Killing repetitive tasks in PR

Today I have a founder who just sold her company to SEMRush.

She was running her own PR agency and was looking for a solution to make her team more efficient. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she created it.

Joanna Drabent is the founder of Prowly, PR and Media Relations Software.


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Joanna Drabent

Joanna Drabent


Joanna Drabent is the founder of Prowly, PR and Media Relations Software.


Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.

And one of my, sponsors the new sponsor from 2020 SCM rush said, you know, Andrew, we acquired a company. Proudly. I said, yeah, they said, do you want to be the first person to talk to the founder? The first interview with the founder who created proudly, who built it up, who got customers for it and who made it so amazing that we wanted to acquire them?

Look at her eyes. Joanna. You’re nervous about this interview.

Joanna: You know, it’s, it all sounds amazing. I just, you know, can’t even believe it happened.

Andrew: I can’t either. And the thing is you’re in the PR business, I would have imagined somebody who’s in the PR business would be so ready to go on camera. C’mon give me attention. No, you’re not dying for attention.

Joanna: No, I’m not dying for attention. I’m not definitely that kind of person, but, I’m still super exciting, to have this possibility of, you know, sharing our story with you and your audience.

Andrew: Joanna whose voice you just heard is Joanna drawbacks. She is the co-founder of proudly it’s PR software that allows people to organize, publish, and solicit earned media opportunities, businesses that are trying to get press. Use proudly.  we can find out about how proudly was built and sold.

Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re paying your team in any way, you need to know about Gusto specifically, go to to use them for free. And the second, if you’re hiring developers, you already know by now I have to keep emphasizing it because you will thank me. When you use top

First joined. Uh, good to have you here.

Joanna: Thank you. Thank you. I will, I will check the second one because we are still, you know, constantly developing our, dev team. So it’s, it will be helpful also for me.

Andrew: I do think the top tail secret strategy is just to get me to do the ad so that my guests will sign up for top tile because they end up signing up. All my guests is top towel customers, which is amazing.

Do you remember the day when, when you signed your agreement with SEM rush to sell your business?

Joanna: Yes, I remember it’s. Very well, actually, I remember when after, leaving the legal office where we had signed a pile of transaction papers, Sebastian who’s, my co-founder and I, we sat down in a nearby pub. Uh, we ordered a beer and, just, you know, simply stared at each other, for another hour in total silence.

Yeah. So, so I remember it very well. It was kind of sense of, of loss.

Andrew: Ah, that’s what I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to get at why it was a sense of loss. And because you were losing what control or just the name on the door as the owner, it.

Joanna: I don’t know. You can compare it to like having a child first company that you built from scratch and now, you need to, Rely on somebody else about how it’s going to be.

the next day we celebrated the success with the team and, entered a very exciting career stage of our development. So, so far so good. We’re really happy about joining SEMrush.

Andrew: How much did you sell the company for?

Joanna: I can tell you.

Andrew: Can you give me a ballpark? Are we talking tens of millions, single digit millions.

Joanna: we are not, allowed to, to share this information, but, uh, I can say that, both me and Sebastian are very, very happy and satisfied

Andrew: It became millionaires from the sale, at least

Joanna: yeah,

Andrew: Let me get away from your personal numbers to the company numbers. What I see here from MarTech is you got the revenue up to a million dollars in annual recurring revenue. Is that right?

Joanna: Yes, it was actually a little. It’s actually a bit more because we were actually in a very, interesting stage when it comes to growth. Uh, we’ve managed to, grow this year over 100% so far. So, uh, so yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s a good moment for the whole company, for sure.

Andrew: I want to get a sense of how proudly is used. Can you tell me about MedStar media? How do they use you?

Joanna: Basically MedStar media, is using proudly, to land publications. they produce a lot of, viral videos and, they support the distribution with,  proudly Thanks to the tool. They are able to land a lot more coverage

for example.

Andrew: Here’s here’s what I read on your site. That MedStar media. It’s a marketing agency. They created this one video back in 2014. They put it up on YouTube. It was about prostate cancer and they were eager for people to pick up on this video and start sharing it in order to do that, they had to spend hundreds of hours talking to editors, pitching them, finding email addresses of people in the media who might cover this video that they did.

And it just took them a long time to do it last year. They decided let’s try proudly. From what I understand proudly makes it easier for companies like MedStar to find reporters, find anyone in the media who’s who might want to cover them. Right.

Joanna: we enable to win media attention in the more effortless way. our set of tools allow our people to, manage almost the whole media relations flow, starting from building and managing a media database, through creating press releases. Uh, sending. Personalized mailings to journalists by just, you know, one quick, and also maintaining online newsrooms, uh, for the brands they work for.

we’re actually helping everyone. Who’s dealing with PR  in the most repetitive tasks to make them easier and faster.

Andrew: So they could find the people who would cover them, but also their contact information. Keep a database of all those people. One click send a message to each one of them asking for press and then follow up and know who to follow up with all within probably am I right about that? And then finally, when they do get that press to be able to put it up on a press page on their site, And as a result of using, probably according to the case study that I read on your site, they ended up with 150, 150 media outlets who linked to the video

Joanna: Yeah, that was actually very, very successful campaign.

Andrew: You got into this kind of in a, in a way that’s unexpected as a kid, you wanted to be what.

Joanna: Uh, yeah, as a key to, I felt that I would become a filmmaker. cause that is what I’ve, been always passionated about, And actually my first job, which was an internship at, one of the film festivals in Poland, uh, has turned my career, on PR by accidents.

Andrew: So you started doing what at this film festival,

Joanna: I had an internship in the PR department. I, my responsibility was to get the press without any experience, how to do that.

Andrew: You told us, I mean, before we got started that you were kind of maniacal about watching movies, you would just watch them watch documentaries just wish one day that you could be in it. Your entry point in was being an intern. The internship happened to be in PR what was it about PR that got you to stick with PR instead of going back into filmmaking, which is what you wanted to do.

Joanna: my career path, right after this internship, I started a job at one of the PR agencies. Then I was a part of, uh, internal PR department and one of.

Technology companies. And then I decided to run my own PR agency. So it was quite natural for me.

Andrew: Well, let me pause right there. The PR agency, what type of PR were you doing? We’re talking about cocoa agency back in 2010. You founded it.

Joanna: Yeah, we specialized in finance and technology. that was the time when, uh, There was some kind of boom in Poland, when it comes to the star start-up scene, there were more and more, very interesting that were released. And, that was the time when I, when I fought that, People are doing amazing things.

Technology’s, uh, is developing, developing so quickly. And in the PR world there is still some kind of gap when it comes to the technology that PR pros were using. so like every entrepreneur, I just wanted to facilitate and improve the work of my team.

Andrew: what was it? That was, that was inefficient.

Joanna: as a PR team, we, uh, we still relied on the tools like Excel for managing media contacts, work for creating press releases and outlook or other mailing programs for sending them out. The whole process was super inefficient. We. They didn’t have a chance to streamline our workflow. And at the same time, we spend a lot of, time for the distribution.

so, What we decided to offer as an MVP, of, of proudly,

Andrew: So when you were doing it yourself, you said, we, I see that other agencies are using spreadsheets, they’re doing things inefficiently. I could be a little bit more efficient than them and get better PR. Right. And so what are some of the things that you did when it was just you before proudly? What did you do for your agency that gave you an opportunity to grow.

Joanna: Hmm, what was special about us? Well, I think that creative part of our work was, was something that, uh, our clients, we appreciate it.

Andrew: Do you remember one of the projects that you’re especially proud of? One of the creatives that you were especially proud of?

Joanna: the campaign, that, we decided to lounge for the Easter time during the Easter time for one of the, our customers, they were a social media agency. we did something really. crazy. we decided to prepare some kind of creative dispatch for influencers.

we made, personalized X for, the most popular influencers in Poland in the social media space. And they, received, this X from us for Easter and it went really well.

Andrew: Just special Easter eggs from your agency or from one of your clients.

Joanna: from us on behalf of our clients,

Andrew: Got it. And so all these influencers got this special egg. They

Joanna: Yeah, they put a pictures, in the social media, they were really, really well done. Yeah.

Andrew: And so, meanwhile, Joanna, it sounds like you’re probably using antiquated tech to manage all this. Are you using spreadsheets at this, at this period in your life when you’re running the agency?

Joanna: No. That was the time when we started to think about building a tool, uh, such a tool like, uh, like proudly,  I just asked my,  current co-funder, uh, Sebastian , who I met in my first full-time job. I just simply called them and ask them if, if he would be willing to, create an, an idea and, uh, some kind of specification for this kind of project.

And that’s how it all started.

Andrew: Well, was Sebastian doing? He’s a developer. It sounds like.

Joanna: Yes, he’s a developer. He was responsible for creating an MVP. he was the one who designed and implemented the first interface as well as the first version of the logo and website.

Andrew: What did the first version do?

Joanna: the goal of MVP was verified neat, uh, for the automated flow, when it comes to to repetitive tasks for PR and, uh, proudly allowed to send mass mailings and manage media context back then.

Andrew: So mass mailings, meaning allow people to send out email that looks like it’s coming to each person individually with mail merge with like the name of the recipient in it somewhere.

Joanna: They were personalized, but, you were able to send it with, with one click and there was, there was no branding of proudly insights. So it looked exactly the same as you would send them from, uh, from your regular mail, uh, mailing program.

Andrew: What was the second feature that you had in there?

Joanna: so the, the replacement for the Excel sheet.

Andrew: Got it. And that’s the, the two things that you thought were most important. They also sound frankly, fairly basic. We’re talking about 20. What year was this? When you launched

Joanna: Uh,

Andrew: So 2013, this, these two pieces of technology existed in other spaces, marketers were using this, but not in public relations.

And I like how your eyes lit up when he said, yeah, this was coming, but not in public relations from what you’ve seen. So you said we’re going to make it, you made the first version. Who did you take it out and give it to, I’m assuming you used it first, but who is number two?

Joanna: That’s interesting because, uh, during these days, the only thing that I, I knew how to do is PR. So that’s how it all started. We didn’t have any, you know, sales force, uh, inside the company. It was only me. and I was responsible for PR and Sebastian who was responsible for product.

we just simply, Use the skews that we, that we already had. actually we’re a very good example of the company that, was able to grow, starting from building a brand awareness, among their potential customers. And we did a lot of crazy things. back then, for example, one of our first campaign was, when we decided to turn ourselves, uh, Uh, two taxi drivers.

And, uh, we just simply, use the right to tell about, about the tool, during the ride, to our potential customers. They were able to book us on, uh, on the website and we were able to, two took them, for example, from the office to home?

Andrew: And this was just for PR professionals. So you created, a taxi service just for PR professionals for free taxis. I’m assuming

Joanna: Yes.

Andrew: just so you could pitch them on the drive.

Joanna: we’ve managed to acquire a partner for, for this. they, they gave us a free track taxi rights, and we, we had our personal taxi driver and actually the budget for the, the budget for the whole campaign was. Around $10 because we did it all by ourselves. I was actually the one who produced a video for this,

Andrew: It’s such a great

Joanna: the promo video video.

And, during the four days, of this campaign, we’ve managed to meet with, over. 25 different companies. and after this campaign, we acquired around three of them. So the conversion rate was really regrade and the ROI as well.

Andrew: Of course. Everyone else who saw this crazy thing that you were doing was also aware of proudly, am I right? And that helped build awareness and get more customers. But with the ideal at its heart one, you call the car service. I’m assuming it’s a car service nicer than a taxi. Am I right? You said, we’ll get you some press.

All you need to give us is a handful of free rides. And at this point we’re talking 25 free rides. It’s not that big of a deal in exchange for all this press that they get, you then went and you promoted it just to the PR agencies that you want it to use. This. You gave there people of ride. And while they got this free ride, they got pitched.

And they also got to be part of this fun thing that you were doing, which PR people must have love. Got it. This was your idea.

Joanna: Yes. That was my idea.

Andrew: And this is how you are going about getting customers by getting PR for proudly, which then allowed you to get customers. Did you ever shift to getting salespeople?

Joanna: these days are totally different. Uh, we’ve got, uh, we’ve got a sales team. It consists of five people right now. we sell to the U S mostly. You know, times are different, but, we dream about, uh, repeating this campaign in the U S one day. It w it’s not that easy, but maybe sometime we’ll be able to realize this.

Andrew: Why, what benefits did you get from staying in Poland?

Joanna: I think that the general costs, the maintenance costs and costs of running company are, are much different. we’re still, a Polish team. Our team consists of only. Polish people. I’m really proud about it, that we proved ourselves that you are able to run and manage a global company, from Poland.

this is something that actually makes our whole team very, very proud.

Andrew: Did it also help you to build awareness for probably because you are just pursuing companies in Poland in the beginning.

Joanna: that was much easier, you know, to do it so locally. today we are probably the most recognizable brands in the PR software space in Poland. It’s not that easy, to do, to build a brand presence in the U S uh, while being here. this is actually the, one of our biggest challenges for 2021.

we’re planning to start some, uh, more advanced, uh, PR activities in the U S because so far we grew, we are growing. Within our customers, they are, recommending each other, in the U S and that’s actually how, how it all started. We grow with, inbound marketing activities. we decided to concentrate on, On acquiring customers, through inbound sources, we do not do any, you know, cold calls, outbound sales, anything like this?

Andrew: You don’t. Okay. Let me, let me come back and ask you a little bit more about the early days of growing proudly. What did, what features you knew you needed to add? How you got more customers when you were, when you were just getting started. But first I want to talk about Gusto for payroll management.

Do you want to, Gusto has been getting a ton of press in the U S it’s one of the Silicon Valley darlings. This company that’s doing phenomenally well, I didn’t fully understand why until I started talking to their customers. In fact, I even interviewed its customers of Gusto said, what is it that you like about it?

One of the things that they told me was they make it really easy. To pay employees to pay contractors, to pay people, even when they’re not in the same office, even when they’re all over the country, dealing with lots of different local rules, lots of different, um, lots of different setups for how people want to get paid.

And Gusto makes it super easy, which is especially important today when people are, I don’t know about you. Well, Joanne, I don’t know if what’s happening for you. You’re still,

Joanna: Yes, we’re still in Poland. We work

Andrew: Francisco. You do.

Joanna: Yeah. We work remotely from different places in the world, but basically our, our team is still, uh, still based in Poland.

Andrew: I’m still in San Francisco. I got to tell you, people are moving out of here left and right. I see moving trucks in front of my house on a regular basis. We’re saying an average of once a week. It’s not just right in front my house, but on my block. People are leaving. It used to be that everyone would work here in the same office.

It used to be that they would all work in the same city they’re taking off. And they’re going to random spots that you never would have thought about some random place in Maine someplace. And you, anyway, this is what’s happening across the country. If anyone who’s listening to me is seeing that this is happening in their com uh, in their company.

Gusto is the payroll company to work with. They will make it easy for you to pay people no matter where they are, even if. The 10 99. So 10 90 nines. Full-time employees, people who are tracking their time. People are getting paid a fixed salary. They help make it easy. They will help you with your benefits.

Getting started is hard when you’re a new entrepreneur, who’s starting to pay people. If you need help with your payroll. If you’re just getting started, they will get you started, right? They’ve got HR professionals, HR experts to help guide you. They also have processes in place to help people who are just starting out with teams, get going.

And if your team is spread out around the country, they will help make it easy for you to that’s. One of the big benefits that Gusto has. The second that I discovered from interviewing entrepreneurs who are cuts, Gus Gusto users is. They love using it. The software is just so simple, so intuitive. It makes sense.

It’s like the first time that you use, um, Oh, I don’t want to get into, well, I’m going to say Stripe. I used to be with this old company for, for charging my, uh, customers. It was Really complicated. Yeah. Excessively difficult. We switched to Stripe. It was like that. Getting paid was easy with Gusto, paying your peoples that easy.

It’s that beautiful. That fast, that efficient. And for your employees, it makes it easy for them to get paid, to makes it easy and beautiful for them to work with you. Go to G they will hook you up with three free months. That’s D. This is the time of year to think about payroll for next year.

We’re in mid December. I urge you to go to Gusto, G U S T That’s M I M I X, C R G Y. give me once you, once you launched it, what is the feedback that you got from people? Joanna? What did they say about these, this MVP that you were pitching in the beginning?

Joanna: Hmm. They were really happy about, uh, what we, what we created. Got it. Tons of positive feedback from our, from our network. Luckily, I was present in the PR space. So, the network, that was my, my biggest first these days. we were able to get gathered a lot of, very, very interesting feedback, uh, start improving, proudly along the way.

Andrew: What are some of the things that you needed to improve based on feedback?

Joanna: Basically, it was a user interface, mostly. this is something that we are constantly improving because, We consider it as a, our biggest differentiator, because there are a lot of PR tools in this space. The space is pretty, pretty crowded. I think that our customers, they like proudly because unlike the other players, We are the most accessible tools in the space.

It means that, the interface is easy. we offer a free trial period so everyone can check what we have insight before signing. we have a very attractive pricing for, from the perspective of the small PR agencies or business owners. The lowest, uh, subscription starts from, 210 U S dollars per month.

And, uh, we don’t, there is no,

Andrew: even in the beginning $210 a month. So $210 a month got them a CRM, which is basically an address book for businesses and got them mail merge for email. That was it. You weren’t helping them find customers, excuse me. You weren’t helping them find reporters. You weren’t helping them find reporters, email addresses, none of that in the beginning.

Joanna: No in the beginning, the price was, uh, was, was a little bit lower. Um, it was around, uh, 99 us dollars, for the basic subscription. there was no lifelong commitment. So, uh, so, uh, everyone. Can, you know, try probably for a month and then decide if, if it’s, if he or she wants to use it, in a long term. and what we always did is we were helping our users along the way, uh, by offering,  free trainings, PR consultancy calls.

we were always, we are always, uh, very sensitive and, uh, we put a lot of attention in the daily support, uh, of our users.

Andrew: Okay. So a lot of tech support you are listening to them, you were improving it. They told you, look, we need to be a little bit easier for us to use you improve the interface. What’s the next big feature that you liked?

Joanna: It was a brand newsroom.

Andrew: How did you know brand newsroom is a page with links to all the media that a company gets right.

Joanna: not necessarily it’s, uh, it, the brand newsroom is it. Each each company has a, has a tap on the website that, redirects journalists to the whole, PR content that they are producing. they are able to find all the press releases, uh, all the press materials, the press kits that, uh,

Andrew: photos of the executives, pictures of the products. So here’s what I don’t understand. Joanna, every time we talk, even before this interview started, you bring up this newsroom. And to me, I didn’t realize this was a valuable thing to me. It seems like even if you’re using WordPress super easy, Can you just put links on WordPress to the press releases that you’ve created?

Can accompany have a link on WordPress to all their images and say, here it is. Why do they need a special newsroom? I see you fired up when I’m asking this question, but it’s, it’s a real question that I’ve got.

Joanna: Yeah, sure. so basically it’s not that easy from the PR perspective because, uh, uh, usually there is a it team who’s responsible for maintaining websites, inside companies. Uh, so the, the, the whole workflow is. It’s not streamlined. Thanks of, thanks to this kind of solution. PR pros are able to, uh, send out the press release and the brand newsroom is, uh, is updating itself.

Uh, you don’t need to do a lot of, uh, additional effort of having it always up to date and, uh, you are able to generate,  to generate additional, uh, visibility, through Google, because we allow, uh, we, we enable to optimize, this kind of solution, uh, from the SEO perspective.

Andrew: Okay. I didn’t realize this. So you’re saying that PR professionals would have to go to an it person and say, we just sent out a press release, put this up on the site

Joanna: It still

Andrew: that it still happens. And were they using proudly to send out the press release in the first place?

Joanna: Yes.

Andrew: Ah, got it. And so you said, look, if we could just get the, the tech people to do one thing, put a link to this newsroom, we’ll take out, we’ll take the whole thing over from there.

Joanna: Yes, exactly.

Andrew: I would never have known that it was that hard. I thought it’s so easy to put up a blog post to put up a link to put up. No, you’re smiling at me. Almost like Andrew’s a little naive when it comes to this stuff.

Joanna: Yeah, the, you know, back then PR industry was not that Valley, very technology oriented. So, uh, we consider this as an opportunity for us to cover this and make this work easier and much more effective.

Andrew: Do this and that I don’t is because you were in the space, you were running other companies, PR and Amman. I’m anticipating that also. The PR agency would have even less control of their client’s website than the, than someone who would have hired the PR agency. So you would have had to pass it onto someone at the company and they would have had to pass it on to the it, just to get the press release up on a site.

Joanna: Yeah. And now, even if you are a PR agency, you are able to offer additional service to your clients. You are able to offer them running and maintaining all the brand newsroom, related,

Andrew: Uh, so now you’ve got one more benefit that your clients can offer their clients and they’re more willing to pay. How did you know that this was the big thing? Did you test it? Did you talk to them first or did you just understand? Because you were in the space.

Joanna: I think that’s what I,

that’s what I, yes. Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Andrew: All right. And how did it go over once you launched it?

Joanna: It was Strather successful. It’s we are still selling this, this feature. So, uh, so I guess that, that it was a good move. It was quite natural step in our development. we didn’t think twice about launching it.

Andrew: I

Joanna: Actually, we knew that we were going to do it anyway, but, considering MVP, there was no sense to do it.

Uh, you know, just not to invest a lot of time and efforts, to verify that the basic need that we wanted to cover.

Andrew: I would have thought that the hardest part about it is making the. The page look like the company’s brand that allowing each PR person to make the page that they’re creating for their clients look like the client’s, uh, site. Am I right?

Joanna: Yes. Um, we’ve got different options in our, in our pricing. You are able to use our default design design. Uh, we tried to make it as flexible as, as it can be the general frame that you can feel with your logo company colors, et cetera. And, uh, for the enterprise customers, like for example, Vimeo, uh, or Ikea or, uh, or Fox television, uh, we.

We create a personalized, uh, customized, uh, layout for the brand newsroom.

Andrew: I see Vimeo on your site, even in the earlier versions of the site, that I, that I went back to internet archive to find, how did you get Vimeo as a client?

Joanna: To be honest, it was, it was a bit coincidence. I think it was aware, uh, First customer in the U S who paid, who came to us from the paid advertising. It was just, you know, simple AdWords campaign, nothing else. Uh, and that was very big. It was three years ago. Uh, uh, actually it was before Christmas. Uh, and, uh, it was, it was quite surprising for us to be on that.

Andrew: To just see their email address, come through and say, wait, did, do you do, um, what is it called Clearbit? Do you do something to see who’s filling out your form, who there, which companies are coming in and start prioritizing who you contact.

Joanna: Yes for a, of course, we’ve got, uh, we’ve got the whole, uh, Customer journey is automated, not in our case. We use, uh, uh, HubSpot, uh, to track all the marketing and sales and also, uh, customer support activities. So, uh, we are able to, to check what sources are converting, what kind of content is the most effective?

What kind of campaigns, et cetera.

Andrew: You told me at the beginning, you were doing PR to get customers. When you started shifting from PR to different marketing channel, what was the next thing that you did to get customers?

Joanna: It was content marketing.

Andrew: Okay. The journal, I think is what you guys call it. Am I right?

Joanna: Uh, we call it magazine. Um, Yeah, we, uh, we published there a lot of education Chanel staff for our customers. Uh, the whole content is SEO optimized. Uh, so, uh, thanks to this. We, we get a lot, we got a lot, we started to get a lot of traction from SEO, uh, and organic traffic.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And it was you writing content. Now I see it here in the magazine. People will then fill out your form. You’d get their contact information and then the follow up process begins. You and Sebastian, at what point did you formalize your relationship? In the beginning? It was just him creating a quick MVP.

Right? What point did you make yourselves as partners in the business?

Joanna: It was actually the same moment. Uh, we we’ve managed to, uh, uh, to receive a seed round of financing from one of the Polish, uh, VC, uh, and, uh, that’s why, that’s how we constituted the, the entity.

Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor, top towel. You would tell me that you’re looking to hire developers. What are some of the challenges that you experience in hiring developers?

Joanna: Uh, we’re looking for a backend and front end developers. Uh, we, we use, uh, Ruby language. So it’s not that popular, uh, language, especially here in Poland. So this is our. Like kind of HR challenge for, for the next year, because we plan to grow the development team a lot. Uh, according to the plans, connected with the integration, with the product integration with SEMrush.

Andrew: Uh, huh? Yeah. You guys call it SEMrush. I keep calling it SEM rush. I think partially it’s because I talk so quickly that I want to make sure that people understand every letter of everything that I say,

Joanna: I think that they

Andrew: is the way to say it.

Joanna: yes. It’s a way to say it. And I don’t know if you, if you’ve seen the rebranding, the latest rebranding that they had, and that was part of the announcement that they are now SEMrush.

Andrew: they just want to be called SEMrush. All right. That’s good for me to know. Let me tell you about how top towel would work. If you were interested in working with top towel, what you do is you go to top Once you go there, there’s a button you press, and then you talk to one of their matters.

The thing that the top towel does, that’s different from everyone else is they have a network of developers that they prescreen. They’re tests to get people in their network is notoriously difficult. Developers sometimes want to go through it just so they could get the props from other developers for having gone through and pass the test to top towel.

So when you say I need a Ruby developer, you go to them, they will even ask you more questions about it. Like, what are you working on? What’s the end result that you’re looking for. So if they could find someone who’s done something similar, and then they’ll ask you about the quirks of your business, how do you guys operate?

You use Slack to communicate as a team. Are you on zoom a lot? What is it that what’s the quirkiest part of working at proudly?

Joanna: So our first office is a Slack office and it’s quite common these days. Uh, we also use zoom,

Andrew: Give me something that makes you a little bit weird. Culturally. What’s a thing that’s a little bit different about the way you work at proudly from everybody else. That’s a little bit odd, a little bit different.

Joanna: What’s weird about us.

Andrew: What was weird about me was I don’t like to be interrupted during the day that if I’m working and talking, I don’t want anyone on my team to sit there in the office. They would want to sit there. I don’t want anyone sitting in the office with me. I don’t want anyone interrupting me. I just want let’s know.

In the beginning of the day, what we’re working on at the end of the day, we can check in with each other. We can send messages if there’s an issue. But I don’t need interruptions. I like to stay so focused that if you walk in the room, you start on me and I almost fall out of my chair.

Joanna: Okay.

Andrew: want more interaction.

Joanna: that’s probably how it works in our case, since we work remotely, I’m in the office right now, and I’m the only one who’s coming to the office. That’s because I’ve got two kids at home and that just can stand through the working together with them anymore. But yes, I think that the cool part of working at proudly is, is the flexibility of choosing workplace.

there are a lot of people who love to travel and they are traveling around the world and are able to, to work from different places, different

Andrew: coordinate you guys have a one-time a day call that no matter where they are in the world, they have to make,

Joanna: It depends on the team and each team has. They’re all, no workflow. but I, I remember one story when, uh, it was a few years, few weeks ago when our sales team decided to, to travel to, Greece, to the, uh, one of the Greek islands and they booked a flight and some really, really Causey apartment.

And they worked from there, during the whole working weeks. Which I think is really cool.

Andrew: I love that I get so much more work done when I’m in a different environment. That’s partially my problem with COVID. I can’t go out and be in different environments. I’m not, I like working in my office. And then I also like working, getting out of the most interesting hotel in town, the most interesting like museum in town, nobody’s in a museum during the day.

And definitely not in like the coffee shop of museum. I go sit and I work there anyway. Whatever your quirks are. You also bring them to top town, come back to my top, top sponsor. And they will find someone who is perfect, who was exactly like your company’s structure. Who’s done the work that you’re trying to hire for.

And when you see them, you go. This is like a match made in heaven. It’s not just the hiring person. We’re talking about someone who’s like awesome. I didn’t know. There were other people who were quirk quirky like us. That’s the beauty of working with top tile. You go to them, you tell them what you’re looking for.

And they set you up with video calls, just like you and I are right now with the people who they think are a good match. If you like those people, you hire them. You could get started off. And within days, if you don’t, you walk away, you lost nothing. You definitely didn’t lose endless days. Posting ads online, endless days, screening people because they do it all for you.

All right. So here it is. If you use my URL, you will get 80 hours of developer credit. When you pay for your first 80 hours, they’re giving that to you for free, in addition to a no risk trial period. Think about that. No risk trial period. Not only do you not have to go through the work to hire, but there’s a trial period to make sure that it’s a perfect match for you.

And the only way you get it is if you use this URL it’s top, T O P T a I X E R G Y. Top All right. I want to continue here with the story you finally, on the track you find only get, you’ve got a product that has product market fit. You have a co-founder who you like working with you, like as a human being too, you have this agency, it seems to me like.

About three years in, you said I got to get out of this agency. Was it you that did it, or were your, was it your investors? Who said, we want you to focus on one thing?

Joanna: No, it was, it was stuttering. My decision. I just felt that this is the time when I need to put a lot of put a lot of the whole, of the whole attention to proudly. It was, it started to. To grow. It was very interesting moment, uh, in our development and also considering my experience and my grow. I just thought that this is the best decision to do.

Andrew: So far, we’re seeing everything just working out. You got a great idea. It’s taking off right away. You have fun with the, with the PR for it. Give me a problem. What was the biggest challenge that you had otherwise? I think we’re all going to think that this is just kind of fairy tale, make believe entrepreneur story.

There must’ve been a difficult moment. Oh, was it?

Joanna: well, there was, there were a lot of this kind of moments and, uh, in general, I, I, I’m a kind of person who tries to not to evaluate successes, pop successes. And failures. I think that what I have definitely learned while developing the startup is not to be afraid of making mistakes and not to enjoy, success for too long, because there are, more and more, successes and failures, on that account every day.

Plus, I think that’s, I consider each failure as a, as an experience.

Andrew: one, what’s one of the biggest ones that gives me an indication of how tough it can be.

Joanna: I don’t know. I know, I, I don’t really think, think this way.

Andrew: You mean, there wasn’t even one that kept you up at night that made you think this thing could go. I saw your eyes light up. When I asked about that.

Joanna: No, it’s just, you know, there are, you, you may consider something as, the definition of, of mistake is, is in my case pretty wide. And I just. Do not evaluate what is bigger mistake than the other. there were a lot of bad decisions that we’ve made during the whole, the

Andrew: For example.

Joanna: there was one that I remember very, very good. Uh, when we decide to release the second version of the app, with the new, amazing features. And we did not, Do the job regarding the QA before the official release. And there was a, it was a crap, drink. Next three days, we were literally, apologizing all of our customers for this.

they lost the access to the app. We, we were not sleeping for three days and we needed to run the mother PR campaign to apologize them. And it

Andrew: You have to run a PR campaign to apologize because the app didn’t work.

Joanna: Maybe it’s a bad word. Like we just created a personalized messages for them and to send them out, uh, with some, some gadgets.

Andrew: in the mail to just say, I’m sorry that this app didn’t work. What was the problem that it, that it caused for them? Was it just that it didn’t work or did it send out bad data?

Joanna: it was not about the bad data. It was, uh, the lack of the access to the, to the account. Uh, and for example, some of them have scheduled a very important PR campaign for this day and they weren’t able to do this. Yeah. And we, we had, uh, we, you know, we have a lot of these kinds of mistakes on our accounts.

but, at the end of the day, I, I think that it’s really, really important to, learn from mistakes, for the future and consider it more as an experience than a mistake

Andrew: What’d you do differently because had you what’d you do differently to not have that happen again?

Joanna: We’ve managed to hire a QA team. It was not that difficult to do it. It was

Andrew: You mean an outsource QA team to check your software before you launch it

Joanna: no, no, we don’t have outsource any. Yeah. We decided to have our first QA specialist.

Andrew: How did you, when SEMrush hookup.

Joanna: it was last year. that’s actually very interesting story because the truth is that we were not actively looking for an exit when SEMrush team reached that, reaching out to talk about a business corporation. it was in July, 2019. And as far as I know, uh, they were already actively looking for a PR software company that would feed, into their product portfolio.

we had the several calls, and we had an opportunity to meet the team behind SEMrush, and it started to open our eyes to the potential of this corporation. Um,

Andrew: them saying, we need to hire somebody who does this, who does PR software. They started and not hire by acquire. They started looking at you and others. They reached out to you. Was it a cold email from somebody at their company saying, can we talk

Joanna: was, it was a personal introduction from, one of our colleague. Uh who’s uh, who’s part of the growth market growth marketing team at SEMrush. we had a chance to cooperate in the past. we produce some, ebook together, uh, for the educational purposes.

Andrew: Okay. And so what’s the, what’s the overlap are people who are doing search engine, marketing, search engine optimization. Are they also the people who are doing PR or is it just that they’re related business related parts of a company?

Joanna: they, they do mostly, content marketing, campaigns. And that is also, something that you are able to automate with proudly. and as far as I know, we are now we’re gone. We’re now in the stage of evaluating is, but, some part of, SEMrush, uh, customer portfolio are also.

People who are responsible for PR and they just connect SEO with PR activities.

Andrew: Yeah, from what I see, they just want to be, Hey, this is a question for me to bring to them, but they want to be in the marketing business, whatever digital marketing, whatever digital marketing tools are being used at a company they want to have available for their customers. Right. Like if it’s a, I see they’ve got a company here called celery for Amazon sellers.

They’ve got, proudly for PR. They’ve got all they’ve got, do they have others here? I’m looking through their site. Traffic jet. No, that’s part of. That’s part of SEM rush. So that’s what they, that’s what they’re trying to do. They want to be in the business of doing digital marketing software and they needed someone like you, they came to you.

What was it about them that got you to seal the deal? Why’d you decide to sell right now?

Joanna: Hmm, from our perspective,

Andrew: From your personal and Joanna’s perspective, why’d you sell?

Joanna: what we were looking for, is the product synergy. and also, culture fit that these were the two things that were interesting for us. The possibility of further development of proudly under the umbrella of rash. it’s an opportunity to benefit from the experience of, of someone who has already been. There, where w where are we now? and there are a lot of synergies when it comes to the technologies that we are able to use. For example, in 2021, we plan to launch, the, next big feature at proudly, which is going to be a brand monitoring, feature.

and this is part of the product integration itself. Because this is something what, uh, SEMrush has already peeled. So, we will, we will be able to use this technology,

Andrew: built it already. Your customers need it instead of you rebuilding it from scratch, use their tool for your

Joanna: And this is some kind of a missing piece of the puzzle for us, because it’s, it’s thanks to this. We have a chance to turn probably to a real complete all in one solution for, for, for the PR process. Because at the end of the day, they will be able to track, with one tool. What kind of coverage, they were able to generate with the campaigns that they are running with proudly.

They will be able to do it from, from one tool,

Andrew: You said that you doubled your revenue in 2020? Why, how did you guys do that?

Joanna: why it was a hard work. You know,

Andrew: Is there something that happened? I imagine, well, I, I assume that you did something different and that that’s what allowed you to double or there’s something different happened in the world in 2020 that allowed you to double, or was it just the natural growth that you had that you were already on?

Joanna: It’s a, it’s a part of natural growth. That’s started to speed up once we decided to, launch, the media that our base feature, this is something that was, some kind of trigger to make our campaigns, and all of our inbound activities, more and more successful. And I think that, the whole 2019 is the time when we see the effects of, of this decision.

Andrew: You mean in 2020 is when you saw the effects


Joanna: 2020 is so.

Andrew: you know, I’m embarrassed to say, but 2020 for a lot of people, especially people who I interview ended up being a great year. I see my friends who are not in the tech space. It was a really painful year, especially anyone who’s in the restaurant business, obviously really difficult year, but it’s shocking how many entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, who are in tech.

Who’ve done especially well this year and I, and then everyone else. Everyone else is getting into tech. I’ll give you an example. I wanted to get my kids a knife for the holiday, a pocket knife, so that they could learn to widdle. And they’re, they’re, they’re, they’re learning to do stuff like that. Cause we’re taking up camping more this year, all the online stores, habit, the local store that just sharpens knives that are fricking amazing website.

These are people who are so old fashioned that, they use butcher paper to wrap the stuff for you. If you’re going back a hundred years, when you go into the store, which I love. But I think they’re using Shopify where I could see their inventory in real time. I could see they had the, the knife that my kids have, their stores completely closed and boarded up, but I could order online and then just show up and they’ll hand me the thing in butcher paper.

I get this pocket knife. So it’s painful for a lot of the world, but it’s also interesting to see how much of the world has taken up technology in 20, 20, much more so than they would have otherwise,

Joanna: Yeah, I, I, I totally agree with you. We don’t, uh, see the negative, a lot of negative aspects of,  how COVID. Impacts our business, which is good, considering, a lot of my friends that are struggling with different challenges, in their businesses. and I think it’s good to, to find some positive aspects of this in the, in the whole, in this whole crazy situation.

this is something that we definitely need.

Andrew: All right for anyone. So go check out the website. It is available right I love the URL. That’s P R O w L I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re, if you’ve got a team, you want to make it easy to pay them. You want them to have an easy experience, a pleasurable experience, getting paid, getting their benefits, go to

They’ll use their payroll software. Or free for three months. And if you’re just getting started with paying people, this is a great way to get started and keep things clean and sane and happy for you and your team. Go to And finally, if you’re hiring developers the way Joanna is go check out top, no obligation.

You just get on a call, see if they could. Wow. You, if they wow. You great. If they don’t. Wow. You, I mean amaze you Joanna. If it’s just, Oh, this is interesting. This is good. You could walk away, but if you go, this is amazing. This is exactly what we’re looking for. It’s completely different. Go get started with top towel.

So all you have to do is go to top to go get that intro experience with them. Thank you, Joanna.

Joanna: Thank you.

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