Homegrown Business: Michael Steele, CEO of Flywheel Digital

Flywheel Digital is a Vancouver-based technical marketing agency. We spoke with Michael Steele, CEO, to find out more about them.

Flywheel Digital

What is your business called and what does it do?

My business is Flywheel Digital and we’re a technical marketing agency. That means we grow our clients’ business by driving people to their website and converting them, mainly through SEO and digital ads.

What made you want to do this work?


Before Flywheel, I ran a smoothie business. We had a store in Kitsilano and were in grocery stores across the city. It was rewarding, but constraining: our supply chain could only serve a local area and I was constantly needed in-person at the store, at events, or at production. I was heading towards burnout.

The only time I felt free was when working on the digital marketing part of the business. I loved setting up the systems, loved that I could work on it anywhere at any time, and loved that our SEO and digital ads could work for us while I was asleep. I started exploring what it would look like to have a business based entirely around that type of work, and eventually sold off my smoothie business to focus on Flywheel.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

Before Flywheel, I also taught a part-time digital marketing program at a local school, RED Academy. I found that many of the students were marketing leaders or business owners who, frankly, felt like they were being screwed by their agency.

They either felt like they weren’t getting results, usually because the agency wasn’t actually digital-first – it was usually a creative agency who happened to have a PPC person on staff. Or they were getting some results but there was no transparency about what was actually getting done, leading to a lack of true partnership.

I saw an opportunity to marry my education and marketing background to create an agency experience that is both digital-first and highly collaborative.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

We work with what we call ‘digital-first’ businesses. That means they make most of their money online and they’re committed to scaling their digital marketing strategies. Typically, these are eCommerce, SaaS, and education businesses. We work directly with the marketing or growth team.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

As a services business, we charge for the work our team delivers. Our pricing is based on a combination of the value we provide and the time it takes us to deliver it.

Most clients start with a single project to set their strategy, then shift to an ongoing engagement where we execute it. We take pride in not being ‘consultants’ – we’re able to execute anything we recommend.

Where in the city can we find your profession?

Our office is in Chinatown! I have always loved Chinatown’s combination of history, culture, grit, and incredible food. That being said, our team is ‘remote-first’, so our office is a resource, not a requirement. Most Vancouver staff go in-office 1-2 days a week, and we like it that way.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

I believe great marketing is highly opinionated, so the best questions would help a prospect understand our opinions and whether they align (or if they don’t have an opinion – red flag!)

For example, I would encourage a prospect who is reviewing agencies for SEO support to ask, “what are some of the typical SEO activities that you feel don’t actually move the needle?”

I’d answer that any strategy that focuses too much on meta descriptions, URL paths, or social media isn’t going to get very far. By contrast, an SEO strategy that focuses on content depth, page speed performance, and competitive market positioning will do very well.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The answer to both is ‘people’. As a services business, our product is our people. Our success hinges on the culture and growth of our team, and I really love fostering that and watching people grow. Mentorship, coaching, and organizational design have become real passions of mine.

On the other hand, not all people fit. Some of my most painful personal moments have come from trying to make it work with employees or clients that don’t fit our culture or approach and then making the hard decision to move on from them.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

That our job is to be Angela:

Flywheel Digital

Where can we follow you?

The best place for Flywheel is Instagram

And I’m always happy to connect personally on LinkedIn

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

One of our longest-standing clients is DU/ER, the athletic denim brand that just opened its flagship store on West 4th. Their Director of eCommerce, Calvin Roex, bought into our approach to marketing early and always thinks long-term, which is incredibly powerful. We’ve built some great systems together as a result.

They’ve also carved out an amazing Vancouver-based business in a space previously thought to be too crowded by big players like Lululemon for new entrants. They’ve shown how a retail brand can succeed by thinking digital-first.

Our team is also obsessed with their pants – almost everyone has a pair!



About Demian Vernieri 531 Articles
Demian is an Argentinian retired musician, avid gamer and editor for the Montréal Guardian, Toronto Guardian, Calgary Guardian and Vancouver Guardian websites.