Innovation Blog

Founder Brand Void is killing more startups than you think!

As I went from 1st name to the 30th, a pattern had emerged – one of the 3 things was happening for every person I searched (in decreasing order of frequency):
  • One or more social accounts of the person showed-up without any consistent presence in search results
  • It was difficult to locate the person on search and social sites
  • Only 2 people had 5 or more (out of 10) results on the first page of Google results
The underlying pattern I found was that most MassChallenge founders have limited presence on the web. Maybe if I had picked a different sample set, the results would have been different and 4 instead of 2 people would have had their name plastered all over on Google results. But, that is not the point – even 4 or 10 out of 30 is low. Each one of us has to be all over the search results and easily accessible on social networks that are important to us.
It is YOUR individual brand and I invite you to search your name and see what shows up. Is it what you want people to see? If not, you need to fix it. Like it or not, people are building a brand perception of YOU based on what they see on the web. Most of us feel we are experts and skilled in X, Y or Z, and this social media thing is not going to change anything for us. The rant goes like this, I am an expert Java developer with 10+ years of experience, and there is no way more Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections would make my startup more successful. Well, it is totally an individuals prerogative to stay agnostic and continue to live with this I cannot be touched arrogance. The bad news? If it hasnt already, its going to start biting soon.
Personal branding has become one of the most important things not only for startup founders, but also for career progression in general. Any guesses on what is the first thing recruiters do when they receive a job application?? ______ Exactly!!! Any professionals web presence has such a big influence on whether he/she even gets invited for an interview. I was talking to one of the founders regarding the personal branding topic. He tried to convince me that his web presence was screwed because his name was same as another popular person. Well, I said, that is definitely an issue and makes the job much harder. But, guess what, you only have 2 options – either work on getting ahead (or on par) with that person on the web, or change your name!
So, how exactly does a personal brand affect startup founders?
Short answer: In all possible ways.
Long answer: You answer these questions first – Are you seeking investors/advisors? Do you want to attract talent? Do you want paying customers? Guess what? All these prospects are checking you out as you read this! And, they are building a brand perception for YOU and you cant do much to change that perception once it is formed. Startups are all about building relationships and you may be losing out on these relationships even before they are formed. One thing you dont want is to come across as incompetent, and it may be happening without you knowing it!
I was talking to another founder of a social impact startup and her feeling was that her startups brand and mission are exponentially more important to their supporters than her own brand. And, this personal branding thing seems more relevant to for-profit startup founders. I firmly believe it is equally (or, probably more) important for non-profit startup founders. Ask yourself – would you give any funds to Charity: Water if it didnt have Scott Harrison as its face? Scott will make you believe that he is not the face of Charity: Water. Instead, it is the people who he is trying to help who are the real faces. But, it was Scott in first place who told stories about these people! Non-profits (like any other relationship) survive and thrive on trust, and people trusted Scott and his mission. That is one of the most important reasons, he has been able to raise $100M+ over 7 years.
So, heres my humble request – do a quick search of your name and get to know what people see when they search for you (Tip: If you are signed in, Google will show biased results). If you dont like the search results, start working on it now because it will be one of the most important factors in building your startup. Yes, I know, we all are busy and do not have time to maintain an active blog. But, there are tonnes of other things you can do to start building your presence even before you write your first blog. If you would like to brainstorm some ideas, I would love to share some thoughts (and learn some from you). Reach out to me @jasmeet_sawhney on Twitter.

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