If you asked Chris Panteli just a few years ago what the future would hold, his family fish and chip shop business would have very likely been the bedrock of his response.
But following a type 1 diabetes diagnosis and a chance meeting with soon to be co-founder Nick Biggs, life had other plans.
Just over two years ago the duo started a PR link-building agency called Linkifi. The business quickly went on to clear $50,000 per month within the first year and it’s been on a rocket ship ever since.
In this interview, Chris breaks down how the company came to be, the momentum they’ve built over the past two years and their more recent struggles as they attempt to scale the agency through a rapid growth phase.
He also reveals how joining an agency growth team has led to a significant change in their hiring process and helped evolve their business for the better.
Besides being a happy customer of Linkifi, I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Chris and Nick a bit over these past few months. On a personal note, they are as likable as they are hardworking and I have no doubt they will continue to win in this space moving forward.
Tell Us About Yourself and the Agency You Started.
My name is Chris Panteli, and I am the co-founder of a digital PR link-building agency named Linkifi.
We specialize in responding to PR requests from journalists on behalf of our clients, ensuring they secure the best links available online. With just over two years in the industry, our agency has witnessed rapid growth, bolstered by a talented team and the promise of exciting markets to penetrate in the future.
On a personal note, after completing my degree in business economics from the University of Liverpool, I ventured into the family fish and chip shop business.
Despite the unexpected transition, my interest in the digital world sparked during the pandemic. I created my first website which gained traction rapidly.
This led me to meet my business partner Nick Biggs, and together, we identified a market demand for our unique skill set in link-building.
Around the same period, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This diagnosis pushed me to pivot towards a significant life change, and starting Linkifi became the pathway for that transformation.
Who or What Inspired You to Start LinkiFi and How Did You Land on the Idea You Are Pursuing?
Your question taps into an intriguing part of my journey. Since my youth, I’ve always felt an entrepreneurial spirit coursing through me, which led me directly into the family business post-university.
However, as I observed the decline in that industry, my sights began to shift towards the booming online digital realm. My enthusiasm for this field grew, and I believe I found myself in the right place at the right time.
The inception of our business is rather serendipitous. My introduction to my business partner came when I outsourced some guest post link-building work for my personal finance website. He took note of the significant links I had acquired through PR requests and was genuinely impressed.
“After a brief discussion, we both realized the potential of scaling this approach. Although garnering such links was time-consuming, the results spoke volumes, leading to an increased demand. We heeded this signal and established our business, which experienced an impressive growth trajectory within its first year.”
Influencers like Niche Site Lady, Jon Dykstra and Niche Twins provided a treasure trove of insights. The camaraderie and collaborative spirit in this sector were unparalleled, unlike anything I’d witnessed in my previous industry.
While competition is inherent, the vast expanse of the internet offers space for everyone, fostering a unique culture of mutual growth.
What Has Your Growth Trajectory Been Like?
Our growth trajectory has been nothing short of exhilarating. Initially, while I was engaged in a full-time job and my business partner managed his own agency, we ventured into this as a side project, serving a handful of clients.
However, the influx of referrals and repeat orders from satisfied clients made it evident that juggling both was becoming challenging. In a strategic move, I began to reach out to influencers and peers in our domain.
Offering them a glimpse of our prowess at no cost, with the understanding that they’d become clients if satisfied, proved to be a game-changer.
Within our first year, we quickly surpassed $50k per month and maintained a commendable growth trajectory thereafter.
While I believe in the scalability of our model, it hasn’t been devoid of obstacles. Yet, these roadblocks have enriched our learning, fortifying our resolve.
Overcoming challenges, I believe, is the catalyst that propels a good business into greatness. The challenge of scaling continues to test us, but with each hurdle, we find ourselves better equipped and more resilient.
Describe the Most Significant Failure, Setback or Stumbling Block You’ve Faced Along the Path to Growing LinkiFi.
For us, the challenge of scalability, while maintaining a productized business model, has been significant.
Our customers typically purchase individual link packages, and the nature of press request link-building has an inherent element of unpredictability. While our expertise lies in identifying the right pitches and understanding which journalists to approach, there are times, dependent on specific clients, niches, or even seasons, when campaigns progress slower than anticipated.
Streamlining this unpredictable component with the core nature of our business has always been a challenge.
Furthermore, like many businesses, we grapple with the drive for continuous growth and the quest for new customer acquisition channels.
As we’ve grown, we’ve begun to realize that there’s a sizable customer base with substantial budgets interested in link-building. Engaging in day-to-day business operations has not only been an eye-opening experience but has also granted us the perspective to explore new avenues.
If I were to pinpoint one core challenge, it would revolve around the scalability of our operations. In our rapid phase of growth, we were compelled to adopt new systems swiftly.
For instance, we integrated with Airtable databases, which became crucial for our workflow. It became the platform where we assigned pitches, forwarded them to writers, and from there, moved them to editors. In essence, the entire process was anchored in Airtable.
However, we encountered a significant setback early on. Due to a testing error, we exceeded our automation limit, resulting in the platform locking us out.
The repercussion? A grueling nine-day period without our main operational tool, severely hampering our workflow.
Fortunately, we transitioned to an enterprise plan and regained our footing. Reflecting on our journey, the necessity of ensuring operational robustness during rapid scaling emerges as the most formidable challenge.
As we expand our enterprise, it remains paramount for us to navigate growth without compromising on efficiency.
How Are You Tackling the Issue Today?
For us, the cornerstone of our growth has been centered on hiring the right talent, meticulously documenting procedures, and establishing robust backup systems.
Learning from our past mistakes and preparing for potential future challenges has also been instrumental.
Both my co-founder and I are members of Jason Swenk’s agency growth team. This affiliation has proven invaluable, granting us insights from peers who are a few strides ahead in their entrepreneurial journey.
Being part of a dedicated community where we can seek advice and then pragmatically implement those suggestions has been pivotal in our company’s evolution, reinforcing our ability to preempt and address issues effectively.
We implemented a lot of what they taught us in the agency growth group with regard to hiring. We streamlined the interview process and set expectations for what the role would require.
We also started to issue personality testing which has been a game-changer in finding the right people for the correct role.
If You Could Only Choose a Single Lesson Learned From This Experience to Pass On to Other Founders, What Would It Be?
Embracing setbacks and challenges as inevitable components of the entrepreneurial journey is crucial.
“However, the key lies not in the avoidance of these hurdles, but in the preparation for and response to them. Ensuring that you have systems in place to learn from mistakes, document best practices, and adapt quickly is paramount.”
Additionally, never underestimate the power of a supportive community or network.
Leveraging shared knowledge and experiences can not only aid in navigating challenges but also propel your business to unforeseen heights. Remember, growth is not merely about rapid expansion but also about resilience, adaptability and continuous learning.
Where Do You See Yourself and LinkiFi in the Next 3 to 5 Years?
In the next 3 to 5 years, I envision myself further cemented as a thought leader in the digital PR link-building space.
Personal growth and continuous learning will remain at the forefront, ensuring that I stay updated with the ever-evolving digital landscape. I aim to be a key speaker at industry conferences, sharing the unique insights and experiences that our journey at Linkifi has granted us.
As for Linkifi, our aspirations are lofty but grounded in meticulous planning. We aim to expand our reach globally, serving clients not only from our current markets but also from untapped regions.
Our team, which has been instrumental in our success, will see exponential growth, both in numbers and in skill sets. Continuous training and development programs will ensure that our staff remains at the cutting edge of industry advancements.
Technological integration and innovation will play a pivotal role.
We plan to invest in research and development, potentially creating proprietary tools and software that can revolutionize our workflow and offer unparalleled service to our clients.
Additionally, we foresee diversifying our service offerings, branching into related areas of digital marketing, thereby becoming a holistic digital PR solution for businesses worldwide. Collaboration and strategic partnerships with other industry leaders will be explored, further strengthening our market position.
While growth is a definitive goal, maintaining the essence of our brand — quality service, client-centric approach, and fostering a nurturing work environment — will always be of paramount importance.
What Resources Could You and Your Business Not Live Without?
- Workflow: Airtable, Notion
- Messaging: Gmail, Slack
- Shared Work Environments: Google Workspace, Google Docs, Google Sheets
- Graphic Editing: Canva
- Website Support: WordPress, Google Search Console
- Payments: Stripe, Wise, ThriveCart
- Scheduling/Meetings: Calendly, Google Meet
- CRM: Copper
- Marketing: X, LinkedIn, Facebook
Where Can Stumblers Go to Learn More?
Keith X. Donovan
Hey, I’m Keith! Since 2011, I’ve been working for and with startups. More recently, I’ve founded a few websites and rediscovered my love for storytelling. Startup Stumbles is where I get to fuse these two passions. I hope you’ll discover what I have – that failures are often far more informative and interesting than accomplishments.