Done right, a founder’s personal brand can act as an asset to their startup
Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are arguably two founders who have successfully conquered personal branding. However, even they have had their failings. In the 90s, Bill Gates was considered a bit of a jerk. He was known for bullying his employees. He also did very little to counter perception that Microsoft was using its money and power to stifle other tech companies and hinder innovation. That’s quite different when you consider his reputation as benevolent philanthropist today.
Zuckerberg has stumbled as well. Just last year, he dealt with scathing responses to his attempts to force Hawaiian landowners to sell him their properties. Seeing the damage his reputation and personal brand were taking, he opted to back away from those efforts.
Both men were able to recover from their mistakes, in large part because they were rich and established enough to weather the storm. For new startup founders this may not be the case. Instead, the best approach is avoiding these five personal branding mistakes in the first place.
1. Trying to Lead With a Personal Brand
Personal branding cannot overcome poor products and services. They definitely cannot overcome poor treatment of customers, employees, or communities. Creating great products and services, and implementing great customer support processes should always be the first priority. Only then is it time to focus on personal branding.
2. Drawing Attention Away From Corporate Branding
Don’t confuse personal branding with celebrity. This can draw attention away from startups, and build resentment among partners, employees, and investors. For big brands like Facebook and Tesla, having a CEO who is a bit of a celebrity is sustainable, even beneficial. For smaller startups, it’s a distraction. It can result in too much focus on one person to the cost of the startup.
One brand that stands out as knowing when to put corporate branding first is Kiasu Print. By offering a wide variety of products related to printing, and having exceptionally detailed product descriptions, they easily establish themselves as a reputable company that knows their niche. This is a case where recognizing that the corporate brand is much more important than any company principal’s personal brand is key.
3. Failing to Focus on Showing Leadership
Trustworthiness, thought leadership, and expertise should be center to any personal branding efforts. These aren’t things that can be faked. Leaders with the best personal brands understand their industries. They start by building relationships with influencers. Then, they do the hard work of becoming influencers themselves. This is done by creating relevant content, being responsive to customers and others, and never being afraid to express strong opinions.
Also read: Branding is fundamental to digital marketing, and here are 7 rules to live by
4. Creating a Personal Brand That Cannot Sustain Reality
It’s one thing to establish a personal brand that focuses largely on certain aspects of a founder’s persona. It’s also acceptable to make a personal brand a bit larger than life. On the other hand, it is a huge mistake to concoct a personal brand that is not based in reality. The truth is, people talk. Ex employees and former partners, even well meaning acquaintances can purposefully or unintentionally torpedo personal brands that have been fabricated.
5. Never Reading Your Own Press
The phrase, ‘don’t read your own press’ was originally coined as a means to discourage people from getting caught up in their own celebrity. When it comes to CEOs, this isn’t good advice. Today, reading your own press includes taking in negative feedback as well as positive. By doing so, it’s possible to find potential cracks in reputation or areas where branding efforts are falling flat. It’s much easier to fix personal branding gaffes if they are caught early and dealt with proactively.
Done right, a founder’s personal brand can act as an asset to their startup. Then, even if that venture fails, a personal brand can be key to one’s ability to shake off that failure and successfully move on to another. Several Asian entrepreneurs have managed to accomplish the difficult of personal branding quite beautifully.
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