Entrepreneurship is unpredictable, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. For Martin Langelo Lien, Co-Founder and CEO of Respond Flow, his start in entrepreneurship began in Norway with a side hustle in second grade. From a calligraphy set to an SMS software that increases customer satisfaction, Lien knew the journey to becoming a founder of a startup would take many twists and turns.
When Lien decided he wanted to study entrepreneurship, he knew he needed to come to America. At the time, the University of Oklahoma was top 3 in the world for entrepreneurship and Norway would cover his fees to attend OU for higher education. So Lien set off – never having set foot in America until he landed at Will Rogers Airport in 2015.
“As soon as I arrived at OU, I wanted to get as integrated as I could. I joined whatever organization I could and tried to get rid of my accent,” said Lien.
While at OU, Lien spent half a year in Boulder, CO in a startup summer program. During this program, he started working with artificial intelligence and designing customer success funnels for Expedia and Nike. Upon graduation from OU, Lien began work at a prosthetics startup. This opportunity was a great chance for Lien to learn about business development and sales, but he also learned that customers were not as responsive as he once thought.
“When you would try to get customers on the phone, only 7 to 9 percent picked up, and it was frustrating. I knew I needed to get to the bottom of this. We polled a bunch of people and asked what was going on. Everyone said they were screening my calls and that they don’t accept calls from unknown numbers,” said Lien. He started personally texting customers and saw the company’s conversion rate jump from 7% to 27% overnight. The problem was that this process was still manual. It was in this moment that Lien dreamt up Respond Flow.
Lien knew it was possible to automate, as he had done it before. He started conducting a market analysis, and after trying every tool in the market for over 4 months, he realized there wasn’t a single tool that understood the importance for the customer feeling like they were having a conversation with a real human.
“I was so frustrated, so I thought – we just have to build this. On my way to Norway for Christmas, I knew I had to get on the phone with the smartest guy I knew, who now happens to be the co-founder of Respond Flow. I had no idea how to build this, but with his background as a professor in engineering, I convinced him to join,” said Lien.
Respond Flow launched in June 2019 and Lien saw instant traction and profitability after just two months. Respond Flow is an SMS software that allows business to save time and resources on marketing, sales, and service. Using a local 10-Digit number, users can schedule and send targeted messages to customers and prospects, while maintaining a personal touch. This helps businesses build a loyal customer base, close more deals, and increase customer satisfaction.
The company started as a side hustle for four entrepreneurs, including Austin Graham, Matt Morfopoulos, Peter Daggett, and Lien, but the startup continued to organically grow with no money spent in marketing. Almost a year into the startup’s launch, Lien decided to take a leap and pitch for investment funding. In May 2020, Respond Flow closed their pre-seed round of funding with Cortado Ventures and Atento Capital, taking this startup from a side hustle to a full business. This funding allows Respond Flow to continue innovating and growing, seeing their highest growth yet in January 2021 amidst the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Respond Flow’s investment and recent growth has helped them further promote small and medium sized businesses across Oklahoma. Their “Let’s Win Together” campaign helps local companies engage their customers for half off for up to 3 months to help them recover after the lockdowns and get back up to full capacity as soon as possible.
“It’s really fun to watch customers experience your value proposition and see that personable communication is effective. Entrepreneurship is not easy; you have to be a little nuts to enjoy it, but we love it,” said Lien.
Lien’s hope for Respond Flow is to continue to find opportunities to grow their customer base in US markets before taking this international. When asked what the benefits of developing a startup in Oklahoma, Lien shared that “the biggest and most obvious benefit is the cost of living. There is more and more growing talent because young professionals realize you don’t have to live in an overpriced city to be an entrepreneur. But beyond that, everyone is extremely supportive of startups in Oklahoma. The state is so hungry for innovation and for companies to stick around, so that ripples and people reach out with ways to help ensure you grow.”