Our way to $1,1M series pre-A

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Our way to $1,1M series pre-A

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It's been almost a year since we closed our pre-A series round of financing. This is the story behind the scenes. Because behind every success there is a lot of everyday struggle.

It‘s weird, but when I started thinking about the idea for Prowly in late 2013, the PR industry was pretty ancient. While the rest of the world was already happily using modern web apps, people in PR somehow still relied on Word and Outlook.
My initial idea was simple: create a light and easily-accessible app that makes teamwork easier and replaces the time-consuming and boring tools. I asked my future partner Sebastian to prepare a product specification based on my three slides presentation. The SaaS model was a natural choice.
In the meantime the same presentation helped me to raise $70k from the IQPartners fund in the seed round. No fortune and I realize that but I had zero experience in raising money. Some people may say that it was a bad decision but the question is if Prowly would even exist today without that money. At least it was enough for us to launch a beta at the end of 2013.
Funnily enough, some of the experienced PR pros I asked for feedback thought Prowly was totally useless - Word and Outlook worked just fine and no one in the industry needed change. Luckily, that was just a tiny fraction of feedback – an overwhelming majority loved the idea and gave me lots of tips which we used to build a full-fledged 1.0 version.
The problem was, we weren’t super well-funded and ran out of cash, coming within inches of killing Prowly. At the same time, we turned down our only investment offer because it wasn’t a great one and took a private bank loan instead to finish the development (your equity is precious: don't be extravagant in giving it away - lesson learned).
And so Prowly 1.0 launched in late 2014, and it was a great success – people loved the new features, but we weren’t done. We didn’t just want to meet the needs of fellow PR people – we wanted to move the entire industry forward.
Several months later, still with very little money, we managed to launch our next major feature – the Brand Journal – in partnership with Spotify and Hill and Knowlton Strategies Poland, which was a pretty big deal considering we were a no-name and they were huge names in the PR community.
But the loan money dried up and we were broke again. Luckily for us, we started gaining traction and launched yet another major feature – a brand-owned communication medium – in partnership with Allegro (Poland’s biggest e-commerce).

Taking a step back, I think we wouldn't survive then without fast product development. In the initial phase of your tech startup you don't need to invest a huge money into marketing or sales efforts (as a CEO you are a salesperson yourself) to drive growth, but your product is a must-have. And the product development team needs to be an internal part of your company from the very beginning. 

Fast forward a couple of months and, having survived the valley of death and enjoying domestic success, we felt it was time for us to go global. That’s when we met the awesome people at Bluerank, a SEM and Digital Analytics agency that understood our business and not only invested in the project,  but also supported us with their amazing online marketing know-how.
And the good stuff kept on happening – right after closing the deal with Bluerank, Poland’s biggest VC (Internet Ventures managed by Private Equity Managers Group) took interest and started talking to us, which led to ending 2015 with a pre-A series round for $1,1 Million.

Prowly's $1.1 million shows Polish startups are on the rise

Prowly consolidates brands' media accounts into a clean engagement tool for companies to manage PR and for B2B business partners to get to know them better

Behind every success there is a struggle. And you usually pretend that everything is great cause you won another one - even when it was extremely hard. That's because no one likes to talk about her failures or challenges. 

The truth is that the last three years were the hardest ever. Before raising the money, it was never-ending stress, constantly asking myself what if we fail. During the investment process, I got pregnant. We closed the deal when I was in the eighth month. For me, it was the hardest part for several reasons. After raising the money for our global expansion, I gave birth. I had to learn how to be an awesome mom and at the same time a CEO managing a company operating worldwide - with zero experience in both fields.

I am not saying that to prove anything to myself or anybody else.

It's just that usually people observing successful startups feel some kind of jealousy. And the truth is that - besides all of these success factors described in many smart books and articles - you just need to have an extremely strong personality to survive the valley of death. And it's not only because of the lack of money.

At the end of the day I stay extremely strong and positive. I think that none of this would have happened if I hadn‘t believed in what we do – and hadn’t loved this little project. Sometimes, a simple need to solve everyday problems accidentally sets up a foundation for something much bigger. Thanks to what we have been through, today we are a multi-talented team, offering not just software, but also new processes to support communication activities of companies and brands.

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Startup lessons learned in 2016

To me, Prowly feels like the greatest lesson of humility. I feel that I will never be able to learn as quickly as I am learning now - it is both the advantage and disadvantage of running your first startup. Here is a collection of the biggest lessons I learned in 2016.