CEO/Founder Mike Lane tells the story of Fluency, an ad tech company that has reached new heights in just under six years.
Vermont-based Fluency is one of the fastest-growing private companies in America.
Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies VCET In early August, the ad tech service was named to the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing private businesses in the country. Co-founder and CEO Mike Lane, who also serves on VCET’s board, says the award is recognition for years of hard work.
“Pride is what we’re feeling,” said Lane. “We’ve been named one of the best places to work and earned several awards the past few years, but for the Inc. award, you need to be established. It’s one of the bigger awards out there – it matters.”
Fluency was co-founded by Lane, the former co-founder/COO of Dealer.com, in November 2017. After he sold the latter in 2014, Lane took a few years off – remodeling a bathroom and building a cabin – before itching to start something new.
“I’m the type of person that needs to do something,” said Lane. “I like solving puzzles and there’s a lot of pieces here – the business model, the finances, the people, the product, the sales strategy. It’s something I just really enjoy.”
Lane co-founded Fluency with three partners, all former co-workers at Dealer.com. The group was eager to start something together but didn’t know what at first.
“Every idea in the universe was up there,” said Lane. “But what’s going to be worth our time, if you’re going to do something for years, right? Let’s figure out something that’s going to be fruitful, enjoyable, not easily copied. Something that we can grow a profitable business around.”
The group, who had 20 years of ad tech experience, eventually decided to pursue that field, convinced that no one else was delivering revolutionary solutions.
“It’s a super nuanced space – there aren’t a lot of competitors because it’s very complex,” said Lane. “But we understood ad tech really well and could build a product that’s pretty revolutionary.”
The initial four-person Fluency team first called home to VCET due to the space’s convenience,
collaborative atmosphere, and “vibe,” according to Lane. Soon after joining VCET, Fluency even found another employee.
“There was a VCET member who found out we were hiring and stood up from 15 feet over and was like ‘Hey, I want to sit at your table,’” Lane said. “And then we interviewed him and ended up hiring him. Two weeks later, he walked in where he always came to work and sat down at our desk, instead of the one over there.”
Early days of the Fluency team working at VCET.
When the pandemic hit, Fluency shifted to being fully remote, which it has since stuck with. As the company moved outside of 266 Main Street, Lane offered his thanks by donating a few of his personal shares in the company to VCET.
Over the past few years, Fluency has rapidly grown. Lane says one of the things he’s most proud of is how many high-paying jobs the company has created. Fluency has employees in 18 states, though over half the company is here in Vermont.
“We’re creating an environment that people want to work in, while still having a profitable company and still growing at a fast rate,” said Lane. “The combination of those things is difficult but we’ve been able to pull it off.”
Lane also credits his past learnings from Dealer.com to Fluency’s success.
“The second time it’s going to be much quicker, you’re going to be much more efficient and avoid all the pitfalls. One of the things we do is we build into the future. So when we think about buying a software system or something like that, we’re looking out a year or two, to ensure it’s going to solve a problem.”
When asked about a potential exit opportunity, Lane was firm: “We don’t have any preconceived date in mind [for an acquisition] – we’re just trying to build a great company.”
In terms of advice for other entrepreneurs, Lane encourages people to speak to as many people as possible.
“When starting up a company, it’s to talk to people that know what they’re doing, like a VCET. You’ve never thought of everything. There’s things that you haven’t thought of that people can shed light on. There’s lots of stuff to learn, and be willing to learn.”