How startup branding goes from the spotlit CEO to helping a team shine

- Entrepreneurial Skills

by Aga Gajownik

In Autumn 2016, the startup I worked with joined MassChallenge. Being a part of the team I had the privilege of meeting many exceptional entrepreneurs who both inspired and amused me. We spent time working hard but every now and them it was time for happy hour. As we all know the best conversations happen during those. One of the evenings we started chatting about branding and how challenging it is to move from being the “superstar CEO who is building this startup” to “this startup who has a superstar CEO and an amazing team.”

The thing most CEOs and founders share in common is their passion. And that passion is contagious. When meeting passionate entrepreneurs, I automatically fall in love with their ideas and I want them to succeed even if I am not really interested directly in their product or service. Those superstars are disruptive, engaging and very often they are the strongest element of their startup branding. People connect with them and as a result, follow the startups’ trajectories. They easily attract professionals who want to help them grow. Their startups flourish — at least this is what the rest of the world sees. Let’s not get into startup life struggles right now — and, as a result, their individual brands become stronger. But there often isn’t much of a difference between the brand of a fledgling startup and of its funder. What happens when they go off track with promotion, they run out of energy or simply want to step back? Will the startup branding stay intact or will it mean the end of that unicorn glory? When the brand is based on its front people, it is quite difficult to separate what’s personal and what’s the company’s image. Some of the founders love the spotlight and try to keep this state for as long as possible. However once the team grows and the company develops it’s time to think about branding on a little bit more holistic level. 

The importance in developing startup branding reflecting company culture, not just the star CEO

Why is it important to remote that I in your growing startups TEAM? There are a few reasons for that but the top ones I would list are:

Startup branding can increase employee engagement

Next to “I love my job” I hear many startup team members expressing their frustration about the lack of employee recognition. They love their work, they love the product or service, they love the company. But when it comes to credit they feel it’s all about X — the founder, CEO or whoever that spotlight shines on. You might say that this is the way it goes in startups, and they are overreacting. Let’s remember they are just people who feel like they are part of something bigger and they need this acknowledged. Also there is a fine line between representing your company and making it all about about you.

Having strong startup branding that is based on all its people is important as you will all be moving forward together. Do you think they are brilliant and you want to keep them? Make sure that they are happy working with you and your startup is also their startup.

Startup branding emphasizes work-life balance, not one does all

Becoming an entrepreneur is a big step and many of us keep learning about what it means on daily basis. We try to keep the business moving forward and are happy to juggle many tasks. Successful entrepreneurs can share many work life balance tips but not many of them will say “Do everything!” Being in the spotlight all the time can feel nice in the beginning but then it often gets exhausting. It comes with responsibility and having to watch your every move just in case you do something silly that will have impact on the company.

Creating a strong startup brand based on values defined that’s aligned with key people turns them into brand ambassadors which gives you a break as the brand can stand for itself while you’re on holiday.

Startup branding empowers others to sell your business benefits

Have you ever struggled with no one being able to sell your company as well as you can? Did you wish you could be multiplied? Do you look for people who could talk about your startup the way you do? Challenging… Being an entrepreneur starts with sharing your idea. You are used to it. You know it inside out. You have answers to all the questions people might have. But your team can’t read your mind. They can only know what’s happening there when you share your thoughts. In order to represent the startup in a way you want them to you all need to align your stories. You might say “OK, I will just give the script.” But what if their communication style is completely different to yours? What if they are not comfortable saying what you would say? What if… The list goes on.

But there is a way to engage and motivate employees. Once you share the vision, goals and include your team in serious brand talk you create an umbrella under which everyone is aligned on what your startup is all about. Once there is this understanding, each person can create their own version of “What’s amazing about us.” Having different personalities in your team is also great because they can reach out to people who might not necessarily like your style.

There are always many lessons to be learnt here and insights to get from people you work with. Go and chat with your team about your startup branding. And don’t forget about your non-marketing people! You never know what you can learn from them.

We start looking at challenges related to small business and startup branding when they scale. Join the discussion below.

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