Felix Media Solutions Stays Ahead of the Competition
Tracing the journey of Felix Media Solutions from AV company to thriving success as an security and IoT integrator.
AUSTIN, Texas — Emerging from humble beginnings in 2014, Felix Media Solutions (FMS) has skyrocketed from a $50,000 annual revenue to $2.7 million per year within just a few years of operation.
The systems integration firm is projecting to close 2023 with more than $11 million in revenue, a far cry from its near-bankruptcy scare in 2017. Company leaders credit their success over the past handful of years to its commitment to customers and a diverse income stream.
While serving prominent corporate clients, FMS also caters to projects of all sizes. The company expanded into the security sector through the acquisition of Bigstar Security in 2022, embracing new opportunities for growth and success.
In recognition of FMS’ strategic shift and its impressive growth — transforming from an AV integrator to a security and Internet of Things (IoT) provider — Commercial Integrator has awarded Felix Media Solutions the title of 2023 Integrator of the Year.
From IT Expert to AV Innovator
With a strong IT background and a passion for technology, Lionel Felix, the CEO and visionary behind FMS, started his career in the mid-’90s as an IT professional, working his way up from desktop support. Back then, he would go around with a floppy disk, scanning computers for viruses.
Eventually, he became a skilled Windows desktop administrator. He recalls having played with computers since he was a little kid.
Growing up in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Felix says his mother designed high-end jewelry for celebrities. He never quite knew which career path to follow.
“My surroundings and family didn’t fit the ordinary mold,” he says, “leaving me unsure about my future.”
Felix eventually found his passion for technology — specifically, for problem-solving.
“Routine maintenance bored me,” he says. “I enjoyed the challenge of projects and new technologies.”
That led Felix to work in the IT department for Sony Pictures, Frog Design and Young & Rubicam (part of WPP). Being part of large tech teams and solving complex problems was fulfilling.
“[However], on Jan. 8, 2014, my manager informed me that our IT department was being outsourced to IBM, leading to a mass layoff in middle management,” he says. “It was a bittersweet moment in my career journey.”
From Residential to Commercial Projects
Felix discovered his passion for AV projects while working as a moonlighter. Initially, his fascination was with universal remotes, despite their flaws. He loved the challenge of programming them, and he found the world of automation captivating.
That led him to the idea of creating in-home movie theatres as a side hustle. However, once he ventured into residential projects, the decision-making process revealed a different dynamic. Some would buy technology that didn’t work as expected, leaving their partners to handle the resulting technology frustration.
It was during his 17 years in the technology industry that Felix made connections with many key decision-makers. Having previously worked on an AV integration project at his own office while at WPP, he recalls reaching out within a couple of days of being laid off.
Felix recounts talking with his former boss about how conference rooms can be troublesome to use. His former boss agreed. Felix asked for a shot at fixing the company’s conference rooms, and the answer was yes. The boss noted that Felix had the brains. And he had had enough of the so-called AV experts from big firms, who didn’t have the courtesy to return the company’s calls, let alone come over to fix things.
Felix’s Team Gets Busy
Felix’s small team and he started taking over AV projects for large corporations around town. At the time, he recalls, “[Customers] didn’t really think much of it. [People might have] thought we were somebody’s husband, friend, etc. But I wasn’t anybody’s cousin; I was the IT person that they knew.”
From there, projects continued growing. According to Felix, the foundation of his approach was to ask people what their biggest pain points were.
“Was the room too complicated to use? Was it not supported? They wanted it to be simple,” he says. “And [the customer wanted] someone to show up when it breaks.
“The AV companies in town were disappointing people left and right with bad customer service and the inability to troubleshoot and solve problems. I don’t understand how these massive, billion-dollar companies have such poor support groups and don’t like to show up and fix things,” says Felix.
FMS’ Growing Pains
In 2015, the burgeoning FMS’ efforts paid off. The company experienced exponential growth — from a modest $50,000 a year to an impressive $2.7 million per year — within a short span of time. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 2017, FMS faced the brink of bankruptcy.
“We were growing too quickly,” says Felix. “We’re buying so much stuff and had a tiny line of credit.”
Against all small-business odds, FMS survived with the help of a short-term loan from a friend, plus a Sonos bar added into the mix. Under the strategic eye of Lindsey Rima Felix, Felix’s wife, who is now CFO and COO of FMS helped ensure enough cash to cover payroll for a two-week period.
FMS kept a better eye on its accounts receivable, eventually receiving payments on customers’ overdue invoices.
In addition to servicing commercial office spaces, FMS serves clients in a diverse range of industries. This includes working on small restaurants, hotels and government projects. Felix firmly believes in diversification.
“We must pick up things at every end of the spectrum,” he says. “I do not want to go whale hunting, where we’re only going to be going after the biggest takedowns. Because we’re going to spend a lot of money and the odds are low.
“I also don’t want to spend all our time running around, hanging one TV at a time,” says Felix.
The fact is that there’s profit to be made on every size transaction.
“It’s important to sell support contracts,” he says. “If you’re hunting projects all day long, and you have to hunt for your meal every single day, it’s exhausting. A dry spell can kill you! We must have a varied diet of recurring revenue and project revenue.”
Commitment to Customer Service
One thing that sets FMS apart is its unwavering commitment to putting the customer first. The company goes above and beyond — even beyond its warranty period — to ensure customer satisfaction. FMS holds its suppliers to the highest standards, parting ways with any that fail to meet those high expectations.
In a world in which integrity often takes a backseat, FMS stands out by remaining responsive and solutions-oriented. Indeed, the company believes in redirecting opportunities that aren’t a perfect fit so that every customer feels exceptionally served.
“Just do the right thing by the customer,” says Felix. “They’ll come back and remember you for the little things that you did. They’re not going to regret it.”
It’s no wonder that FMS has earned a reputation for knowing no limits when it comes to delivering exceptional service.
FMS’ Entrance into Security Integration
Some years ago, Felix spotted a gap in the market after realizing many clients wanted an entire ecosystem of low-voltage security, AV and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Felix seized the opportunity to stand out from other AV integrators.
With an eye toward the future, FMS expanded its offerings to include security services back in 2022 through the acquisition of Bigstar Security while also acquiring Visual Innovations Company, Inc.
“[Visual Innovations], the [then] 30-year-old AV company, had an excellent set of Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) government contracts, which instantly allowed us to do business with taxpayer-funded entities in Texas and beyond,” says Felix.
The Texas DIR program simplifies purchases for state and local entities. It has significantly broadened FMS’ horizons. The company also managed to secure three other, similar contracts, which, together, FMS calls “the four aces.”
FMS’ strategic expansion empowered it to carry out projects for customers that traditionally would have to find one vendor for security and another for AV. Through its thoughtful approach to acquisitions, FMS can now do both.
This has allowed the fast-growing commercial AV and security solutions provider to compete directly with major players in Texas. Felix notes that, since security products are cloud managed and IT-based, it means more recurring revenue for the company.
FMS is reaching new heights in AV and security integration, and it has also started Roam GPS, a GPS tracking solution for fleet and assets. After becoming frustrated with people stealing equipment, Felix sought out best-in-class GPS tracking hardware to use in FMS commercial vehicles.
The move to enter that space comes from Felix’s IT background.
“It has been clear for a long time now that AV, security, GPS, IT and building systems are all IoT, living on a TCP/IP network, talking over multiple protocols,” he says.
Over time, FMS has evolved from being an AV company to being a comprehensive IoT integration firm.
Shifting to an IoT Integration Firm
“If you think that, five years from now, we’re going to be programming Biamp, Crestron, Extron, etc., the way we do to do divisible conference rooms — you’re delusional,” says Felix.
IoT is increasingly prevalent within various markets, such as security, access control and AV. Felix predicts that many standard tools and pieces of equipment are likely to be replaced by or incorporated into IoT systems in the coming years.
“Boxed room kits are a signal to us that the future will be continued commoditization of systems that, not long ago, were custom integration,” he says.
Today’s AI tools can scan an office environment and then suggest necessary AV tools and determine power and data requirements — even produce a comprehensive bill of materials. AI programs can analyze architectural files (e.g., Revit files), cross-referencing local electrical codes and ADA requirements and then adjusting designs automatically based on such parameters.
Felix acknowledges the inevitable displacement of human labor in technical drafting and design due to these AI developments, a fact that will likely cause job losses.
The Future of VAR/MSPs
As always, FMS is positioning itself not merely for current success but also for future success. FMS believes in diversification, in expanding its horizons and in being prepared for the sea changes that are inevitable in the industry.
“Successful integrators are going to look like value-added-reseller managed service providers (VAR/MSPs),” says Felix, comparing the current risk landscape to being in the buggy-whip business in the 19th century.
“If all you do is one thing, you’re susceptible to sea change–and, when that happens, you go under first, because you don’t have anything else when that thing disappears,” he says. “You have to be looking over the horizon.”
Similarly, businesses with a limited vision of what they know and do best oftentimes fail to pivot when the opportunity to do so presents itself.
“The future is coming–and to cry about it is fruitless,” says Felix. “Shed a tear; be present in that sadness that change is going to kill something you have loved; and then wipe your face, roll up your sleeves and get to work!”
“You’re in the same closet with security and IT, [who] all do the same thing with different hardware. It’s an ‘if-this-then-that’ logic. These are all machines that are responsive to us. A door controller is no different than a control processor,” says Felix.
Felix knows that staying ahead in the game means embracing the future of technology.
“Our focus is on cloud-managed systems, IoT, recurring revenue and providing a range of services that create lasting connections with our customers,” he says. “Some may call it marketing jargon, but those who ignore these trends won’t last long.”
The low-voltage world no longer centers on a mono-track journey of pulling cable; instead, it’s a vast, intricate web of interconnected services. Every day, everything is moving forward quickly.
“More and more people want our attention for products and services,” says Felix. “And the [integration firms] that are offering your customers the products and services that you are not offering — at some point, they’re going to leave you for someone who can provide everything.”
“Everest has always intrigued me,” says Felix. “Not for conquering it, but [for] understanding why people risk their lives for a fleeting triumph.
“The mountain’s path is lined with 200 bodies, a grim reminder of the risks involved. The most famous [is] ‘Green Boots,’ an anonymous climber who became a landmark on the route to the summit,” he says.
This mirrors businesses making poor decisions, leading to failure and leaving behind only tales of hubris. Success, like summiting Everest, requires thorough preparation, a robust team, detailed planning and a bit of luck. Failure to prepare is preparing for failure.
“Achievement isn’t always about scaling literal mountains,” says Felix. “It’s often about quiet perseverance. I may not aspire to climb a mountain, but I strive to be prepared for today, tomorrow and the future.”
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