How an $8 Million Mistake Turned Adrian Salamunovic Into a Startup Whisperer
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Adrian Salamunovic, co-author of the bestseller, “Free PR,” co-founder of several multimillion-dollar companies, startup advisor, and PR consultant for entrepreneurs. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you?
Adrian Salamunovic: As a serial entrepreneur, my passion is bringing value to founders and CEOs of exciting, fast-scaling companies. I sit on dozens of advisory boards and have helped hundreds of businesses through Clarity.fm. Think of me as a “founders’ founder.”
Back in 2004, I was hired to help create and launch MyFax.com, which later sold for over $200 million. Through that experience, I witnessed firsthand how to start and scale a web-based company.
I later co-founded DNA 11 without any funding and used free PR to gain exposure — including on an episode of “CSI: NY.” I also grew CanvasPop, a photo printing company, to eight figures using the same techniques. Earned media and PR is key to getting your name out there to grow your business quickly.
What are you more skilled at than most people in the world?
Adrian Salamunovic: I’m good at launching and scaling businesses but best at connecting, advising, and energizing entrepreneurs.
However, I’m not a coach. Too many coaches haven’t done it. I’m a strategic advisor who has been in the trenches of business for 20 years and has the scars to prove it. I provide a roadmap to efficiently grow faster while avoiding the mistakes I made.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
Adrian Salamunovic: Investing in my relationships and leveraging my experience to solve problems and help entrepreneurs at scale. One example was releasing my “Free PR” book. I’m also doing a lot of public speaking, where I can share my message with hundreds in the same room. And I’ve launched an e-course called PR Bootcamp that will help hundreds of startups learn how to get free PR without hiring an expensive agency.
I get to do something different every day and work with industries ranging from SaaS to e-commerce and financial technology. I’m blessed to learn from and work with so many brilliant people. I feel like a kid again.
What’s your favorite quote?
Adrian Salamunovic: AngelList founder and chairman Naval Ravikant, who was an early investor in Twitter and Uber, said, “Be too busy to ‘do coffee’ while keeping an uncluttered calendar.”
If your calendar is packed with coffee meetings, you’re doing it wrong. You need room for the high-value stuff. I used to have a calendar full of random meetings that were a waste of time. I want to help people, but doing it one-on-one is inefficient.
Instead, help people at scale. Get interviews on podcasts. Write a book so you can easily send it to others instead of constantly answering the same questions. Put a value on your time. If someone really wants to meet with me, they book an appointment on Clarity.fm. The fee ensures that they’ll respect my time by coming prepared with an agenda and specific questions.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Adrian Salamunovic: First, spend more time absorbing information from others. Read as many books and listen to as many podcasts as you can. Second, mentors: Each one will hyper-accelerate your career.
Third, never decline a great opportunity. In 2006, Tobias Lütke asked me to join his company as an advisor and offered me 8,000 founder's shares. I thought I was too busy — even though I wasn’t — and declined.
His company is called Shopify. Those shares split four times and are worth over $8 million today. That’s why I’m now an advisor to so many companies — I never want to miss the next unicorn.
Who is the greatest ever leader (alive or dead), and why?
Adrian Salamunovic: Richard Branson, because he’s built multiple companies that push boundaries while also raising his family and maintaining a childlike sense of adventure that inspires others. He’s also a great advocate and example of the power of PR. He’s mentioned in my book, and I was recently honored to be invited to speak on the same stage.
How do you identify a good business partner?
Adrian Salamunovic: You’re not looking for a best friend — that’s a great way to ruin a friendship! If you enjoy having a beer together, great, but that’s a bonus. Look for someone who complements your weaknesses — the yin to your yang. If you're a creative, find an operations person. If you’re an operations person, find someone with an entrepreneurial flair. Most importantly, find someone with integrity you trust. Because if they don’t have your back when the chips are down, you have nothing.
Which single habit gives you 80 percent of your results?
Adrian Salamunovic: I spend my time on high-leverage activities, like an email that moves the needle or a call that opens up strategic partnerships. I spend half an hour on LinkedIn every day, adding new people or accepting new requests, commenting on and liking posts. I focus on quality interactions, not quantity, and have earned tons of business this way. Always be networking, and always look for ways to bring value to your network. This is key.
I’ve burned myself out before, and one of my former colleagues was hospitalized from mental burnout. I’ve learned how to work smart, surround myself with smart people, and work on high-leverage, high-value activities. There are moments when you need to work 14 hours a day, but right now is not that time for me. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.
What are you working on right now?
Adrian Salamunovic: In addition to launching PR Bootcamp, I’m also doing a lot of public speaking and mentoring. Within a few years, I’d like to be running an investment fund, which is a natural progression after 20 years of working with startups.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Adrian Salamunovic: I want to be known as one of the best advisors to the best entrepreneurs and coolest companies in the world. And to be remembered as someone who brought value and left others more energized than they were before.