Trying to make his job easier at his marketing agency, Dmitry built JustReachOut, a tool that aimed to make the process of PR research easier. Without even having launched, Dmitry started selling the tool to friends and acquaintances. Since then, the tool has grown amazingly, reaching the 5,000 users, $30k in MRR and growing at impressive rates per year.
Hi Dmitry! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
Hey Failory! Thanks for having me here! Like you, I’ve always been interested in the juicy details of failure. Learning from others’ mistakes can give you a lot of perspective around considerations you might be blind to when you’re concentrating all of your energy on turning an idea you have into a profitable business. I’ve been doing marketing and PR in the startup space for just over a decade now and many of the projects I’ve set out to work on often produce outcomes quite different from what I initially expected.
Currently, I’m working with a very lean team to scale the impossible - a SaaS PR business. That’s right, we’re working to massively impact the way entrepreneurs and marketers at early-stage startups tackle their PR strategy! We’re based in Brooklyn, NY but have seen over 5,000 users on our platform from all over the world.
We provide you with: the framework and resources you need to develop your PR campaign, a platform to find the most relevant journalists and track your outreach efforts, a sense of whether or not what you want to pitch is newsworthy, feedback to perfect your pitch, and all the necessary details in between!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I was in the seventh grade I had a job after school working for a family friend who had his own business. It wasn’t anything fancy, but I got to see from an early age the freedom that an individual had to turn an idea into something profitable, and it was all his or hers. This was unheard of when I was growing up in the Soviet Union, so the concept of capitalism and entrepreneurship got into my brain and left me interested. When I was in high school I started working after school at a CAD software company where my uncle was an engineer. I did QA testing and this experience led me to pursue a degree in Computer Science in college.
Out of school, I was hired as a software engineer, coding flight plan simulations for training military jet pilots. The work was cool but I grew out of the day to day monotony and the old-school corporate tech culture in a few short years. Plus, completing twenty pages of government paperwork for every page of coding killed my momentum. I started paying attention to the buzz coming from Silicon Valley, the rising stars of tech startups, and the all-in data-driven marketing efforts. I wanted to be a part of it all, to experiment with moving the needle and watch a small startup grow from the inside.
I ended up in business school in California, not quite in the Bay Area, but close enough, in Monterey. With the goal of meeting the right marketer or founder who would be willing to take me under his wing, I knew that making new connections at school and through the strong alumni network would increase my chances of landing a gig where I could roll up my sleeves and learn at break-neck speed. I did just that, I was introduced to Mrinal Desai through the Dean within the first few weeks of school. Mrinal was an early LinkedIn employee, he had recently left the company and was currently doing the marketing for a remote helpdesk tool called Crossloop. He proved to be a phenomenal marketer and eager to introduce me to what he was working on for the purpose of getting some of the more tedious tasks off his plate.
From there I worked for a design firm, ZURB, where I really got a chance to apply everything I learned from Mrinal and run a lot of fun marketing campaigns - including an amazing speakers series - where I could zero in on the stories of founders, investors, and designers. I was having a blast living in California but my wife and I also started planning ahead and wanted to move back east to have a family. Before we did that though, we took a good amount of time off, traveled the world, figured out what we wanted to work on next and then moved to Boston. I started Criminally Prolific, a marketing consultancy that focuses largely on SEO, PR, and content related advising. Two years later, JustReachOut launched to support the work I was doing for clients, with an aim to make it useful for any marketers to dive into a PR campaign without too much effort or breaking the bank. I created JustReachOut and enlisted a few friends along the way for technical support, got my wife to join once I was at a phase where we had prospects and customers who were looking for something more robust than my PR hacks and she began to do the work of tying it altogether more cohesively and creating a framework for all the tactical stuff.
I’ve dabbled in building a few apps and of course got my start in tech as an engineer, but JustReachOut has been my very first product. When I started prototyping things, I really focused on what other marketers would find useful. I was involved in the founder community in Boston and I was constantly unofficially surveying the pain points marketers had with the PR process. So I convinced people to subscribe to the software before it was available. I would get feedback from my initial customers, incorporate it into my mockups, talk with more people and built it from there.
I built a basic version of the platform. But before I built it, I got buy-in from other marketers at meetups in Boston, where I was living at the time. I even got people to pay for the tool ahead of the launch. I would sketch ideas of how I was thinking it would look on a piece of paper and ask other people in marketing for feedback until I started getting responses that amounted to yeah, I'd pay for that. Getting constant feedback from someone, incorporating it into my sketches and showing it to them, again and again, is how I won my first customers.
What went into building the initial product?
JustReachOut was built on Ruby on Rails, through each iteration of the software we continue to add features that add value based on user feedback and how we can make the process of PR research easier.
I wrote about JustReachOut's early days in this blog post and started selling the app before it was even built! I leaned on my own technical skills until I absolutely needed an engineer who could create a more functional version. At that point, I brought on a friend, who generously took on the task of creating what I see as the first true version. JustReachOut was still just a side hustle at the time. When the roadmap for developing the product further became too unwieldy for a side project, he stepped away.
Then I brought on a silent partner who provided an immensely talented bunch of engineers and product managers. We improved the search engine's functionality and outreach capabilities. Finally, we were able to focus more on teaching customers how to do their own PR and that’s when Corey McAveeney (my wife) officially joined the company, in 2018, lending her experience in sales, copywriting, and customer retention.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
From the very start, I tested the concept with a small group of marketers, then expanded it as my consulting work grew. I would sketch out different functionalities and features I wanted to build until I got feedback from people that they would pay for such a product. Then I had people pay me for the software before I built it. That really motivated me to stay on track and deliver a minimum viable product that was still valuable. The distance between then and now seems light years away but remaining focused on my mission to teach other marketers how to do their own PR really kept things attainable. I wasn’t distracted by the more traditional features that I could have built to keep a small number of customers happy - there are plenty of tools out there to send bulk pitches or manage list building and segmentation. These details wouldn’t get the little guys on the map. So I worked on creating PR search tools that could be easily adopted by someone looking to increase brand awareness and run a more agile PR campaign.
If you’re in marketing and you never had a chance to sink your teeth into a holistic strategy that incorporates PR with your typically siloed content and SEO strategies, PR will continue to be the element that can boost your overall marketing efforts. So many people assume PR is a skill set they don’t want to acquire or think they don’t have time for. My first approach in the marketing I’ve done has been to educate people, to show them they’re capable of learning how to do their own PR.
We’ve just launched a new offering that is a pure product. After baking our strategy and tactics into the platform in the form of a PR Program and releasing some new features for getting press, we’re seeing a clear picture of the most successful customers. These are people working in industries very similar to past successful customers only now we can identify them as future successful customers early on and provide them with the right guidance before they even become a customer. We know that customers who have a content marketer on their team will have a shorter distance from onboarding to seeing results. We also know that customers who have proprietary data that translates into a story of impact or provides insights into an existing buzzworthy news topic will be able to more easily find journalists interested in hearing more.
What are your goals for the future?
We plan to continue to be the trusted source for marketers and entrepreneurs from rapidly growing early-stage companies who want to put their team on a path of early PR successes through relationship building and personalized outreach. If we’re able to grow 25% in the next quarter and then 50% in the next year, I’ll feel satisfied with my goal to teach people about some of the lesser-known but highly effective approaches to PR.
What mistakes and challenges have you faced that have made JustReachOut (or you) better for it?
Every roadblock to growth has forced me to look more closely at what we really need in the tool and what we must continue to improve over time. In the early days, we launched a version of the product that was self-serve and many customers didn’t understand our approach, so they ended up misusing the tool. We’ve since gone back and provided guidance and education to help people get their campaign underway in a far more efficient manner. We are a super lean team and we are growing while also still striving to educate customers who are accustomed to more traditional PR outreach or not experienced in outreach at all. We work hard to support our customers’ campaigns and provide them with the tools necessary for several different outreach tactics.
Financially, being bootstrapped has given me the freedom to take things at my own pace. For many other founders, this path isn’t the best way to go. Despite the limitations, I have no regrets about the decisions I’ve made to grow JustReachOut.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
Meet others like you but also seek entrepreneurs who are a good year or more ahead of you. Connect in person, attend events, and volunteer to provide your expertise to groups in need. Think about how you can approach different professional relationships based on what another person’s biggest needs might be and how you can help them, rather than what you can gain from others in your network.
Shake things up a bit. Always follow the path that will lead to including others from diverse backgrounds - I’m a successful entrepreneur because people gave me, an immigrant, a chance.
Where can we go to learn more?
If there is one thing you can do to for your startup, it’s communicating. This might mean you need to better communicate with your spouse that you won’t be home in time for dinner, or your team that you think the product roadmap needs more work, or maybe you need to connect with your audience in a new and different way. All of these efforts will help you improve your business and your peace of mind. Only one of them will directly increase your brand’s visibility.
I urge you to think about the type of impact your brand or story can have on your community of customers, prospects, and fans. Imagine the outcome you want to see with a PR campaign and we can help you define what efforts will help make it all possible.
Knowing which PR methods that work for early-stage, rapid growth companies will give you the leverage you need to stand out from the crowd. Interested in learning more? Check out JustReachOut and subscribe to our newsletter to get PR stories and lessons delivered to your inbox!