CG Interviews – Samantha Kingston, Virtual Umbrella

Welcome to CG Interviews – a collection of interviews where I pick out successful people that inspire me and find out what they do, why they do it and how they define success.

Y’all know I’m a little (lot) of a tech geek, and VR is always something that has really interested me, especially with the possibilities for brand marketing athough I’m the first to admit I know little about it. So when when I heard Samantha Kingston was on the line up for the latest She Who Dares Wins, I had a sneaky feeling she’d kick ass.

Samantha Kingston is the co-founder and award-winning client director of Virtual Umbrella – a marketing and PR company working in the virtual reality industry. She’s a proactive voice within the VR community and for women in tech (yay!). She is the co-founder of VR Girls UK and can be regularly found moderating panels on equality in the workplace. In 2016 she won the New Business award at the Venus Awards and selected as one the rising stars in the BIMA100.

CLARE: Hi Samantha! Thanks for agreeing to be part of CG Interviews! I’m all for taking a leap of faith – you and your business partner both left your jobs to set up Virtual Umbrella. What advice would you give others looking to start their own business?

SAMANTHA: It was a HUGE leap of faith. Now that I think about it, we were really brave for what we did. Leaving a full time job where you know there is money coming in every month to something that currently does not exist is very daunting. However if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t be here today. The advice that I would give others is to do a lot of research on what you want to do, you have to have a bit of a plan. The second thing I would say is be bloody brave. I know many people that have wanted to start their own thing, but have never done it because they are scared to leave security. You don’t want to be thinking “What if”! Do it! If it doesn’t work at least you know you gave it a shot.

CLARE: I couldn’t agree more! Research and Bravery – the founding blocks of most successful businesses! Virtual Umbrella is still a relatively new start up. Are there any blogs, forums or sources of advice you have found useful as you have built the business? Did that fact it was quite a niche market help or hinder you when you launched?

SAMANTHA: When we started out we knew nothing about running a business. I had no idea on taxes, what the government needed from us or anything. LinkedIn articles and gov.net website were our business bible. In fact a lot of the things we learnt about running a company was from trial and error. There is no manual out there on how to run a company, you have to learn. I think this has made us much stronger as a team and company. One of the main reasons why we started Virtual Umbrella is because we saw a niche in the market, we realised we could really help the industry. I don’t feel like it hindered our launch, we just had to work super hard to get our name out there. Just like any startup company.

CLARE: You’re clearly really passionate about everything VR – do you think that’s key to a successful business in any industry – having that passion for what you do?

SAMANTHA: You have to be passionate. My family and friends think I am a bit loopy for working every hour under the sun but that is because I love what I do. I really do. Like they say “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life” – I believe that.

I get to introduce new people to powerful technology. We are at the forefront of new tech which is incredibly exciting. When I am old, I will look back and go “Yes, I was there. I was a part of that movement”

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CLARE: Haha! Yes, I get the loopy thing too! I absolutely love how strongly you feel about it though. I’m a total tech geek but I fully admit I don’t know a whole lot about VR. According to your website – the future is virtual! What are the possibilities that you can see being available to businesses looking to harness the technology as part of their marketing strategy?

SAMANTHA: The future is virtual. I love that saying. VR is a great piece of technology. It has opened my eyes to great possibilities for hundreds of industries. All I will say is, if you’re a business and want to know more call me. I would love to give you your first experience in VR.

CLARE: Alongside running Virtual Umbrella, you also write for Gadgette magazine, as well as being the Founder of VRGirlsUK. How do you manage your time effectively? 

SAMANTHA: I don’t sleep much. Haha. I am incredibly organised, I have been since university. It drives my business partner crazy because I have about a million and one to do lists. It is still hard to stay focused sometimes, especially when you work from home. At the end of the day, no one else is going to get my work done for me, I just have to crack on. The fact that I love my work does really help.

I would advise that you make sure you reach out when you are struggling, if you can’t manage tell someone. Sometimes the stress will instantly lift when you talk to someone.

CLARE: Are there any entrepreneurs that you look up to or that have inspired you in your career so far? (you mentioned your past employer at She Who Dares Wins). Or do you have a mentor?

SAMANTHA:I don’t have a mentor, although that would be epic but I do have some people I look up too. My business partner is my number one idol. I mean that. I see how hard he works and I get to see that every day. He is the one that pushes me to work ten times harder.

My ex-CEO is also my idol when it comes to VR. He is the guy that introduced me to virtual reality and really helped me to push my own passion.

My other idols are ALL the women in VR that I have met, become friends with and worked with in the past couple of months. I have such a fantastic group of women that I speak to, I hope that I get to witness all the fantastic things they do in the years to come.

CLARE: I agree, having that support from your peers is vital. You do come across very confident in public speaking! What importance would you put on networking for business growth? 

SAMANTHA: Thank you. Actually I find public speaking very nerve-racking and I tend to get rather flustered and panic. Although people have told me I am really good at it. (Inside I am screaming!)

I think networking is really important. I have met some great industry friends and contacts by networking. I attend as many VR events as possible, I even run most of them around the UK so that I can meet new people. You never know who you might be, or who might be the perfect contact for a project or for someone you know.

I always have business cards on me, but if I run out, I follow my new contact instantly on twitter. Twitter is an added bonus when at networking events. Especially if you are meeting someone for the first time, at least through twitter you will have a rough idea what they look like.

CLARE: Yes! I completely agree! I actually put this in a blog post about networking, Twitter is brilliant for following up – it’s how I got talking to you! I find networking does push me somewhat out of my comfort zone – how you do you deal with that?

SAMANTHA: Starting a company pushed me out of my comfort zone big time. I used to really hate going to events and trying to introduce myself to people. Especially being a women in VR (and very short) no one would want to talk to me or listen to my opinion. I had to snap out of that mind set very quickly.

My opinion did matter and people do listen. So I just had to be myself… and always remember to be myself.

CGInterviews_S_KingstonCLARE: You won the New Business Award at the Southampton Venus Awards 2016. You’re is also apart of the BIMA100 and were nominated for Unsung Hero in MCV Women in Game Awards 2016! Do you feel award nominations can be effective in raising your business profile / opening doors?

SAMANTHA: For a year old startup to win awards is a huge thing for us. When you start out it might be hard for people to take you seriously, new clients will want years of proof that you do what you say you do. Having these amazing awards provides credit for us. That we are being identified for our hard work. As I said in the talk on Friday, we have had people in the past judge us based on our age and experience. These awards really prove that we are not defined by that.

I feel incredibly proud of how far we have come in just a year. If this is what can be achieved in 12 months, it make me very excited for the future.

CLARE: You have every reason to be excited! In April you moderated the Women in VR panel at VR World Congress in Bristol. One of the reasons I loved your talk at She Who Dares Wins is that you’re of a very similar mindset to me when it comes to ‘women in business’. Yes, we’re women, yes, we’re in business, let’s move on! I’d rather prove myself on my knowledge and skills. Do you feel there’s too much focus on ‘women in tech’? 

SAMANTHA: I was really nervous when I moderated that panel as the audience could have gone one of two ways. Hating that there has to be a women in VR focus or those that supported it. We had the best feedback I could have hoped for and I had many people agree with me that we don’t always have to shout about being women in technology.

 I will always support women in VR and technology where it is needed. However I will never force my opinions on others about it. Unless they want to hear it!

CLARE: What are your ambitions for the next 5 years? (personal and business!) Where do you see yourself and Virtual Umbrella? 

SAMANTHA: Wow. Big question. I really hope that in 5 years time Virtual Umbrella will be still an awesome, honest company but with a much bigger family. I hope that my work will continue to offer me exciting opportunities and allow me to travel the world.

If I am not still working in five years time, it will mean that I will be on a beach somewhere taking a well deserved break! Haha!

CLARE: Mmmm… pina colads on me! Finally, what is your definition of success? (something I ask every interviewee)

SAMANTHA: My definition of success is being happy and honest. I truly believe wearing a smile and being a human not a robot will get you where you need to be in life.

CLARE: Thanks so much Samantha!

 

I think you’ll all agree Samantha Kingston is one inspirational woman. Check her out on Twitter HERE and find out more about her company Virtual Umbrella HERE.

 

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