This blog is part of our signature “Customer Spotlight” series, highlighting the work, accomplishments and personalities behind some of our most forward-thinking customers.
Dillon Jearey, CEO of South African company, Kilowatt AV has an hour layover at the airport while traveling to a global leadership conference in Germany, when he picks up the phone for our scheduled interview. Kilowatt AV supports 700+ events a year for clients of all stripes — although he says their niche market is the financial services industry. Kilowatt AV, a Flex customer, also hosted our very first User Conference in South Africa.
Technical support and production is a high-pressure industry, full of deadlines, long nights, team meetings, and the pursuit of delivering exceptional experiences for their clients. But amidst the rough and tumble of the event production world one thing still holds true — he is committed to the wellness, satisfaction, happiness, culture and mental fitness of his entire team. All 53 of them. “Our industry is a demanding lifestyle, not just a job. Our staff are our number one assets” says Dillon.
So much in fact that a little over a year ago Dillon invested in retaining a licensed psychologist for his company. It’s the same one that he had been seeing to keep mentally fit so that he could serve his clients and his staff. In the early days of Kilowatt, between 2007 and 2011 he grappled with anxiety attacks trying to manage the day-to-day expectations and projects of the corporate event management world and the demands of running a business. It was then that Dillon turned to therapy rather than medication to cope.
“Our generation doesn’t seem to value mental fitness enough, there seems to be this perception that therapy is there when something terrible has happened, rather than using it to prevent it. I now believe that an ambulance is worth more at the top of a cliff than at the bottom!” said Dillon.
That’s when he decided to bring in his psychologist every Monday to his place of business. The therapist is available to all staff members and all sessions are confidential and can be of work or personal nature. The therapist then also spends two hours each week with the leadership and management teams to develop strategies to improve internal communication, conflict resolution and company culture.
“The results have been absolutely unbelievable,” said Dillon, “he has been with us for a little over a year, at the beginning 95 percent of the people he consulted expressed deep levels of anxieties and unhappiness in the workplace, now that number is down to less than 5% percent, it really has helped us create an unbelievable cultural shift in our business and provide a safe place for our staff.”
Kilowatt AV focuses on implementing special “I” messaging or “I” statements and reflective listening techniques. He said those two skills alone have been responsible for helping his team communicate in ways that are productive and communication now rarely gets heated.
“We are 50+ person team. Thats truly a lot of different personalities, religions and cultures. We all have a common goal for our business, however we all have different paths we walk on to get to that end goal. When we learn to communicate well, we understand that their are many different ways to cross the finish line and that one persons way is not the only way,” said Dillon, “people are feeling a lot more safe and comfortable in their environment, it’s a place where people can cry if they need to cry and they know colleagues are looking out for them.”
Humble Beginnings in AV
Dillon’s dedication to his team probably comes from his humble beginnings. In school he was involved in sound and lighting and ran the school’s radio station. AV has been his whole life save for brief stints in electrical engineering, IT, and Healthcare IT. In 2001, he suffered a horrible accident which shifted his priorities and brought him back to the audio visual industry. In 2007 he decided to open his own AV production company and will be celebrating 10 successful years this coming June. Kilowatt has been a flex user since 2010.
“When I started I had no capital to invest in equipment,” said Dillon, “my business plan required $500,000 to start my business and I was convinced people would line up to give me money.”
“But they didn’t,” laughed Dillon.
His main business strategy for success has been renting out gear and equipment from other AV rental companies while he slowly built his inventory, all the while designing and imagining elaborate, one-of-a-kind events for their clients.
Being unsuccessful in securing capital investment, he managed to get a credit card with $5,000 credit limit which he used to pay a small salary to a technician and put down a deposit for a vehicle, two laptops and a small warehouse.
“There was a lot of AV equipment already available in the industry, so we used our creative skills to create events that were different, we realized that if we could use the equipment in ways that nobody else was, we could charge a premium for that,” added Dillon.
Over the years they have built up a significant inventory of equipment, but Dillon says that it is still only enough to service about 30-40% of their shows.
“That strategy helped us scale, because we are never limited by the equipment on our shelves,” he said, “it also helped us build solid relationships with our partners in the industry.”
Exploring new frontiers in AV
For Kilowatt AV — innovation is the name of the game. When asked if there is a favorite event they’ve done, he says it’s the one they have yet to do. Although all events and functions Kilowatt AV has done has a special place in heart, the team doesn’t stop thinking about how they can stretch their imagination and push the boundaries of technology to create the next amazing event.
“We strive to push ourselves to do bigger and better things as we progress into new territory,” said Dillon.
In 2008, Kilowatt AV was the first company in South Africa to commercially deliver video or projection mapping services. Since then they have been first to manufacture a unique mobile skate park truck and a mobile video mapping cinema in the back of a truck. They love creating awe-inspiring immersive experiences so much, that Dillon saw an opportunity and invested in LUCAN Visuals, a full service media and content production studio that produces 3D content, virtual and augmented reality, live action works, videos and TV commercials.
Their big break came when Nike Global asked them to produce four commercials for their Nike Golf Range in 2015.
“We can truly do anything in-house, we have the content creation capability, we do manufacturing, experiential marketing tools, these are just some of the key ingredients that allow us to produce quite a unique experience for our clients,” he said.
Their work has received recognition for its audacity and vision. Recently Lucan won two Dubai Lynx awards in the film craft category for adverts created for the UN on gender equality. Dillon himself was also a finalist in two South African entrepreneur competitions and managed to claim second prize in one.
But he says his most cherished award is when clients come back to work with Kilowatt AV again and again.