The Silicon Roundabout, or Tech City, to call it by its other name, in Shoreditch, London, is thriving. Start-ups are popping up everywhere, in fact, pop-up shops are popping up everywhere! Buoyed by the tax friendly SEIS vehicles, investors are happy to part with their cash and invest in growing companies, and from Google Campus to the Innotech summit, there are events taking place which cover every aspect of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. There’s so much happening out there, it’s easy to lose yourself in it. Here’s why it is so important that you don’t: when it comes to branding, like it or not, you are your products most number one brand ambassador.
Two weeks ago, 103 start-ups were at Google Campus to record an “elevator pitch”, hoping to progress to the round of 25, and a chance to pitch again to a select group of investment “Dragons”, and a further 23 were bidding to be accepted on the Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator program. Competition is fierce, and that is the way that clients I have been interviewing, profiling and chewing the fat with, like it. The longed-for innovations and structural changes that the Government and business leaders trumpeted are being delivered; take a walk to where Bishopsgate meets Shoreditch High Street, wander down Great Eastern Street towards Old Street Roundabout, and see for yourself! In short, optimism abounds, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
Now let’s take a step back, before we get too dizzy, and ask ourselves the most basic of questions: “why?” How did it happen? What were the drivers, where did all this good oil come from? Can someone give me some colour here? It happened, first and foremost, because people wanted it to happen. And I’m not talking about big business; I’m not referring to the holy grail of the billion dollar valuation; I’m talking about, as Freddie Mercury and David Bowie so memorably put it:
“It’s the terror of knowing, What this world is about, Watching some good friends, Screaming, “Let me out!”, Tomorrow gets me higher, higher, higher…Pressure on people – people on streets”
It’s all about “people on streets”, making things happen, driven by pressure, driven by desire, dreaming about what tomorrow may bring. That might sound corny, unrealistic, naïve even, but let me tell you, it’s really happening, and it’s happening right now, and it’s happening to people just like you!
Which brings me back to my point: the brand that matters most to you, is you! To paraphrase John F Kennedy, “think not what Shoreditch can do for you, but what you can do for Shoreditch!” The same applies in the Silicon Valley, in Israel, the “innovation nation”, in Lisbon, Portugal, Berlin, Stockholm, Tokyo and Moscow. The start-up phenomenon, you might think, is greater than the sum of its parts. But you’d be mistaken. How can anything be greater than the sum of its parts? Don’t be fooled, it’s not a phenomenon at all, nor is it illusory. It’s a meticulously planned, well executed, project, with clear goals, a business plan, strategy for growth, and the secret ingredient? Elbow grease, not stardust.
Walking up Bethnal Green Road towards Shoreditch High Street station you’ll pass Boxpark, a collection of shipping containers that have been transformed into one of the hippest shopping districts in London. You can buy Nike, GAP, FARAH products, or if that is too mainstream, try SWEDISHHASBEENS or TUSCHDUNGEON. Or pick up your new business cards from the MOO shop. But the most important brand you will see as you gaze at the shop windows, is your reflection. Hopefully it’s smiling right back at you.
Many folk find this district of East London a little too “hip” for their tastes, but nowadays, like it or not, we are all a brand, and when you think about it, hasn’t this always been the case? Even Grandpa carefully studies every page of his mail order catalogue before he decides on that pipe and those slippers, and Tiffany’s blue book, the first mail order catalogue in the United States, was first published way back in 1845! Must have caused quite a stir.
We are all responsible for how we choose to present ourselves to the world, there is no hiding from that fact at least. Some of us relish it, others not so much. In the world of business, image counts for a great deal; in the world of start-ups, even more so. Image isn’t everything, as they say, but if you don’t respect it, the gatekeepers will notice. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between what we are, and what we think we want to be. At college we all knew 20 people at least who wanted to be, felt they could be, CEO’s, millionaires, serial entrepreneurs. 10 years on, and a decade of hard graft has taught many people a valuable lesson. They probably just wanted to be cool.
The enlightened know that a brand can be anything you want it to be, but it has to come from the heart, it has to be you, and once you have it, you can’t betray it. If you abandon your brand, then you abandon the very thing you are asking people to invest in. Only this time they will follow your lead.
What am I trying to say? Breaking into the world of entrepreneurship, Tech, Start-ups, is not about secret codes, or endless networking, or saying and doing the right things. It’s about you and what you believe you can offer. That is your brand. Be realistic about it, don’t sweat it if you are not an architect, fashionista, or coder par excellence. That’s not what matters. What matters is consistency of delivery, making customers aware of what you can do and doing it well over and over again. If you can do that, and make a name for yourself in the process, you might find the rest is easier than you thought.
So, when you think about branding, “Go on, give self-love, another chance, Why can’t you give self-love, give self-love, give self-love…” You get the picture.