By Sam Miller, Associate Director
“You have 10 seconds. If you can’t look at a business and decide whether or not to stick a knife in it in 10 seconds, you won’t last long here.”
These were the impressionable words the Chief Investment Officer of a Top-10 VC firm threw at me during my second-round interview. I’d eventually go on to land the job as a Director, working with a portfolio of 250+ startups and over $1.5B in enterprise value, holding the metaphorical knife as wide-eyed, eager entrepreneurs gave me their best pitch.
And before they could get through the mission statement slide of their pitch decks, their 10 seconds was up.
First impressions matter
Anyone in the startup community is familiar with the term “elevator pitch”, which most entrepreneurs will confuse as the verbal quick pitch to an investor. What most founders don’t realize is there’s a far more important pitch before the elevator pitch: your brand’s first impression.
In an industry where decisions are made in a matter of seconds, you only get one shot to catch the attention of your target or you’re dead in the water. If your brand doesn’t convey the proper message, tone, and feel to get someone to do a double-take, then you won’t even get the opportunity for your voice to crack as you recite your Shark Tank inspired script. Make it matter when it counts.
VCs Invest In You & Your Brand Is Your Representation
Not only will a strong brand catch any sound investor’s attention, it will also establish an unconscious vote of trust. In today’s society, where everybody and their dog is starting the “Uber of X,” investors have segmented their decision-making process into two main criteria: investing in the right people and/or investing in the right way of thinking.
Your brand is the umbrella that encompasses both determinants. A clear and concise brand can display how founders think, how they execute, and how they see their product becoming a business. It paves the way for every startup enthusiast’s favorite word: scalability.
Driving Smart Growth
Because everyone wants to become the next Uber or Facebook, let’s take a case-by-case approach. Before they were the world’s largest taxi company without owning any vehicles, Uber was just a luxury taxi app – an infinitesimally niche market. If they had positioned their brand to limit itself just to these 1% commuters, Uber wouldn’t be worth the $50B they’re valued at today.
Uber had to create a brand that evolved with them as they grew past their initial early adopters, a brand that jumped the gap to reach the mass public, while also rolling out additional service offerings like Uber Eats and Uber Rush. The same applies to Facebook. Going from a small network of college students to become the largest source of media publications in the world required building a brand environment over time that made its users want to share with one another.
And while you can’t predict the future because your business may pivot, your mission statement will inevitably change. This is where you need to understand that your brand is a living entity, one that evolves with new service offerings, partnerships, and acquisitions of your blossoming unicorn. Building a meaningful brand will tell the story of how you’ll capture these audiences and maximize growth to prospective investors, and help bring ideas into reality.