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Lucky Number 13

A Slice on James Eberhard, Founder of Fluid Truck

No one is really sure why or when the number 13 became synonymous with luck (of the lack thereof), but for James Eberhard, it was his lucky 13th startup that would prove to be his biggest winner. From a young age, Eberhard recalled how he always had the entrepreneurial bug. His thirteenth startup started out as a peer-to-peer sharing company, (think Airbnb but for stuff) for items like paddleboards, camping equipment, tools, party equipment etc. but eventually evolved into a truck sharing platform. The company, Fluid Truck, was inspired by the principle of fluidity, a chemical engineer by trade, Eberhard was drawn to the concept of bringing balance back to society. Today it operates as a platform for customers to rent a truck for a few hours from a neighbor. It’s currently in its series A round and has raised $64.7 million.

Prior to the birth of Fluid, Eberhard was experiencing little success with his original platform but noticing that trucks were accounting for 80-90% of sales on the platform. “Trucks were always number one, so at the end of 2018, we were like, ‘You know what, we’ve fought so hard trying to get everything else to go, obviously trucks always dominate’ so we rebranded to Fluid Truck focused on trucks and went from there. We grew 140x in a matter of 24 months.”

It was on June 30th 2016, that Fluid Truck after a full rebrand, set sail. Eberhard knew they were on the right track when on the very first day they had a renter.

Although Eberhard had experienced fast growth in a number of his other digital product companies, the kind of growth Fluid was experiencing was unprecedented. At the end of 2019, they were still just a local Denver, Colorado company whereas today they are a national company operating in three markets within the U.S. Something that made this expansion possible for Eberhart and his team was focusing on the product, the small details and the “why”.

Keeping focused on the fact that they were out to solve someone else’s problem was fundamental for Eberhard. “The definition of success and failure is usually just small details, it’s getting the business model right or figuring out exactly what the user experiences.”

Of course, great people are also fundamental to success, as is a little bit of luck. Eberhard gave an example of a past company he started called 9 Squared, which was the first company to launch ringtones in the U.S. He shared how if he was too early to market, he would’ve run out of cash, and if he was about six months later to the market he would’ve had four-five competitors. “We had no professional money, it was scraped together just literally friends, and anybody I could hit up to invest in it, 500 bucks or 1,000 bucks, and that’s how the company was capitalized. I had no idea what I was doing, I mean, I was 25 years old.”

9 Squared would eventually be sold to a publicly held company in the UK. Eberhard would then move to London and glean his first experiences with an advisory board. (Editor’s Note: The chairperson of the board was Kenneth Baker aka Margaret Thatcher’s Home Secretary). Though there were times Eberhard felt he was drinking from a firehose, he learned the skills he would need to apply to Fluid. “It was quick, drinking from the firehose. At that time we were operating in like 22 or 23 countries.”

On the topic of luck… when the pandemic struck in early 2020, it was by far the most unlucky thing to happen to most industries around the globe. However, for Fluid, they found themselves in a sweet spot, already in an “on-demand” industry. Consumers were operating differently in this new era, and Fluid was prepared. “We were focused on ‘how do we help businesses that are watching one of the biggest kind of growth cycles,’ and probably one of the biggest leaps in terms of consumer behavior. Going from a place where you used to go to a store to get your goods and now it’s just delivered to your door. We’ve watched that accelerated adoption from all types of consumers.” Although business remained steady during this time, Eberhard explained how they did experience some level of difficulty due to management and supply chain issues. They could only grow as fast as the trucks were being made, so if manufacturing halted or slowed, so did Fluid.

It’s clear we’ve long moved past picking out an item in a JCPenney or Sears catalog… big-box retailers are going out of business and we are focused on fast access. An industry trend that Fluid is more than ready for. “Fundamentally Fluid was built to do this, it was built to go to scale, it’s built to go out there and transform assets, and was designed to be something we can start in Denver, Colorado, and have it expand out across the world.”

Founder Bio

Prior to Fluid, Eberhard founded Mobile Accord, a mobile donation solution that enables users to donate to notable nonprofits like the Red Cross via text message. He is a serial entrepreneur with 13 startups under his belt. Connect with Eberhard on LinkedIn.

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