Derek Goldstein was never a DJ. He wasn’t in a band. He never even worked as a roadie. The 36-year-old’s background doesn’t seem to fit the narrative for AV integration industry company founders.
Instead of pushing an AV cart, Goldstein spent his formative years writing code and lots of it. “It was right at the birth of the Internet,” he recalls. “I started to learn to program UNIX systems. I was an IT-focused kid.”
He won a programming contest when he was 13, put together websites for other kids in his neighborhood and co-launched a fantasy sports game while still in high school. His eventual interest in launching an AV firm with business partner Nelson Garcia — who does bring to the table a more traditional AV background — had less to do with audio or video than it did with smart homes, smart buildings and intuitive systems.
It all adds up to Kensington, Md.-based Casaplex being a different kind of integration firm. The young team — “Most people here are in their late 20s, early 30s,” Goldstein says — doesn’t necessarily feel like it fits in at industry events or fits the mold of typical Commercial Integrator cover subjects. However, the team at Casaplex is focused on breaking those molds.
When most integrators see products at industry events they take them at face value, says JP Rike, director of IT. “There’s no innovation going on. They’re all looking at the product and just saying, ‘Wow!'” Casaplex has assembled a team of programming-minded individuals who break from traditional AV integration in that it looks at the products its vendor partners provide as a starting point for innovation.
“We don’t settle for half-baked products or the old ways,” says Luka Bajic, business development. “We try to ingrain ourselves and be top-of-mind with the vendors that are open to a full critique.” That programming mindset removes all limitations from customer conversations.
PRIMARY LOCATION: Kensington, Md.
Additional Locations: Miami (servicing Southeast, Caribbean, and South America)
Principals: Derek Goldstein, CEO; Nelson Garcia, VP
Years in Business: 12
Revenue: $6 million (projected 2016)
Top Brands: Crestron, Planar, SurgeX, Biamp
What mistakes have you or your company made that you want others to avoid? Attempting to grow with a flat organizational structure.
“We know the technology well enough to know that we can make it do whatever we need it to do,” Goldstein says. “I always walk into a job and tell the client, ‘OK, we can do anything you can imagine.’ I think a lot of other companies are a bit nervous to do that. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that gets you burned because the hardware sometimes doesn’t do exactly what it was advertised to do.”
Also See: Don’t Try to Grow Your Business Without Looking to the Cloud First
Casaplex doesn’t appear to have been burned much over the past few years. It has grown at about a 20 percent year-over-year clip since 2012 and Bajic expects the 27-employee company to exceed $6 million in 2016. The firm that Goldstein and Garcia founded 12 years ago is poised to grow, but its non-traditional team and system design approach require unique processes and people.
“I know that anything is possible with a little bit of programming — or a lot of programming,” Goldstein says. “It’s just a matter of finding the right business model for it.”
“I know that anything is possible with a little bit of programming — or a lot of programming.” —Derek Goldstein, principal and co-founder, Casaplex
Rethinking Product Development
It’s not arrogance that leads Casaplex not to accept products at face value while always being willing to program further. The firm has to think differently about products because it thinks differently about its role in providing customers with solutions — and it’s not alone.
“When we think of integration, we think of it as more than AV,” Goldstein says. “We don’t really call it just AV. We think of how everything integrates within the building — the lighting control systems, the energy monitoring systems. The A-V-L is one part of it, but it’s not the only piece, which I think is unique [in comparison] to some of the other integrators in the industry.”
Unique but not non-existent. Casaplex has been building a “community of vendors and certain colleagues” including architects, builders and other tradespeople that are focused on green building technology, Goldstein says. It’s part of what he calls “living our core value of community in how we’re trying to build communities of like-minded partners and vendors.”
That’s the thing. For a vendor to work well with Casaplex it has to be open to a certain amount of scrutiny and have a willingness to explore further development of its products. Not all manufacturers meet those requirements.
“It’s actually one of our primary criteria for being a Casaplex vendor — the ability to talk to their engineering department,” says Amer Din, general manager, operations team. “We tend to shy away from a lot of manufacturers that don’t let us do that.” Software provider Solutions360 has gotten a window into Casaplex’s unique approach as it works with them on an open architecture platform.
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