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Kyle founded Delavan-based telecommunications solutions company Millennium in 2004. Today the company has 165 employees, annual revenue of $229 million and recently secured a $155 million outside investment. Millennium has been recognized seven times by Inc. magazine as one of America’s fastest-growing companies. Construction of a new headquarters for the company is expected to be complete this summer.
Kyle said he expects the company’s massive growth to continue. Millennium is on track to end 2022 at $300 million in revenue, and Kyle said he and his partners plan to grow it into a $1 billion company within the next seven years.
“We’re going to do that by becoming really the only company that offers what we offer,” he said.
Millennium is a national distributor of fiber optic network materials that has differentiated itself by providing a range of related services throughout the life of a project. More than just offering materials, the company helps secure project funding, rents and leases equipment and makes use of its geospatial information system.
Kyle did not set out to change the perception of the telecommunications industry and the experience of its customers. The industry was exposed to him by a chance meeting.
In the mid to late ‘90s he was selling mortgages. It was one of the few career paths that seemed to make sense for him as he loved math and decided not to attend college. One day, he wrote a loan for a man who was in the telecommunications industry.
“All I knew was he made decent money and figured he sold telephones,” Kyle said. “After about six months, he convinced me to read some of the books from the manufacturers he was representing.”
The client offered to pay him straight commission to sell to anybody in the five midwestern states that were a part of what was then called Ameritech Corp. So, Kyle, never one to pass on an opportunity, made his first venture into the telecoms industry.
Kyle originally began by selling DSL (digital subscriber line) test sets. He spent three months in San Jose, California, learning how the equipment worked before returning to the Midwest. During his time selling the sets as a manufacturer representative, Kyle became increasingly frustrated with being directed to provide customers with timelines both he and the manufacturers knew were too optimistic.
“In the absence of a proven track record and in the absence of a formal education, when you’re young and getting started in the industry, the only thing you have is your word,” Kyle said. “To that point in life, I felt like if I told somebody I was going to do something, if I didn’t, it was the exception to the rule.”
That’s when he realized there was a prime opportunity for someone else to step in. In 2003, Kyle created a plan to sell telecoms materials directly to customers himself and deliver on the quoted timelines. The only issue was securing the initial funding to get himself a truckload of products. He took out a mortgage on his family home and went to a local bank seeking an additional $50,000.
“The banker looked at me and he slid my business plan right back to me without even looking at it. He said, ‘Kid, I’m going to do you a favor and I’m not going to bring this to the board,’” said Kyle.
He used that rejection as motivation and turned to his family for help. His grandmother had a $17,000 certificate of deposit with an out-of-state bank, and he was able to borrow $17,000 against that CD. Combined with the mortgage on his family home, it gave him enough to get started with a truckload each of pipe and vaults. Kyle said he found initial success thanks to his genuine curiosity and his ability to talk with clients to identify their needs.
“I was able to call the same clients who had already been let down and say, ‘The reason I let you down was because I was being given information from the manufacturers that I had no control over. If I have a way to deliver on it, will you give me another chance?’” Kyle said.
Addressing a gap in the market
While Kyle’s business concept didn’t garner initial support from those outside the telecoms industry, his peers knew his idea could address a current need.
Eric McDermott, Dura-Line director of sales for the central region and U.S., has been working with Millennium since the company’s founding. Dura-Line, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based manufacturer of conduit, is a supplier to Millennium.
“He saw that there was a need in the market for a distributor in the Chicago area, and we knew there was a need too, so we supported him right from the beginning,” McDermott said.
Kyle was not the only person who had been experiencing issues with the larger telecoms companies.
“It’s very hard for a manufacturer like us to coordinate accurate shipping dates and product arrival times to the contractors. There’s so many things that go on at a manufacturing plant that can cause delays or can cause expedites. A stocking distributor like Millennium really fills that gap,” McDermott said. “It reduces the miscommunication and supply chain issues between a manufacturer and a contractor.”
With the locations Millennium has added across the U.S. and the in-depth training given to employees, the company has affected the telecoms industry in a positive way, McDermott said.
“They bring a ton of value to us as well because now, thanks to Millennium, there’s stock of our product all throughout the country, which helps our customers – often times contractors – have access to our materials everywhere,” McDermott said.
Millennium hasn’t had just one period of substantial growth; it hasn’t stopped growing since it was founded.
The company’s first warehouse was built in September of 2007 in Lake Geneva, which Kyle identifies as the point when he knew he was truly committed to building his business.
Millennium made its first appearance on the Inc. 5000 list in 2012. Inc.’s annual list ranks the fastest-growing companies in America based on percentage revenue growth over three years. Kyle attributes Millennium’s sustained growth to a combination of a “great market” and adapting from being a materials distributor to a full-service company.
“Instead of just selling materials, along the way we identified that some people can’t afford the capital equipment up front. So why don’t we just create a rental program? … (Customers) also want to own it, so we created a leasing program. As we went on, we also created a geospatial information system,” Kyle said.
Millennium also helps smaller businesses navigate securing access to funding and grant applications. Getting the funding needed to install a fiber optics network was the number one barrier for most of the company’s clients, so Kyle reached out to several accredited investors to ask them to place money into a fund for bridge loans.
As Millennium’s suite of offerings continued to expand, so did the company. Kyle said Millennium grew by just under 50% last year.
Each of Millennium’s 16 – soon to be 19 – warehouses is strategically placed so the company can serve customers within a three-hour radius.
The company will move its headquarters to a larger, 75,000-square-foot office space and warehouse that is under construction in Delavan and will need to double the number of employees within the next year or two to keep up with growth, Kyle said.
In 2006, Kyle knew it was time to bring on his first hire after a friend gifted him a copy of “The E Myth,” which drove home a simple message: You have to work on your business, not in it.
“Everybody starts off having to work in their business. But at some point, you have to develop an organization. You replace yourself in the areas of the business that you’re not really good at,” Kyle said.
His first employee was brought on to help with customer service-related tasks, including following up on all the company’s orders. The next hire the following year helped take care of Millennium’s accounting needs.
“It was taking a toll on my family and personal life that I would travel and be gone five days a week and then on the weekends do the accounting,” Kyle said. “You have to have a strong spouse who is able to tolerate that.”
A decade into the business, Millennium leaders began re-evaluating the structures that carried it from 2004 to 2013. A lot of materials were being sold, but there wasn’t much discernment between what kind of customers Millennium should be serving. Instead, sales reps were working with every client possible.
“We got through 2013 with great revenues but a business that was broken,” Kyle said.
At that time, Kyle took a closer look at Millennium, examining what the company was uniquely positioned to do and what its core values should be. As Millennium continued to expand, Kyle opted to build a larger presence where clients particularly needed its material, including rural areas and smaller cities.
Nate Wendt, president of Millennium, said the company has never focused its growth on playing with the “big boys” of the telecoms industry but rather focused on finding customers who are often overlooked and giving them attention. Millennium had taken that approach unintentionally until 2014, when company leadership highlighted that strategy as a strength of the company, Wendt said.
“When I look at it, we are outpacing some of our competitors, and I think a lot of it comes down to staying focused on helping the people who want our help, and there’s so many of them out there,” Wendt said. “It’s really ‘how do we help?’ and we haven’t run out of opportunities to do so.”
As Millennium scaled up, Wendt helped formalize processes to support that growth.
“When the leader of your group is a salesperson at heart and a visionary, the details around how you do something and how you do it consistently weren’t there,” Wendt said. “I think I brought my biggest influence early on in helping with process, procedure and streamlining.”
Now, Wendt says his biggest challenge is finding and mentoring people who can become leaders within the company. As Millennium adds locations in new cities, each market requires its own leader to find people to create a team.
Zak Horn, president of Sullivan, Illinois-based Metro Communications, first met Kyle in the fall of 2011, when the pair started building fiber optic networks together.
Horn founded Metro Communications 22 years ago. The company builds and operates fiber optic infrastructures for the wholesale, wireless, enterprise and education markets. Millennium is a materials vendor for the company. Horn said the tactics Kyle has used to be successful aren’t entirely surprising.
“It’s not like Google or Facebook. It’s not an idea that you incubate and it’s novel. That’s not what Millennium is,” he said. “There’s nothing innovative about what Millennium does. They’re old-fashioned businesspeople. They provide really good value and service. James Kyle is a classic entrepreneur that understands how to deploy capital and hire good people and serve customers, and that’s why he had a good business.”
Back in 2011, Kyle took the time to drive his car down to Illinois because Metro Communications needed to buy some fiber optic cable, closures and components. Horn said nobody else would take the time to explain how those products worked, but the company “did not know what they were doing.”
A commitment to serving customers is part of what drives Millennium’s growth, but Horn said Kyle’s ability to identify market needs and then take calculated risks to start delivering new services and products is also a factor.
“There are businesses out there that are the result of like intellectual property or something technical or a trend or a fad. … The consumer drives what we’re doing because they want LTE and 5G and all that,” Horn said. “Fiber is the foundation of all that and so that’s fueled our business. Both James Kyle and I have been at the right place at the right time kind of riding a wave that really started 15 years ago. The rest of it is the result of hard work.”
Helping the small guy
Part of Millennium’s success has been rooted in focusing on segments of the market that larger telecoms companies don’t. That’s also how Whitewater-based internet service provider Edge Broadband has continued its growth as a customer of Millennium.
Brian Madl, founder and president of Edge Broadband, first realized how bad rural internet was in 2008. He had purchased a small landscaping maintenance business in a rural area near Whitewater Lake.
“We quickly realized the internet out here was horrible. There were no options,” Madl said. “A lot of my customers I knew through my landscaping business would say, ‘Hey, what do you use for internet?’”
He quickly figured out there were two options available to him and his family: either they move back to the city where stronger internet service is available, or Madl could start his own internet service. He already knew the area through his business and had a handful of people who could become customers.
Edge Broadband started by using fixed wireless technology to provide internet service. As the company started expanding outside of Whitewater to other communities, it started to run into problems with the terrain. Rolling hills and winding roads along the lakefront made it difficult to use fixed wireless as an option. That’s when Madl discovered the possibility of running fiber optic cables under the land, directly to a home.
By chance, Madl first learned of Millennium in 2016 through a booth at a wireless internet provider trade show in Las Vegas. He ended up meeting with the Millennium team at its original Lake Geneva headquarters shortly after that.
“We weren’t a big telecoms company with engineers that would design for us. It was kind of a self-made, homebrew operation here,” Madl said. “They basically walked me through designing and building our first neighborhood.”
Madl said he wouldn’t have received the same help Millennium provided from another, bigger supplier.
When smaller companies find success, they often go back to Millennium to work on even bigger projects. Edge Broadband’s first project with Millennium involved 178 homes. They’re now working on multiple projects of thousands of homes apiece.
“They know helping us small guys is hitting their goal as well as helping with rural broadband expansion. They see if they help even a small company with a small project, that company is going to come back and buy more,” Madl said.
What comes next?
How Millennium can continue to sustain its growth is always on the minds of company leadership.
Wendt said he wants Millennium to maintain its rapid growth to stay ahead of competitors. Remaining singularly focused on solving customers’ problems is key.
“There’s nobody else out there that is in all of the categories we are, but there are competitors that do certain parts of those really well. As they continue to see this model, they add to their suite of resources. It’s thinking about how we stay ahead of that and creating solutions,” Wendt said.
Millennium received a $155 million investment at the end of 2021 through Carlson Private Capital Partners, a private investment firm in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. St. Louis-based Broadview Group Holdings was a part of the investment.
“We believe Millennium sits at an inflection point in the buildout of broadband infrastructure in historically underserved markets across North America and that it will continue to deliver top-tier service and product selection to its customers,” Clay Hunter, co-founder and CEO of Broadview, said at the time of the announcement. “… (Kyle) and his team have made Millennium a tremendous success to date, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the next chapter of Millennium’s evolution.”
As Millennium continues to open new locations across the U.S., Kyle said he wants to achieve greater brand awareness while continually helping his customers tackle whatever problems arise. A self-proclaimed salesperson at heart, Kyle said a customer-focused approach will always be key to Millennium.
“It’s not some revolutionary idea,” Kyle said. “It’s just taking care of people.”