Building trust with your storyline: how personal branding shapes start-ups
At our studio, the process behind shaping a company is pretty approachable. With the help of tested methods, proven playbooks and a lot of entrepreneurial grit, we build companies up from scratch. What is harder to grasp is what effect such a new company will have on its surroundings. Will the idea, product or service connect to the audience you have in mind?
At Builders, we value the complexity of brand building. When it comes to an audience’s response and how well they relate to a start-up or company, personal branding is key. Our companys’ founders are a fundamental part of the ideation and market research process. Let’s say that we’re building up an idea in the real estate market. By going into the process with a founder who is already linked to that specific niche, we bring them along with a network that already knows this person as ‘the real estate expert’.
Personal branding: living and breathing your interests
When you’ve always been personally interested in the housing market, you keep up-to-date with the latest news in your spare time and get inspired by visiting sophisticated building projects featuring functions you hadn’t heard of before; it’s pretty clear. You don’t just work in real estate, you live, consume and breathe the topic. It’s your daily inspiration. Has it ever happened to you to talk about housing too much at dinner parties and see it on your friends’ faces? That’s when you know it. You are real estate.
Luckily for you, you’ve just become the founder of a new real estate tech start-up at Builders and you match the brand perfectly! It shouldn’t take you any effort to convince your audience of your ideas. You’ve got the knowledge, the network, and the spark in your eye. The marketing of a start-up starts with you, the people working on the brand. If you don’t fit the brand personally, you’re never going to reach the audience you want to reach.
Personal branding, to us, is a lifelong story. The longer and the more structurally you tell that story, the more trustworthy you will become. People start to relate to your story or viewpoint and want to help you out, or collaborate to build on your interests together. They get excited about joining you on your journey. How do you ensure you attract that team that wants to achieve your mission together?
We look for founders like ‘the real estate expert’ because connecting to the audience is integral to building a company. You could be highly inspired or hard-working, but if you don’t already emanate your brand, it’s going to take twice as long to make that connection. Besides, tech is an incredibly fast paced market. Without experience, innovation within a niche will take you years. And that’s ok, but it’s not our method at Builders: we streamline.
Momentum is part of our DNA.
My personal brand used to precede me
When I was very young and already working in this industry, involuntarily my age was my brand. Then, much more than now, stereotypes ruled the tech industry. As a young woman in tech I could showcase my expertise, achievements, and values all I wanted, I was still mainly a ‘young woman’. Because of that, I had a huge drive to become the most experienced and most intelligent person in the room to prove my true worth. I was aware of my skills and what I added to a situation and worked hard to radiate that in my expertise. Once I learned not to waste my energy on prejudice, I had more time and energy to grow my strengths and complement my weaknesses. For instance, in situations where I was seen as the ‘young woman’, like discussing investment deals with large traditional firms, I would make sure to have the back-up of a strong collaboration with an elder peer.
Nowadays, I’m crafting my personal brand strategically. After being silent for two years to produce less ‘noise’, I’m expressing my expertise in building tech start-ups and operational excellence through these articles on different platforms. My storyline is clear. On all my profiles, people can read the same text. I make conscious choices this way and only speak at events that match my personality and (business) interests. Is this an added value for me or does it create noise? If it does, I say no. Because I know who my audience is and who I want to address.
You’ve got to build your own story
At Builders, we shape the future of work and living by building software companies that create a more fulfilling and sustainable life for the next generation. All of our founders have built a track record within that niche. After we’ve found the right person for our company and know they’re living and breathing its brand, we start to strategically sharpen their message. As they’re familiar with their field, they recognise problems and trends and generally have lots of ideas to talk about. In that way, our founders become the main characters in a story their audience loves to follow. Their authentic persona validates the information an audience in their niche is looking for.
And we keep it personal. Examining the character as a brand, we think about their urges to grow and explore topics within the field. What makes that person happy? What is their personal view on life, say, within the category of work and living? What is this person’s added value in terms of storytelling and messaging? With a combination of business and private life information, we start translating their authentic story into a strategic, sustainable personal branding plan. The key? Staying very close to yourself. Making sure you tell a balanced story sprouting from your own interests, values and expertise.
One of our founders, Michael Steinmann, used to travel the world. He experienced that it’s not that easy to make new connections everywhere. With a background in community building and student housing, he’s now an Entrepreneur in Residence at Builders, working on Obeyo. We are creating an operating system to support communities in shared-living spaces for one of our future PropTech companies.
Michael: “I’ve always been passionate about developing ideas and seeing people grow. Both are still the essence of what I am working today: With Obeyo we help other entrepreneurs scale their ideas and empower global citizens to move their homes and live anywhere.
My passion goes back to my study abroad experiences where I got to live with people from all over the world. I made lots of new connections and experienced the creative power that comes from sharing a home with a bunch of diverse people from all over the world. Since that moment, I knew I wanted to help more people to have similar experiences — empower them to live abroad, and grow as human beings. This passion still drives me today, and with Obeyo we are utilizing the power of technology to facilitate those new connections at scale.
At the same time, I have always been passionate about scaling ideas and businesses — that’s the other thing that I really love about the shared living market. It is the people that operate in shared living as they are very entrepreneurial, as well as passionate about scaling their business and their ideas. And as co-creation is typically the better way to create, and it also fits the overall theme in shared living very well, this is the path that we are pursuing with Obeyo: co-creating the product together.
You also speak about personal branding, Sharon. Here, I deeply believe in authenticity. Why? Let me answer this with a short story: After university, while I was developing my first project, I thought that if you want to sell something, people expect you to act like a salesperson. Luckily it didn’t take me long to discover that this assumption could be more wrong. Instead, I understood that people buy from people they like. And learning this has set me on the right path. I realized, if people buy from people they like (and I’d like them to buy from me) I need to allow them to get to know me first. No need to hide behind what I think a salesperson should do. This is an extremely freeing realization, that I wish everyone gets to rather sooner than later. And I deeply believe that this message is the same for entrepreneurship. No need to pretend. Being yourself will get you the furthest.”
Strategise, strategise, strategies
So as we’ve seen from Michael’s and my own perspective and the cases we’ve built over the years, creating a personal brand is mostly strategy: building up an authentic storyline that matches your personality, in the long term. Because when you live and breathe your interests, you attract an audience that trusts you, shares your vision and wants to buy from you. Look closely. What character do you and your business portray?
Tell me (in the comments below), who are you and what are your branding goals?