Why a VC-funded Company’s CEO Brand Matters

You didn’t get to this point by blending in. You didn’t get to this point by standing still. And you did not get to this point by being mediocre. If you are CEO of a VC-funded company, your personal brand should be anything but ordinary.

Your personal brand as CEO matters.  Like any great brand, your personal brand must continue to stand out. You can create magnetic appeal to your startup by elevating your personal brand.  And if you don’t take the time to build your brand, your market will define your brand for you.  If you are skeptical, take it from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” 

Great brands consistently share the same message, and so should you.  As CEO, you should find your unique way to exude a combination of great attributes, while being just as calculated in how exactly you are standing out. 

From 2001 – 2010, “CEO Vision” rose from the 7th most important factor to the 4th most important factor that VCs look for in their portfolio company leadership, according to a Spencer Stuart NVCA  Study in 2010.  Accordingly, use your head to inspire with a big and aspirational vision of the future. 

  • Develop an aspirational vision for your company that frames your venture in the context of the industry.  Make your vision interesting and impactful:  beyond the elevator pitch, use stories and facts to bring your vision to life. You should become synonymous with your vision.

According to that same study, ethics and integrity was ranked the #1 factor that VCs look for in their portfolio company CEOs. People respect leaders who have a purpose and genuinely care about their organization’s mission and vision.  Set a mission and key values for your organization. So go ahead and show heart by exuding passion to challenge the status quo.  Love what you do, and let it show.  Your public face needs to be encouraging even in the face of great obstacles. Passion is contagious. And at the end of the day, passion never stops.

Valuable connections can catapult a venture.  By exciting others, you can motivate them to propel your brand forward.  There is potential value in everyone that you meet.  Radiate an energy that excites everyone around you.  As you see accomplishments and success around you, celebrate successes of your team and your peers, and build upon it.

And importantly, venture Capitalists are looking for an athlete with worldly skills.  In baseball, scouts look for a 5-tool prospect. “The number of tools you need to be a successful CEO has expanded,” Stephen Bloch, general partner at Canaan Partners.  VCs prefer experienced and proven venture-backed CEOs with experience in unrelated sectors to promising entrepreneurs with strong sector and technical knowledge but no prior CEO experience.  So make sure you are branded by your track record of past successes, and the key skills that helped you attain those successes.

Beyond living the CEO mindset, you should focus on a few key attributes (read: adjectives) that the startup community should use to describe you.  For example, you can be known as a source of innovation, a fearless leader, a do-er, or the winner who leads the team to victory regardless of the challenges.

As you establish your voice and your brand, execute on tactics to prove your message.  For example, if you want to be known as the source of innovation, establish yourself as a specialized expert and go-to resource (i.e. op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, appearances on CNBC, frequent quotes in industry journals, author a book).  Present new ideas and innovations at conferences via round-tables.  Toss out the dull presentation and replace it with cutting edge materials including video to bring your concepts to life in an inspirational way.  Inspire and teach other entrepreneurs by presenting at universities, incubators, and other entrepreneurial hotbeds.  If you want to be known as the winner, get recognized with awards such as the Top 40 Under 40, the Fast 50, or even as one of the most fit or healthy organizations.  The awards you and your company win will be proof points to reinforce your message.

As CEO, your bottom line matters, but your great personal brand will give you greater flexibility to manage and lead, because others will have greater trust and confidence in you.  Take your vision, passion, energy, and world-class skills and build your CEO brand.  Be inspired, be innovative, and be disruptive.  And in the words of marketing guru Seth Godin, “As our society gets more complex and our people get more complacent, the role of the jester is more vital than ever before. Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus!”