PR work from home to co-founding one of the fastest growing tech companies in the nation, Podium. Today Podium has more than 100,000 users and 250 employees. With more than $32 million in investments, Podium looks to hire 400 new employees in the next five years and construct an exclusive building in Lehi, Utah.
When Steele was doing PR freelance work, he recognized how detrimental online reviews and customer engagement was to the image of a company. Reviews would make or break the success of small business and its local search engine optimization (SEO.) He also realized customers were much more ambitious to leave a review if they had a negative experience than if they had a positive one.
He decided to create a platform that allowed businesses to get reviews from customers via text messaging. Business owners simply send out an automated text to each customer immediately after providing a service and all the customer has to do is click on the link and mark the stars. The simplicity of the product, the demand for online reviews and the sudden boost in local SEO caused the product to take off.
“PR contributed to the origin of the idea of the business,” said Steele. “By understanding how important our public reputation is, we understood the value of customer reviews and the relationship of trust that needs to be established between a business and a customer. This allowed us to build a product that would enhance the public perception of our clients and help them to be successful businesses by leveraging an aspect of PR that normally a small business isn’t able to leverage for growth.”
Over the past year working in the tech startup culture and studying PR, I’ve noticed how PR and entrepreneurship overlaps in order to build a successful brand. Here are three ways.
“Entrepreneurship starts with problems,” said entrepreneur and mentor, Corbin Church. “The best entrepreneurs are great problem solvers; that’s how they find the pain points and build a product in the first place.”
In order to create a product or service that has a unique value proposition, entrepreneurs first need to find the problem or pain point to solve —solutions make great products. In the classroom, professors define PR as “problem solving,” and train us through case study after case study about how to recognize problems, sometimes before they even happen.
Building brand image
New developers and business people who are creating startups have the skills and the technology to build a product but do they have all the skills needed to build and maintain brand image? The answer is often a no. Without professionals who can break into the saturated platforms today and stand out, startups aren’t likely to grow. PR students are taught to know how to create a brand using tools of design, persuasive writing and creative content.
Research, research, research
How do you know if your startup will be successful? You must first validate your product or idea. Entrepreneurs validate their idea through research. This research includes surveys, interviews, focus groups, direct mail and more.
“We use a lot more validation now and we’ll randomly send out 2,000 emails to clients and send out surveys,” said Bryan Welton, founder of Namify. “I call customers up on the phone. I pick up the phone and ask them what is wrong, ask them what their thought process would be. Then I do what I have to do based on the information we get.”
I’m sure most PR students today are set up with great internships at modern agencies but PR students have so much potential in today’s startup culture to not only build brand image and publicity but to build ideas into something featured and sellable. We learn this from Steele and other entrepreneurs who are more than willing to share ideas and skills to build the next podium for a successful company.
Heidi Zundel is a senior PR student at Brigham Young University. She currently works in brand management for a fintech startup called Divvy and hopes to build her space in the startup and entrepreneurship world. Collaborate with her via LinkedIn.