v-Fluence’s beginnings as a virtual company
Seven years ago while living in Washington, D.C., my wife Susan got a great job offer from the University of California, San Diego. For many years, Susan unselfishly adjusted her education and career while I worked on four presidential campaigns, usually in very cold places. Here was a chance to thaw out and earn back brownie points. I told Susan to go for it.
One of the first people I called for leads/advice on my transition was Jay Byrne, the most brilliant public relations strategist I had ever worked with. When I called, we had very different jobs -- Jay was in with Monsanto Company, I was running a post conflict/democracy office at the U.S. Agency for International Development. One thing in common, however, was that in our jobs we both relied heavily on leveraging the accelerating influence of the Internet to accomplish our missions. Jay suggested we start a company to help others do the same.
The concept was exciting, but the prospect of pulling it off was sobering. I thought back to my MBA days and the case studies whose authors seemed to gleefully analyze why so many businesses crash and burn in the first few years. Jay and I had small children, and we worried about the stress a start-up would inflict on our families. Jay wanted to stay in St. Louis, and I wanted those brownie points. While we were convinced we could raise venture capital, we were wary of sacrificing control or independence. To top things off, we were starting in the wake of the dot-com bubble bust, with reinforced skepticism in many corporate boardrooms about the Web and shrinking marketing and PR budgets.
Our solution? Start as a virtual company. With low overhead, we didn’t borrow a penny, and invested instead on bringing on the best possible talent. We turned the workforce pyramid of traditional PR and marketing firms upside down and offered our clients a high ratio of experienced professionals. Sarah Fuhrmann and Cheryl Byrne, were drawn in by the opportunity to engage in our emerging and dynamic industry while achieving balance with their young families. We felt good about the socially responsible elements of the virtual model, particularly the ability to eliminate long commutes, cut pollution and traffic congestion, and help our team members promote family values.We did worry the lack of traditional corporate trappings might lead clients to question if we were “real.” We pleasantly discovered that what they really cared about was that we provided experienced and dedicated teams that delivered results.
As our company grows, we are transitioning to a predominantly virtual business model, with common “hotelling” spaces in our six urban hubs and more frequent in-person team meetings. Interestingly, large companies are converging towards our model from the other end of the virtual spectrum, making entire divisions virtual and expanding telework or telecommuting opportunities.
I encourage anyone contemplating starting a company or managing a traditional company to consider the benefits of the virtual model. A recent report by WorldatWork states “…the number of Americans whose employer allows them to work remotely at least one day per month increased 63 percent, from 7.6 million in 2004 to 12.4 million in 2006." Reasons cited for this trend include lower costs, higher productivity and retention rates, and the revolution of communication technologies. Funny how that same communications revolution is what v-Fluence is all about as captured in our tag line, It Starts Online®.
Please comment here if you would like to share your experiences of the opportunities and challenges of managing a virtual company. v-Fluence has learned a lot about what kind of team member thrives in virtual settings, and how to overcome virtual communication, social interaction and management challenges. We also realize we still have lots to learn from others, particularly as we continue our rapid growth, add structure while retaining our core values.
P.S. - If you think you might be a good fit to join our team, check out our new Careers page.
of the comments and will not be displayed on the page.