“I think the two least considered small words in the English language may be ‘over’ and ‘next’. When something is over, [it’s] over. We’re onto next. I live in that moment, I mean this is it — this is the best conversation I could possibly be having, and it took me 93 years to get here.” For me this governs how I try to live my life, I think of this at least once every day when I walk to and from work.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dmitry Dragilev who grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views through SEO and got acquired by Google. He has translated his know-how into JustReachOut.io, a SaaS company that launched in early 2014. In his spare time he documents his experiments on his blog Criminally Prolific.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It took me about 7 years to fully adjust to culture and language here in the U.S. after immigrating from Russia in the early ‘90s.
Instead of hanging out with friends in high school I helped my mom raise my sister since my dad stayed in Russia. I didn’t have much time for socializing, sports, or hobbies. I was an introvert without many friends in those early years. It was only natural that I started tinkering with computers by the age of 15. By the time I was 16 I had a software internship at a huge CADD company.
After getting my B.S. in Computer Science I landed a cushy job at a large corporation and started climbing the ladder pretty fast. I was unhappy with my career path, software engineering and the work environment was too isolating and lacked the type of freedom I was looking for. I also wanted to work for myself.
I quit my job. I sold everything I had. My girlfriend (now wife) and I jumped into my Honda Civic and drove across the country from New Hampshire to the Bay Area. I needed to learn firsthand about marketing and think about eventually starting my own business.
I joined an MBA program and met an alum, Mrinal Desai. Mrinal became an amazing mentor and friend of mine. There were three things which I liked about him:
1.) He was starting a new startup;
2.) He was employee #20 at LinkedIn, so he had some experience; and
3.) Building relationships with journalists was something he did on his own without PR firms — that seemed wild!
It was 2007 and just the thought of working on PR for a startup in Silicon Valley was exhilarating to me.
Mrinal’s first test for me was to create a Wikipedia page for his fledgling startup. The challenge was keeping the page live (the wiki page is still around). He took me under his wing and taught me a lot about building relationships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers.
I put his lessons to use and to this day I practice the art of striking up conversations with others. What Mrinal was able to teach me in the early days laid the foundation for what I wanted to do with my career. It’s been 11 years since I moved to California. I now run a software company of my own and helping people build relationships with the press is still very much my focus from day-to-day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
From 2007 to 2012 I tried to learn everything I could from well known founders and executives in Silicon Valley. Apart from working at different companies I interviewed folks like Tim Ferriss, the CTO from Pandora, a Co-founder of LinkedIn, Design Lead at Facebook, the Founder of WordPress and a bunch more.
I still wasn’t running my own startup and I needed to accelerate this timeline. My wife was itching to leave her job. So we sold everything we had. We embarked on 6 month journey traveling all over to see friends and experience life before the proverbial settling down.
When we returned home to Boston in 2012 I got a call from Luke Wroblewski, the thought leader and author behind the Mobile First movement. Luke asked me if I wanted to join a startup he was starting called Polar Polls. This was a huge deal for me, Luke was one of those people I’d always admired and learned a ton from.
Despite the desire to start my own company I said yes to working full time for Luke’s startup. I knew I needed experience and I for sure needed some type of paycheck.
We received $1.2M from Jerry Yang and a number of other investors and built a great app enabling people to create polls about fun topics. Do you like Xbox or PS4? That sort of thing. Friends would vote, friends of friends would vote, everyone would see the results, it was a blast.
It was entertaining but it wasn’t gaining us much users as we’d projected. It took me a lot of experimentation to figure out how to use “relationships with the press” to grow this company. Once I did, we started on an insane growth path. We grew to 40 million pageviews per month in two years.
By 2014 I knew our startup was in talks with many potential acquirers, but I distanced myself from these talks, I made sure I was just a consultant and not a full time employee.
If the company was going to be acquired, I didn’t want to go back to the corporate environment. I wasn’t in it for the money. Don’t get me wrong, it was tempting, but I had a burning item on my bucket list — to start my own startup.
I stuck to my gut. I never became a full time employee at the company. When Polar was acquired by Google in 2014 I walked away from the job offer.
I ended up launching my own PR software company two days after my son was born and have never looked back. The last four years have been the most exciting I’ve ever had in my professional career.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I launched JustReachOut in 2014 and even though I started charging people money before I wrote a line of code it wasn’t until early 2016 that I had a fully functioning MVP.
That’s right, I charged people money for almost two years as I built my product and solicited feedback on every single feature as I built it. It was very painful but it helped me build something and verify that people really wanted it.
Throughout those first two years I got some attention on HackerNews, ProductHunt, the Reddit/r/Entrepreneur subreddit and received some excited new customers. I had real customers! It was still largely just me running the startup and a later a friend helping with more of the development. I was hungry for more customers.
I decided to go for the jackpot and launch on Appsumo. Appsumo is a Groupon for geeks. They feature startup tools and resources and most of the deals are around $49. It’s a great bargain and it still insanely popular today. There are about 1M+ people who receive the deals through a newsletter.
I had helped Noah Kagan, the founder of Appsumo, with some PR in the past. I reached out to him and we figured out a deal to run for the 1M+ email subscribers on Appsumo. We created an insane discount for my software, instead of $450 a year we discounted it down to $49 a year. I thought it was a great deal and would get a ton of people to buy and become my new customers. My plan was to upgrade them after they used the software for a year.
The first promotion in early 2016 did insanely well, over 2,000 new customers signed up for JustReachOut in 24 hours, I have never in my life seen this type of action at a startup I worked on, and this was my own startup.
Due to the success of this first campaign, we decided to run another campaign in Appsumo six months later that same year. Yet again I couldn’t believe my eyes, over 2,000 more new customers signed up for JustReachOut the second time around.
I went from roughly 50 customers to 4,050 customers in a period of 9 months in 2016.
In 2017 reality started to set in.
Most of the people who signed up for my PR software were not actually interested in investing effort and time into building relationships with the press. Many of them just liked to buy great deals on the web and they figured they’d be able to use PR for something later on.
This was a huge problem. The 4k customers I acquired were not a good product/market fit for my service. It took me 1.5 years to get rid of most of my customers and refocus the product.
My lesson learned was twofold: 1. Do not discount your software. 2. Focus on product/market fit to guide you in your marketing campaigns. I recently interviewed Mayur Gupta VP of Growth and Marketing at Spotify about this same issue of using product/market fit to help marketers focus their efforts.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
PR is still such an old and outdated practice it’s bananas! Companies that sign up for JustReachOut today still talk to our team about creating press releases and want to get featured in the New York Times. PR agencies are still charging $10,000 a month to get startups featured in top tier publications. PRWeb and PR Newswire are still killing it as a business. Holy crap, are we in 2001? Or 2018?
Starting conversations and building relationships with influencers without the help of a PR firm is what most startups and early stage, high growth businesses should be doing. Yet so few small businesses realize this. The default is to hire a PR firm and use PR Newswire and cross your fingers.
My purpose in life is to help people start and build genuine relationships. My vision is to build tools and resources to make it easier for people to do their own PR. Because when we represent ourselves in the beginning, it’s that much more authentic and relatable.
Talking about press specifically…it’s actually MUCH more beneficial for a business to build their own relationships with press versus hiring an outside firm for three reasons:
- You as a business owner better understands what type of content the press seeks and needs
- You own these relationships and do not need any third parties to control them
- You figure out how to marry your story with the industry news to produce a real story that connects with the interests of journalists and readers
Our software and guidance helps our customers build relationships with the press by:
- Determining PR goals, a cohesive PR strategy, and story angles that connect with recent news
- Finding which journalist or influencer is best to contact
- Finding the reason why they should contact a specific journalist or influencer
- Sending an email pitch to that journalist
- Reviewing analytics to see which email pitches are getting opens, reads, and replies
- Reviewing email pitches so they are more valuable to journalists
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?
I think of the time when I decided to walk away from the Google acquisition of Polar and start my own company. I actively said no to money and chose to follow my purpose in life and my desire to start my own company.
I think it’s important for people to do two things:
- Find their purpose and vision in life and do their best to follow it.
- Live more in the now, versus over and next. In other words, most of us finish something and move on to the next thing right away. We don’t linger in between. That short moment in between is the now and it’s important to live in that moment more than in “over” or “next”.
Ever since I made this decision I felt much more excited about life and work. I started to look forward to Mondays on a Sunday evening, and not just because my kids have endless amounts of energy. Something clicked and I feel more fulfilled by this sense of purpose.
- Find your purpose.
- Stop living in your over and next moments, live in the now.
I see too many times people aimlessly chasing money and sacrificing time. I think to myself: for what? When we die would the amount of money we accumulate really matter to us? When we are 80 and look back on our life will we think about how much money we made?
In my opinion, having a purpose and living in the now is the best way to fight depression, dementia and feel happy.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find your purpose and vision on a personal level and let it guide the type of work you do day to day.
Measure your product-market fit continuously and let it drive your marketing campaigns and initiatives.
You’ll never achieve product-market fit fully but you want to continuously measure it and keep a very close eye on it should anything shift.
How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?
Marketing is communicating and delivering some type of offering or service which continually brings more and more value for its customers.
Or in simpler terms:
It’s delivering a product/market fit where the customers using the offering receive more and more value from using the product and in turn stay with the service and refer more customers to the service.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Sure, first and foremost my wife Corey who officially joined JustReachOut as our Head of Growth in January of 2018. I attribute a large portion of my success to her because she asks the right questions and can write to save her life.
And of course Mrinal Desai.
When I sold everything I had and moved to Silicon Valley, I joined an MBA program and in the first week met an alumni who was starting a new startup. He was employee #20 at LinkedIn and building relationships with the press was his approach to marketing. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot about building relationships with journalists. He set me on my path of perfecting the art of striking up conversations and building relationships. He is the reason I am where I am today.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?
Here are a few that I love:
MixMax — the best email tracking and reminder software
ChargeDesk — the best stripe plugin to see customer data
InboxWhenReady — makes sure you view less of your inbox
Wistia Soapbox — the best way to record quick videos to share
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement to find your purpose and realize your vision today. 🙂
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love this quote from Norman Lear (who is 96 years old now), here is the quote:
“I think the two least considered small words in the English language may be ‘over’ and ‘next’. When something is over, [it’s] over. We’re onto next. I live in that moment, I mean this is it — this is the best conversation I could possibly be having, and it took me 93 years to get here.”
For me this governs how I try to live my life, I think of this at least once every day when I walk to and from work.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Originally published at medium.com