Back in June, Installation revealed its first ever Pro AV Power 20 list, rounding up the most inspiring and influential figures from across the AV and installation market. To get to know them a little better, we sat down with each of our Pro AV Power 20 inductees for an in-depth chat. Here, we meet Chris Neto, market development manager – experience and engagement, Starin…
How did you first get involved in the AV marketplace?
I studied radio and television at William Paterson University where I had an internship with the NY Giants video department. This was my first exposure to projectors and monitors in meeting rooms. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in communications, I started as a video conferencing installation technician for a video conferencing company based in New Jersey. That first real job had me hooked. I loved tech, and when you love what you do, going to work is easy. So, I embarked on a career journey to learn as much as possible about all the different verticals and roles within the industry. My roles have included project manager, sales, consultant, on-site engineer, technology manager, end-user, and consultant liaison. Every move broadened my expertise and helped me move to the next position. Every bit of experience prepared me for my current role as market development manager at Starin.
What would you say are the most significant changes/ developments to have taken place in the industry during your time?
One of the most significant changes has been bandwidth. Bandwidth enables us to work remotely on-the-go with voice, video, and collaboration; but bandwidth can also be a limiting factor to the next big thing. As our industry continues to push towards bigger and more immersive experiences, bandwidth will be a deciding factor in how quickly those experiences become reality.
I’d also say the significant evolution from a hardware-centric business model to a more service-based industry has presented considerable challenges. Those who have a technical focus need to prepare themselves to work with an ongoing customer services (CX) model.
For me personally, the impact of social media in my career has changed everything. As an early adopter, I’ve worked towards a consistent brand presence for many years and because of that I am in the fortunate position to be here listed as an influencer within our industry.
What personal and professional achievements are you most proud of?
The proudest achievement is being a father to my children Dante (17) and Anjolie (14). They teach me more about the world than I could ever discover on my own. Through them, I’ve learned how to mentor and guide, and be patient and encouraging, while also showing them clear direction. These skills translate well to business.
Professionally, I’m continually learning and evolving, and I’m proud that I have taken risks in order to grow. I’ve never been one to rest on the achievements of my past; instead, I use them as motivation to do better. My social media presence has opened global opportunities to host awards shows, appear on podcasts, and write for industry publications. I’m very proud to have created the #AVintheAM chat, which has grown immensely over the last two years and created a community. I never dreamed that an online discussion on a random Sunday would generate over 20 million impressions a month.
Do you have a philosophy that you live by professionally? If so, what is it and how has it helped you in your career, benefitted businesses you’ve worked with and/or the wider industry?
My parents are Portuguese immigrants who came to America in the 1960s. Both came to this country in search of a better life and to achieve that, they worked hard. My dad instilled his work ethic in me and taught me that no one owed me anything. This in-the-trenches, blue collar work mentality has helped to fuel the grass roots efforts I’m so often a part of. I learned very quickly that I was not going to receive any favours just because I had a degree or an aptitude to learn. I learned to adapt my approach to business. Keeping what my father said in mind, they would not help “level me up”, so I had to find a different way to grow. That is when I began learning the different roles of our industry. Through my journey, I had some great mentors who understood that I was shaping myself into a jack-of-all trades. As I look back, it makes sense that my philosophy to adapt and continually grow helped me evolve as our industry changes.
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As my career progressed, the industry began to change, and I adopted a philosophy of being responsive to these changes. I found myself exploring social media as a way to stay current with the trends. I began to write blogs, guested on industry podcasts, and started writing for industry publications.
With social media, I’ve been able to reach outside the industry to raise its profile as an industry ambassador. My philosophy of being positive and showing the innovation behind AV has garnered me attention in unexpected places.
Prior to the outbreak of the global pandemic, what would you say were the biggest areas of technological or operational challenge for the AV industry?
AV’s largest challenges is, and will continue to be, company culture. Our industry still operates within the traditional mindset of “we’ve always done it this way”.
Many companies struggle with adaptation and will quickly return to what they know because it worked for years, even after the pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 has turned 2020 into the world’s largest work from home experiment. The traditional hierarchy culture focused on control and the lack of transparency is being put to the test. As a result, everyone has been forced to rethink viable workflows, re-evaluate organisational charts, and redefine work-life balance.
What impact has the pandemic had on your business, and what do you think will be the longer-term impact of this extraordinary period on our sector?
Covid-19 will completely change the way we do business. For me, it’s been business as usual because I typically operate in a digital environment; I live online. One big change I’m seeing is people actually turning on their webcams and accepting video-first as opposed to traditional calls and emails. In many ways, living digitally has been a positive because I see more people engaged in social media, which has helped prove to me that the path I started down ten years ago is the right one.
Just before the pandemic began, Starin went through an acquisition. Because of this, we were already in the process of evaluating workflows and org charts to become more efficient and agile. The side effect of our current situation has immersed our entire team in unified communications and, as a result, has given us a better understanding of the end user experience.
What needs to change in the industry? What do we as a community need to get better at?
Where disparities exist, we need to work harder to bridge those gaps for the benefit of the customer. Sometimes, our solution or our partnerships aren’t the best route for the customer. As a community, we need to remove ‘good enough’ from our vocabulary and put the focus on meeting and exceeding customer expectations, no matter what it takes.
In your opinion, what will be the biggest driver(s) of change for the AV market in the next five years?
Certainly, the business landscape of mergers and acquisitions will impact our industry over the next five years. The pandemic has heightened and accelerated that trend. As companies come together, so does their technical expertise and competencies. A side effect of this aggressive M&A will be the rise of hyper-focused firms that offer unique skill-sets and efficiencies that complement existing AV businesses.
Finally, what would be your message to those starting out their careers in the AV community?
Two things are essential for career success. First, learn as much as you can whenever you are given the opportunity. Say yes when possible; it’s opened doors for me and it will for you, too. Secondly, find your people. I’ve been able to surround myself with a group of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and each one of them has taught me something different.
Christopher Neto CTS is a 20-plus year AV industry veteran, currently working as a market development manager at Starin. He is best known for creating exciting and innovative social media brands. Early in 2018 he launched the Sunday morning twitter event #AVintheAM. His hashtags creations include #AVSelfie and #AVintheAM and have earned millions of impressions. His promotion of the #AVTweeps online community has resulted in huge engagement numbers across the market and is arguably the de-facto pro AV community hashtag.
He currently hosts the Rebels & Flux podcast for Starin, where he helps the industry get to know thought leaders on a more personal level. His tireless work promoting the industry and moving it forward earned him the coveted AV Person of the Year in 2017. Chris is passionate about coaching others how to better evangelise their AV message by blending social media, industry expertise, and with a light hearted personal touch.
Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?
I would never be able to name a single person – there are so many #AVTweeps who have impacted and continue to impact me to this day. I take a piece of each of those people and apply their best qualities to my ideals.
Who did/do you look up to as a role model professionally?
Without a doubt, my biggest personal and professional role models are my parents. They didn’t tell me to go in any specific direction growing up, they provided me with the necessary guidance for me to choose my own path. Most importantly, they always encouraged me to never settle for ‘good enough’.
How do you measure success?
I prefer not to measure my success in numbers, but in personal experiences. I routinely take the time to reflect back on my past and ask myself, “What have I learned from both my successes and failures? What have I done to contribute to my community both personally and professionally? How have my achievements impacted the pro AV community?”
Reflecting back does not mean living in the past. I learn from my mistakes, try to replicate the formula for my success.
What’s your biggest professional regret?
Looking back, there may have been opportunities that presented themselves that I missed. However, my journey is always moving forward, never looking back with regrets.
If you were a teenager today, what profession would you go into?
The same one, pro AV. I love what I do, and I’m fortunate to have found my calling in life where I can make a positive contribution.