PR Professional Tom Davey Plans To Disrupt The Contact Management System Industry

Editor’s Note: I like Tom’s story because hustling wasn’t a necessary part of it. He didn’t have to hustle; he was doing just fine.

Most of us are doing “just fine.” But that wasn’t good enough for Tom. He saw an opportunity to improve not only himself but an entire system-and he took it, out of genuine interest. Now he’s got a valuable product and he’s well on his way to becoming successful.

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I know I can do it.

That’s what I said to myself as I sat in front of the computer looking at the thousand or so lines of code and the jumbled mess of a website on the left. It was 1:30am in the morning and I was already five coffees down. It was Tuesday, which meant work tomorrow. It was too bad that the coffees had already gone down the hatch – they were going to keep me awake till the morning now, so there was no stopping.

This is my life when I get an idea in my head. Hustle, passion, drive – call it what you want. When I think something has potential, I try my darndest to get it done.

Let me rewind. Two years ago I started working part time for a public relations company, spinning the media into a frenzy (at least that’s the idea). I started with the company as an intern, a position which- in the current saturated marketplace- requires fair dose of hustle in itself to secure!

As an intern I was past the most menial of jobs. I quickly learnt that the real working world is much different from university, and I faced a lot of steep learning curves. While I was thoroughly enjoying my role, there was one thing I just could not get my head around – the way PR companies managed their contacts.

In public relations, your contacts are everything. It’s all well and good to send a press release out to all the newsrooms in the land, but unless you’re Apple announcing a brand new iPhone5000 or you’re an ASX listed company announcing a mind boggling profit or loss, the chance of you getting a run in the paper are pretty slim.

The way you wiggle your way into the highly desirable pages of print is by creating a quid pro quo relationship with individual journalists. You provide them with something they need or want and they will get your angle out to the masses. As an intern, I had to help keep track of journalists, keeping lists of contacts updated with current email details, phone numbers and the like.

In terms of knowing how to contact people, the contact management system used was fine. The problem was, the system had no capability for the complex relationships that our agency had with each contact. Relationships of vital importance had no way of being recorded.

Steve Price likes to receive articles about airlines, but not about company B and not about airports. John Thomas is the editor of Jack Tulo and gets really pissed off if you send Jack something before John. Phil Brown likes to talk to Sally from your agency but dislikes your colleague Adam.

Alongside these kinds of interpersonal relationships, there are also things- like the number of times a journalist has published an article from a particular client and the types of articles each journalist writes- that need to be kept track of.

Initially I thought that my company was just a little behind the curve on this part of the business. I love the place, but nobody’s perfect! In the hopes of impressing the upper echelons, I began to do research and conduct trials of literally dozens of other offerings – from the most expensive corporate feature feasts to open source bedroom cookups.

I found that just about all the contact management applications available fell into three categories – CRM for salespeople, contact managers for e-mail, and highly customisable but highly technical corporate back ends. There was literally nothing that could provide a combination of accessibility, ease-of-use, and features in a way that satisfied the real world needs of my company.

The solution? Make one myself.

The first thing to do was to engage in some final research to make sure I hadn’t just tapped out on my ability to find the right software. I started more trials, made phone calls to salespeople, contacted friends from other agencies and even news outlets to find out if there was something I was missing. Turns out I wasn’t. The generally accepted ‘solution’ was an array of software suites and some compromises upon what everyone considered ideal.

With this confirmation of the gap in the market, it was time to make a list of features that the system would actually need.

I put the call out on Facebook (we have a hidden group of students in our degree) for people willing to sit down and discuss my new media and contact tool. I had a whole bunch of positive responses, but in the end there were just three of us sitting in a Coogee cafe chatting about our experiences in work so far and ideas for the new tool.

All of us were new into various media jobs and we all agreed that there was a lot of room for improvement in each of our respective contact management systems. A really great system would need:

  • Searchable, scalable graph database
  • Location, relationship and list search ability
  • Frequently updated database of general media contacts
  • Customisable, saveable and live updating contact lists
  • Ability for contacts lists to be used seamlessly in *ANY* email client and/or built in email and mail merge support (with attachments!)

While the meeting clarified many of the issues that my concept was going to address, the other participants were unsure about the amount of time and money that they could commit to the project. I knew I had no real time or money either, but I didn’t see that as a valid excuse!

I wanted to hit the ground running, and while by this time I could see a version of the finished product in my head, I knew that there was a lot of work to be done.

It was time to build a prototype. Previous fiddling and hobbies had provided me with rudimentary skills in PHP and JavaScript. So I began coding away at a proof of concept. I started work on the location search aspect, something that at the time I believed to be vital to the product’s point of difference (this was due to my agency at the time doing a lot of work for regional clients).

At this stage, I could tell that I didn’t have the technical expertise to complete the project, so I pulled my savings, little that it was, and reached out to some freelancers to help me build a better prototype.

Over a month we built a real, working prototype for the media contact discovery section of the program. I’ve since began to share with some close contacts for feedback.

This is currently where the project remains. My time is being spent searching for an appropriate graph database framework on which to base the whole project (instead of SQL). I’m currently getting my head around Neo4j. It’s looking very promising and can be accessed easily via PHP.

The prototype search system has been shown and explained to various Journalists and PR’s, all of whom have been impressed.

In the course of a conversation with a journalist friend a few days ago, she asked what I’d been up to over the last few weeks. I said that I’d been very busy in general and loved it. I said that I needed three or four lives to do all the stuff I’m thinking up.

Her response was: “Your mind is three to four times busier than that of most people I know, so I’m not surprised.”

While it might be a little egotistical to put that quote in there, I think it accurately reflects the kind of person I am. I am inspired and I get things done. I am a hustler.

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