An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Mike Lane of Fluency, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Fluency – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
In November 2017, four of us founded Fluency, a business-to-business RPA digital advertising platform. Our clients are industry-focused organizations and/or digital marketing companies. They manage large digital media portfolios – typically tens of millions of dollars across thousands of accounts. Our software is unique in the space to empower our clients to manage and scale their business profitably.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The biggest hurdle we have faced has been the ability for some of our clients to effectively implement change management. All of our clients believe that automation is the future, and it is why they partner with us. But the operational implementation of a new approach, as it often is in many organizations, is often met with resistance. This in itself creates inefficiencies and delays. As a result, our job has evolved into helping streamline the process inside organizations to implement change. This involved making tools, picking up work that was typically on the client side, and having dedicated staff and customized processes for every client.
What does the future hold for Fluency?
Fluency is at an interesting and exciting moment in time. The first few years of this company were about building tech, building relationships, and testing the business model. 2020 was the year to test the thesis of the company and our ability to start scaling. As we all know, 2020 was a crazy ride, yet despite this, we were able to reach nearly all our goals. 2021 is already a great year as we increase the velocity of our growth and start to scale up and see substantial revenue growth.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Vermont?
The Vermont tech scene is booming right now. Every company I know is hiring at least 3 people; some have as many as 40 job openings. I angel invest on the side and there are dozens of companies that, all at the same moment in time, have their business models scaling.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I do a fair amount of advising to startups and have seen hundreds of different ideas and business plans. Some of these never go anywhere and some have turned into billion dollar businesses.
The best thing you can do for your company today is build a plan and have the mindset to get your company to break even. It doesn’t have to make money, but if you can basically not lose money, you are in the driver’s seat. I know there are tons of businesses out there that never make money and are still worth a ton – the success rate on those just isn’t great. The difference is monumental in terms of stress, ability to execute and hire, making strategic decisions, and de-risking the business. Breakeven turns into higher pay, higher valuations, and the ability to raise money on your terms from LOTS of places.
You need to set realistic goals. Your goals should be to invest the money for the best outcome to reach your goals. Be calculated. Define your goals and write them down. Goals could be as simple as: ‘grow and create a great team while dialing in a repeatable model focused on driving recurring subscription adoption’, or something greater. I would recommend nothing more than 3 bullet points.
Results may take many months and sometimes years. Commitment to see it through is what you need. There are demands that are unique to every business. Some require late hours away from home, like in retail. While others require travel for sales meetings. Yet there are common threads in every business around commitment.
- Commitment to learn. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you will have to learn a lot from business planning, accounting, fundraising, networking, sales, and more.
- Commitment to the hours. One should expect to work twice as many hours as a normal job. It is possible to work 100 hours in a week. It isn’t ideal or sustainable, but you have to know that sometimes, it is what it takes.
- Commitment to the grind. There are things you won’t want to do that need to be done. The buck stops with you and you have to figure out how to get it all done.
- Commitment from family and support network. If there is a partner and other family members, it takes good communication and understanding from all in order to get a company off the ground.