In 2014, UCLA scientists came up with a question: “How does all of our digital media consumption affect us?” To find the answer, they took a bunch of sixth graders and divided them into two groups. Both groups were evaluated on their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos.
One group was then sent to a camp that didn’t allow them to use any kind of electronic device—even TVs. The other group, which was the control group, was allowed to continue spending hours each day using their electronic devices.
After five days, the researchers evaluated both groups again. They found that the group that stayed at the camp significantly improved their ability to read facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. The control group, on the other hand, showed minimal improvement.
“That signals a basic breakdown in human communication,” says Ember LED president Jonathan Robins, who pointed me towards the study in the first place. “We live in an age where we think that text messages and emails and electronics are everything, but I think what we should be emphasizing is person-to-person contact.
“Human interaction is an incredibly powerful thing nowadays. We’re a small company, but because we always make it a point to actually meet or, at a minimum, speak to our clients over the phone, we have an advantage.
“So few people are willing to do that regularly anymore. They’d rather just send an email. That level of interaction gives us a relationship, and the power of relationships is something that people are losing an understanding for.”
A Positive Impact
Jon’s penchant for talking to clients face-to-face as much as possible was honed during the years he spent working in the sales and marketing space of a high-end legal services firm in New York City’s corporate arena.
When the world started transitioning from traditional paper documents to electronic documentation, Jon helped the company he was working for at the time find the right people to build their electronic discovery platform. It was around that time that another passion of his—environmental sustainability—was rekindled.
“From there, I said, ‘I really want to be doing something with my life that impacts the world positively’,” he tells me. “I’m into sustainability, renewable energy, green products, and environmentalism so I traveled around the world a little bit. I researched different companies that were involved in emerging technologies to see where I wanted to land exactly.”
First, he worked with an Israeli firm for several years and helped drive them to national recognition in the United States. He then came across an innovative solar-powered LED light manufacturer called Valen Light in Sydney, Australia. He started working with the company and ultimately brought them stateside.
“If you watch the news, you probably know that the United States is extremely divided politically right now,” Jon explains. “I looked at all the divisiveness here, and I thought to myself: ‘Everybody is arguing—left wing, right wing—until they’re blue in the face. If there’s no manufacturing in this country, if there are no jobs for people, there’s not going to be anything to talk about.’
“So I told the people at Valen Light, ‘Your capabilities and technologies are phenomenal. Ultimately, the goal is for you to set up a manufacturing facility domestically.’ Today, we’re successfully manufacturing in Austin, Texas, and it feels great to know we’re succeeding and helping our local economy.”
Ember LED now acts as a front office for Valen Light in the United States. They handle everything from training and project management to product awareness, marketing, and sales development.
“It allows the manufacturers to focus on great technologies, manufacturing, R&D, and support without having to deal with the business’ front end,” says Jon.
Ember LED currently has a network of 65 different representative agencies throughout the United States with around 100 different offices. Between all these agencies, 750 different salespeople carry multiple products, not just Ember LED’s, into the market.
“We have so many people coming to us from so many different places with so many particular requirements,” says Jon. “Plus, each client and each project is radically different.”
As Jon explains it, pushing a solar product is very different from selling any other product. The installation location alone is a significant factor. The United States is divided into 11 different climate zones. Each project Ember LED undertakes has the potential to be in one of these zones.
“If I was selling any other product, I could just say, ‘OK, you want a chair? Send 10 chairs to Florida’ or ‘Send 10 chairs to New York.’ But because it’s solar, there’s so much information that I need to track. As a small company, I would never have been able to do this without WORKetc’s ability to organize and catalog that information electronically.
“Working with WORKetc helps Ember LED sell solar-powered lighting and sustainability more effectively, every day.”
In addition to using WORKetc to collect and collate all the information they need, Ember LED also uses the system for lead management and project organization. Jon also does a ton of quoting through WORKetc, and the system lets the company keep track of all the quotes sent out.
Finally, Jon notes that WORKetc gives him and his team the flexibility they need to build fruitful relationships with their clients, which might be the most important use of all.
“I have two employees here,” he says, “and WORKetc gives me and my team a lot more flexibility to hit the road and go meet our potential clients face-to-face. It lets me leverage my ability to catalog all of the project requirements in the system and know that it’s there and to be able to make time for having the person-to-person interactions that I need to have to really build relationships and to develop the market.”
As Jon sees it, people tend to have a global view when it comes to renewable energies. It’s always either “solar energy is good” or “solar energy is bad.” He explains, though, that the situation isn’t so clear-cut.
“The truth is we still need fossil fuels,” he says. “We can’t exist without them right now. That does not mean, however, that there aren’t transitional points where these energies shouldn’t be applied effectively.
“For example, in many developing nations, there are plenty of roadways in towns and cities that don’t have effective lighting. Normally, it would cost millions and millions of dollars for all the work and equipment needed to install the power into these areas.”
“Well, what if you don’t need to bring the power to that area? With renewable energies, you can now go to a community and say, ‘OK, you guys don’t have street lighting everywhere and you don’t want to pull in all that electricity? You don’t have to. Here’s a solar-powered LED street-lighting system [that’s] a renewable energy technology, which will be an optimal solution.’
“There are transitional points where you can use renewable energy technologies very effectively and they work really well. Is it going to power a factory? No, but that doesn’t diminish its effectiveness elsewhere.
“It’s not just renewable energies, either. It can apply to almost any new technology or product or process. It’s about looking at any capability and understanding where it can fit effectively.”
“A Wild West Market”
A Wild West market—that’s how Jon describes the current state of the renewable energies space.
“I think that a lot of great things are happening,” he says. “It’s one of the few markets where you really see small businesses succeeding right now, so if you’re planning on jumping on board, now would be a great time.
“It’s very much a Wild West market, but because people are adopting renewable energies more and more, the expectations for good service and quality are starting to emerge. I think that the market in the United States is really poised to open up in a great way. It can bring back the opportunity for small and mid-sized manufacturers in a business climate that hasn’t been around for many, many years.”
In addition to from offering opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs, Jon also points out that embracing the global wave of environmentalism can be a positive business decision, financially speaking.
“Those people who think that sustainability is just about being nice to the world, that there’s no personal or business gain from it, they’re wrong,” he tells me. “For a company to become more sustainable, it means that you’re making your company a more efficient company. You’re going to be leaner and stronger in your processes for it.
“When you’re less reliant on too many resources, you’re saving time and money that could be used elsewhere to optimize your business. When you make that choice, that decision to become more sustainable, it’s going to impact your business in a very tangible way.”
“Every business is so different that it’s hard for me to say, ‘This is what a business needs to do to go green,’ but I think that people need to understand that this isn’t just doing a nice thing. There is a positive impact on your business when you become more sustainable. And then once you do it, once you realize the importance of it, it’s very difficult to go back.”