Start-up Brand Stamina

Sleepless nights, a staff of three to do the work of 20, and the doubters -- will all test your will to survive the start-up game.

I suppose if it were easy, every person with a brain would be doing it. Start-ups require lots more than possession of a brain. They require an uncanny drive, a fearless spirit, a sense of humor and thick skin.

In my last column, I introduced you to my new start-up company and brand, Oddpodz.com. I promised uncoated truth, lessons learned, and wisdom earned.

When my column posted, a blog entry on FastCompany.com appeared with the question posed, "Do brands matter when you are a start-up?" Here's what I think.

Absolutely, brands matter at any stage in business.
Your company brand may be a mere seed in the beginning, but the day you open your doors for business, you've got at least two brands, 1) your start-up business brand, and 2) your personal brand, both equally as important.

Let's start with your personal brand.
Will a serious vendor give you the time of day, when you are a small potato with little much volume? Will your friends write angel-funding checks without a proven concept? Can you recruit great staff with no office and no benefit plan? Probably not -- unless your personal brand is rock solid.

I did the math and decided that in order to jumpstart Oddpodz, we would need to raise $500,000. Without my business partner and my personal brands, fundraising would have been an impossible task. Start-ups are high risk, in most cases, and have no track record -- it's all about the founder's personal brand, everyone is betting on you.

Make your personal brand a daily project way before you dive into the start-up pool. Here are a few basic disciplines that helped us.

Be an expert.
Whether these are academic credentials or life achievements, have your story down, both in written form and be able to quickly articulate it in conversion.

Package yourself, look like a trusted leader.
You never know when you will encounter an opportunity. I was on an airplane and sat next to a businessperson, who ended up becoming an investor in my company. If I would have looked like a travel bum, instead of a successful businesswoman things may have ended up differently.

Don't over promise. But do deliver on promises.
When you tell someone you are going to do something, do it or don't promise. Commitments honored, big or small add a lot of integrity equity to your personal brand.

We were fortunate that it only took us about 90 days to meet our early stage funding needs. Raising money can take a toll on your esteem, it takes time and the act of asking for money can be uncomfortable to many. If this is the case, yell at yourself and say, "you are not begging on the street with a tin can, you have created something awesome and you are enrolling a few lucky, qualified investors to be apart of it and share in the prize."

Every time you make an investor deposit, it feels great and it should. That's a major accomplishment that goes on your milestone poster. My poster is hanging on my office wall. I see it everyday and when I'm feeling the heat of stress I read it out loud and remind myself of the positive goals I've met. This is an important exercise. Because the pressure picks up when you have other people's money in your deal.

The business brand at the seed stage.
Like I mentioned earlier, the day you open your door for business you've got a company brand.

Remember, the brand is the sum of all you do. It's what the market thinks, feels and expects. It's your purpose, points of difference, personality and promise.

Granted, your company may not be too big at this juncture, but it is still a brand and depending on how you handle your business affairs, and how lucky you are, it could sprout up on the national scene fast. This is why brand planning and protection are so important in young companies. Unless you have a better crystal ball than I do, there is lot about the future of your brand that you just don't know.

When we wrote our business plan, we put a lot of emphasis on brand outcomes. Within our marketing section, we addressed our essence, attributes that the market perceived and valued. I recommend all start-ups include this in their planning. Then, as you make important decisions, you use the brand essence as your benchmark to make sure you stay on brand. Keep in mind, the nature of a new business is, that things will constantly change and evolve. Stay flexible, be authentic and honor who you are.

I would say our initial brand essence has not drastically changed. It has gotten tighter and more crystallized. Whether you are a start-up or not, your company should be able recite this information about your brand. If they can't, someone has work to do.

Here what the Oddpodz essence looks like today. All business activities and organizational culture are built from this platform.

Purpose (the logical reason for being):

  • Build a global nation of creatives, where citizens have a clearinghouse for self-expression, inspiration, and collaboration and will be recognized for their unique gifts.
  • Provide access to opportunities for citizens to create economic zones to prosper.
  • Leverage the nation to offer social/business services to enhance the lives of its citizens.
  • Build stakeholder value.

Points of difference:

  • New category, a global nation for creatives.
  • The Muzeum, an on-line experience and showplace full of thriving economic zones.
  • Our Odditeaz apparel line is printed inside out and packaged in oversized tea bags.

Personality:
Creative, curious, edgy, fun, witty, and sarcastic, irreverent and confident.

Promise:
We promise to uphold our declaration of independence as creatives. Our citizens have the freedom to dream, to create, to express, to profit, and to celebrate their ideas and all possibilities that make a more meaningful world.

Back to the jungle.
While I'm always up for a good adventure, there are days that even a serial entrepreneur gets scared and questions what they are doing. Along the way in every start-up there are the pack of dubious doubters. These can include strangers and even your close buds. Their non-supportive opinions can stem from them not being your target market, or they're born pessimists, or they may even be jealous. I've had my days where I let these folks bring me down; distract me, and one even made me cry. Then I tell myself, this comes with the turf. Take what you can use from them and if it's nothing, that's OK too, then put your eyes back on the prize and get back to work.

Beyond the non-cheerleaders I just discussed, you might also run into a group I refer to as morons. They usually travel in bunches of three and when combined with the doubters, they can make for a pretty bad day. Oddpodz has had its share of these too. From printers, to big banks to hired help, there are times when I think I'm suffocating from stress and my neck feels like someone took pliers and tightened every muscle so I can't move.

One day, I was briefly whining to a good friend and mentor of mine about all this. He provided some great advice. Karen, when you are building a start-up, you are like an Olympian, training for the event of your life. Keep your eyes on gold medal, do the very best you can and be disciplined. Unless your life is in danger, stay the course.

Stay tuned for my next article. I will talk about technology and its impact on your brand and your mental state. In the mean time, if you have any questions, shoot me an email.

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