I met Samantha Kingston at SheSays Brighton and immediately wanted to be her friend. She is a Director at Virtual Umbrella. Virtual Umbrella is a marketing and PR agency specialising in virtual reality. Samantha fell into the VR industry by accident but has spent her time in the industry building up her own company and working in the UK, Europe, and USA. Samantha is an advocate for women in tech and VR and she is often found moderating panels on equality in the workplace. In 2016 she won the regional and national ‘New Business’ award at Venus Awards, highlighted as one of MCV 30 under 30 and one of the rising stars of BIMA100 2016. Here's what she has to say...
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the last year?
I feel like the last couple of years have rolled into one and have all happened at once, I have blinked and it’s already April in 2017. How did that happen? Can I go back and watch it all happen from the comfort of my bed like a Netflix series? I have learnt a lot over the past year from kicking my own butt with running my business, to learning all about how people really function in the world of start-up life. There are two things that really stand out for me; loyalty and burning out.
Loyalty: Building my own company has been one of the most rewarding and exhausting thing I have ever done. I have learnt a lot about people and myself in the past year. I love people and I am happy to give anyone a chance to work with me, support my team or just hang out and drink tea with me. I like to make others happy, but this means I have done a lot of favours for other people and not always got that back in return. It is very easy to stamp on nice people. After being let down by many industry professionals I have started to become a lot stronger, put my foot down and say when something is not right. It is such as shame that not everyone is loyal to others but I sure know the signs now and stay clear.
Burning out: I suck at looking after my health, maybe because I think I am superhuman until it’s too late. When your company is your baby, it’s what your entire life is about. It can be incredibly difficult to switch off, stop and have a break. After working every day for two years to get my company off the ground, my body decided that it had enough and I ended up in hospital from exhaustion. This was my wake-up call to revaluate my lifestyle. Health is so important and it can sometimes come second in my world. Burning out completely made me realise what is important and that I am allowed to switch off my phone, have time off and have a life outside of my company. I may find it difficult but hopefully after time it will get easier for me.
What’s your burning question of the moment?
THERE ARE SO MANY! I could probably list hundreds and put them into a book called ‘Sammy’s life questions’ haha. But right now my burning questions are: Am I allowed to have this much tea? Are my family proud of me for starting my company? Should I be so worried about my age? If I have a child in the next couple of years will I be able to take it to client meetings? I wonder if everyone else in the office can hear the awful 90s music I listen too? These are probably the questions that I ask myself most days. There are more but I am too embarrassed to admit them 😊
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?
Watching other people being brave enough to speak their mind. I think that is so inspiring. Women that stand on stage, are confident, smile and know that they believe in what they are talking about. This makes my heart sing or at least whoop from the audience. I still stand on stage after doing it hundreds of time and think ‘Oh my god I bet everyone can hear how hard my heart is beating on my microphone’. Having an opinion can be terrifying, especially with social media as you can be attacked from all angles. Our voices can get buried especially online, but if you have an opinion, an idea or vision don’t hide it.
Social media was not always a thing, just remember how hard it used to be to get your message to the world. We might hate it sometimes, but we can put that twitter to good use sometimes. Last year I did a talk in Bournemouth and talked about being an entrepreneur and what inspired me every day. I've done many of these talks but what I didn’t expect to happen was women who had seen my talk getting in touch to say they had quit their 9-5 jobs to do their own thing. I was so shocked. I had given them a spark, an idea to make a change, I could not have been more proud. I am still in contact with a lot of them and I am just watching them grow every week. Women empowering other women is just amazing.
What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?
Find your passion. If you have a passion, a goal, a dream go for it. When I was a student, which feels like a lifetime ago, I often felt that my lectures didn’t allow my creative side to come out too much, almost like it was locked in a drawer and not allowed out, until I left university. Which I think is such as shame. Passion is incredible, it pushes me every day and I embrace it, it’s what makes me want to get out of bed every day.
NEVER let your gender stop you from speaking up in a crowd. Be proud. I have a lot of conversations about being a woman in technology, the issues and how it has affected many in their jobs, day to day lives or their confidence in themselves. I believe that being the ONLY women in the room is an opportunity. It has encouraged me to speak louder.
Do a You. No one else can do ‘a you’ better than you. Be the best at it. Some of the most inspiring people I have met are just great at being ‘them’. Aspire to be you.
Ask for help. Even if you feel silly doing it. Do it. I spent a long time sitting around thinking I could work everything out on my own when really what I needed to do was ask someone else for help. It does not mean you have failed or that you are not good at what you do. We are all humans and can’t always run at 100% all the time, even though we would like too.
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