Those who are entrepreneurially minded will spot new opportunities and move to capitalise on them. Sarah Lee did just that, and now alongside her PR firm Hot Tin Roof, she’s set up PingGo – a PR machine that means business.
What did you do before you started this business?
I was (and still am) running Hot Tin Roof PR – Scotland’s first specialist digital tech PR agency. I set up Hot Tin Roof 15 years ago and since then have worked with some of Scotland’s brightest startups including FreeAgent and Money Dashboard.
What inspired you to start up?
Working in PR means that every day I meet companies doing amazing work and achieving incredible things. But no-one will ever get to hear their story unless they hire a PR agency which, for many, is out of reach. That barrier to growth didn’t seem fair to me, so I invented PingGo, a digital tool that helps anyone write press releases and make news. Because, for me, it is the strength of a story that should determine whether the media picks it up and reports it.
Tell us about your business in 100 words
PingGo is a do-it-yourself PR machine, incorporating a press release writing tool, a media distribution and messaging service and a planner to schedule news milestones, which helps companies keep PR in-house, create credibility and build their reputation through earned media coverage. PingGo interviews the user in a series of questions designed to draw out the key information a journalist looks for and uses these to create key messages and a media-ready press release.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
A website that makes it easy to write news stories for journalists to publish.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
So many sources, I am very lucky to be surrounded by friends, family, my team and other entrepreneurs. Often it comes in the most unexpected places – customers can provide the biggest boost to your confidence and insight into your business.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
We entered the Edinburgh Digital Launchpad competition and won a Research & Development grant from InnovateUK, the UK Government’s innovation agency. We have also received innovation funding from Scottish Enterprise.
PingGo has been bootstrapped by its sister company, my PR agency Hot Tin Roof. I wanted to keep value in the company for as long as possible and avoid its dilution, it remains 100% owned by me. Of course that will change as we move to raise our first investment round to achieve scale.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Hanging in there. The idea seemed relatively straightforward at the start. The business plan wrote itself and I had a crystal clear picture of the product. Little did I know how difficult it is to turn a dream into reality. An unwavering belief in the core idea has kept me going and I’ve never even considered stopping despite all the setbacks. Tenacity and staying power has absolutely been my biggest achievement – and I’ll need both for a long while yet.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We’ve positioned PingGo as being built by PR experts and stress tested by real journalists. It is a product born out of necessity and a deep understanding of the PR industry. It has been created by a team that lives and breathes the media.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
Very early on I knew I wanted to shape my own future and in every job I have had I’ve always jumped into the deep end and acted up rather than wait to be led. It was the same feeling when I set up Hot Tin Roof – I took the leap and was determined to make the most of it, learning as I went. Running your own business is of course stressful but I love shaping a business that I believe in and of which I am proud.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
PingGo has always been envisioned as a global product. We are already in 50 countries and our first customer to obtain media coverage using PingGo was in Arizona. However, I want PingGo to be an internationally recognised name. In five years’ time I want every small business using PingGo the way they use Mailchimp. Companies will be able to get their news out early and punch above their weight far earlier than in the past. And we’ll be used by large corporates too, supporting their own PR efforts.
PingGo will still be headquartered in Edinburgh, but we’ll have offices in Europe and the States too because PingGo will have been localised by then – the same product carefully crafted for local markets. We will continue to democratise PR for everyone regardless of budget. Because news is not about the money or skills, it’s about the story.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up. That’s the single most important piece of advice I can give anyone who believes in their product. You will be knocked back time and again – that’s the nature of starting a business – and just when one thing goes right and you’re back on track, you are confronted with another challenge. But success doesn’t happen by chance so if you believe in what you’ve got then keep fighting.
Also, speak to your customers, and do so early in the process. Take on board what they say. Trust your gut instinct but realise that you might not always be right – your customers’ needs are the most important thing to focus on!
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