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Keeping it nimbld S2 #2 Sandra Kimball

We have a special treat today on Keeping it nimbld: Sandra Kimball Principal at PRIME PR, straight out of Austin, Texas. She speaks to us from many years spent in one of the main startup hubs in the world, Austin, during which she has nurtured countless startups from inception to multiple successful funding rounds and beyond. She shares with us her wisdom in that it is never too early in your startup entrepreneurial journey to think about your Marketing and PR!


References:

Weinberg, G., Mares, J. (2015). Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Penguin.


Follow Sandra Kimball on:


About Sandra:

Sandra began her career in the traditional way with a tax role at KPMG, where she eventually found herself sucked into a “45 minute” consulting project that turned into 7 months and resulted in a $100 million investment in the firm. Her entrepreneurial spirit was awakened and she left the firm to pursue a real estate career while her husband attended dental school.


Developing out various high end neighborhoods between Austin and Houston was satisfying, but left Sandra without much time for her growing family. After twelve years, she was recruited by a dynamic Sales VP to run national sales for an energy management startup.


Eventually, she was asked to start a Partner Channel, which she did with a bootstrap budget and a great network. The company went from local to global, with installations in seven states to 24 states and seven countries within 18 months.


Today, Sandra is Partner of PRIME PR, an integrated Marketing and Public Relations firm. The firm serves a broad spectrum of clients from legal to aviation to chemical analysis to building certification to nonprofits. Specializing in deep technical communication, Sandra enjoys the process of taking companies from founding to acquisition and transforming established brands to profitable industry leaders.


She advises several companies and mentors some of the brightest talent in Austin.


She can be found taking conference calls on the trail or the lake while bragging about her three amazing children.




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Carla ;)

 


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Episode Transcript:

CARLA VIEGAS

This week, I have a great guest. She is joining us all the way from across the pond. She is in Austin, Texas. And this is Sandra Kimball, she's principal and a public relations executive at prime PR, and she wears all the hats and then some. Hi, Sandra.


SANDRA KIMBALL

Hi, there.

Thank you for having me.


CARLA VIEGAS

You're very welcome. It's a pleasure, can you tell us a bit more about who you are and what you do?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Sure. I'm a, I'm a mother, first and foremost, which gives me the extreme pleasure of toting children around at odd times of the day to volleyball practices and different things. So that, you know, feeds into my love of what I do. And I have the extreme flexibility to do what I want when I want, but also to engage with the coolest, most hip, latest technology companies in the world. So, in public relations, we have an integrated marketing and public relations firm in Austin. And we serve clients from all over the world. But primarily, we are looking to really transform businesses. That's what we do. It's not just about getting press. It's not just about building a website, it's all of those pieces working together. To do whatever it takes to get them business or whatever it is, the next step is that they're looking to do.


CARLA VIEGAS

Great, that's a really good way to put it. Because a lot of people when they think about PR, they think well that's not for me, PR is for people who want to play the smoke and mirrors and be on TV and be on the papers. And they think that's it. But there's much more to PR than just press right?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Absolutely. It could be speaking engagements, it could be simply garnering leads for a firm. So we really are from inception, we build business plans, we name companies, we build the brands, we do literally all of it. Fun, always learning always changing.


CARLA VIEGAS

Amazing. So who's your favorite client? Who would you like to work best with?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Oh well, I thought you were getting very personal for a second I was going I can't say that


CARLA VIEGAS

hypothetical perfect, ideal client.


SANDRA KIMBALL

Yeah, you know, we tend to attract a lot of deep tech clients, because that's what we're known for. We kind of really made our name when we brought certain big drone company, from China to the US and really created the drone industry in the US. So we tend to be known for that. And that's, that's great. We do attract that. But we've really diversified over recent years into other industries. And I can't say I have a perfect client that this is exciting to me because they're all exciting and they're all at different stages of their development. And for me that's the most fun is figuring out the puzzle of what's next and how do we get you there?


CARLA VIEGAS

Yeah, yes skill after my own heart. I like that kind of stuff as well. You know him for the goal and work backwards from there and set things in motion and getting there. Yeah, yeah, I totally get that, you know, very old school perspective. One of my favorite mascots is Hannibal from A-Team, you know, “I love it when a plan comes together”? You know? That’s very much how I feel. So what took you to that area, where you always in PR in tech and startup world, or how did you kind of come across it?


SANDRA KIMBALL

I was always in marketing, right? I've been building companies, I was always an entrepreneur. And then my, my partner was also a serial entrepreneur. And so we kind of learned how to do it ourselves. And then now we do this for other companies as well. And we don't primarily, we don't only work with startups, we are very established companies who've been around for 20 years and they just maybe need a kickstart or they need something a little different, or they're opening up another product line or what have you. So the challenges are the same. Although they may be in different phases, they still have to bring their company to today's standards, and sometimes that's even more challenging, I would rather work with a blank slate. But I got here because I'm kind of addicted to building companies. And I can only do one at a time if it's just me, but when I'm working in this capacity, I can help a lot of companies at once. And for me, that's the most fun because I'm always learning and pushing myself and challenging myself.


CARLA VIEGAS

That's wonderful. That's really cool. Um, yeah, we will have a fair bit of people in our audience that will be you know, starting new businesses or solopreneurs, or even people from the startup scene. And, and people from the startup scene in the UK, you know, they might not necessarily know a lot of what's going on in the US. And so people still think about Silicon Valley as being the be all and end, all right. It's like Silicon Valley, maybe Palo Alto, places like that. But but it's all like at that same spot. But something that has been happening in the last few years, and it's been accelerated by COVID massively is that: I very much feel like Silicon Valley is fragmenting and it's throwing little offshoots everywhere. And, and two major places emerging from that kind of fracture are Boulder and Austin, right?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Sure. Yeah. And that's been going on for quite some time. I wouldn't say I would say it was definitely celebrated by COVID. But not just COVID. It's also kind of just the not to get into politics, but the things going on in California are pushing people out: the high cost of living also. Yeah. And so they're looking for other places to live, where there's a better quality of life. And that's really what often we hear. If you're talking to the economic development folks in Austin. That's the number one reasons companies move here is the quality of life.


CARLA VIEGAS

Yeah, but it's important for companies right at the beginning, right, right at the beginning, like very high taxes can just kill you off the offset. And so I guess there'll be something quite attracted, sorry to jump across it.


SANDRA KIMBALL

No, no, it's good. It's absolutely true. And it were, you know, just a really thriving tech community have been for quite some time. It really started. It's it's it looks very sudden to outsiders. But truly, this all started in the 50s. The development of Austin’s tech scene.


CARLA VIEGAS

Really? That early?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Yeah, it was fascinating. And frankly, there was a pivot at one time where it could have gone to San Antonio, and our sister city actually said no, if it's between us and Austin, let it go to Austin. So there's some fascinating history about all of that. But it's great for people to know.


CARLA VIEGAS

that's very interesting, because, you know, I was ready today with a question of, you know, I know that there is a burgeoning and fast-growing tech scene in Austin, have you felt much of a difference since COVID? Is it really booming, I was not expecting this answer.

So what started it?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Well, you know, we're very, there's a lot of education in Austin, if you look at the 100 mile radius around the city, we have actually more universities than I think anywhere in the world. I think I've read that, quote, years ago, I'd have a hard time sourcing it at this point. But so there's a lot of students, so we have a fascinating demographic. But what happened in the 50s and 60s is all we had was the University of Texas in terms of industry and government. We didn't have much else. And so the economic development folks, or at that point, I'm not sure what they were called, but they said, we've got to develop the city into something more. And they had this very hippie dream because Austin was very hippie, we still like to claim that we are.


CARLA VIEGAS

Isn’t it that slogan that says “keep Austin weird?”


SANDRA KIMBALL Yes, absolutely.

So but they had this very utopian dream that Austin was going to be this tech hub. And it went a little further than that. It was again very utopian. Not sure if we we've hit that mark, but we've definitely hit the tech scene, no problem. But I can remember back in the early 90s companies were flocking to Austin, maybe smaller companies. And it wasn't so obvious because the horizon, the buildings, the downtown scene didn't reflect that as much. But I was at KPMG (is a big consulting tax firm) and I was seeing our clientele changing into this very tech oriented city and I was going, huh, this is interesting, but it had started 40 years before.


CARLA VIEGAS

Yeah. Wow, that's super interesting. I know you've worked with, with many more companies, but, but if that's okay, like, I'd like to, to, you know, pick your brain a little bit on behalf of any startup founders out there. You know, what kind of advice would you have? Because, um, you know, having a PR company, having a marketing company to help us grow is amazing. But until we get to the point where we can, we have to muscle enough growth ourselves until we can run a good round, so then we can hire companies like yours to help us push it forward? What kind of advice do you have to the newbies? To help them get there?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Yeah, there's two parts to that answer. I think the first answer is, don't do it yourself.


CARLA VIEGAS

Okay! Okay, interesting.


SANDRA KIMBALL

And here's why: there are companies out there, at least on the marketing side for sure, that will get creative with you, and they will work with you. Now, they may be in high demand, and you may have a tough time getting in, if they're, if they're already busy. But the truth is, is there are companies out there that will be creative with you. And maybe that means ownership, maybe that means, you know, so you get a little equity in the company, or maybe that means you defer payment, if the marketing company believes in you enough, and you can show and give them a little control over that success, there are companies out there who will give you some leeway, they're not going to give you four years to get some revenue in. But you may have some, you know, combination of a payment/equity, or a payments/deferred payment, and you're going to pay for it, it's not free, right? That deferred payment is going to be a chunk of money.


CARLA VIEGAS

Or a chunk of equity or both, right?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Totally. So you know, if you're gonna pay for it regardless, but it could be the difference between you being successful or not. And so it's an investment. So that's part one of my answer. The other the other piece, I would say is, you know, it depends on the passion around the founder, right? Oftentimes, we see founders who are fascinating in their ability to whatever, develop that product. But oftentimes, they really shouldn't be leading the company, they really should be developing the product or whatever it is - in the background. And we see that too often. And it becomes really obvious when we get into the conversations around our proposal to them or what have you. And they never make a decision, because it's so outside of their sphere of knowledge that they feel paralyzed. So I would really encourage people to get the right leadership in place, first and foremost, don't go out alone. And the third piece, I would say, actually, there's three pieces to this question...


CARLA VIEGAS

… it’s a bonus!


SANDRA KIMBALL

…the third piece is the foundational marketing is really going to be the most important thing you do. It may be as important as any product or service you develop. So I would say, spend the time. It's, it's not easy. We spend with certain clients just depends on the product offering meet some of our stuff is really, really deep tech. But we spend weeks poring over every detail developing out business plans. And that time is a huge investment. And it feels really, like you're never going to see an ROI at that moment. Because you're you're thinking, but I just want to launch but I just want to go!


CARLA VIEGAS

And you feel like you're bogged down with process.


SANDRA KIMBALL

And you feel like one of those little toy cars that's like been getting backed up and backed up, right, and you're ready to go. It's just that energy is there. But I encourage people to really put that into that process because it is so, so critical that you do it correctly.


CARLA VIEGAS

I couldn't agree more. I couldn't agree more. There's a there's an interesting kind of, I'm gonna call it a myth seriously, where a lot of people in startup land say don't bother with it with a business plan because it's going to be changing so much because you have to be adjusting to the fast moving landscape yada yada yada. Nonsense. You know, you don't need a 200 page business plan but you need a business plan. You need a plan, you need to know what it is you're doing, who you're doing it for how you planning to get your product in front of them. You need to have some kind of roadmap and I've seen some really lean ways to do this, I've even seen like, you know, one pager, you know, start as small as need be, but the plan needs to be in there, that soul searching needs to happen. And the other thing as well that that I that I think if I can contribute a little sprinkle on top would be that to have the, the courage and the humility to get third-party feedback and get challenged as early as possible. Because that can be really scary to do, it can be very easy to kind of just soul-search and expand that and kind of just be a bit scared of that moment when you actually start getting your product in front of people, you might get pushback, or people might not respond the way you want them to. And this is why it's extra important to know what it is you're doing who you're doing it for. Because those potential clients that might not respond well, they might be the wrong clients. And there's actually like, there's still a place for your product, you're just pitching at the wrong people. So that's why I like all of that is really important to do and the other thing as well that I think there's a lot of people that might not call themselves “good at sales”, you know, I'm like that, I think I'm, I'm good at the personable side of things and, and I end up you know “selling the vision” quite well because, you know, it's, it's something very close to my heart, and so it comes naturally to me. But there might be some founders out there, like you were saying, who are quite introverted, who are quite tech sort of people. And so it's like, you were saying, it's like, surround yourself with those three musketeers, you know, the product person, the hustler, the operations guy, you know, like, have one of each, and have different temperaments, different skills. Yeah, and as you were saying, you know, also being able to think outside the box as to where those people are, you know, if I am missing a hustler, I might find that the hustle that I need will come from, you know, an agency like yours, that I could actually partner with because the vision is worth it. And yeah, yeah. So a little bit more so as well, some extent to just not be afraid to approach people and ask!


SANDRA KIMBALL

why not? Absolutely. What do you have to lose? I mean, the one thing I'll add about market feedback, which is essentially what you were talking about is, if you're working with a good marketing company, you know, initially, you'll, you'll have some meetings surrounding, okay, we're learning about you, we're learning all about everything you've done, where you've been, where you're going, what's the big plan, developing all that out. But also, that's really just the beginning, we don’t know, we do a tremendous amount of research and it's all data backed, that's the other thing I think maybe differentiates our firm a little bit is we can like a product and feel that it fulfills a need in a market. But the reality is, is until we do some true market study, we don't know. And so that is a huge next piece of the process. That also requires a lot of time and effort. If we, even if we're marketing a product, we always do testing, we test it two different ways. And we're often surprised and humbled by how different the market actually responds to things I am often blown away by: we’ll have two very, very different, let's say marketing for, you know, product, I can't think of something right now without revealing anyone. And it's just shocking to me, which one often plays better. And so those are the types of lessons we get humbled with daily and that's marketing. I mean, it doesn't matter how great your product is, how phenomenal your services, if you're not playing to the market, you're dead in the water. So that study has to be ongoing. And again, as you said, you have to be a very, you have to drop your pride you know, and just go for it because that's critical. You won’t make it without the market.


CARLA VIEGAS

yeah, yeah, it's a scary thing to do. But I speak from experience it's a scary thing to do and that's when your resolve gets tested. Absolutely. It's how much do you really care about this idea?


SANDRA KIMBALL

Yeah, yeah, we we bring stuff out all the time and do independent studies we’ll take executives and say, What do you think about this? What are your first thoughts and they may not even get the demographic for the target market but all of that insight this is really helped For us to, to really cater to who we really want to speak to. Yeah. So that's part of it is if you're working with a great marketing company that pride is gone, okay? Because now it's part of the process. It's their process, let them do it. It's not, you know, something you have to manage and, and see all the ugly comments. You just get the summary.


CARLA VIEGAS

Good points.


SANDRA KIMBALL

It's your baby, right? And no one wants to hear their baby is ugly. No one.


CARLA VIEGAS

Indeed, yeah, yeah, it's true. It's true. Although something that I also try to remind myself all the time is like, you know, this is not me, this is what I do. This is not who I am. There is no such thing as failure. There are there is success. And there is the learning.


SANDRA KIMBALL

Absolutely. Yes. Critical.


CARLA VIEGAS

Great, thank you so much.


SANDRA KIMBALL

Did you have any parting thoughts? So for those for early founders, where can they start? Do they go online and Google a random marketing company, and speak to them?


SANDRA KIMBALL

You know, I mean, I mean, if you're so competent, and passionate about what you do, that's going to sell, okay, I can think of quite a few companies who have come to us that, you know, it wasn't a fit. But I was sad. When the engagement was over. Right? It did, we didn't end up working together. But I was sad, because they'd sold me on it, you know. And so I would say, there's, there's nothing you can't lose, there's, there's no, there's no way to lose on this deal, you go out, present yourself and say, Look, I'm looking for a company, who is willing to partner with me, you said it earlier perfectly. I want a partner, I don't have revenue coming in. And I probably won't for X amount of time. And be realistic. Don't, don't sugarcoat it, they know better, they already know. So don't even try. Honesty is huge, showing your passion is huge. And your energy about the project and what you really want to achieve is fascinating. So I think those are the types of things that can really be endearing to a marketing company, or PR company who's looking at a client and going, should we partner with these people? Do we believe in them to believe in their product? Is it worth the risk, actually, that we will take on? Because it is a risk. If after three years, you don't hit revenue, then what? So make sure you give that company the ability to control that, in terms of they need hands on the ground, in the ability to actually go and make this a reality. Because if they don't, they're depending on you, you're 100% risk. So no one's gonna buy that. Great. Yeah,


CARLA VIEGAS

Great, thank you so much. I think this is gold. I think a lot of people will find it very useful. Um, do you have any resources, you'd like to direct people to, links, websites, any sorts of things, books, anything that pops to your mind?


SANDRA KIMBALL

At the moment, all I can think about is a current project, to be honest with you, so I'm a little bit I'm a little bit overwhelmed at the moment, but um, maybe I can get back to you on that. And I'll get to some resources because I have some great stuff obviously, that I read in the past. And I do have one in mind that I quite good, I'm good that I refer to over and over and over.


CARLA VIEGAS

I will add that to the show notes. And so I'm one thing that I will refer myself. It's It's my growth Bible. It's amazing and I need to mention it. Um, this is not affiliate marketing or anything. I just recommend this to everyone with a pulse who’s trying to start a startup. This book is phenomenal. So this Yeah, I'll read this out for the podcast folks. It's called “Traction: how any startup can achieve explosive customer growth” and it's by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Maris and and I'll link it in the in the show notes. And what's really awesome about this as well is that it for people who want to start out and get to a point where they can approach you know, a marketing company with a little bit of knowledge of what might and might not kind of swing the scales. This educates people on 19 different channels. To explore and the exercises basically don't discount any of these out of hand, even if some of them might sound a bit old fashioned, you know, start out with an exercise where you creatively think, Okay, what could I do for this particular channel, you know, if I had, like, you know, to mail stuff in the post to promote my company, what could I do with it, and just kind of like get get the creative juices going, and then kind of just end up zeroing in into actual little experiments that you could do for a small amount of money. And so for anyone out there that might want to try this out as this method so as to arrive to a marketing company with a little bit more of knowledge, I think that that could be helpful. And also, so you could like all be speaking the same language, because a lot of founders might not know this language very well. So at least they'll get educated in all these different channels. Because when people think about marketing, they think, Oh, this press and that stuff online, and it's PPC, and it's SEO. But there's so much more, there's so much more. And so I've learned that and then there's obviously the Lean Startup, from Eric Ries. And that's, that's something that is amazing for any startup founder out there. And actually, something very important that perhaps some people listening to this might be a little bit like, well, that's all well and good, but I don't want to be cold-calling a ton of marketing companies and telling them everything about my product. What if anyone steals my idea. And Eric Ries actually said something interesting once I think he was in, I don't want to get this wrong. But he took part in some cohort training at one of those famous accelerators that remember the name which one it was now. But he was saying something along the lines of “I give you 30 days to get your idea stolen by someone”. Yeah, and it won't happen, it won't happen. And most of all, will not happen from a marketing company. Because marketing companies do marketing, they're not suddenly going to drop their company to be like, Oh, this is a great thing. Let's go do a startup. You know, it's not gonna happen. So any founders out there, just don't be scared to just cold call 100 different marketing and PR companies and to speak to them and telling them everything about your product, you will be absolutely fine. No one will steal your idea. Only good things can come of that.


SANDRA KIMBALL

And hopefully, you've got a ramp up, where you're not entirely consumed, you know, with with how a company is going to come in behind you. I mean, if you've done the work, you're at least a year ahead on some companies are 10 years ahead, right? There's no way you could ever catch up, you know, and you can you can slowly build your, your IP security around that and, and, and feel better about it. So that, you know, you're not always feeling like you're at risk. That's that's the least of my concerns with my companies since founders is, you know, put yourself out there. You have to, there is no other way.



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