If you are successful in your career you will experience the following arc: INVISIBLE (no one knows you), KNOWN (people are aware of you and that your company exists — but probably don’t know and have never tried your product), NOTABLE (people admire your product and company, have tried it or know people who have) and finally SOUGHT AFTER (people are so enamored with what you’ve done that they want to get involved with you in some way).
That’s the “founder funnel,” and today we are going to talk about getting from an “invisible nobody” to a known somebody. We won’t cover notable and sought after, as that’s really a function of your product getting to scale — not branding.
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Everyone starts out invisible, except of course if their last name is notable via a spouse or parent. And trust me, you really don’t want to be notable as the “child/spouse of X notable person” because people will start off hating you for that (generally speaking).
“Oh, your pop is Larry Ellison and you’re making movies with his money?” will be rewarded with “Nice to meet you (and an eye roll saying “F@#4k you!)” or “Would love to get you to back my project!” — both of which really suck. Actually, I feel bad for kids like that. They get the hours on dad’s G550, but have to constantly try and figure out if the people around them are there for the money or the friendship.
Step One: Define who you are and what you stand for
In this world people will quickly define you and what you stand for, so it’s best that you take measures to do that for them. How does one do this?
a) When someone asks you what you do, answer concisely. “Hello, I’m Jason Calacanis … I’m an angel investor and I like to write the first check for founders with a crazy idea.” I actually say it like that all the time.
b) State your mission in your Twitter bio, on your blog, on Moo cards, and in your email signature.
c) By telling your friends and associates clearly what you need help with: “I’m hosting the largest startup conference in the world, LAUNCH Festival, on March 2-4. I’m looking for companies to debut there and to invest in — do you know any?” Yes, I literally say that to my friends in a blunt fashion. Don’t make people guess how they can interact with you — be candid (unless you’re in Japan, where you should do the opposite of what’s in this post).
Step Two: find your Voice & Speak your Truth
a) Create a branded persona. If you are starting a company in the “on demand” / “Uber of…” space, call yourself “SusanOnDemand.” If you are starting something in the curation space, perhaps call yourself “CuratingSusan” or “SusanHearts” (as in “I heart puppies,” taken from the I Love NY campaign with the heart icon).
b) Start a blog on Squarespace (which has stunning blog templates) or another blog platform about your industry or vertical using that specific branding. Obviously get the domain name CuratingSusan.com.
c) Make a fun avatar that’s memorable and portable across all services. Spend $50 doing this with a real designer online somewhere.
d) Gobble up that super unique handle on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. Use the same avatar you did above.
e) Follow all the Twitter handles in your vertical and make lists of folks in subverticals. Those folks will get notifications that “CuratingSusan” put them on this list and is following them. Then when you log in to other services with Twitter you’re gonna find some of the same folks and they will get connected with you on Quora, Instagram, etc. All of this creates some level of “knowing you exist” — which is the name of the game when you’re a nobody.
f) Post on some regular basis without talking about yourself. Know that if you post intelligent stuff, folks will eventually click on your avatar and read your bio. They will click over to your startup or AngelList page and read up on you.
STEP Three: target the top influencers in your space and
stalk bond with them
a) If you are trying to break into curation, you know that MediaREDEF, TheSkimm, Inside, and Brain Pickings are all focused on curation. Figure out who works at those companies, perhaps who has invested in them, and follow them across social media.
b) Once you have your targets, turn on mobile notifications for them on Twitter and fist bump them with a favorite (star) when they say something clever. Reply back to them intelligently and comment on their blog.
c) Watch videos of those targets on YouTube and then write blog posts about their talks and interviews.
d) Subscribe to Google Alerts about and RSS feeds of those targets companies. When they have news, comment on them in an intelligent way, write blog posts about that news, or Tweet about that company.
These three steps will take about an hour or two per day. They will make you a known person, which then sets you up for success.
I’ve watched new founders like Danielle from Mattermark and Ryan from Product Hunt do this firsthand over the years. No one knew them or their startups, but they followed this playbook and now are moving through the funnel. In fact, I’d say they are both making the move from known to notable — which is NOT easy. They both have a solid chance of becoming sought after in 2015 — provided they focus on their products.
Getting on people’s radar in a credible way isn’t easy, but if you follow the rules above exactly as I’ve described them you will easily become well known by everyone in the circle you are trying to break into. Just be fascinated by other people and their work, and as the adage goes, they will become fascinated by you.
Oh my, 1,000 words already… if I keep this pace up, I think I will have written 365,000 words by the end of the year. How many words are there in a book, I wonder?