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Leah Dergachev Is Crafting Impactful Narratives for Mission-Driven Companies. Here’s How.

Leah Dergachev's headshot

Leah Dergachev, the Founder and Chief Storyteller of Austley, is dedicated to fostering growth in SMBs and startup ventures through strategic storytelling and purpose-driven solutions.

Leah’s journey into entrepreneurship stemmed from a sense of unfulfillment in her corporate marketing role, compelling her to seek work that aligned with her passions. Taking a bold leap, she swiftly transitioned to consulting, harnessing the trust of former colleagues as her first clients. This marketing and communications consultancy grew predominantly through word-of-mouth referrals—a testament to Leah’s ability to craft narratives that deeply resonate. Through Austley, Leah aims to not only elevate businesses but to amplify their unique stories, positioning them as leaders in their respective industries. 

We asked Leah about the founding story behind Austley, how her definition of success has evolved throughout her entrepreneurial journey, and what’s next for her and her company. 

Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Austley?

Starting my own business was more of an instinct than a plan. I was leading a marketing and communications team and had just had my first son. It hit me one day—I wasn't doing the work I loved in the way I wanted. So, with the support of my husband, I quit and dove headfirst into consulting just a week later. It was a bit wild, but I was lucky to have a bunch of former colleagues and peers who trusted me enough to be my first clients. The funny thing is, my business mostly grew through word of mouth, which is kind of ironic considering I’m in marketing and communications but rarely market myself. It's been an amazing ride building something that's truly mine and doing it my way.

What problem does Austley solve? 

Austley is all about shining a spotlight on businesses that aren't just out there to make a buck but genuinely make a difference. With my 16-year journey through healthcare and technology, I launched Austley primarily focusing on healthtech clients. More recently, we’ve entered the EdTech space and have continued to expand, working with clients in various verticals that are a good fit for the business. But it’s not just about making these companies visible and getting them noticed. It's about crafting their unique stories, setting them apart, and positioning them as frontrunners in their fields. It's amazing how many incredible companies with game-changing ideas struggle to get their stories out there. That's the gap Austley fills. We're the megaphone for these innovative voices that are making a real difference.

In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur?

I guess you can say entrepreneurship is in my DNA. My dad left his cushy job at a big pharma company about 30 years ago to start his own company. Growing up, I saw him pour every ounce of passion into his business. That kind of spirit sticks with you. As a kid, I was that typical young entrepreneur: running a lemonade stand, babysitting, pet sitting—you name it. I even used to photograph neighborhood dogs and turn those pictures into yearly calendars, selling them back to my neighbors. After college, my sister and I kicked off a consulting company. I've always dabbled in freelancing, but it wasn't until a few years back that I decided to fully embrace entrepreneurship. It feels like coming full circle, taking that entrepreneurial spirit I grew up with and channeling it into my own business. Watching my dad's journey really shaped how I approach being a leader and an entrepreneur today. It's about that drive, that personal touch, and a bit of courage to believe you can make things happen.

What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting Austley?

I wish I had known that it's totally okay to pivot from your original plan. When I first started, I was focused more on communications in a broad sense. Then I shifted to specialize in PR, but soon realized I was putting myself in a box. It took me a bit to understand that I didn't have to limit myself. With my background in communications, marketing, and business, I had this diverse skill set I could weave together to create something bigger and more impactful for my clients. I've learned that being flexible and using all of your strengths can lead to offering truly strategic, comprehensive solutions. It's not just about sticking to a plan; it's about evolving it to provide the best value to your clients and to yourself.

What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey?

The incredible support from my network. Honestly, I didn't make a big deal about launching Austley. It's been so heartwarming and, frankly, a bit surprising how my LinkedIn network reaches out. People I've known professionally are always dropping messages, just to say they think it's impressive or to ask if I need anything. And then there are my clients; they've been amazing. The number of referrals I've gotten from them to their own networks and peers has been beyond what I ever expected. It's one thing to hope your work speaks for itself. It's another to actually see that happening, to see the trust and respect manifesting in such a tangible, supportive way. It's flattering, humbling, and it's definitely been the most pleasantly unexpected part of this whole adventure.

Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?

Absolutely. There have been moments when I've questioned if I'm on the right path, especially now. I'm deeply passionate about my work, but I also have young kids who are my world. Striking a balance between being a present parent and managing the demands of late-night calls or tight deadlines can be tough. Sometimes it means finding creative ways to spend time with my kids, even if I can't tuck them in at night. But, at the end of the day, I have my boundaries. I make sure there's a clear line between work and family time. I hope my kids see the effort and dedication I'm putting into my work. I want to inspire them to one day build something they're truly proud of—just like I am. That thought, that I'm setting an example for them, is what keeps me going even on the hardest days.

I've learned that being flexible and using all of your strengths can lead to offering truly strategic, comprehensive solutions. It's not just about sticking to a plan but evolving to provide the best value to your clients and yourself.

Has your definition of success evolved throughout your journey as a founder?

Absolutely. Initially, I thought success meant having a long list of clients. It seemed like a straightforward way to measure if I was “making it.” But the more I worked, I realized that sometimes having fewer clients can actually be more meaningful, especially if it allows me to do impactful work for them. Being mission-driven, my perspective on success has shifted. Now, it's less about the quantity—like revenue or the number of clients—and more about the quality and impact of my work. I ask myself, “Did my work make a difference? Did it matter?” For me, success is about existing as a catalyst for change for my clients, helping them achieve something significant. That's what truly counts.

What have you learned about building a team and a support network around yourself?

It's crucial to surround yourself with people you can depend on in different capacities. For instance, I have mentors who are my go-to for advice or guidance when I’m feeling stuck or unsure. These are invaluable relationships that help me navigate through challenging times. Then, there are those I trust implicitly with my clients. If I’m ever in a personal bind and up against a deadline, I know they can take over and deliver the same level of quality and professionalism that I would. This level of trust is vital. I also pride myself on offering a full spectrum of solutions to my clients. This means acknowledging that there are experts out there who might know more in certain areas than I do. Accepting this and being willing to lean on these subject matter experts is key. It ensures that my clients receive comprehensive, top-notch solutions. So building a team isn’t just about finding skilled people; it’s about finding the right mix of trust, expertise, and the ability to complement each other's strengths.

How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences? Would you do it all over again?

My journey has been a rollercoaster of learning, successes, challenges, and truly eye-opening moments. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but it's a path filled with incredible rewards. The experiences I've gained, the people I've met, and the impact I've made—all of it has been invaluable. Despite the ups and downs, it's a journey I'd willingly embark on again.

What’s next for you and Austley?

Looking ahead, there’s quite a bit on the horizon for me and my company. In December, I launched MarComm Masters, a new Slack community. It’s a dedicated space for professionals in marketing, communications, and PR—all about fostering collaboration and sharing knowledge. We’re really focusing on creating a supportive environment where members can grow together, ensuring it's accessible and inclusive for everyone. Last summer, I also founded AI for Marketing, a free Slack community for marketing professionals interested in integrating AI into their workflows. It’s a fantastic platform for sharing AI-related prompts, tools, and resources, as well as for learning from each other’s experiences. On top of these communities, I’m exploring ways to scale Austley further. For starters, I'll be launching a new product line of playbooks and strategies for startups in a few months, and I'm excited to see that take off. There's been an increase in interest across different sectors, prompting me to explore ways to diversify Austley's services to cater to these demands. It's an exciting time, and I'm looking forward to discovering the opportunities these new paths may lead me and the company.

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