Mark Willison of OpenSquare: “Hire a salesperson”

Hire a salesperson (aka, “selling ahead”) — One of my earlier jobs was running my own company where I wore all of the hats including replacing the occasional crew member personally when needed. I credit my wife with this one. I was running a very large project and not keeping an eye on the next future project […]

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Hire a salesperson (aka, “selling ahead”) — One of my earlier jobs was running my own company where I wore all of the hats including replacing the occasional crew member personally when needed. I credit my wife with this one. I was running a very large project and not keeping an eye on the next future project and that project did not exist because I was not selling ahead.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewingMark Willison.

Leading a team of technology engineering, integration and sales experts across the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, Mark supports the One Workplace/OpenSquare Technology Team in creating transformative workspaces powered by cutting-edge technology. He brings decades of experience in the audiovisual, UC, IT & broadcast industries to this position to help meet customer technology goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started out in television and video production, which evolved into freelance television work at local news stations and sporting events in the Seattle Area. The work hours were not conducive to a steady relationship with my girlfriend (now my wife 25+ years later). It meant lots of weekends, holidays, early morning and night shifts as well as some epic sporting events. Moving to a day job in broadcast and CATV installations settled me down and began both my career in technology and marital/family bliss! Fast forward to 2020 New Year’s Eve and I told myself that I would scratch the career itch if the right opportunity were to appear in the coming year. I was already in an enviable position, co-leading the largest AV integration firm in the world and leading one of the top offices in the company with an expert team and a well-balanced customer base. Why leave that!? At the same time, I knew I’d hit the top of that challenge and wanted to do it again.

First came One Workplace and their Northwest business, OpenSquare, and then came COVID-19…

The chance to join an interior workplace solutions, furniture and design firm was intriguing to me. From my previous interactions on project teams, the furniture provider would often eat up the AV budget, and as integrators we had to rely on the furniture team to have their pieces in place on time. From a sales perspective, I also noticed the relationship between the furniture team and the customer was different than mine. We had been talking about the convergence of AV & IT over the last 5+ years. Why not converge the integration of technology and furniture, and more importantly, very early in the project process? One Workplace was doing that in California and they were starting to do it in my hometown. The opportunity to build a team under a new converged model with teams and customer bases like OpenSquare & One Workplace was exciting to me. It felt like my next great career challenge.

The interview process dragged along due to COVID-19 challenges; Seattle was the first hot spot in the country, so business slowed down drastically, and I thought the interviews would pause indefinitely. To my surprise, both local and California leadership recognized how important technology was to the recovery from the pandemic and to businesses’ strategies for returning to work. It truly became an even more exciting opportunity. That leadership understands and advocates for the role of technology sales closed the deal.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

From a project perspective, I was a part of one of many teams working at the Wynn Casino. With the grand opening days away, the project was a mad race to the finish line. It would take a full book to tell the stories and lessons learned on that project, and I joke I could write the greatest book on Project Management based on those 20-hour workdays in Las Vegas. Following a presidential campaign through the northwest while working for a news station was also exhilarating.

But the most fascinating story I have worked on to date was the United States v. Microsoft antitrust trial coverage. I didn’t have much business knowledge at that time of my life, but as a member of a video crew and fly on the wall during all of those proceedings, there’s another great book that I need to write … if not for that NDA.

Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on?

We are going to market this month with a new immersive camera that transforms the experience of video meetings. The Katai camera is offers a 360-degree view, built-in microphone and a small form factor PC that enables the camera for any platform meeting application — Microsoft Teams, Zoom, BlueJeans, Google, etc., without a computer present. It delivers on the many promises of telepresence without the equipment and expense.

How do you think that will help people?

The camera is a real breakthrough for many applications. If you’re a teacher or professor with a hybrid learning environment, this will truly make the virtual classroom experience both immersive and collaborative. For the corporate meeting room, we have seen the equipment lists shrink in size as customers choose either a Zoom, Google, Teams, or BlueJeans experience. But this camera not only lessens the amount of equipment needed, it also allows you to meet on any of the platforms rather than being only a “Zoom Enabled Room” Or a “Teams Only Room”.

How do you think this might change the world?

The ability to meet anywhere on any device — what we have been calling BYOD (bring your own device) — is not new technologically speaking, but to have this camera with all the offerings built into it is revolutionary. Its size and price make the camera an offering that any school district or small business can afford and scale with their own growth. This capability used to be a Fortune 100-only space, but now we can support all levels of business, education and healthcare with an offering that will work cross-platform. Globally, the camera’s small form factor and built-in offerings make it a very travel-friendly tool as well so you can take your meetings around the world. Imagine having this camera with an organization doing good in the world such as Doctors without Borders? The opportunities are endless.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

You will certainly want to make sure you turn the camera off once you are done with your meeting, it follows the person speaking. And meetings on all platforms can be recorded.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Choosing just one platform (Teams, Zoom, etc.) has been problematic for many organizations. In fact, a lot of companies use multiple platforms but moving between them can be a time-consuming ordeal. The new Katai Camera and its cross-platform offering are a result of these time and cost challenges.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

The current work and learn from home scenarios we find ourselves in every day are proving that collaboration and the ability to feel part of your class, team or meeting are sorely limited. The Katai camera’s 360-degree view offers an enhanced user experience that will transform what has become a somewhat unfulfilling way to connect, to one that is rich with possibilities.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

The Katai camera is in beta testing with existing customers to better understand use cases. Feedback from educational institutions such as UC Berkeley is promising. Support for collaboration and mentoring in the corporate environment has been identified as a strong need — from virtual tours of workplaces with camera installations in real time or VR designed walkthroughs to demonstrate the experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Creating meaningful AV integrations is a total team sport and positive influences have come with all of my work experiences. From something as simple as a news anchor suggesting that I read more, to a GM (now retired to Bend, Oregon — I am coming for you soon, Pat), who really did “settle me down” as a salesman. He was a grooming influence for my salesmanship and helped shape how I interact with customers. Pat was very approachable, didn’t inflict his will on you and, almost like a great parent, set you up to learn and succeed on your own.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I share the same positive attitude I learned from Pat. It’s easy to say something nice, pay a compliment, clearly and calmly respond or just share a smile. Once I mastered those small actions, I found myself open to modeling positive behavior regularly with my team members and project partners. Haven’t you noticed how a positive approach can set the tone for better communications? I have.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Hire a salesperson (aka, “selling ahead”) — One of my earlier jobs was running my own company where I wore all of the hats including replacing the occasional crew member personally when needed. I credit my wife with this one. I was running a very large project and not keeping an eye on the next future project and that project did not exist because I was not selling ahead.
  2. You can’t do it all — Seeaboveand learnthat, while you may be good at everything individually, you can’t be good at everything when you have to do it all.
  3. Write it down — This goes back to a broadcast management course I took in college almost 30 years ago, but it is a good one! Keep a record of all interactions and decisions. It can keep you focused and, if necessary, quickly clear up misunderstandings.
  4. We are all replaceable — This isn’t meant to be as cutthroat as it sounds. But I was told this on more than one occasion and I always questioned it until the guy that said it was let go, and business still was just fine after he left. I misused it in a team meeting once and a couple of folks took it mistakenly as a threat — but I still stand by it. At the end of the day, I use it to keep myself humble.
  5. Empower someone or the team — Leadership 101 here, but it couldn’t be more true. Using the team sports analogy again, you have to empower the team and trust them. They will grow and develop from the experience and so will you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I love the idea of paying it forward and I always enjoy the good news read of someone leaving a really large tip to someone who needs it. As we wrap up this beast of the year that is 2020, I would start a campaign of spreading good news to the masses. Even something nice and simple like Forrest Gump and the Smiley Face or Ringo’s salutation of “Peace and Love” would be great. I’m going to think about it more and decide what my version of spreading good news will be. The world really needs more of this now!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a simple air to my responses throughout this article and in life. And there is nothing more appropriate than applying the Golden Rule as my life lesson quote. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I use it every day with friends, family, co-workers and customers.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Virtual meetings — which once held so much promise for collaborating from a distance — have quickly become routine and even boring. The idea that we can use a small but powerful device to instantly create a more immersive virtual experience opens up the possibilities from the boardroom to the classroom to the playing field.

It’s all about the power of one — a simple, single and integrated solution that can strip away all of the complexities that come with multiple technologies, multiple platforms, multiple vendors and multiple budgets. Integrating interior solutions like design, furniture, technology, construction and project management with one partner just makes good sense. And when that partner is not just an integrator but an innovator working to enhance your workplace — whether you are onsite, remote or a hybrid of the two, you know you have found a good partner.

We call it the Power of One.

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