Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ken.
We've launched a new brand / design firm focused on growth-phase ventures (this is a wide definition -- concept, Seed-Series D, pre-IPO, spin-off of a corporation, new product, etc) so while I understand the "spend as little as possible" sentiment, I'll counter the "many startups try to brand too early and ultimate design a brand that is incongruent" aspect.
This very well may be the case in some issues, but the other side of the argument/thesis is that "branding/design" doesn't mean going through three iterations on 99Designs or buying a logo on Fiverr. If you commit to the deep, customer insights-driven thought of true brand strategy at the outset/early stages of your firm, you build a foundation that may very well avoid said expensive rebranding down the line.
In an increasingly digital/ADD world, that first impression means a ton. Look at Warby Parker, Bonobos, Shake Shack, Harry's, etc. -- these companies engrained design (experience, product, service, visual, communications) in every aspect of their DNA, and that approach is paying dividends for them now. Definitely not the case for every startup in every industry, but certainly something to be dismissed/discounted.