Branding Yourself as a Founder


It’s funny how long we put off branding ourselves, but how critical it is to making it in the startup tech world.


I recently had to launch a personal website for myself because I realized that even though I own multiple companies, I’ve not taken the time to create my own “Christy Harner” brand. That’s when I realized that although my career has been focused around branding my companies, my clients, and my clients’ companies, branding myself was damned near impossible.


For a startup, trying to look mature, legitimate and “investment worthy”, you really have to fake it till you make it. There’s nothing as crazy as faking an entire brand in order to look legit so that someone buys into it and makes you legit. It’s pretty much the craziest chicken-before-the-egg conundrum of all times, and it ALWAYS has to happen if you want a product, company, idea, or your favorite version of yourself to be believed in. No one will believe you until you believe you.


So, I went through the branding exercise myself a few months ago, and I hope that what I learned will help you as you brand yourself, as the founder of a startup. Most of these steps and tips can also relate to your company, so please take what you learn and bring it back to your marketing team (or, to yourself if you wear lots of hats!).


Step 1: Know Yourself



Know who you are. This relates to personal first and then business. Sure, you own the next Uber for dog walkers, but do they instead know that you were featured in an article two years ago about a not so successful startup for cat walkers? Google is great but it also has the memory of an elephant.


First thing you gotta do is write up a summary and bullets about who you are and-more importantly- what you want people to know about you. Here’s an example that I wrote up when I did my own branding exercise:


  1. Creative Principal of Binary Ventures (whatever is most notable and most important should always go first)
  2. Co-founder of Vibe Capital
  3. Serial entrepreneur (MD Interconnect, NexTable, Vloggedin, etc) – try to name only your successes and let your failures fall under the rug unless they include amazing stories of how you failed because you were attacked by old ladies in the woods as you tried to launch your new capture the flag for seniors app.
  4. Designer (this is a skill …it’s critical to my success but by itself proves nothing so I put it lower on my list)
  5. Single mom (I generally keep this one in my pocket for meetings with female founders or with guys who say, “you won’t understand true responsibility until you have kids,” and then I get to smile and tell them I have more children than they do and I’m raising them without a hubby and it wins points!)


Things change though. Ironically, since writing this, I am now a creative strategy consultant and no longer working at Binary Ventures. So my brand changed yet again! But I remain the same, just one step farther down the road. 

Of course, there are SO MANY things about you that you’re dying to tell people, but you need to stick to the ones that are important. And remember …you’re trying to impress investors, gain clients, get press releases published, and ultimately make money and change the world. Because of that I would skip mentioning personal relationships, religion, health preferences, and weird hobbies you have unless they are CRITICAL to the business at hand. For example, one of my clients is running a Mindful dating website for mindful singles and I would appreciate seeing that she studied Buddhism and loves being a vegan. Or my fashion tech startup girl who should definitely swamped us on Instagram with great photos of dresses for 2016. Otherwise, we really don’t need to hear anything that doesn’t relate to you as an entrepreneur.


Step 2: Clean up Google

I know a lot of us don’t want to know what our google images look like and don’t care if our Twitter picture is of us eating a hot dog but here’s the truth: the first thing I as an investor or a guy writing a press release is going to do is GOOGLE YOU. You, your company, its one and the same for steps 1 and 2. So you need to Google yourself and open one eye at least to see if that picture of you hitting on the only cute girl at Startup Weekend is still online. You can’t delete the past but you CAN update all your social profiles.


Below, I have a list of places I recommend you update immediately. Do not sell yourself short! I updated about fifteen profiles the other day, and it took one good photoshoot with our in house photographer, Emily, and then three hours sitting at Whole Foods with a cup of coffee (and then a glass of wine as I realized how many Google Plus pages had been unwillingly thrown on me) and I was fully cleaned up. Everything from my Goodreads profile (yep I wrote a fantasy book in 2009 and you can still find it if you Google me) to my four (!!!) Google Plus Pages to YouTube, even though I don’t post videos. Here’s the list:


  • YouTube
  • Avatar (The thing that shows up as your picture when you’re ready a wordpress blog and want to make a comment)
  • Linkedin
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Google Plus
  • Personal Google Plus pages (there may be a couple of them!)
  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Goodreads – if you read or have written a book like me
  • Vimeo
  • Amazon – if you review things online, it’s important to keep this consistent with your brand!
  • Google Images!
  • Your website (that’s kind of a whole can of worms, of course)


What should you update when you go there?


  1. Update your image (I highly recommend a photoshoot with a professional)
  2. Update your profile to list your top 4 things from step 1
  3. Make sure all your past jobs are cleaned up to resemble a successful founder who is hard-working and had had good past experiences.
  4. Create a header image for everything that matches .


I can’t stress this enough: whether branding your company or yourself, consistency is critical. When people look you up on google they won’t be sure at first which “John Doe” you are. But if you’ve followed my brand guideline, in a few seconds they will know exactly who you are, what you look like when cleaned up and smiling, what company you own, and that you’re THE SHIT. That part is critical!


Step 3: Your Company “About Us” Page isn’t a comedy site

profilepicThis part could use a whole additional blog and you already know it if you’ve read this far. However, since I’m focused on YOU as the founder for the most part, let me say the things that are important for your brand when it comes to your company website.


First, does your title, description and image match steps 1 and 2? Or do you have a silly picture of you with a surprisingly long beard drinking beer at the local brewery? Sure that picture is cool, but guess what? It belongs on Instagram, not on your about us page! Nix it now before you talk to me, or any investor for that matter!


Next, does your description tell me that you’re the boss, and that you have three years of previous experience walking dogs before starting Uberdogwalker? Perfect. Does it tell me you like long walks on the beach and drinking Pina coladas while petting your cat? Nix it. Unless your entire brand is supposed to be goofy and snapchatty then you must literally move all that crap over to, well, Snapchat. We’re here to make money, not to be clever. Kanye West can be clever. He’s already made the bucks.

Step 4: Talk it Up!


So you have 4-5 things you want people to know about you, so how do you get them to actually know them? Well, now that your picture looks good, your description is appropriate, and it’s linked to also appropriate social media pages, start talking yourself up!!!!


Remember how that Step 1 “Descriptions of Me” list was in order of priority? Take that list and go online every day and post or retweet something that relates to items 1 – 2. Every so often, you can then throw in interesting articles facts and pictures from items 3-4 and once a month I will let you (you’re welcome) throw a number 5 zinger. Like,


“My 9 year old daughter just explained driverless Google cars to her dumbfounded friends who still don’t believe it’s real. #mykidsknowtech.”


Something silly, but relates both to item 5 and also to your brand.


Do this on all your platforms , LinkedIn should be high 1s and a few 2s. Twitter can be 1-3, Instagram can be more smattered with 1-5 and Snapchat is really your call.


Step 5: Sleep at Night


Now that you’re a real brand on your way to being the next Taylor Swift or Elon Musk, you can sleep easy at night. And more importantly, when you leave your next investor meeting, or launch your press release for Uberdogwalker, you can rest easy knowing that the techy guy in the room who Googled you the moment you walked out the door will see a professional founder, with clear goals, great social engagement and a winning smile.


Now see, wasn’t that an easy brand exercise?