Sci & Tech

Startup to Help Improve Public Profile of Firms

Startup to Help Improve  Public Profile of Firms
Startup to Help Improve  Public Profile of Firms

Digital companies in Iran are carving out a space in the local market in spite of restrictions on foreign trade imposed by western sanctions.  

What they do not seem very good at, however, is grabbing the attention of news outlets and obtaining media coverage. And this is where a digital marketing enterprise, Akhbar Rasmi Media Agency, intends to help.  

“Companies in Iran don't know how to write a press release and distribute it, and how to target journalists and media outlets,” Akhbar Rasmi cofounder, Majid Kasiri, told Wamda.

This was especially true for SMEs that often do not have the skills to market their products.

Kasiri, a former journalist with nearly eight years of experience in the industry, understood that the lack of communication skills could provide a viable business opportunity.

“Several companies used to send me their press releases and their content from different email addresses. I couldn't be sure which of these press releases were really from the companies. I couldn't trust the sender. They also didn't know how to address journalists, so most of their press releases ended up in my trashcan,” he said.

  Building an Iranian Newswire

The name, Akhbar Rasmi, means news release or official news in the Persian language. It is similar to the global PR Newswire platform, which distributes press releases from thousands of clients.

It provides companies with an easy-to-use dashboard where they can create press releases (from scratch or using some pre-made templates), and then distribute them to journalists registered at the service. Along with Mostafa Morshedi, serial entrepreneur and founder of Rasis Corporation, and Mehdi Jahani-Moqaddam, the software expert who later joined the team and became cofounder and chief technology officer, Kasiri built the online platform to connect businesses to journalists, bloggers and industry influencers.

The "freemium" business model means the site is totally free for journalists. Companies can try it for free for one month and then upgrade it to the premium status, which costs $150 per month. The other option is on a pay-as-you-go basis that costs $100 per new release, for clients unsure about how many press releases they want to send each month or if they just want to test the service.

Kasiri said the idea came three years ago, when he started to look at foreign business models that might suit the Iranian market.

One area that attracted his attention was localizing aspects of international newswire services.

  Excellent Growth

In the six months since the startup was officially launched, more than 2,000 journalists, around 600 media outlets and 400 companies, all based in Iran, have signed up to the service.

They’re aiming to incorporate more than 2,000 companies and 5,000 journalists and media outlets by the end of next year.

“We are [seeing] 25% growth in the number of companies using our system each month," Kasiri said. "Even governmental companies are using us because we provide them with access to media outlets based on different targets, allowing them, for instance, to reach journalists interested in specific kinds of news from certain locations."

The launch came after an incubation period in Tehran's Avatech accelerator, a stay which also introduced the startup to investors. “We are very lucky to be accepted by Avatech. We started our acceleration program last September and then within the next six months, we ended up showing up in front of hundreds of investors from different sectors,” Kasiri said.  

Entities working in public relations and private sector, as well as Iran’s leading tech VC Sarava Pars, stepped forward to invest.

  Plans to Enter Int'l Scene

Within the next six months, the founders want to introduce some paid features for journalists, such as access to real-time financial statements and releases from companies listed on the national stock exchange market, and transform the service from a one-way platform—companies targeting journalists—to a two-way channel.

“Right now, we are pushing the news into the journalists' dashboards, but from next year we will become a two-sided platform,” Kasiri said. “For example, the journalist can say what topics he or she is working on and then ask our experts in our directory, many of them managers of companies, to provide content for them.”

Last but not least, by the end of 2016, the team hopes to launch a new version of Akhbar Rasmi that will target a global audience as well. To expand internationally, further funding and mentorship will be needed and Kasiri has already started looking for both. The startup’s first international trip was to the Startup Istanbul competition in Turkey, earlier this month. But, as for much of Iran’s business sector, few international investors are willing to move until economic sanctions are lifted.

“We got a lot of interest from international investors there” he said. “The only problem is that they are waiting for sanctions to be removed and see what happens next. I believe that, by next year, we can have international expertise.”

If, as it seems, the sanctions are lifted next spring, this could for sure help boost the growth of the Iranian startup scene and present a boon for companies that hope to scale internationally, like Akhbar Rasmi.