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How did you get your start?
This thread has 27 replies. Displaying posts 1 through 15.
Post 1 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 16:49
Lurking Member
February 2008

I'm a bit of a tech geek and I've lurked as a guest on this site for a bit and only recently signed up. I'm not a pro and not in the industry whatsoever (I do marketing for an entertainment company) but have always been into home theaters since I was a kid and at one point in my youth thought I might want to work doing custom installs. Life took me down a different path.

Anyway, I like coming to the forum and reading about your exploits here in the lounge and it just got me thinking how most of you got your start doing this type of work.

You guys do some great work; major kudos on some of the amazing systems you put together.

Thanks and look forward to hearing some interesting stories.
Post 2 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 17:16
Long Time Member
September 2002
I piddled with gadgets for years. One day I found an ad in the paper for a delivery driver at a local HT shop and filled out an app and got the job. I lugged my share of TV's for a while. The install manager at the time, loved to get into jobs that were way over his head. He happened to get into a job in a warehouse that had 75 cameras. We were contracted to run the wire and do the hook-ups. Well, long story short, the manager had no idea what he was doing. Tried to run the wrong wire. I made several remarks about this and he wouldn't listen. The boss gave me the "well if you know so much about this stuff you do it yourself" speech. I got the job done 3 weeks early and our company made lots of $$$$$$$$$. The install manager got canned and they put me in that spot. I threatened to quit because I did not want that spot. They still gave me the money that went with the spot and made me the chief engineer and design guy. I did leave that company to take the same position with an even better company eventually and now I mainly a programmer. I guess I got lucky not having to do to many pre-wires in the blazing sun or polar-like conditions and yet I still get to play with lots of toys.
Bryan Kirkland
Post 3 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 17:20
Advanced Member
March 2006
Yes I am interested in this as well. So I will start with mine (I have posted this again in a thread 1-2 month agos):

I have started my own custom electronics distribution company in November 2006. We became the exclusive distributor of Sonos and Rako Controls and Buffalo Tech in my country. Rako is a british company that manufactures wireless lighting control systems. Buffalo Tech manufactures NAS, storage drives and networking equipment.

For one and a half month I tried very hard to persuade hifi shops, computer shops, electronic "supermarkets", electricians and others to start selling and installing our products but nobody showed any interest. So I decided to start doing the installations myself with the help of subcontracted electricians. Please note that I am fortunate enough to have 2 other family businesses with over 50 employees and a privately own building and this made it more easy for me to start and more easy for the companies to trust me to distribute and sell their products. It was also more easy for me because I had an office, fax, email and a conference room to see clients. This office is also partially serving as "showroom" for our products. I am also a Mechanical Engineer.

But it has been everything BUT easy since then. In my first Sonos and lighting systems installations I was almost TREMBLING... Over the months though I became more confident and expandend slowly our brand portfolio. We gradually became the exclusive distributors of the following brands: Sonos, Rako Controls, Chief, RTI, Tannoy, Cyrus, Planar and Muxlab. The truth is we are more of exlusive dealers rather than distributors sinse we distribute very few of the above products. Being a distributor has its advantages (good margins) but on the other hand we have to carry a lot of stock - we now have around 200k of stock and meet yearly projections.

After a few months in the business I started reallising why there were not so many true custom isntallion businesses in my country. By custom istallallion I mean a company that can do advanced lighting control, AMX or Crestron, automated lifts, proper wiring, proper autocad or visio design e.t.c First you need a lot of money to invest. I would estimate around 300-400k. This may sound a lot but we live on an island and shipping times are big. It takes 1 month from Europe or 2 months from the US for something to arrive by ship. The shipping cost is also quite high so it make sense to import large quantities. For example last month we imported a whole container from Tannoy. The container's cost was 80k and the freight 2k. We also import Sonos by sea and this means by pallets. Evey pallet is around 60 bundles. This is a lot of money. You also need to invest in a nice showroom and one or two vans.

I also realised that this job requires extreme technical knowledge and be able to constantly update it. Yes, I have been reading this forum for over 4 years, have tried almost every automation software in my home and have owned and setup several home theaters... But doing it professionally.. That's another sorry...My non-sleep nights must be around a month since I started this business...

Anyway, I was stubborn enough and I faced the difficulties and by the end of our first year I completed around 250k worth of installations. I have also been AMX ACE trained, Vantage Infusion cerified and Rako trained.

We are now in the beginning of our second year and I estimate this year to do 600k. I have already booked 450k worth of projects for this year. We have 3 big projetcs coming up: this 70k home cinema, a 150k Vantage, Niles ICS and AMX loft and a Vantage and 12 Zone Sonos house. I have now two employess and I am waiting for our third one who is an AMX ACE programmer. We really need him because I have really no time to devote on programming.

I have to say this year was very hard for me and very stressful. This is not an easy job. I really do not know how you guys manage to do it. I have though zillions of times to quit...But at the end of the day its seems it is what I love to do and I am really passionate about it.
Post 4 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 18:22
Founding Member
December 2001
When I was 15 I got a Panasonic stereo with Acoustic Suspension speakers. After picking up a pair of weird cylindrical speakers with bamboo grilles for $5 at a rummage sale I put them out on the enclosed porch off my bedroom. Using phone wires (22/2, uncased) I pushed the wires down into the space between the baseboard and the plaster wall and then caulked the top of the baseboard. This was 1971 and there was nothing like volume controls so I wired them in parallel with the Panasonic speakers.

I took apart my clock radio and figured out that the radio alarm just switched ac power to the radio section so I added an ac outlet and set it up so Black Sabbath's Ironman LP played at full volume at 6:30AM. The bedroom speakers were hung on the common wall with my parents room. I was able to do this only once.

Got a job sweeping up and testing tubes at the local TV shop, learned to repair them and then VCRs and camcorders eventually became service manager. The company grew with the VCR boom, got into custom in the mid 80s and failed like so many when BB got going. I was able to buy the remains of the company in 1993 and continued as a service co. In the mid 90's I started doing custom theaters and Pronto programming. In 2001 sold the co to rid myself of 3 partners who only wanted to fix stuff and wanted nothing to do with sales. Attended Cedia training for installer and designer in 2002(Yah, I know) and started the current co. working out of my home.
"Regarding surround sound, I know musicians too well to want them behind my back."
-Walter Becker
Post 5 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 20:46
Advanced Member
March 2007
Decided that accounting was not going to be much fun and started working with a guy who had been doing this for years.

Started expanding our product line, making money and having lots of fun. Sure glad I am not sitting in a cube!
Post 6 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 21:48
Advanced Member
December 2006
I worked BB for 9 years.... sales only 1 of those.... I knew better! Anyway, I setup and kept all audio/video/photo gear working and functional, among other things. YES my stuff worked! By the time I left I knew how to fix/setup/repair almost every type of interactive display in the building.

An old co-worker I knew left BB and started working for a CI company, then left them after a few years and stared his own company. I ran into him at BB, and he mentioned he needed some photos taken of a job that was then going to be used in an ad. After I did the photos for him, I told him if he ever needed another installer let me know. About 6 months or so later, I got a call! That was in Oct of 2004. Been there ever since.
All high's, all low's, it must be.......
Einstein @ URC Control Room forum
Post 7 made on Thursday March 6, 2008 at 22:29
Select Member
March 2003
I worked my way through college with a company that OEM'd parts (crossover, plastics, drivers etc) to just about every speaker company in existence. I went to work for them right out of college as a Sales Engineer. In two years I was Tech Sales Manager (we did $40 million that year) But at the age of 24 I had two ulcers and weighed 225#.

I went to work for a start up speaker company (they were a customer) here in San Diego. I did all of the inside sales, I was the support guy, and I also trained our customers' installers. In doing so I realized that I was a better installer than most of them.

I ended up taking a year off and rebuilt a house myself. To make ends meet I did "handyman" work and started doing small A/V jobs kind of by accident. Nine years later we're going strong as a small "boutique" installation firm. I do quite a bit of consulting for audio companies also.

All in all, I could not image working for someone else ever again.
I'm Not an engineer, but I play one on TV.
My handle is Tweety but I have nothing to do with the organization of similar name. I just had a really big head as a child so folks called me tweety bird.
Post 8 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 02:41
Ernie Bornn-Gilman
Yes, That Ernie!
December 2001
I was an electron in a past life.
A good answer is easier with a clear question giving the make and model of everything.
"The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." -- G. “Bernie” Shaw
Post 9 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 09:49
Select Member
September 2005
I was a raging alcoholic/junkie who couldn't hold a job. Period. Played in a number of rock and punk rock bands and LOVED music. Some buddies suggested I go work for a company that did a lot of MDU infrastructure builds, contract work, basic cabling, etc. who never fired people. The boss was also a coke head. Yikes. After about three months of fixing stuff that these guys were supposed to know better than me, I went to work for a competitor. Cleaned up at about the same time. Planes crashed into a number of buildings here in the states (you may have heard about it) and the shop closed unexpectedly due to the resulting market turn down. So, I went out on my own. Ran my own gig doing primarily AV until about three/four years ago when I started doing whole home automation. Now, after six and half years of my own gig, I'm burnt on the business, cynical, mean and crabby but, I still love the "toys" and have taken a job with another company. Monday, I put on a new hat and we'll see where it goes...
"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in"
Post 10 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 11:07
Loyal Member
February 2002
it was a mistake. almost dumb luck.

in hind sight i should have taken the corporate job.... less stress
Ed will be known as the Tiger Woods of the integration business, followed closely with the renaming of his company to "Hotties A/V". The tag line will be "We like big racks and tight holes"...
Post 11 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 11:15
Long Time Member
February 2008
Since I'm relatively new to this forum, this thread may be a great introduction for me.

I started working in television production in 1996, straight out of school. Worked for the local NBC affil doing control room operation, audio for news, studio camera op etc. Took a job about a year later with a startup station. It was supposed to be just board opping, but it got way out of hand real fast. I ended up dismantling an entire control room from a defunct station, loading it into a truck and reassembling it in a temporary control room while the studios were being built. Got stuck doing it all myself, the chief engineer was kind of useless. I ended up doing more engineering than anything, though it wasn't technically my job. I was the only one with any real computer skills, and got stuck with the job of figuring out how to maintain an early video server, that was riddled with flaws, function reliably.

I ended up getting moved officially to the engineering department when we finally built the "permanent" control room. So for a few years I maintained the studio and control room, managed the network and did some transmitter duty as well. I was stuck supervising the control room staff, maintaining FCC logs, doing graphics work, equipment repair, maintenance, and just about everything in between.

In 2001, I got a chance to get out of engineering and try my hand at directing live news for the NBC station I had previously worked for. I loved it, and ended up directing for the remainder of my time in broadcast. I did get stuck working with the engineers frequently, as I was the only one who could figure out the Odetics broadcast automation system (really a pretty neat piece - it automated all programming, switching, commercial and program playback etc.)

In '03, I went back to the station where I was previously an engineer, which had switched affiliation from Fox to CBS, and were starting a news operation. My old boss had come to me because the system they were using was a "groundbreaking" new system that was "right up my alley". It was called ParkerVision, and was a PC based, timeline driven newscast automation system that required only one person to operate an entire newscast. Robotic cameras, integrated audio eliminated the entire crew. I had to completely configure the system prior to launching the news operation, so the other 2 directors and myself built every command and programmed macro for every possible operation we could think of. We were in a race against Turner & CNN to get the first Pinnacle Vortex newsroom server system up and running, and we beat them. We were also the first to ever integrate Vortex with ParkerVision (yay us). After a short while, my divorce drove me to the edge, and I went on a very long drinking binge, so I quit with no plan.

A relative called out of the blue (right as my retiremnet fund dried up) and offered me a job with his new company. They were doing high end home automation systems. I was really intrigued, as I had installed X10 crap all through my old home back in the late 90's. They were going to be installing a German manufactured system called Visiomatic. Let's just say that, had they had any work ethic, and actually run the company instead of pissing away half a million dollars of investors' money, I'd still be living in Richmond and working for them.

I went back to work in television since that venture failed miserably, working for a sister station of my previous employer directing on ParkerVision again. I completely re-organized their whole approach, improved the on air quality by leaps and bounds, and was next in line for Production Manager. But the town where I was stuck was miserable.

As luck would have it, a friend from my hometown contacted me to come work for him. His family business had been doing stage sound for years, and they wanted to enter the residential market, but had noone who understood any of the technology involved. I went to work for them, only to find that the "boss" just wanted to smoke pot all day, do crap work, never test cables and just plain do really low quality work.

I couldn't work in that environment, and my girlfriend took her life savings and talked me into starting my own company. It's been a long slow process, I've been in business a little over a year, and have struggled the whole way. Every day is a prayer that I'll be open tomorrow. I made some serious mistakes in the beginning, and it cost me a lot, but I've learned and grown. Year one, I lost my ass by putting all my eggs in the Control4 basket, and it nearly bankrupted me. When I dropped Control4 in November, and went a different direction, things turned around.

I still may not be able to stay open, but I have a better shot now. The few jobs I did last year are paying off with referrals, and one contractor who had me do his personal home has even gone so far as to offer to do sales for me on the side (I actually just moved into the spare office in his office).

I think I may have just over-shared. Sorry.
Lord loves a workin' man; don't trust whitey; see a doctor and get rid of it.
Post 12 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 15:42
Mr. Stanley
Elite Member
January 2006
My oldest brother was one of those straight-A students. He could do just about anything. He was quite a bit older than me, but in high school he got a great after school job working for an electronics place (TALLY), and was making huge money for a young guy... he became an engineer for them.
In his spare time he started building speakers, and amplifiers and pre-amps (before solid state crap), in the early sixties. My mom was a professional musician, and my dad, well he liked Louis Armstrong (really loud). ...So my brother built some huge speakers and we set up a "Music Room" in the house. Big room, big speakers, nice turntable and (tube) electronics. He also built systems for his college classmates.
He was killed in car wreck a few years later, but he really got me into speaker design, and music in general, and I just recall him staying up till 2 or 3 in the morning soldering away on his amp & pre-amp designs... and the look of jaw-dropping - awe on my fellow grade schoolers' faces when I invited them over, and cranked up the Kinks "You Really Got Me" on those giant speakers as loud as I could, before the folks came home, and that has stuck with me.

Music was ALWAYS jamming in the house.
When the British Invasion hit, I was totally hooked on music - Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds & Kinks etc.
I started building speakers (wasn't intelligent or patient enough to build amps or pre-amps)... Got a job in a crappy speaker factory, right out of high school. Worked my ass off there, ended up running the shop at 18 --- 42 employees.

I got into a hoffific car wreck, quit the factory.
Healed for a while at home.
I soon thereafter won a law-suit, got a huge bag of money (AT THE TIME), started a really cool little Hi-Fi store, and built speakers, sold the old (GOOD) Marantz, Phase Linear, Crown, Quatre, Yamaha & some MacIntosh (sideways of course) etc.
Did OK, (actually, barely scraped by, but always had money for rent, beer & pizza, and the occasional visit to the local topless clubs)!!!

...Then I got hired by Bob Carver @ Phase Linear (before he did "Carver" & "Sunfire"). Worked with Bob on a very unusual (at the time) speaker set-up --"The ANDROMEDIA III". Took at least 700 watts to work properly!!!
One of the first, if not THE first sub satellite system. Finished the project, left and worked for a Speaker place in Seattle, then a couple very nice Hi Fi shops... started the Custom Division at one of those places...

Got pissed one day and quit, took a better job (I thought), then worked for a handful of small Custom Shops... then said "screw-it" and started doing my own installs and have done that off and on for the last several years occasionally going back to work for what I thought were good small operations, that well, didn't work out.
Business is Up and Down... I'm getting lazy in my older years!


But to backtrack a little, the things that inspired me:

My Brother's interest in speakers & electronics & a Musical Household.
The Beatles.
The first time I heard Klipsch "KornerHorns" with a Pair of Phase 700 amps, playing "Dark Side of the Moon"--- That was the magic moment, when I decided that instead of going into art -(commercial art), I'd stick with playing around and selling stereo stuff!
Realizing I could get by selling and installing "Music Systems" and later the whole Video thing.
Later, realizing I don't know anything else!

If you like it, do it, and, if you stick with it - things will work out for you - (usually), the only danger is doing something you love for a business can turn it into a business, and the passion for it can go away... But what the hell, huh?!!?

Whatever keeps you in shelter, gas in the car, beer (non alcoholic now, for me) and Pizza)!!!

Last edited by Mr. Stanley on March 7, 2008 18:05.
"If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger."
Frank Lloyd Wright
Post 13 made on Friday March 7, 2008 at 23:45
Founding Member
October 2001
Since I was the only one who knew how to make that fcuking clock on the VCR stop blinking 12:00 12:00 12:00, I was recruited by my neighbors, their neighbors, my friend's moms, etc, to make their fcuking VCR clocks stop blinking 12:00 12:00 12:00... I then toured with some heavy metal bands for a while...

in 01, I hooked up with what was advertised as a sound and light company, then was surprised to find out it was a home theater company... A friend from a car forum told me about this website, and from reading here i figured out the guy I was working for was a fcuking idiot who probably hired guys like me to make the fcuking clock on the VCR stop blinking 12:00 12:00 12:00...

In late 02, I started my own company.

Ans, yes, Stanley, it's hard to go work for someone else!
We can do it my way, or we can do it my way while I yell. The choice is yours.
Post 14 made on Saturday March 8, 2008 at 01:33
Ernie Bornn-Gilman
Yes, That Ernie!
December 2001
On March 7, 2008 at 23:45, Ahl said...
Since I was the only one who knew how to make that fcuking
clock on the VCR stop blinking...

I was fascinated by electrical stuff as a kid, although my dweeb eighth grade science report was on the leverage accomplished by pulleys, complete with a working model. At least it didn't have actual weights and scales!

I was my mom's remote control, turning down the volume control for every ad. Later I ran a wire to a little box with a switch so she could turn off the speaker. It never occurred to me that the chassis of the TV was hot and touching the wiring could kill her, but no wires touched the chassis.

First install was a $1 tube-type intercom I found at a second hand store, just as I started collecting 78 rpm records. 78s needed record players, record players eventually broke, I could throw them out or try to fix them, and there you go. Vowed at age 15 not to learn too much about TVs so I wouldn't have to figure out how to get out of repairing them for friends and family. Maintained electronics for university music department for two years, graduated, got sales job at hi fi store, turned that into tech and engineering job....and that was just by 1972.
A good answer is easier with a clear question giving the make and model of everything.
"The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." -- G. “Bernie” Shaw
Post 15 made on Saturday March 8, 2008 at 02:45
WhiteVan Lifestyle
Loyal Member
July 2007
My mom owned a HiFi store when I was born and my Dad was an engineer for NASA.

I was destined to get stupid!
Safe 'n Sound Central Coast CA [Link:]
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