After exiting the company he co-founded and nurtured through a $25 million acquisition, Mark Montgomery took a two-year break. Sort of.
The former Echomusic leader accepted seats on the advisory boards and boards of directors of a number of businesses, nonprofits and civic groups. He became an “entrepreneur in residence” at a local venture capital firm and an active investor. He began blogging for Forbes magazine and started a band.
He did not, however, dive into another commercial venture until now, with the formation of his new business, Flo thinkery.
Flo, incorporated in April, is a business services firm focused on providing experience, expertise and access to Fortune 500 and futureFortune 500 companies that are creating disruptive change in the digital media space, a category that encompasses entertainment, various forms of publishing and basically “anything where there’s content on one end and consumers on the other,” Montgomery said.
The company’s services include strategy and planning, brand positioning, technology and content assessments, and social media consulting, among others. Clients — Montgomery said he already has about 10, but won’t give names — could range from large corporations looking for direct-to-consumer strategies to venture capital firms, entertainment brands and pre-revenue startups.
“In my previous life, a lot of what I did was pioneer the concept of building communities around brands, and in today’s marketplace that’s pretty much a standard,” Montgomery said of his time at Echo. “So the goal would be to be involved in companies that are bringing transformation.”
Sound like a broad and somewhat blurry concept? That’s by design. Montgomery said the business is loosely defined in order to provide maximum flexibility for dealing with an ever-changing marketplace and, frankly, so it fits the tastes of an entrepreneur who likes to be involved in many different projects at the same time.
“I have a lot of different skills, and rather than building a box around it and saying I’m going to do ‘this,’ I’ve decided that ‘this’ is something that has a lot of gaps and ways to move around in it and hopefully makes the best use of what I’m great at and puts people around me who do things I’m not great at.”
Those people will include a small Flo staff to start — a group of perhaps four or five. Supplementing that group are an advisory board and other operational professionals who will dedicate some of their time to servicing Flo’s clients.
To date, the advisory board has 11 names, including non-paid advisers Jeff Cornwall at Belmont University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Michael Burcham of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. Among the others are BigChampagne Media Measurement CEO Eric Garland, Mountain Entertainment founder Marty Winsch, Innovate Partners CEO Robert Allison and the former head of Sony Nashville, John Grady.
In addition to Montgomery (pictured, in a photo by Jeff Venable), those with operational roles at Flo include Management Solutions Group CEO Liz Allen Fey, Nashville Songwriters Association President Steve Bogard, American Hometown Publishing CTO Doli Stepniewski and Frank Bumstead of entertainment business management firm Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy.
Garland, of California-based BigChampagne, is part of both the operational and advisory teams. He has committed to giving 10 hours per week to Flo clients, generally in the areas of strategy, consumer engagement, analytics and go-to-market strategies.
BigChampagne provides business intelligence and strategic analysis to some of the largest entertainment companies and brands and was recently named one of the world’s most innovative companies by Fast Company. The work keeps Garland plenty busy, but he wanted to participate in Flo because, in part, he’s been toying with a similar idea.
“Coincidentally, or accidentally, we were both thinking along the same lines,” Garland said. “Even with the name, specifically — I said I’m looking at this unprecedented deal flow.”
And those deals look very different from any other time in Garland’s career, given the recent convergence of technology and social media around brands and artists. That new landscape is creating opportunities for companies that could be exploited by a company like Flo.
Montgomery, anticipating that Flo’s team will stumble upon market opportunities for new ventures and businesses seeking funding, also is planning to launch a pair of related entities to handle business incubation and investments.
The first, Flo R&D, will likely launch by the end of the year. This entity will house Flo’s intellectual property and handle new business ideas that Montgomery wants to hatch either internally or through a seat at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, with which Flo will partner.
The second, Flo Investments, will commence at a yet-to-be-determined time and will provide funding for businesses that fit within Flo’s framework. Montgomery expects Flo Investments will make between three and five strategic investments in the coming two years.
Flo thinkery, then, could provide insight and expertise, a Rolodex and other services on behalf of the companies funded by Flo Investments.
“As I thought about how to structure this thing, it seemed like the more ability I had to move, or as a company to be flexible, the better off we are going to be in the marketplace,” Montgomery said. “Companies that are locked into business models have a difficult time moving, so in the short term, I have no interest in locking myself into a specific model.”