to ask my friends if that's true or not. But, well, thank you! I came to the altMBA as having a small business, having to be a leader and being put in that role for so long. My goals for the altMBA were to take a step back, embrace this group of talented people and say: “Okay, I'm not going to lead, I'm going to observe, listen, absorb what's going on and try to be helpful”. I think that was a really good change of pace for me because it allowed me to get more out of the experience, rather than trying to impose what I think should happen into the group. I said: “You know what, I'm going to do the opposite, pay more attention and respond rather than react”. I got a lot more out of it, and yeah, that was my goal. I wanted to take a different approach, and it helped me.
Fei Wu 14:16
Since we started talking about altMBa, it's fascinating to me that I am interested in knowing what will happen next for altMBA. What did happen between session one and seven? What did people learn? What are they doing now? So let's dive in a bit.
To me, my experience was outstanding, above and beyond what I had expected. At the same time, I feel like some concepts and learnings are slipping already, as much as I tried to apply to my daily lives. And granted, there're so many different ideas and concepts. What are some of the learnings that you remember the most?
Well, first, I share your thoughts there, it was life-changing experience, it was fantastic, much more than I thought I was going to get out of it. And I agree 100% that there's so much information that they throw at you in four weeks, it's impossible to truly digest it all in that period of time and even afterward. But the two kind of key components that have stuck with me so far is during the week, we have a project [at altMBA], you have to put the project out there, then you get feedback from people on that project, and then you reflect upon that feedback. And that whole feedback loop was tremendous because nobody was negative, nobody was critical, because everybody was actually putting genuine effort into it, there was no need to be critical. And the feedback was delivered in a way that was thoughtful, made you rethink your assumptions, pushed you further to improve whatever it is you had made. And then, when you got to reflect on that, you really got the ability to say “Okay, let me rethink what I did and let me try to improve upon it”. And that whole feedback loop was tremendous, I really enjoyed that experience. I'm trying to apply that now to my business and to the people that I interact with, because how often do we get to meet people that are willing to give us thoughtful feedback, help us improve something and aren't being naysayers and saying “Well, that's not very good, you should give up on that”. Instead, it's “Here's how you can make it better”. Would you agree with that?
Fei Wu 17:15
Yeah, absolutely. The feedback was very constructive. I think there was a process of us trying to write each other very useful feedback, but all of us felt like we could have improved it even more, just because we had that desire doesn't mean that we have necessarily the tools with to make it better. I remember the discussion about how to give feedback. And immediately after that, I think you're commenting on one of my homework assignments, where you're really zooming in and focusing on one piece of feedback, on one thing I should take away, rethink and improve upon. And I could also tell that you spend some time to actually go over all the other people's feedback as well, so you don't write duplicated, similar feedback. I remember, one of the things you said is “Why do more with less when I'll do more with more”. And I was thinking that's really interesting. It's very counterintuitive because we are so ingrained in that one very specific example. It’s kind of breaking the conventions quite a bit, we seem like just normal people. And it made me think that if we come together, there are a lot of things we could have done, a lot of wisdom, even though we're not the Seth Godins of the world, but we have a lot of value to offer one another.
Absolutely. And hopefully, we all will be “Tier one” down the road. But we got the tools now in order to do that. Part of the process is showing up, being vulnerable, doing your work and making it better. And it's a long term process, Seth Godin didn't get to Seth Godin, until he put all of those years of work in, and now we have the tools to follow our own path towards that goal, or towards doing something remarkable. And the other thing I wanted to talk about is the idea of perfection being a trap. You were given these ideas of “All has to be perfect, you have to be perfect”. And if you're not perfect, you don't have anything useful to say, if you're not “tier one”, your input isn't all that valuable. Our society creates these ideas of perfection, and somebody reaches it for a minute, and then we break them down, or we find a flaw and then they're not useful anymore. I think that approach’s idiotic and not productive. So rather than having these ideas of perfection, what we were taught in altMBA is “Ship good enough, and don't hide in that trap of it being perfect”, because it's either not going to get there or it's not going to get there on time. So do something good, and then work on making it better. And that is so valuable because it forces you to say “I do want to do something, I do want to make a difference, I want to make an impact. Here it is, I'm putting it out there to the world, and I'm using good feedback to make it better, rather than never doing anything”.
Fei Wu 21:02
That very much, I think relates, to the business of any kind, even for a blogger. And people say that it's easy enough to start a blog, I even argue that I see many people hold themselves back, including some of my clients, to say “I don't think I have anything sufficient or valuable to say”. You see, at one point, the calculation was that 90% of the blogs have a single article on them. So related to that, I think there're these inner relationships, the connections between altMBA and what you were talking about precisely with your business, Pure Audio Video. So walk me through, how many years ago was this? I know, at some point, you were going to law school and there was a bit of a transition there. Tell me “the origin story” of your company, please.
Sure. I guess I'd have to go back to when I was 16 years old.
You know, my parents were doing pretty well. they were building a home and the builder introduced us (this is like the early 90s) to what really amazing audio sounds like, and they were just starting to come out with surround sound. I went and experienced that. And I heard about this little showroom in LA. Basically, most of my time I grew up in Los Angeles, and I had heard a pair of ridiculously expensive speakers. I was just blown away by how real it sounded, and how engaging it was! It was just a pure emotional reaction to it. And it opened my mind to a whole other world that I didn't even know existed. So it kind of became a hobby of mine through all those years, something that I enjoyed, and then getting out of law school, you know, we had just moved to South Florida, and my brother said: “Well, it looks like there's an opportunity to do this here, there's a market for it”. And we took the risk. It's been a long journey, but the vision has stayed pretty constant, which is to give people great experiences with movies, with music, with smart homes, convenience and building great experiences for people.
Fei Wu 23:26
You mentioned that you have a brother as well. I wonder, is he an older brother? Younger brother?
Three years younger.
Fei Wu 23:31
Oh, wow. So just the two of you in the family?
Yeah, two kids.
Fei Wu 23:37
And you end up working together. By the way, kudos to that, because with many people, especially in families, there are a lot of conflicts.
You mentioned some risks involved at the beginning. How old were you when you started Pure Audio Video?
It was 2000, I got to do the math… I was, like, 30.
Fei Wu 24:07
Oh, cool. So you didn't start doing that immediately fresh out of school. I think in the late 20s, early 30s, there're some magical transitions, even just personally. That's when I started the podcast, when I start questioning a lot of the conventions, protocols.
So there were some risks involved. When you're 30, your brother will be 27 at the time. What were some of the risks? What was the story you're telling yourself at the time?
I mean, there were a lot of risks. One is, you know, we didn't have a lot of connections down here, neither myself nor my brother had worked in this industry before, they call it the Custom Installation Industry or Consumer Electronics. It's a weird space. We didn't have experience, we didn't have a lot of contacts, but we had a vision, we had goals, and we wanted to do it. So obviously you had to put a good amount of finances in to get it started. And the market was strong. But then, after we really launched in 2007 with the showroom, a year later, just as we were building momentum, you have the Great Recession, and that was extremely difficult. The whole industry really came to a halt, whole economy. So how do you get through that? What do you do? How do you survive a lot of risks? But we decided that we believed in the vision and we wanted to make it work. And we persisted. We just kept going and found a way. But if I were to do it again, I don't know that I would do the same thing. I certainly would do it differently,
Fei Wu 26:07
What are some of the things you would do differently?
I would work in the industry at least for a little bit and get to know the ins and outs of it before taking that leap. You get a lot of experience and you see the industry from the inside.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the “Eat, pray, love” and other successful books, I've been listening to her TED talks and some of her other speeches recently, and she says that the industry is right for you if you're willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes along with it.
Fei Wu 26:40
Yeah, I'm a huge fan. A book “Eat, pray, love” didn't resonate with me very well, I think partly because I read the Chinese version, but I really fell in love with her most recent book called Big Magic, I thought it was really phenomenal. I can also see her as a mature author who really experienced a lot, settled into a new self, in a way.
But back to the inside of the industry - I agree. I am mega appreciative and feeling rather blessed to have been the insider for so many years, inside the agency for digital marketing, as well as working for different types of clients in relations to that digital marketing expertise, because you even then it’s different. The different makeup of the clients, the different industry that client as in. That big variety, by the way, really helped, versus I don't feel that I've was too niched and too narrow of a focus when I was working in marketing.
What are some of the memories of that crisis time for you? So many companies were closing down, many people lost their jobs. What are some of the things you still remember that you did that perhaps were counterintuitive? What are some of the hard decisions you had to make?
I mean, we kept the staff extremely small. And we made the commitment to pay the employees before ourselves and always kept that going. We tried events, we spend money on event marketing, PR firms, but we ended up really just taking the jobs that came our way, you know, and that was whether or not we wanted to, or whether or not it was a right fit. We took what we needed to take in order to keep going because our thinking was: If we can survive this and keep going through it, eventually things are going to turn around and we're going to be able to do the work that we really want to do and are passionate about to it. But the biggest counterintuitive thing we did is we spent money on marketing, events and trying to build relationships
Fei Wu 28:58
Was that effective to hire someone else to do it? Obviously depends on the quality of the hire as well. Was it helpful?
I think, a lot of the events didn't really pan out into sales, but they panned out into establishing new relationships which was really beneficial.
There was a magazine at the time that was offering “If you do print ads with us then we're going to introduce you to people at luncheons that you can meet up with”. For us, architects, builders, and interior designers are very important sources of business, so at one of these luncheons I met a builder, stayed in touch with him for about a year, and then he ended up giving us that breakthrough job that got us into the luxury space that we really wanted to be in.
Fei Wu 29:52
Hmm, isn't it interesting - I look back on some of the people I am working with closely currently right now, and I had to actually go back to LinkedIn and see, you know, how did I meet these people? How long ago? And it was back in 2011! So that was five years before I went freelancing. It’s incredible how valuable relationships are and how long-term thinking you must establish and hone in when you're running a business. You really can't be too short-sighted.
Sometimes I find it difficult to kind of explain to people who are younger and older, in fact, to say, what does that mean? Some of the things I learned through altMBA is how do you know that you're making progress? How do you identify these are the valuable relationships that you should invest your time and money in? How long would it be? And when do you have to quit? You know, I remember the both of us enjoyed Seth Godin, for obvious reasons. But also the Tim Ferriss podcast I mentioned briefly, there's another one, James Altucher, which I listen to quite often. And the question is when do you quit, when you know that you have to quit? It's kind of the related question to how do you know you're making progress? And that particular question came up at least 10 times in each one of those podcasts. At what point did you realize that you were making progress and this is something you and your brother really want to devote much of your time and energy into? Versus when you're thinking “Oh, is this ever going to work out?” What was that tipping point like?
I think in a lot of small businesses, even when they grow very big or as long as they just succeed, you have that moment where you're up against the wall. It's that “Do or die” moment where you say “Look, either it's going to work or it's not going to work”. And for us, it was that builder who gave us that opportunity. The client was a pretty famous NFL player, local down here to Miami. And for us, it was that moment. There were eight other companies competing for it, and we knew if we get this, our feet in the door, then we can build on this and do what we want to do. And we ended up getting the job. A wonderful human being, wonderful family, we're still in touch today.
And to answer your question of how do you know who to invest the time into - the altMBA has given me a new perspective on that. It's you want to find the people that are willing to show up every day, put in the work, put in the time and be accountable. And those are the people that you want to associate yourself with, engage with, connect with and build relationships with.
Fei Wu 33:01
I also want to add to that certainly credits to altMBA, it has given all of us new set of perspectives and challenged our previous assumptions. I feel like it's almost elevating us to a different level. But I think what you also talked about is very much unrelated to altMBA, it's related to your upbringing. I interviewed many guests, and almost everyone by the age of even 20, or especially 30 years old, all of us have suffered at various levels due to very different events, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual.
And I think when you're a child, when you're that two-three-year-old, you didn't quit too soon, right? You could have given up, you could have complained to the world, but it sounds to me that you were able to make friends, you were able to make it work. And you do have a support network of family, your brother, the teachers, and students. I've gone through a different set of struggles growing up, I find myself to always be a maker and problem solver. And in the context of the outside of business, there're so many struggles in our personal lives that every single day I was thinking “How do I navigate the system, the system is broken, and how do I get around that? How do I make it work?” I remember thinking about that when I was six years old. In a way, I wish I didn't have to. I remember walking to school thinking like “I wish life was easier. I wish my grandparents didn't talk to me this way. I know I'm better than what they thought I was, and I'm going to be a better person”. So because of that, I feel like it's almost second nature to you, what you were able to navigate around your business, that you did not quit too soon.
I agree. I think that's what drew me to philosophy and Zen Buddhism, especially, that idea that we all suffer. And, you know, I suffer emotionally, just like everybody else. Life presents a whole set of challenges, and I think it's important for people to understand that my disability is physical. The benefit of that is, I can never really hide, right? When somebody sees me, it’s there, out in the open, there's nothing I can do to cover that up. I didn't have a choice in the matter, but what it helped me realize was that I can overcome this, I can still engage with people and contribute. And it's not the overriding factor in anything, it's just another factor. It's another lens that sometimes complicates things, sometimes makes things better. But nevertheless, it's not the primary lens, it's just another lens to see the world through. And it's another set of problems that you have to figure out. So yes, the upbringing was crucial, but I think from that, it's also just the drive to say “I want something more, I want to overcome this, I want to be better, even though I'm flawed, imperfect, and have these difficulties”.
Fei Wu 37:09
That reminded me of the fact that you chose to listen to my conversation with BJ Miller. Many people have heard of his stories, but many still don't know anything about Dr. BJ Miller who is a triple amputee, who wasn’t born with physical disabilities and by at the age of 19 lost three limbs. And it was such a groundbreaking experience in a very subtle way, just feeling the level of impact of having him giving a speech about five feet away from me.
What was that story like to you? How did it resonate with you?
I'm a recent big fan of BJ. And, you know, maybe one day I'll get to meet him, I don't know. But it's interesting because I've done a little bit of counseling for parents who have children with a disability when I was in Chicago, at the Rehab Institute. And I think the difference between being born with the disability and having that thrown on you at some point in your life is that BJ had another frame of reference. I never had another frame of reference, this was what I was from the beginning. So I don't really feel a sense of loss, because I don't know any other way. It's always been this way. So for me, it's been about adaptation, growth, and learning, but from this perspective, if I were to lose a limb now or have that experience, that would be a different experience than his experience. But nevertheless, I can relate to it, because some of the challenges that he ended up facing, I have faced, It’s just that I've always faced them.
Fei Wu 38:56
It does make sense. I know this part is very vulnerable for you, as well as for Dr. Miller - when we talk about, you know, the story behind it all, I think for him when Tim Ferriss interviewed him about the morning after, I just couldn't even bear to listen to that. But of course, BJ Miller turned it around, all together. I remember just after that question was asked, I immediately paused the podcast to say “It's too late for me to hear what happens. I need to wake up with vitality”. And, you know, I need to meditate before I hear his answers. But somehow I didn't hit pause soon enough, and he was already throwing jokes around what actually happened.
Our perception of our reality is really interesting. What we see consumes us in a way that what we see as opportunities, as losses, is such a fascination of mine. And I think that's where I gained so much my energy and strength to create this podcast, which is 1000-hour endeavor. So I'm so glad you brought up all these interesting things I never learned about, you’re a very humble person. You said you were counseling, advising at the Chicago Rehab Institute for parents, you know, I never heard of this story. How old were you at that time? What brought you to that environment and why?
I mean, it was a very brief period of time. I was in grad school, thinking that I was going to be a professor and decided not to do that, but I had some spare time and I was getting my prosthetic service there by a prosthetist, and I think he mentioned it, and I said “Okay, that sounds like something interesting, something that I would like to get involved with”. It was a great experience, I hope to do more of that one day. It was beneficial because you got to see the fears that the parents had, mostly it was young kids, and what they really wanted to hear about was “What was your story? How did you adapt? How did you deal with bullying or test-taking, etc.? What were your experiences like?”, and it was basically sharing those experiences with them, those stories with them, help them feel like “Okay, if you can do it, then there's a good chance that my kids will be able to do that as well, and succeed and make it through”.
Fei Wu 41:47
It's very emotional for me to hear that because I interviewed several guests who echoed that exact feedback. It's about being there, sharing your stories, and not to be judgmental, not to offer advice, something at a level that parents and children aren't ready for. And I interviewed Chris Edwards about the transgender issue, and he was telling me that only if his parents knew that he was going to be okay, and just heard stories to help them realize that, well, there's a different path, there are other options, it would change their world altogether. Today, young transgender people are given way more options and psychological support to go through this period.
Thanks for sharing the story. You brought up bullying, that's another area I kind of wanted to delve into right away. As you know, one of the reasons I like to teach young children at my Taekwondo school is because bullying is such a common phenomenon in public and private schools all around the world, right? What were some of the experiences for you? And what type of help and resources did you gain from that?
Back then, I don't think it was as pervasive as it is today, but it still existed. I mean, I and my brother went to the same school up until my seventh grade. So, you know, I think having him there was beneficial, I never really experienced much of the bullying. And then, when I went into junior high, my solution for it was accidental. I was in biology class, and I was sitting next to a football player. He was looking at my homework, so I was like “Okay, you know, you're only cheating yourself by not doing it. So, go ahead, take the answers. I don't care”. The next week, he did the same thing. And then, he comes up to me, and we started talking. I like sports, too, and he said “Look, if anybody ever pics on you, let me know. I'll take care of it”. And then that turned into a thing where I didn't need to worry about that because I had friends who would take care of it if it ever happened. Thankfully, it never really did. But that's kind of how that worked itself out.
Fei Wu 44:33
Wow, good for you. That's very strategic. Whatever works, there's no manual, no set of rules that will help children protect themselves at all times. I think as an adult, now, knowing what's happening in the world, cyber-bullying included, is how do we give them the tools and teach them new ways of thinking, of how to filter and how to process that information, which I wish I did when I was much younger. But now, in retrospect, again, I think we've all gained a lot from our experiences, good and bad.
So I want to give people an idea that sometimes we go in assuming we know what audio, video really means, or what home theater really means - my mom knew that I was going to interview, and she asked me to ask you about home theater, because it's such a popular topic in Asia, in particular, in China right now (that's where my family's from). So give us a sense of what does that mean. And in 2017, what does that mean for the near future, because I feel like you're the pioneer.
I mean, we're lucky that we get to play in that, state of the art space where we're creating these dedicated cinema rooms for athletes, movie stars and people that are really into it. So we get to play in a very interesting space. But there are a lot of really great solutions for home theater that are much more affordable that most people don't know about. And I think for us, as Pure Audio Video, what we're trying to accomplish is when we give a demonstration for a movie or a piece of music, we really want an emotional connection to what we're playing. We're really trying to build memorable experiences, where you're making that movie closer to what the director wanted you to experience, something that's engaging and powerful. And leave the lasting impression. We've had people, when we give demonstrations, cry, or stand up and applause, or just feel very moved by the experience. I think, ultimately, I'm trying to share that experience that I had when I was 16, where I left that showroom, pale and emotional and not knowing that existed. So it's really creating those powerful emotional experiences that most people either don't know exist or don't let themselves experience.
Fei Wu 47:33
So I don't know how deep into the technical specification and discussion we can get, but how do you create that experience? How do you set it up? You know, what do you look at? Like the size of the room and that sort of thing.
So we start with what we call engineering, we work with some really talented engineers out in California. The first thing you want to look at room dimensions, the construction of the room matters a lot for various reasons. And the way we kind of frame it is like, when you're building a car, you start with the chassis of the car, if the chassis of the car cannot support the engine that you want to put it into, you can buy hundreds of thousand dollars worth of equipment and not get a good result, you're throwing your money away. So it starts with creating the proper foundation in the building process, in the room dimensions in order to be able to get the right experience out of it. And then, when you do that, obviously, the equipment, the engine still matters. But it's not as important. You can get a tremendous experience with a lot of different kinds of equipment when your foundation is correct.
Fei Wu 49:01
Sounds rather complicated because the area I'm living in right now is pretty saturated, in terms of how many more houses people can throw in, but every time when I do walk by a newly renovated or just newly built home, I can't help myself just taking a peek and just, you know, what does the basement look like as far as you could actually see it? So how early do you have to be involved in the process of building this? Does it have to be a brand new home? Can someone give you a call when the home has been around for 100, 200 years, which is quite common in the Boston area?
Yeah, obviously, when the home is new, and you can get involved with the architect, it's ideal. There are certainly solutions to every problem. So if it's an existing home, the biggest challenge there is, are the wires in place? Do you have the correct wires? And if not, do you want us to make holes in your walls, and you're going to have to patch those up to get the wires where they need to be. As long as the answer to that is “yes”, then we can certainly offer them tremendous solutions. There are products on the market now that you can get really amazing performance from in an existing room, without doing all the sound treatments and doing all the other elements of building the room out. It's not perfect, it's not ideal, but you can still get a great experience. And ultimately, the key is figuring out, what do you want to experience? What are you looking for? And then showing them, educating people, saying “This is what we can offer”, and seeing if they're comfortable with that or not.
Fei Wu 50:47
What are some of the options which are currently in the market that people could install? What are some of the options online?
You can go and get the simplest solution I can think of - there're sound bars now that come with a wireless subwoofer. And those sound bars can create the illusion of surround sound in the right environment, as long as there're sidewalls on the left and the right in order to reflect the sound so that it appears as though you're immersed by multiple speakers. That's the simplest solution. And when you put it in the right space, it can be very effective.
Fei Wu 51:32
And just in case people are listening to this and are thinking about it, when should people contact, get in touch with you? You know, how do they categorize themselves as someone, a business or an individual who should work with Pure Audio Video?
So if you're spending X, then you're a client, and if you're not, then you're not, it's just a case by case basis of saying “I want really good surround sound in my living room. And I want to be able to control it from one app, have a TV and have a surround sound system”, we're happy to help with that. I think the easiest way to explain that is if you are past the point of “I'm going to do it all myself” and you want to consult with somebody who does it for a living and is an expert in it. That's when you contact people like us or other companies in the marketplace to say “I want to have a better experience, I want it to be more like, in terms of quality, an IMAX or a really good theater”. And one of the things about growing up in LA - it's a little sad that there're so many great commercial theaters in Los Angeles, but throughout the country, the level of commercial theaters is not as high everywhere else, so people don't get to experience something amazing as easily. And that's where it becomes an educational process.
Fei Wu 53:19
That's fascinating. And I don't think there's anything wrong with having a budget because I've been working in digital marketing, I can look at a project rather quickly and I know how certain companies will charge for that. There is a bottom line and I think that's okay. You know, we need to be segmented in the market and kind of differentiate ourselves as people who offer these services.
So my last question is related to the businesses. It's fascinating because it's so outside of my domain, do you guys conduct installations outside of Florida? Where do you prefer to kind of hone in on the clients within the state of Florida?
So we're, like Seth Godin says, we're not for everybody. And we're not trying to market to everybody, we are trying to do something remarkable within our niche. So we've done work in Turks and Caicos, we've done work in Costa Rica, most of our jobs are in South Florida, because, you know, there're complicated installations. People are automating their home, and there's service involved with that. So it's better to be local, but certainly, there are tools in place where we can service projects remotely. And if the opportunities are there, right, and we really click with the client, we're happy to travel. We're doing a job up in Tampa later this year, and that's four hours away from us. You really have to evaluate the situation to make sure that expectations between both parties are lined up.
My final question: people living in Boston, California or other states, if we assume that you cannot serve us right now, what should people look at or use as evaluation criteria when they go out and try to hire the right people, companies such as yours? What are some of the questions they should be asking or thinking about?
That's a great question. I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that when you're not in an industry, the technical elements are going to be foreign to you. So it's not about necessarily delving deep into that, it's more about word-of-mouth referrals if they've worked with somebody that you know. But ultimately, it comes down to trust. Do you feel comfortable? Are they trying to educate you on the process? Are they being transparent about what they're providing when they give you a proposal? When we give a proposal, our proposals are line items. They may not know what that component is, but when you go through it with them, it's a process, they understand it, they can wrap their heads around it, they know what they're getting. And our goal is to always exceed those expectations, but it's a process of trust, of communication, of being transparent about what the client's goals are, and how you are trying to exceed those expectations and goals. So it's like any professional you hire, do you trust them? Do you feel comfortable with them? Are they being transparent with you? Those are the questions you need to ask. And if they're not, if they're giving you a surround sound package, and they're not listing what's included in that surround sound package, that's a red flag that a company is worried you're going to take that proposal and go shop at somewhere else for 10% less or whatever it is. We do differently, we say we're going to be transparent with what we're giving you and you can go shop it somewhere else for less. But at the end of the day, if we built up the trust with you, we're giving you a fair price, you feel comfortable with us, and we're going to meet or exceed your expectations, going to the company that is the lowest price, we all know that oftentimes it doesn't work out. So it's good to interview two or three different companies and see which one is being the most transparent with you and who you feel most comfortable with.
Fei Wu 57:47
Cool. I think that's not only a great answer for choosing this particular type of vendor or company to work with, but I think it's a really good measurement for a lot of collaborations that will happen. So I really appreciate your time because I'm so happy that I've got the opportunity to meet you and go through the altMBA together. It's been tremendous. I just want to say thank you.
Oh, you're welcome. I'm so glad we could do this. It was so much fun.
Fei Wu (Outro) 58:26
Hey, it's Fei, I'm back for a few words at the end of the show. I hope you enjoyed what you heard. You can visit us online at Feisworld.com to find out other episodes from this category or topic, or you could explore other awesome people who are artists and designers, digital marketers, performing artists, authors and speakers, entrepreneurs, students, educators and more. For this reason, we've taken your feedback and created a landing page to most easily navigate by categories and topics. Simply visit Podcast.Feisworld.com to learn more.
Sincerely, I want to thank you for your support. Bye for now!