Is the Founder’s Personal Brand Important in Building a Successful Startup?
I’m often asked if investors consider the founders personal brand or reputation when deciding to invest. There are a few common misconceptions that new entrepreneurs make. One of those is that investors make decisions about investing capital solely on the metrics of the business itself. While investors certainly scrutinize the numbers of the company, they often don’t make funding decisions strictly on the underlying enterprise in isolation.
What’s the first thing an angel investor does when a new founder pops up on their radar? They google them and check out their LinkedIn profile. What they find can determine if they are interested enough to take a meeting and learn more about your startup.
There is a saying that “Investors bet on the jockey, not on the horse”. In other words, they consider the company in combination with the entrepreneur. What is the personal brand of the founder(s)? Have they established authority around the subject matter of their startup? If they have authority, then they will start to have an influence around the topic and when that happens, they will build the trust of the community.
Investors like a strong personal brand for 2 reasons, it usually makes the strongest candidates pop up on their radar and second founders with authority and influence in the space have a higher chance of succeeding and make it easier to attract additional funding, better employees and press to attract clients. As such, positive personal branding for entrepreneurs goes a long way towards securing funding!
To understand why personal branding is so important (and how you can work on your brand), let’s first look at investing from an angel investor or venture capitalist’s perspective. After that, we can get into how to build your brand!
Table of Contents:
- Personal Branding for Entrepreneurs Matters Because the Company’s Team Matters
- What Is Personal Branding for Entrepreneurs?
- What Are Some of the Key Elements to a Successful Personal Brand?
- What Goes into a Personal Brand Campaign?
Many new entrepreneurs believe that investing is a matter of calculations. In some respects, the belief is that somebody astute in business and mathematics will run some numbers, look at some metrics, and decide if it is worth the investment.
Investors do look at these metrics, but companies also require skilled founders to achieve the growth necessary to make the investment worthwhile. Consider the analogy of musical instruments.
You can give a mediocre guitar player the world’s most perfect guitar, and the sounds you hear still won’t be pleasant. They’ll be better than having a lousy guitar, for sure, but probably be “music to your ears” by any means.
Now, take that perfect guitar and put it in the hands of fantastic guitarists like Jimi Hendrix or Slash. The sounds you hear will be some of the most amazing ever. However, even if you put a terrible guitar in the hands of Slash, you’re still going to get a much better sound than putting the perfect guitar in the hands of someone who cannot play.
From an investor’s perspective, startups are like delicate instruments that need an exceptionally talented person to turn into something great. Some companies are rock solid, perfect investments on paper but have founders who don’t seem likely to succeed. They fight, argue, don’t have much of a reputation, or seem inept.
On the other hand, you have businesses that don’t have a phenomenal business plan or target market but have gifted founders who know how to maximize every aspect of their company. Of course, the ideal situation is when the exceptionally talented CEO starts the perfect company. Then that business is every investor’s dream!
As such, the personal brands of the founders matter a great deal. Investors want to see a quality company, yes, but they also want to know that the founders will authority and influence to maximize the potential of the business.
Perhaps the best quote about personal brands comes from Jeff Bezos, who famously said, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” In this sense, your brand is your reputation, but for entrepreneurs and from the perspective of investors, clients, and vendors, it’s a little bit more involved than that.
A strong personal brand creates “authority”. The high authority will result in trust and a strong trust factor will result in influence.
Personal branding for entrepreneurs involves a few key elements. The first is trust. People seldom want to do business with someone that they don’t know or trust. Can you imagine cutting a check for $25,000 or even $100,000 to a company whose founders who haven’t established their authority and influence? Of course not!
Many people believe the branding for the company itself is enough. On the other hand, they may feel that the personal brands of the founders and executives, blur together with the company in almost any organization. Thus, the founder’s personal brand is of no importance.
It’s true that the personal brand of the founder and the company brand of their startup can be inextricably intertwined, however, an independent, strong personal brand of the founder(s) can amplify the company brand recognition because people want to buy and interact with other people and not a faceless company brand.
Even the world’s largest companies receive positive or negative press based on what the CEOs are doing. For example, the media cited the personal brand of Satya Nadella as a primary reason for Microsoft’s march to a jaw-dropping $1.5 trillion market capitalization. Conversely, when a CEO says something objectionable, the business invariably suffers because of it.
In the early stages of a startup, this is even more true. Without a long company history to look at, investors, clients, and vendors will be looking at the reputation of the founders to get a sense of how the company will behave. Your personal branding – i.e., what people think of you – will invariably influence people’s decisions and perceptions about your startup.
Therefore, personal branding, in this context, is not solely about you. It’s about you, one of the founders, concerning your business and why you are the perfect person to take your company to new heights. Personal branding for entrepreneurs is about establishing your authority across a topic by creating content and appearing as a trusted source for expertise about that topic.
Investors, clients, and potential clients of your business typically look for a few key elements. The personal branding of the founders should make sure that it emphasizes these points at a bare minimum. Your startup fits within an industry and tries to address a problem that your target market experiences. If this was not the case then why would you launch a startup anyway?
Hence, you must know something about the industry and the issues your startup is trying to solve or fix. The goal of your personal brand is to become the subject matter expert on this topic, to be the recognized authority on this topic.
The key elements to creating a strong personal brand are:
- Target market / strategy
In short, you want to define the target market of your startup and the key topics that the market will have. You want to look at the current leaders in that topics and strategize about what they are doing right and what you can improve on, as well as what your true “take” is on these topics related to your startup.
Next, you will want to craft content around this topic and the questions real people have about the topic. You will want to create blogs (because google loves blogs) and videos( because google loves videos).
Then you will choose the platforms where investors and your target market can be found. Maybe you decide that they read blogs, spend time on LinkedIn and YouTube and maybe hang out on Instagram
You will leverage this content to upload to LinkedIn pulse, create a post on Twitter and Instagram and repost 1-minute video clips to LinkedIn and Instagram TV. One piece of good content can be syndicated in many different ways.
You will set a schedule and regularly post on this schedule because people will start to expect to see your content at regular intervals.
You’ll make sure that you are presenting yourself in the most efficient way possible by coordinating the images and the look and feel across all your social media platforms.
Lastly, you’ll make sure to promote your content by inviting people to check out your new content, maybe promoting some of the content on the individual platforms, and building out an email list of interested investors you can use to tickle when you have something new to say.
In addition, it might sound obvious, but your personal brand should be personal! All too often, people try and brand themselves as a “pure” businessman/businesswoman that has no life outside the startup. While this might feel true, for your personal brand you will want to share some of your self as well, what you like, where you go and your hobbies are all fair game. People like to see you’re human and not a robot.
A personal brand should be a showcase of authority and trust. People seldom want to do business with someone that they don’t trust. As one of the enterprise’s founders, you should be someone that people view as being a trusted source of expertise and a true authority on the topic. People should be able to trust you (e.g., that you won’t mismanage money), but they should also trust you to get things done. If you say that your company will deliver something by a specific date, investors and other people should trust you to make that happen.
People perceiving you as an authority or influencer in your domain will help your brand significantly. People should look up to you for answers and advice. For example, if you are launching a new app on iOS, you should be someone that knows about iOS development, marketing, and building a strong user base.
Your personal branding campaign should ensure that people come to you with questions, instead of the other way around. Giving talks at conferences, for example, is a great way to promote your expertise and boost your brand. You can state the problem you were trying to solve, how you solved it (or how you directed your team to solve it), and discuss your learnings. It’s a great way to showcase your knowledge and build your reputation as an expert!
Your brand should also showcase that you can make things happen. Showing that you can solve complex problems reinforces your authority and builds trust. Related to trust, people should believe in your talents and skills and know that they can count on you to use them for the betterment of the company. Solving problems is within the purview of any company founder. Therefore, make sure that everyone knows you can make things happen!
Personal branding for entrepreneurs should project an image of authority, influence, and trust. People should respect your talents and entrepreneurial skills, and they should believe that you will do what needs to be done to succeed. For example, investors rarely invest in unknown founders without some industry recognition and connections at least. What’s the first thing an Angel investor does when a new founder pops up on their radar? They google them and check out their LinkedIn profile. What they find can determine if they are interested enough to take a meeting and learn more about your startup.
Personal branding campaigns are significantly more involved than you might expect. Entrepreneurs often look at approximately three months to formulate and get the campaign started, with results happening within about 3 months but not reaching full potential for 12 to 18 months. It takes time and momentum to build a strong personal brand
Since most companies take approximately one year from inception to launch, this correlation means that personal branding for entrepreneurs should start almost immediately after the company launches.
Every personal branding campaign is different, but the end goal is the same: you want to get people to know how awesome the founders are! Therefore, events that offer the public, prospective clients, and potential investors the opportunity to learn about the founders are all part of a personal branding campaign.
You should take an omnichannel approach and produce quality content that showcases your expertise. The easiest is to start writing 2500 word blogs. Share these on your website and LinkedIn Pulse. You can use these as scripts for YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn Pulse, and IGTV. In addition, you can pull quotes for Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest posts.
In addition, conferences, if you can get an invite, are a fantastic way to boost that campaign. You can discuss your knowledge with others and show yourself as an authority or leader in your field.
Podcasts are another way to showcase who the founders are and what they represent. On a podcast, you might invite other people in your field so that you can discuss relevant problems in a way that appeals to others. Again, these forms of communication work very well to establish yourself as an authority.
Once you build a strong personal brand, people will start to recognize you, and you’ll have a body of presentable work so when an investor wants to know more about you they can find out what kind of authority and expertise you have. Instead of trying to explain it, you can say something like, “here’s a link to the interview that I did on channel 7.” Build your brand online!
Finally, don’t forget to showcase your human side as well. Part of any personal branding campaign includes a piece that shows that the founder has interests outside of running the business.
As you can see, personal branding for entrepreneurs involves a lot of work. There’s a lot of content to write, interviews to shoot, podcasts to record or appear on, and videos to record. All that content also needs proper targeting. So there’s quite a bit of strategy and thought behind each piece of content. That’s why it takes up to three months to start, and up to a year to finally reach all the right people and begin to pay off!
Personal branding for entrepreneurs is vital for success. If investors, prospective clients, and future vendors don’t know who you are, it’s hard to differentiate your business from the others out there. The founders are what makes a business unique, not the company itself. Investors, in particular, look at the founders when deciding whether to put money into the company. Without that personal branding, you’ll just be another company out of thousands of others looking for capital infusion.
Of course, personal branding is essential in other aspects too. Personal branding helps get prospective clients and investors interested in the work you do, not just what your current company provides. Having a quality brand will help you in future endeavors as well. Instead of starting from scratch, you can take all that positive branding and apply it to your next venture. That goodwill can give your next endeavor a much-needed boost at the beginning!
While personal branding might require quite a bit of work, it pays off in all aspects of corporate life. Going back to Jeff Bezos’ definition of personal branding, many doors unlock when people have nothing but amazing things to say about you when you’re not in the room! Don’t delay making that the case. Start working on your personal brand as soon as possible. It will make your entrepreneurial life so much easier.
About the Author:
Jonathan Hung is One of the most active angel investors in Southern California, his mission is to drive value creation within each portfolio company. In support of this mission, he serves as Co-Managing Partner at – Unicorn Venture Partners.
Jonathan and his team target investments in US companies that have global market potential with a focus on long-term growth expansion to East Asian markets.
Jonathan developed his investing prowess as a Managing Member for his family office fund, J Heart Ventures, which made investments in start-up companies such as Gyft, ChowNow, Miso Robotics, Clover Health, Bitmain, to name a few startups he funded.
Jonathan has various degrees from the University of Southern California, London School of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.