When the Megaphone Becomes the Echo Chamber

In 1959, Berry Gordy started Motown Records in Detroit. Between 1960 and 1969, Motown had 79 records in the top ten of the Billboard 100. Gordy was an absolute master of production and entrepreneurship. He packaged up Motown in a way that was consumable for a still largely segregated country, and made sure it could flow through the biggest centralized distribution channel at the time — radio.

In 2012, New Zealand artist, Lorde released her single, Royals on Soundcloud.

Like Moby said, it’s rather miraculous that a song like “Royals” could take off in the way that it did — a song about anti-consumerism penned by a teenager in a far-off land. A song that earned its share of criticisms, but — as many a songwriter has said — stands on its own metaphorical two feet against a tide of radio hits.

In 1950, the Northgate Center in Seattle was one of the first of post-war, suburban malls in the United States. The mall as a concept, is now over 60 years old. In 1990, we hit peak mall with 19 new malls opened that year. America has not opened a new one since 2006.

In 2012, tristan walker was that Foursquare guy and amateur photographer, that I followed on Twitter. In May of that year, he joined Andreessen Horowitz, and in 2013 he started Bevel. In the beginning, his new venture was a bit of a head scratcher for me, but fast forward to 2016, and his company, Walker and Company is on a path to be the next great household brand in America, perhaps worldwide.

It was a head scratcher because I thought, “Wait, that’s not a tech company — it’s a razor company! Why is he doing that?” But, just as radio was the megaphone for music in the ’60s and malls were megaphones for brands for decades, in 2016, our megaphone is Twitter. And that, I think, is the subtle genius of brands like Walker and Company. They are tech companies all the way, where the razor or the trimmer are just vehicles for the ideas and the point of view that the brand conveys across all manner of digital channels. Sure, we transact on the Bevel site, and yeah, who wouldn’t want to sell their product at Target, but the brand and what it stands for was not shaped by a sterile multi-national intermediary. No. It was shaped by a likable guy that used to work at Foursquare and posted his amateur photos on his blog. It’s that authenticity and absolute direct-to-people (not just consumers) connection that Walker and Company understands on a powerful level that really, no other brand I can think of comes to mind.

I’m not cool. I’m not even gonna try to pretend that a guy from the North of Scotland can be cool. But, in my apartment in Dundee, as a kid, Diana Ross blared on the stereo most days. Berry Gordy made it all the way from Detroit to Dundee thanks to his hustle and the power of radio. Today, Tristan’s tweet finally got me over the hump, and a brand that I’ve been on sidelines rooting for, finally got me to connect with it to the tune of $80 because, damn it, I want this guy, and his team, to win.

The only company that comes close to making me feel anything like that is Oliberté and their awesome lineup of leather boots made in Ethiopia.

And that’s brand building in 2016. Just people doing what they passionately believe in, something important, something that others can connect with and root for.

The megaphones of the ‘60s like radio and the mall are fast becoming echo chambers, accelerated by patterns that are being established by people like Lorde, Tristan Walker, and others.

As a co-founder of a dev tools company, there’s a tendency to dispassionately talk about the features and the product. But man, whenever I see Bevel or Oliberté, I’m reminded that I can be doing so much more to build a brand that stands for something bigger than all of us. For any aspiring entrepreneur, all the tools we need to connect with people, really connect with people, are there, if only we all knew how to use them as well as companies like Walker and Company. Razor company? Try again.

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