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Several years ago, I found myself representing an Israeli startup in a meeting with an investor in the United States. The meeting took place at the New York World Trade Center, on the 50th floor, with an investor who had a reputation for being tough but fair. As I pitched the startup, I could sense that the investor was not impressed. He kept a serious expression on his face and when I asked him if he had any feedback, he replied, “I can tell you what I really think, but are you sure you want to hear it?” I nodded, eager for any constructive criticism that could help improve the startup.
The investor did not hold back. He told me that the company seemed like fiction and that based on his analysts’ assessment, much of the information shared was inconsistent or incorrect. He pointed out that the data shared was not reliable, the LinkedIn profiles of the founders were not updated and they were not connected to the company’s narrative. He went on and on, highlighting every detail that did not add up
At first, my ego jumped in: “How dare he! The company is valid and respected!” But after a split second, I felt embarrassed, as he was so right. It wasn’t clear from their materials how successful the company is. As the meeting went on, I realized that this meeting was a gift. It was a valuable learning experience that taught me many lessons that I took with me for my future work with startups.
The most important lesson that I learned was that your personal and startup brand can get you in or out of the deal flow without one even knowing why. From that day on, I made a commitment to always pay attention to personal and startup branding, as a brand can make or break a deal.
How to reflect your brand’s credibility
To help you brand your startup or founder, here are a few tips I have learned over the years:
- Control your message. First and foremost, it’s important to establish and control your own message from day one. Ask yourself that important question: What do you want your audience to know about you as a founder? Share parts of your journey (personal and professional experience) on social media and make sure to accumulate connections on LinkedIn from your industry. Use these platforms to showcase your expertise in your field, thought leadership and the vision of your company through different types of posts. Make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated and relevant to your current role. It’s also important to use the same name and photo across all social media accounts for consistency and easy recognition.
- Consistency in startup messages. Next, as data and numbers may change quickly, especially among early-stage startups, make sure to keep company information and messages consistent across all platforms and marketing collateral; from your one-pager and deck to your website, business card and company LinkedIn profile and of course, verbal pitch. This includes having a consistent tagline, sharing relevant numbers and statistics and maintaining visual consistency in all materials. This is important because it helps to build trust and credibility with your audience.
- Your value and valuation. Emphasizing credits that can increase your value and the startup’s valuation is also crucial. This includes highlighting existing investors, board members, clients, accelerators, relevant service providers (i.e. one of the “Big 4”) and past experience and achievements of the founding team. This is important as it shows that you have a good track record and your company is backed by reputable individuals and organizations. It also can increase the valuation of your startup in some cases, or at least its perceived value.
- Relate with reputable bodies in your industry. Associate yourself or the startup with relevant people, organizations and bodies in the industry. Choose your surrounding bodies wisely, such as advisory board members, law firms and CPAs. Initiate events or projects with industry leaders. If you or your startup were featured in the media, showcase those media logos on your marketing materials and make sure to attend relevant industry events and even write for reputable publications. By doing so, you can tap into the networks and reputations of these organizations and individuals, which can open doors and increase your company’s visibility and credibility.
Building a strong startup’s brand is a supporting action that helps stand out and create an advantage in the competitive world of startups, especially around sales, fundraising process and even hiring. It also should be done professionally and authentically to elevate the company and not create the opposite effect. By following these tips, you can start building a personal and startup brand that will be able to open doors and support your growth.