Key takeaway: Going from startup to $1.4 million in the first year is no easy task. But NetReputation, which uses search engine manipulation to help clients have a more positive image online, did it.
Core challenge: The company's growth in revenue, which is expected to hit $15 million this year, has done anything but slow down. Keeping up with hiring has been anything but easy.
What's next: The online reputation firm is expected to hit $45 million in just five years.
The name of the game is search engine manipulation for NetReputation, which coins itself as an online reputation company.
Drawn to those who need a boost in how they're perceived online, or at least a positive review, founder Adam Petrilli has done rather well at this game: the company has grown from startup in 2015 to $11 million in revenue last year. He projects $15 million this year.
Some of that growth stems from suppressing negative information about clients on Google, just one part of the online search repair services the company handles. It charges anywhere from $1,500 to $100,000, depending on the difficulty of the ask. Projects range from one-time to monthly campaigns with annual agreements.
"Reputation management is, for lack of better terminology, search engine manipulation where we want certain results to show in our favor,” Petrilli says. “That’s our core product. We control the first page of Google for people’s names and brands. So when you Google things like celebrity reputation management, we’re on page one. The ability to be good at search engine optimization from a marketing, as well as a product, standpoint has had a really big impact.”
NetReputation takes in anyone who wants to improve their online reputation — whether it's personal information, negative reviews or unwanted content. "Most of our clients have something online about them or their brand that they want to remove or suppress in search results," Petrilli wrote in a follow-up email with the Business Observer. But there are some limits to who the company will work with; anyone involved in violent or sexual-related offenses, for one, is a no-no.
So how does it work? The team, through a five-step process, highlights the positive information and suppresses anything negative by using search engine optimization processes and something it calls digital asset creation.
Step one includes an in-depth analysis of the client’s reputation online to determine all the factors contributing to how that client is viewed online, whether it’s positive or negative. Then a strategy is put in place to remove threats and rebuild their brand. The next step is identifying all the positive factors like business listings or social profiles that work in favor of the client to build their assets. Then NetReputation steps into content creation to develop high quality articles, blogs and other content to strengthen the client’s brand that appears in Google search results. The last two steps include a publishing plan and promotion techniques to spread brand awareness and engagement.
Being new to an industry can come with its challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to grow tremendously, Petrilli has learned. By the time the online reputation management company had reached its first anniversary in 2016, revenue had bypassed the million-dollar mark to $1.4 million. By 2017, Petrilli says the company had grown to $3.5 million, up 150%.
“In the grand scheme of just being a small business, going from zero to $1.4 million — there was a lot to do there,” he says. “It’s very hectic to maintain a certain level of growth.”
The biggest challenge? Determining how many employees to add to support the growth. Petrilli also faced an uphill battle figuring out what processes to put in place for his business model.
“We were in a new industry so there wasn’t really a playbook,” he says. Now, the company has 68 employees, with an offices in Sarasota and Kansas City and a new one in Brazil.
The majority of clients coming to NetReputation have already had their online reputation take a hit, while about 10% of the client use the company as a preventative measure. Petrilli says a lot of his clients are high net worth individuals and brands of all sizes. The list includes executives, entrepreneurs, professionals (even teachers) who coming to the company for help, he says.
“The severity of it and what they need will vary from customer to customer based on the problem,” he says. “If you have a big reputation, like a big company or celebrity, you’re going to need more resources than the teacher who’s from Sarasota High School who maybe did something he or she wasn’t supposed to.”
The majority of the clients come to them, but Petrilli says if someone is involved in something on a national level, the company might reach out on its own.
In revenue, Petrilli says his company only has two big competitors: Reputation.com, which surpassed $100 million in annual recurring revenue earlier this year in addition to a $150 million minority growth investment; and Reputation Defender, a company Pertrilli says is slightly ahead in revenue compared to NetReputation.
“We’re on pace to be the second largest full-service reputation management agency in America,” he says, a statistic he provided based on revenue. “It’s a testament to being focused on growth as a company.”
In addition, to the team and the market opportunity, another big driver for the success, Petrilli says, is reinvesting back into the organization. That includes a recent move to a bigger office in Sarasota, hiring more employees, increasing advertising and marketing budgets and adding product training. The company moved to 1100 N. Tuttle Ave., after growing out of its former headquarters at the S. H. Kress and Co. Building downtown.
And with people making bad choices everyday — hello Florida man — more growth is likely forthcoming. "More people than ever are online,” Petrilli says, “so more people than ever need a solution to be online.”
Amanda Postma is a business reporter covering Sarasota and Manatee counties. After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 2018, Amanda was a reporter for a small-town newspaper in Missouri and a marketing associate for a St. Louis career resource startup.
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