William Benner: “Laser” Technology with Pangolin Laser Systems

November 22, 2019

Do you need high-quality laser equipment?

William Benner is the President and Chief Technology Officer for Pangolin Laser Systems.

William directs the company, oversees all aspects of company operations, oversees all hardware and software development, and does research for new products for the laser display industry.

William has received more than 20 international awards for technical achievement.

Products invented by William and manufactured by Pangolin are currently used by large entertainment companies, like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, DreamWorks Pictures, and many others.

Pangolin offers a wide variety of high-quality products, including laser projectors, laser control hardware, FX accessories, smoke machines, and much more.

Learn more about how Pangolin Laser Systems can enhance your company by listening to this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur above and don’t forget to subscribe on  Apple Podcasts – Stitcher – Spotify –Google Play –Castbox – TuneIn – RSS.

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Welcome to the thoughtful entrepreneur Show. I'm Josh Elledge, founder and CEO of up my influence.com. We turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. We believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world. stick around to the end of the show, where I'll reveal how you can be our next guest on one of the fastest growing daily inspiration podcasts on the planet in 15 to 20 minutes. Let's go. Right, Bill Benner. You are the President and Chief Technology Officer for Pangolin Laser Systems. You get to work with lasers build.

Yes, that's right lasers.

Ah. Now for those just listening Bill, just use air quotes. Explain what Pangolin does.

Yeah, well, Pangolin has been in business for 33 years. What we do is we make software and it equipment and also the lasers that are used to create and perform laser light shows all around the world. We're talking about all the major theme parks, Disney, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, that the lasers that are used in the movies for special effects that's mostly our lasers are doing that is that you see a sporting events where they're projecting the players names onto the ice in some cases or onto the basketball court. So lasers are using all kinds of things and TV commercials and even the the windows 10 background that desk down it looks like a window with its kind of in blue that was made not only with a laser, but it was made with our software and a laser that we sold the guy out in California who did that did that now that's great. Yeah. So their lasers are everywhere you can escape them. And we I

and how did you? Yeah, how'd you get into this space?

Well, you know, it is the E myth story. And what I mean by the E myth is the book by Michael Gerber called the E myth and yeah, he wrote This great book, I recommend anyone read it. And it is it's basically the story of how a craftsman gets into a business and and mostly because it is a labor of love. It is a craft. You know, he talks about pie makers in his book, but it's, it's people who get into this as a because they're passionate about the thing. And in our case, the thing is the lasers. We were the first company to concentrate on doing software that can be used for laser light years because at the time we got into 1986, there's only about 15 companies in the entire world doing laser shows, and every one of them because there wasn't no commercial software to do this. Every one of them wrote their own software. And some cases they blew their own glass tubes. They had to be a scientist to do a laser show back then because you had to be an electrician and a plumber play the lasers were water cooled and all kinds of stuff. So so we got into it just as a labor of love created software to do this. And when we did this, we knew that The market was limited. So we also had to put information out there. The 15 companies that were doing it initially were very secretive about, it's kind of like magic, you know, everyone's kind of care about their craft. And so we created a kind of a book and some newsletters about how to do these things and, and the terminology that's used. And as we did this, we basically serve to expand the market and we have been ever expanding the market since so that's how we got to do it just as a labor of love. So I was actually in college, and in high school, I was in a rock band. And all the bands at the time had a laser like Pink Floyd and Blue Oyster Cult, they had a laser as a part of their thing. And so we wanted lasers as a part of our band, and but they were unobtainium back then. And it's just super expensive and hard to do. And so I made a laser for our band. And and so that's kind of how I got into it and say, Well, this is fun. And that's what what happened to the band is what always happens, you know, Nick moved up to Jacksonville and Bob went somewhere and I moved up from Ormond Beach over to work Orlando and so with the band kind of dissolved, but my love for lasers continued and a love for music and laser. So that's what I've continued to do since then.

Yeah, it's it reminds me of Bryan Adams summer of 69. Right there, Jimmy quit God got married should have known we'd never get far with their yard. Yeah. So, so just so for someone who's doesn't quite understand what you're talking about. I know, I know, you shared some, some use cases earlier, but kind of explain where we're, we're seeing lasers and what they look like today. You know, so we're talking. I mean, you and I talked previously, you know, there's a lot you can do

here. So it's not just like, you know, 1980s I think I remember Ricky Schroder on silver spoons, you know, showing this laser with this fog and it was like the first time like we're, you know, we're seeing some of this. Maybe Did some of this cool new stuff, it's gotten pretty advanced, for sure. And now the advanced what you could do with it but advanced in so much as the as and how easy it's become because when I first got into it laser was six feet long it took two people to log the thing around that required for at three phase and water cooling. And now laser is literally the size of a shoe box that plugs right into 110 volt power. And it's just so easy to use, in some cases that he can connect to it by wireless, but so it's a lot easier and cheaper. You know when I got into it, you know, typical laser, they started at $25,000. Now you can get into it for well under $1,000. And wow a lot more with it. But okay, so so basically what a laser is that we use is a projector so you can think everyone knows about video projectors, you plug them in and they project onto a surface. And so that's what we do a laser projector is a similar size to a video projector and in similar ease of use these days you just plug in In but the difference is that a laser is scalable. So I could, you know, a you can project a a logo or animation on to something literally as big as you want. Like for example in, in Stone Mountain Georgia they project laser shows nightly on to the side of the entire mountain. You have a client who was doing laser shows on to the Grand Coulee Dam and Washington State. Wow. So so the projection can be very large and because of that very dramatic, and you know, obviously at Epcot Center they have laser shows that happen every single night. And, and there's hotels, there's one here in Orlando, it's the Marriott world center who installed a laser system at their pool bar. What was happening was that everybody was kind of leaving the pool bar at seven o'clock or something like that and the pool bar wanted to keep the people around longer and so laser shows can only happen at night and so okay if you want to stick around to see Legend show you'll have to stick around till nine o'clock or so basically keeps people in the hotel, the longer they're there, the more they're going to consume beverage of various kinds and and meals, that sort of thing and basically help to entertain the family for a longer period of time. So, so yeah, so that's it, it's it's projecting, you know, onto things. You know, I talked about these sporting events where they'll project onto the, onto either the field when the when the Lincoln Center up in Pennsylvania open when Lincoln financial field where the where the Philadelphia Eagles play, they had big laser and fireworks show out there. And so is it set up and you know, when we first got into it, lasers were only special effects is called football leading, theatrical lighting special effects. But now lasers are used really everywhere. And there's another thing too, which is that, you know, we started Making just a software. And then we branched out a little bit and made just the software and the hardware and and then most recently, we are making the projectors to, we're becoming somewhat of a one stop shop here. And now one of the things we discovered is the things that we make inside a laser projector can be used elsewhere to, for example, we make these little laser scanners here. Like here's a little laser laser scanner. Here's the size of how small this thing is tiny, tiny manufacturer these things in Orlando, and these are now being used in 3d printers and even self driving cars. Make the technology that enables the 3d printers and self driving cars to work so so yeah, it's just kind of been ever expanding.

So now you and I talked previously, and we talked about how you were able to grow your company because at the beginning, I think you shared you got a lot of criticism for your model. And I think you kind of proved them wrong, right?

Well, I'll tell you the story. It's it's kind of a funny story. So it is again, kind of getting back to the E myth, it which is the the, the, the story of how somebody creates the business just makes mostly for themselves for their passion and to share their passion. And that's what we did. And so when we first got into this, there was only 15 companies in the entire world, making air doing laser shows. And so the 15 companies will need CS, they literally laugh and they'd say, Don't you understand there's only 15 companies doing this, even if you got 100% market share and sold your software to all 15 companies. What are you going to do when you when when you know, that's it you because you've you've soaked up the whole market, you achieve market saturation, and that's it. You don't make any more sales. And you know, when we first started the business by Park, my partner Patrick, we, we didn't know that we were Harvard Business graduates. We just said, Well, you know, we'll figure that out. We come to it. And so what happened was as a result of us also publishing information And making laser shows easier to do. What happened is it was surprised us a little bit, but the market just continually expanded. And we never ran out of customers and many of the 15 companies are no longer business any any longer. Some of them are. But, but just many more companies are doing laser shows and the business is ever expanding. And there's another thing I share with you too, which is this, the concept of our plateau. So, so we started the business in 1986. And, and by the year 2000, our revenue was about let's say 1.1 million, and it hung around there for quite some time. And the reason is, is because for the longest time, the the the words of those first 15 guys, what are we going to do and we sell our last system, what are we going to do? And so we actually believed for for decades, that is going to come a time when we sell our last system and Therefore we better operate the the system. And the company is conservatively as we can, we can't do this. And we it was basically a mindset thing. And what got us out of that mindset was what we can call masterminds. These are groups that business people come to and get together and share what's working, what's not working. And that's where we learned about these great books. Like I say, the E myth is a great book, degree, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you know, and so what we found was when we apply the lessons in these books, that we can expand the business and we got out of the mindset that we're every any day now we're going to sell that last system, so we better be careful, you know, we got out of debt. And since then, so so we got out of that plateau. And to give you an idea of our last kind of three years, so two years ago, our revenue was, I think, somewhere around let's say, seven and a half million. Last year our revenue was 10.3 million and this year, our revenue will be 20 million. Wow, it's great. Wow. And it is just applying the lessons in these books and seeking out additional help masterminds, listening to podcasts such as yours. So these podcasts are really very valuable. So yeah, that's kind of how we that's how we accomplished what we did.

Yeah, truly amazing. So what what's the future then for for Pangolin? By the way I should for someone who's like, what does he keep it? What's it What? What's the name of the company? They haven't said the name of the company. It's Pangolin. So it's pangolin.com. And so it Can I just tell you, Bill that every time I go on your website, I get sucked in because you've got a lot of really great videos of people demoing things. And it's it's like, hypnotic to watch.

Yeah, so just as a side note to a tangle and what a penguin is, it's not just a name or a person's life. name or anything like that a Pangolin is a small East Asian and eating animal, it rolls up into a little ball. penguins are actually a delicacy in some countries too. And we have a Google search for for penguin. And what was funny is that occasionally we will see we will receive these reports from Google, like 1500 pounds of tangle and confiscated at the port of something like this. And so it's kind of funny.

hundred pounds of our stuff out there that

handling is an animal and you know, like today we started in 1986, long before the internet really was was president. And so, you know, back then when we started a company, yeah, you had to do a name search and we just we were very unsophisticated. We didn't know how to do a name search it sounded kind of expensive. And so so we we saw this, this this special and National Geographic special on the panel and and we just figured nobody Nobody else would choose the name penguins for the name their company. And so we just chose that. And so that's how the name got started.

You know, fun fact it is the one of the most trafficked mammals in the world.


Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's a there's actually a documentary about about this and the animals on the verge of extinction. Because it's so heavily trafficked. That's crazy. Yes. You're it's a beautiful animal. Really cool. Yeah. Anyway, I could see I could see the allure.

Yeah, the people make boots and belts and all kinds of

Yeah, don't do that. These guys are too cute for that.

Yeah. They're very cute. Very smart animals are really pretty special. So yeah,

yeah. Well, um, so in terms of let me ask you this. So what do you do? Like how do you do client acquisition at this point now?

Oh, great story. So So we do the obvious stuff like Google ads and Facebook ads, we do. The trade shows, we go to trade shows and the trade shows we try to go to are ones that are related to our industry. Most recently, we've been going to trade shows that are related to building like, we went to infocomm. Recently, this is a kind of an information thing. We're going to things were architectural, so lasers are starting to be used in architectural lighting to to highlight an outline building. No kidding. It's called we call it mapping. So we can map the building. We can highlight the, you know, the the windows and the door and that sort of thing. Yeah. And lasers also used to map out and highlight automobiles during automobile introductions, that sort of thing. So we try to go to trade shows. But I tell you, here's the funny story, that your listeners may benefit from really, to a great degree. So we did this study. Six months we starting from January until July and we did this study about and we we have a lot of data at at our disposal. So we say okay, people get have this Google Ad they see our thing, they click on this, they go here, they interact with the funnel, they receive these emails, they click on these things, they they're watching these videos, and we watch what they did and, and how many of them result in the sale and what they bought and all this stuff. We have all this data. Fortunately, we built this system that gives us all this. Now, at the end of the day, what it says what we wanted to say is OK, if you want to do okay, yeah, advertise here, it's got a border, that's this color. It has to have these pictures, these high headlight headlines and that sort of things. And and at the end of the day, what we found is, it sure is great to have existing customers to market to rather than trying to capture new clients, you know, so the value of your existing clients is a lot higher than trying to go out and spend a lot of money to acquire new Yeah, that's that's the lesson that we that we learned after six months study.

Interesting. Interesting. So, you know, of course keeping them super happy reselling them. And you guys also have, if I'm not mistaken, you have a kind of an upgradeable model. Is that right? Yeah. For product lines. It's what we

call an ascension model. It's another thing that we learned it through these masterminds. Yeah. And it's just something that we didn't have when we were stagnating and plateauing. And that we do have now in other words, we have a product that people can get into for less than $500. This is old quick show, right? And so and then so and quick show does a lot of stuff. It's a great piece of software really solid, but if people outgrow it, they need more. We the next step up is something that we call beyond. It's our next level software platform. And then beyond we actually have three levels. We have essentials and advanced and beyond ultimate, right so we have this Ascension model where we can address the needs and the requirements of the people. Like for example, you could do this, this building mapping even with our least expensive software, but to do more advanced things more interactive, you know, we have software that people can use with interactive infrared cameras, where the laser will follow you around and, and just, you know, be projecting around you and just all kinds of other stuff. But that's in our higher level software, you know, because it's the higher level right action companies that kind of thing. Yeah. So so it is an ascension model. This is just something you learn through these through these masterminds through podcasts and stuff like that. It's it's not something that Yeah, really figure it out for yourself.

Wow, wow. Well, Bill, this has been really, really great. And so who would make I obviously, was gonna ask who would make a great client for you, our existing clients keep on buying new things. Yeah, exactly.

Yeah. Yeah but but people want to to put you know our clients or you know your local DJ who just want to spice up their their meetings in there that kind of thing. It's like I say it's it's production companies who have lighting and want to add to add to basically take things to the next level. You know, I think what I say is that lasers really spice up what you basically add spice It's like eating a sandwich without spices is very bland but when you add mustard and ketchup and and various, you know kind of spices that you put on, that's what adds the pizzazz lasers are the thing when you go to a rock concert lasers are the thing that makes the rock concert a memorable and memorable and basically more fun. So that's that's kind of the that's the net result of anybody wanting to basically spice things up and make things more memorable, more engaging and more fun. Those are the people who could benefit from laser systems. Fantastic.

Well, Bill Benner, thank you so much again, the Chief Technology Officer for penguin. And again, that's at pangolin.com. Bill, thank you so much for all your insights, sharing your experience. Congratulations on your success as well.

Oh, likewise, Josh, you know, I'm a real fan of yours. Well, I've watched you on local WKMG. tv and listen to your podcast, so it's been a great knowing you too. Thanks. Go. Well, great.

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