As a consulting firm, how can you differentiate yourself and stand out from the noise to attract your ideal clients? Charles Demontigny, the founder of Fluxion, has some great nuggets of wisdom for you in this episode. Sitting down with Michael Zipursky, he shares his career journey with us—from leaving a company that got acquired to starting his own—and what he did to position himself for success, especially at the beginning of building his business. Charles takes us through the importance of really dialing in and optimizing his offerings during client interactions, explaining why we need to ask the right questions and utilize video content. He then talks about scaling and growing his business and the changes he made to manage growth and build his team effectively.
I’m here with Charles Demontigny. Charles, welcome.
Thank you, Michael, for having me.
I’m excited to have you on here. You’re the founder of Fluxion, which helps eCommerce companies and others in the advertising space increase their sales with some cool AI machine learning and some very technical stuff that you are an expert at. You started the business after working as a data scientist. You’ve grown the business considerably. I’ve been honored to be on the sidelines of watching you and seeing how that’s played out. I’ve been impressed with how you’ve grown your business in a short period of time. Take a moment, Charles, and tell us a little bit about what’s changed most in your business over the last few of months of we are you now and how that compares to where things were when you got started?
We were only two in the company, me and another part-time employee in December 2019. Now, we are five and we are making a software. We are consulting and doing custom software. I’m building my own thing and looking forward to creating a SaaS product.
Let’s then back up a little bit. Tell us about your background and your area of expertise. You were a data scientist. How did you get into this whole field?
I studied economics and mostly econometrics, statistical analysis for economics data. My dad is a software engineer, so I was passionate about the software part of things too. After my Master’s, I wanted to work with data. I started working one year in the research. After that, I worked for a smaller organization and it was great because I had to touch and do everything. After a few years, that company got sold. I decided to make my way and started my consulting.
Tell us a bit more. A lot of people, even if their company got sold, they might go and look for another job and stay in the “corporate world.” What was going on inside of your mind that gave you the kick to go off and enter entrepreneurship?
I wasn’t fired at all. When the company got sold, they gave me a huge bonus to stay. I said to myself, “If they want me so bad to stay, might as well start my own company and ask them for a contract. They’ll probably say, ‘Yes.’” This is what was in my mind. Everybody told me I was crazy because it was a big bonus and I had to stay for a few years. I said to myself, “No.” I don’t want to stay that long in the bigger organization. I want to start my own company. My dad and mom were entrepreneurs, too. This was in my blood. I decided to take that big gamble and it paid out in the end.
I didn’t know that both your parents were entrepreneurs. Thinking back to when you were a kid, did you guys sit around the dining room table talking about business? Is there anything that comes to mind for you that you learned from your parents that you think helped you to become the entrepreneur that you are?
My dad’s company didn’t go so well for a long time and everything was fine anyway. Even if it’s not working, we lived in Canada, so it’s not like I’m not going to eat or whatever. Even when things are bad, it’s not that bad. This is the one thing I remember all the time like, “I’m not going to die from hunger.” They didn’t teach me anything at all but seeing them having their company change the way I see the world and the work.
It sounds like you learned it almost through osmosis just by being around them. You were absorbing it, sucking it up, and taking some of the lessons. It’s a good one. Often as entrepreneurs and consultants, it’s very normal to think what a situation that we’re in or not even that we’re in that might happen and get all tangled up in that. That holds us back from taking action. “If I take this step, this thing could go wrong, that might happen,” the if’s and but’s. Entrepreneurship is about conquering those mindsets or that mental chatter that could hold us back. We take action then we learn from it. You’re right that it’s not for everybody. For the vast majority of people who are tuning in, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if you went for it? If you tried something that you’ve been thinking about for some time like launching a new marketing initiative or doing something different you’ve been thinking about.
For most people, it probably wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t work out. It would be a great lesson and opportunity to improve. Charles, talk to us about the transition. The company that you were working at got acquired. They said, “Here’s lots of money, stay with us.” You said, “I’m pretty valuable. Maybe I won’t.” What did you do? What was the transition from you leaving that company? Did they become your first client? What were the first few interactions of clients as you’re building your business at the beginning? What did that look like?Entrepreneurship is about conquering those mental chatter that could hold us back. Click To Tweet
They ended up being my first client. My second client was also another company that I used to work in research. It’s important for people reading that when you leave the corporate world to keep your relationships. This is the most important thing because I didn’t have a huge network at that time. I barely have any network. Having those few clients give you time to network and do your marketing. This was game-changing for me to have that time to think about my business.
You had the comfort of that first client being your past employer. What stands out for you as being the greatest challenge in those early days? What was going through your mind that was causing you some stress or you lying in bed at night thinking about? Talk us through what took up a lot of your mind share at that time and any challenges that you faced.
I had no idea what I was going to do after because it was a niche market in real estate and those data are not available for other clients. It didn’t make any sense for me to stay in that niche. I was worried about not finding a way to find new clients. I didn’t have that one-liner to explain what I was doing. It was hard for me to tell my friends and my family what was my plan and business. I’m happy now, but back in the days, it was hard.
Let’s talk more about that because I’ve had the pleasure of seeing your business grow, as you being a client in the Clarity Coaching Program. I know that you did a lot of thinking early on, Charles. As you said, you came from a real estate background. A lot of consultants think, “That’s what my background is,” whatever industry they’re coming from. Oftentimes, it can make a lot of sense to lean more into that. You could have gone back and said, “I’m going to work in machine learning, AI and all these types of stuff focused on real estate,” but you didn’t end up there. That is not your main focus. Talk us through about the process that you went through to arrive at who your ideal client is. You certainly had many opportunities to work with others along the way, but you’ve become very focused. Walk us through that so other people can benefit from that experience.
First of all is to think about it like, “Where are the opportunities?” For me, it was like, “Where is the data?” There’s plenty of data in marketing right now. This is one of the reasons I ended up there. What are you passionate about where you can make a difference? I’ve tried a lot of things because even though I’m working in marketing, other opportunities came to me and I’ve tried them. I worked in finance. I have other clients all over the place. In the end, it’s not good because it’s hard to be at the top of your game in different sectors. What works is to think in theory. After that, try it to see on the field what is working with a few clients. I’ve seen a few clients with the same problem. In the end, this is a great way to find your niche.
Have you faced any challenges around that? You’re making it sound pretty easy, Charles. I remember a conversation that we had where you had a potentially lucrative opportunity to work with someone who wanted your help, but they were in a very different area than what your current focus is. I remember when we walked through that, you still ended up feeling pretty clear. At the end of that conversation, you knew where you need to go. For a lot of people, even if they said that, they wouldn’t have necessarily stuck to it. It would have been a much harder decision. It seems like for you, that decision came naturally. You weren’t fighting it. I’m interested in your mindset around how you make those decisions. Any lessons you’ve learned on your path so far as a consultant and a consulting firm owner that you think has been beneficial?
Those decisions are usually driven by fear. If you end up doing the wrong thing, even though you know that’s the wrong thing, it’s just because you’re afraid of not having enough money at the end of the year. You have to write the plan with a pen and paper and also to visualize it. At the end of the day, you get to have the courage to make those decisions because those are not easy to take. You might end up losing money for a while because a new path is the hardest. If you follow the path with the least resistance, you’re not going to end up with a real business. You’re going to end up a jack-of-all-trades. This is not the way I wanted my business to be in and live my life. It’s the worst because I had a few opportunities like that in the past couple of months. People in LinkedIn come at you, “Do you want that job?” Sometimes it’s going bad and you might say yes. At the end of the day, if you want to build something and build a real business, you got to think that it’s a tough decision.When it's a good fit, it's a good fit. It's not awkward, and you don't have to sell anything. Click To Tweet
How much of that mindset comes from your parents? Growing up in a household of entrepreneurs, is that from them or did you learn that way of approaching things somewhere else?
It was a bit from them, for sure. Also, while I was in university, I was playing professional poker for profit. All my university fees were paid by playing professional poker. It was ups and downs. Sometimes you lose for a while, even though you play well. This is a roller coaster. It was my first business because I had a bankroll and I had to manage the risk and reward. It was a crazy ride too, but it was a great way to learn the variants of living that life.
I’m not a gambling man. The last time when I went to a casino, I don’t think I put much down. I probably played the cheapest slot machines that are out there. I can’t help but think that experience of you playing professional poker helps to analyze risk and reward and opportunity. I could see that serving you well. The other thing that stands out for me, Charles, as I’ve watched your business progressing and growing is that your clients and those that you’re targeting seem to get what you’re offering. You’ve done a very good job of taking the feedback that you’ve received and looking at your offerings and dialing them in so that the value proposition is very clear to an end client. What is your offer? How are you positioning it for your clients? Why do you think that it sits so well with them?
We help digital companies, anyone who sells online, to improve their acquisition and increase their retention with their own data. This is an important point because most of the smaller organizations are just using paid media, like Facebook Ads and Google Ads and so forth. The cost of acquisition is going up. It’s not going down any soon. There’s a real pain right there. They’re sitting on that big amount of data they’ve been building for years with their CRM and their transactional data. They are not using it at all, usually. There’s a big opportunity for them to have an alternative in marketing. The way I found that was I got asked for this, especially. It didn’t come from me. Somebody told me like, “You need to be sure on the right niche when somebody is going to ask you to make them something.” A lot of people have been asking me for those two particular areas and also understanding their clients. I got asked to do this.
What’s creating those conversations? Some people struggle with even having a conversation. What’s helped you to be clear about what to offer and how to dial in and optimize your offerings? Has it been the feedback that you’ve received from the actual ideal client? They’re essentially telling you what they want because they’re asking you for help or they’re asking you questions in that area. To create that, you have to have a conversation with them. How are you having those conversations? Walk us through in as much detail as you can as to how you’re going about creating conversations with these people.
At first, I had an idea about the specific industry. Let’s say, maybe hotels want to know about their clients. I would reach out on LinkedIn and send a message to 50 to 100 persons. A few of them are going to talk to me. After that, I’ll do another industry like video games and so on. I’m like a big outreach guy. You got to be fair because it’s hard to reach out to so many people and get rejected 95% of the time. At the end of the day, I made a lot of great connections with that, too. This is the way.
If we back up even a couple of months, you’re creating these conversations with ad agency owners, eCommerce companies, and so forth. You find them on LinkedIn and you’re sending them messages. What are you telling them? What are you saying to them to get that conversation?
It’s funny because, before the podcast, I wrote 75 other names of companies I want to reach out to. You got to do it all the time. I was asking them like, “You are a leader in your industry. I’m looking to do market research because I’m starting a new company. Would you mind having a short call for 5 or 10 minutes?” You got to have a few questions for them. You don’t want to burden them with a 30-minute call, especially during COVID, where they’re probably on Zoom five, six hours a day. It has to be seamless for them to say yes.
You’re not positioning it as if you have something to offer to them. The position that you’ve been using is you’re doing some research and you’re starting a new company. Is that correct?
Yes, I do not offer them anything. I’m just talking with a lot of them. My mindset was like, if that’s a great fit for them, they’re going to tell me that they want to know more about it.
Is that what’s been happening with you? When you talk to the right person, you’re asking them questions that create a conversation. I’m guessing it often goes longer than 10 to 15 minutes or 5 to 10 minutes as planned. It may be a bit of a longer call that naturally transitions to that. What they end up saying is, “Charles, is this something that you could help us with?”
Yes, exactly. When it’s a good fit, it’s a good fit and you both know it. It’s not awkward. You don’t have to sell anything because you explained your own offer and you asked the right questions for them. Everything fits perfectly.
Some people who are reading this are going, “I can see how that would work there. I understand the whole research perspective or approach. If I reach out and say, ‘I’m starting a new company. I’m doing something new that I haven’t done before.'” The concern that people might have is that you’re not positioning yourself as being established. You’re doing something new, so it’s not like you have a proven position. What are your thoughts about that? How do you think about that because you’ve made this approach work well for you?
First of all, I was telling them I’m a data scientist and I used to work here and there. I’m trying to approach that new domain that is marketing. There’s not a lot of competition in that field. For me, it’s a new field. I’m not a new lawyer and there are plenty of lawyers. Data scientists in marketing working for smaller companies like eCommerce, there’s not much competition in that field in Montreal. For them, even though I don’t have ten years of experience, it’s me or the big firm that costs a lot of money.The more they see you, the more comfortable they become with you, and the more they believe that you are the expert. Click To Tweet
Is there anything that you’ve changed in your approach in the last few months that you thought, “This has been a game-changer for me. It helped to be more effective and more efficient in getting better results?” Is there anything that stands out for you that you hit on and you were like, “I wish I would’ve known that sooner?”
Yes, it’s the video emails. This is amazing for my employees and clients to know where are we at with the project and for reaching out. Let’s say, I sent a message on LinkedIn. After that, they respond and I’m going to respond with a personal video call. This is different from everybody else on LinkedIn that is doing that automatic messaging.
This is for everyone who’s reading and wondering what we’re talking about. We’ve shared in our Clarity Coaching Program, but I also put some stuff onto LinkedIn about the power of using video messages. You can use tools like Loom, BombBomb, Dubb or other ones out there as well that allow you to make one, whether it’s personal or something more mass that still feels more personal. As Charles has shared, this allows you to differentiate yourself. Most people are sending messages on LinkedIn or maybe an email. Very few people are picking up the phone and calling.
A video message is where someone can see you. They’re going to see you at some point. Whether it’s now or when they hire you, they’re going to see you. Why not leverage the power of that sooner? That’s why we’ve seen great success with video messages and I’m glad to hear that it’s working so well for you. The other area that you’ve been active in terms of video is YouTube or LinkedIn videos that you’re putting out. Talk to us for a minute about that. You created great videos. I have to say you are natural on camera. You did a good job with those videos. What are those videos for in your mind? How have you found them to be working for you?
At that the end of COVID, things were not going my way because I was used to doing a lot of face-to-face events and networking. I had to find another way to do it. I was talking with another consultant that has the same problem as me. We created a lot of content. Since we were two and she’s not in my company, we shared that network too. For both of us, it was good to be out there. We shared good practice. It’s a full circle. The thing I was talking with my outreach and the question that he had. I was creating a video with it. It worked well because all the time people told me like, “I’ve seen you on LinkedIn and you have good content.” Even though they’re not new clients and people that I’ve talked to in the past, they see me all the time, so I’m always top of mind.
What you’re saying there is important that you’re capturing questions, objections, opportunities, or observations that you’re having with clients or prospective clients all the time. You’re turning that into content, which in your case is often recording a video and then uploading that to LinkedIn. The other thing that you said is people need to hear and process that you’re not doing it with the expectation that you post a piece of content or a video and that turns into a client. You’re building the relationship or you’re adding value. You’re becoming more omnipresent where people are seeing you all over.
The more and more they see you, the more comfortable they become with you and the more they believe that you are the expert. Even if they’re not going to do business with you, they might refer somebody else to you or mention your name or come back to you at a later date. Let’s talk about scaling and growing your business for a minute, Charles. When you started, it was yourself. You said there was one other person for quite some time, so it’s just the two of you. You’re now up to five or so people. How are you thinking about growing? What changes have you made to be able to manage growth and build your team effectively?
Growth is not about marketing. I’m not doing data science anymore. I’m in the marketing business because we need unique clients to grow. You need water to the mill. This is the most important thing. After that, I have five persons on my team. They’re interns and it’s also like part-time employees. I don’t have a huge payroll right now, but they can help me a lot. I’m willing to invest in the younger employees to leverage my knowledge and to accelerate the way I can produce. The first employee is the artist because you got to start thinking, “I’m not spending money. I’m investing money.” At first, it’s not going to be super lucrative for you. It’s going to be hard to make money within the first few months. A lot of people are going to stay along because of that, but you got to change your mindset. This is a mindset thing.
I want to dive a little bit deeper into that. You mentioned that you’re not doing as much of the data science work. You’re having other people on your team do more of that so that you can focus more on marketing strategy, business development, and building the business. Is that correct?
Yes, let’s say half and half. I used to do only data science when I was an employee. Before noon, I’m doing my programming and data stuff. In the afternoon, I’m doing the outreach and thinking about the business.
How do you decide what elements or what aspects of the data science work to delegate, outsource, or give to your team? Which were the tasks or the areas that you could give to others? Oftentimes, people feel like, “No, I can’t give that to somebody else because I’m the best at it.” It’s going to take too long to train people. How did you make that decision and hand that off?
You got to be there for the quality check. You cannot like send the work that is done by interns directly to the clients. After that, you get to be the project manager. You’re going to think about like, “What is going to be done in which way?” From my experience, interns are good at doing school work. If you lay out exactly what you want, they’re going to do it like they do in school. You got to think about it then draft exactly what you want and it’s going to end up decent at the end of the day. You’re going to learn the way they’re working.
Is there anything that you’ve been doing in your personal life that you feel helps you in your business? Anything related to mindset, physical health, personal development or habits? Anything that stands out for you, Charles, that you think helps you with the business?
Yes, I’m doing it out of meditation twice a day in the morning and at night. After that, I have another training, so I run a lot. I train not so much anymore because all the gyms are closed in Montreal because of COVID. Nutrition is also important. I’m never going to eat a burger for lunch. That’s a waste. Finally, I read a lot with a minimum of an hour a day. At 8:30, I stop all the screen and I just read or talk with my girlfriend. I stop working for sure at 8:30 every night.What is going to be working as a product down the road is something that helps companies work on their pain points. Click To Tweet
Where do you want to take the business next? The plan is to build software. You’ll be of planting the seeds for that through the work that you’re doing. Tell us a little more. Can you give us a sneak-peek into where Charles is going to be in the future? Where do you want to take the business?
I’m going to take the startup path with the investment. I’m looking forward to going to Next AI, the incubator in Montreal for 2021. I filled out the form for that. This might be a nice way to come into the startup world. I’m looking forward to getting more money in the business and grow it faster than just by myself.
What have you found to be most helpful through the process that you’ve been going through in terms of the conversations? You’re still creating a lot of the “software” or work for the client. The end goal is to have more of a software offering that is not customized to every single client, but adheres or deals with what clients need most. For somebody who’s also maybe considering software down the road, what would you say has been most beneficial for you going through the steps that you’ve taken on the consulting side to get more clarity and confidence for software?
The best way is don’t build software that nobody wants. The best way to understand what is going to be working as a product down the road is to identify a pain that a lot of clients have and find a way to create software that can help companies that have that pain down the road.
Charles, I want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us some of your stories. It’s been a real honor and pleasure to see the tremendous growth in your business. As you’ve been in the program here, I’m excited about the future and what it holds for you. It’s going to be bigger stuff because you’re doing great work. I also want to make sure people can learn more about you and see firsthand what you are creating and your content. I know a lot of it’s in French, but you still have quite a bit of stuff in English. Where should people go? What’s the best place for them to learn more about you and your work?
Again, thanks so much for coming.
Thank you, Michael.