Startups

Hey Founder, Here’s How To Build Your Brand

By Sarah Mattina

The media landscape for startups is as competitive as ever these days. Journalists are burnt out, hundreds of new funding rounds are announced daily, and good communications talent is hard to come by.

That said, building and establishing your personal brand is key to standing out in the current market. Your brand is your track record plus reputation—everything that people currently know you for.

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Many later-stage startups will hire a dedicated public relations firm to handle these aspects of the business, but below are four tangible steps to make yourself and your company stand out without one.

Define your audience

Oftentimes founders are keen to jump into all things communications without first taking a moment to assess why they’re doing it. While more qualitative in nature, communications initiatives deserve the same care and respect that your product receives.

A simple exercise in defining your audience will go a long way: Who are they, where do they spend the most time consuming news or information, and what do you hope to achieve by reaching them? Spending even just a few hours answering these questions will help guide your future strategy and scope.

For example, if you have an upcoming raise: Your primary audience is venture investors or private equity funds who typically consume news from Twitter and tech-focused media outlets, and your goal is to be seen as a potential portfolio company.

Stay active on social media

Social media is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to boost your brand. In fact, 45 percent of journalists usually consult social media when writing about a company.

As you start to ramp up your social presence, choose just one platform to reach your target audience and double down on it. Aim to post one piece of original content per week and engage with accounts of interest via comments or reactions; successful founders, interesting investors and reporters are all great people to follow.

Sarah Mattina of JetBlue Technology Ventures
Sarah Mattina of JetBlue Technology Ventures

At the end of the day, remember that social media is about people. People-centered posts and opinions always perform much better than stale company jargon. Be bold, and don’t shy away from a little controversy to prompt engagement. While you may lose a few people along the way, you’re more likely to “win” your target audience in the long term.

Find your niche

Nowadays, everyone wants their news front and center with the most prominent media outlets like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. It’s hard to secure this level of coverage without a top-tier investor or sizable (we’re talking billions) funding round.

Instead, spend your time researching niche outlets while your startup is new, and reaching out to those reporters before you need them to introduce yourself as a valuable source of information. If you’re not sure where to start, your competitors’ media coverage can actually be a great benchmark for which outlets are interested in your content.

Leverage your investors’ resources

Communications roles have become quite the staple in venture over the years. These teams can be found at firms like Lerer Hippeau, Bessemer Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. What founders may not realize is that these roles often extend to support portfolio companies as well.

Following a close, ask to be put in touch with this person to help share and amplify any future company news. VCs have their own social media accounts, blogs and newsletters with an already-established following to boost your online presence and direct traffic to your personal page.

At some point along your journey you’ll likely find it beneficial to outsource these initiatives to a firm or dedicated communications employee. Before investing the time and capital, be sure to read this readiness checklist to ensure you’re adequately prepared.


Sarah Mattina is the communications and marketing manager at JetBlue Technology Ventures, the venture capital subsidiary of JetBlue Airways. She was named a 2021 Rising Star by the Bay Area chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and also consults emerging fund managers on communications best practices at Strut Consulting

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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