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Founders View - One Year In

The two questions I get asked the most are: why would you do another start-up after having a unicorn? And how is Fluency going? My answers are always the same: because I love to build, and it’s going great!

I could do a full stop there, but I’ll dig into that a bit more because it really helps to understand my mindset, the collective vision and motivation I share with the other co-founders at Fluency, and why we believe we will transform digital advertising.

Answering the question of “why do another start-up?” requires looking back. About 20 years ago I had the good fortune to be part of the co-founding team of Dealer.com. We had the necessary ingredients for start-up success: vision; passion; expertise; scrappiness; and tenacity. We sold the company for $1.1B, and in addition to being one of the most successful business stories in our state, we also transformed the entire industry of digital marketing for automotive. After the sale, most people assumed I would be jetting around the world or something adventurous and untethered. But the reality is, that isn’t me.

So what drove me to do another start-up? Simply stated, I love to build. Having clarity on a problem and the vision to see the path to the solution is thrilling. To execute on it as planned provides me with personal satisfaction. Based on my previous entrepreneur experience, I know building isn’t always quick, and I also know that if you never start, you will never get there.

view on future of adtech

The acquisition of Dealer.com made me realize I am not the ‘big company’ kind of builder that is needed following a massive merger or sale. I am the ‘scrappy, get your hands dirty every day’ kind of builder. So I exited the company and kept building. I spent a few years building an actual barn; I did consulting to help others build their businesses; I increased my involvement with non-profits; and I rolled up my sleeves on the several personal projects that had taken a backseat for many years.

For me, the thrill is in the execution of the vision with a cohesive team - whether it’s a barn or a business. Coming together under an idea and a vision and putting the analytical and creative sides of the grey matter together gets me up in the morning, and encourages me to push the bar up and forward every day.

I knew I wanted to build a company again, but I wanted it to be different. The team would be small and would be an assemblance of world class execution capabilities. The business model would be one of recurring monthly revenue with built-in growth. It would be at the enterprise level, so fewer accounts with larger revenue associated with it making a big impact for an organization. It would be in a growing segment that has a difficult problem to solve. Fluency checks all the boxes and more. I know of no business like this nor a better team to execute.

Fluency plays in the very niche enterprise ad tech space. I have been in this market since 2001 and it’s highly specialized and ever-changing. There are a few thousand potential clients in the world in this space, and they’re all trying to figure out how to run enterprise digital advertising but frankly no one is doing it well. All are trying to do more with less, grab market share, and expand margin.

This doesn’t worry me nor intimidate me. Here’s why: it has taken me 20 years of experience to see and understand this space and to have a strong viewpoint on where it is going. This space will (and must) evolve, and we are going to accelerate that evolution.

Why do I think that it will evolve? It’s very similar to what happened in the finance industry 15-20 years ago. Online trading platforms were the shiny object for large and day traders alike. There were multiple options for an online broker, and today there are really a handful that the bulk of the financial world uses. It was and is a transaction-oriented data management business.

Digital advertising is also moving toward a transaction-oriented data management business. Fluency is going to help make that happen sooner than later. We have the experience, the vision, and the team to do it. I don’t know of any other company out there going down this path today, but several will be soon.

Everyone wants to know how it is going. Here is my answer; my expectations are blown away a year into this venture! We have already beat our goals for the year. We are set to blow next year’s goals out of the water. We have a world class team that has built simplicity into something that is extremely complex. Our clients and prospects tell us everyday how unique and different our approach is. So I would say, it is going pretty well. But the best part is, we are having a blast doing it!