in Company 411
"I’ve always been interested in live entertainment,” Doug Fleenor confesses. “I put together my first sound system at seven, which involved a Lafayette PA horn, an Allied crystal microphone and a B-Stock tube amp from a local stereo store.” And no one would doubt when he says in high school he was that AV geek.
A DMX Pioneer
As head of Doug Fleenor Design (DFD), he and his team has been offering DMX solutions and products pretty much since the dawn of the technology. A fixture at trade shows and industry trade ads, he’s instantly recognizable. So are the reliability of his products: in last month’s “Installations” feature, “4Wall Hits the Beach,” John Fernandez said DFD’s “factory support for their products is top notch.” The company is also a seven-time recipient of ESTA’s Dealer’s Choice Customer Service Award.
Fleenor was born in San Francisco in 1956 and grew up in nearby Mill Valley. He earned a BSEE from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He assumed he would land a job in the audio industry. “Upon graduation, digital companies like Intel, Hewlett Packard and DEC were offering better incentives,” he explains. “So I accepted an offer from Intel.” Intel provided evening classes on their latest technologies, which he eagerly took advantage of, and there, among other things, he learned about microprocessors “from the inventors of the micro.”
Later, he went to work for theatrical lighting control equipment company Teatronics as a digital engineer designing a lighting console. There, he designed the Teatronics Producer, a microprocessor-based submaster console. “Prior to 1986, there were no industry standards for dimmer control,” he explains. “One of my duties at Teatronics was to interface their product to consoles and dimmers from other manufacturers.” This skill earned him the nickname Dr. Mux (“MUX” for multiplex, a control technique … which would segued into “Dr. DMX.”)
A Creative Bent
In 1990, he struck out on his own and founded Doug Fleenor Design (DFD). “Our initial purpose was to help other companies design DMX512 into their products,” he says, noting that, at the time, there was an increasingly strong demand for DMX compatibility — especially smaller companies that did not have the resources to learn DMX. As the technology continued to grow in popularity, his clients needed solutions to challenges cropping up: signal distribution, interfacing with non-DMX devices, and converting DMX to and from other control protocols. Their product line grew as a direct result of the solutions found for these and other issues.
“Dr. DMX” is more of a self-ordained honorary title, though apparently around the office he’s joked about obtaining one of those “fancy” fee-based PhDs from some less-than-reputable online college … which brings us to his well-admired quirky sense of humor. For visual proof, just look back at the LDI show in 1996 when who-knows-what inspired him to hook up one of his DMX-controlled relay boards to a Mr. Coffee pot. It was a fun way to show off his technology, and he’s done a gag like it every year — using a blender, an “DMX-a-Sketch,” and something called a Flatulator. “The DMX-controlled shock collar is our most-downloaded data sheet, but my favorite is still the coffee pot,” he grins.
Fleenor adds, “My mother says I’ve always been creative. In grade school they simply called me weird. I don’t know how I come up with these ideas, they simply pop into my mind. I come up with many ideas. The company collectively picks one for that year’s theme.”
When asked if there’s anything that those in the industry might be surprised to know about him, he rattles off a triad of trivia: he knows the Nestlé Toll House Cookie recipe by heart; the office dog is 105 years old (that’s 15 years in your years); and his daughter, Diana, recently took second place at the Collegiate National Wakeboard Championships, and her televised achievement was shown on CBS in June and will air again July 16.
DFD Chameleon Controller
Getting back to business, Fleenor says currently the team at DFD is putting the final touches on an architectural controller similar to the DFD Preset 10. “The new controller, called Chameleon, has 18 presets. What sets the Chameleon apart is the touch-sensitive buttons that allow a custom overlay to be engraved at any trophy shop.”
Today, product assembly is done by an outside firm just up the street, and the team does all final inspection and testing inside their labs. There are a total of five engineers including Fleenor, and three office staff including Cindy Fleenor, who is DFD’s controller, and who, with Doug, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary last year. They just hired another engineer, Sean Sill, who will be their Ethernet/ACN specialist. “Look for our ACN/DMX interface at this year’s LDI,” he says.
And God-knows-what being run by DMX .