If you are CEO of a venture capitalist-funded company, you didn’t get to this point by blending in, by standing still or by being mediocre. Therefore, your personal brand should be anything but ordinary.
Your personal brand as CEO matters. Like any great brand, yours must stand out. You can create magnetic appeal to your startup by elevating your personal brand. 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 to 2010, “CEO vision” rose from the seventh most important factor to the fourth most important factor that VCs look for in their portfolio company leadership, according to a 2010 study by Spencer Stuart and the National Venture Capital Association. Accordingly, inspire your stakeholders with a big and aspirational vision of the future.
The same study found that ethics and integrity were the first 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. Your public face needs to be encouraging even in the face of great obstacles; passion is contagious.
“The number of tools you need to be a successful CEO has expanded,” according to Stephen Bloch, general partner at Canaan Partners.
VCs also 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. Thus, make sure you are branded by your track record of past successes and the key skills that helped you attain those successes.
You should focus on a few key attributes that the startup community should use to describe you. For example, you can be known as a source of innovation, a fearless leader, a doer or the winner who leads the team to victory regardless of the challenges.
Execute on tactics to prove your message. If you want to be known as the source of innovation, for instance, establish yourself as a specialized expert in the media and at industry conferences. Inspire and teach other entrepreneurs by presenting at universities, incubators and other entrepreneurial hotbeds.
As CEO, your bottom line matters, but a great personal brand will give you greater flexibility to manage and lead; 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.
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!”