Branding · Digital marketing

As an early/soon to launch start-up would you invest in working with a branding and marketing firm?

Keira Barr CEO and Founder at Ketzel Design

November 2nd, 2015

As a boot-strapped start-up I know that I want to make the best first impression I can while balancing out the potential high cost of what many of the branding/strategy firms charge. Aside from having a logo, I still need to source website design, packaging and bringing our story to life. From your experiences, what is the optimal time in the early start-up life cycle to pull the trigger for investing in a comprehensive branding strategy?
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David Gengler Online Marketing Manager at Fundly

November 5th, 2015

I think I'm with the general consensus here. Don't spend a ton of time on the look and feel and definitely don't spend a ton of money on PR and agencies on a bootstrapped early-stage product. Build the thing and get it out there so you can get some feedback first and to make sure the product-market fit is there before you start dumping tons into design.

Ema Chuku Designer. Product Developer. Founder @ NuPad

November 2nd, 2015

Keyword "Bootstrap". I would recommend doing everything in-house for sometime. Outsourcing brand-development should come into equation later on or somewhere down the road, say after first couple years. You will save great amount of money that way. Because, by then you have a better understanding of your story and a polished one to tell.

Unless you have the cash to burn now, go for it.

Guita Gopalan Head of Customer Success at Stacck

November 3rd, 2015

How early stage is your startup? Do you have early adopters using your MVP? Do you have their feedback? Do you know what text and visuals resonate with them? In early stage, you discover your startup story through constant interaction with customers. This becomes the basis of branding and marketing messages.

As a startup, who you are and what you have to offer is either unclear or misguided. How you see yourself/your startup changes rapidly in the early days. You'll be pivoting often, locking down on a brand can limit you from possibilities.

Go with the bare minimum in terms of branding and image until you've validated your startup and even your visuals and branding - see if your target customers get it.Test it out before you commit. 

Invest in branding etc. when you are strategizing for growth, that's when image really starts to matter. But even then, brand changes can be managed big and small companies have done it in the past and survived. 

The more important thing at early stage is whether you even have a feasible, sustainable and potentially profitable business model. 

Chris Gorges Managing Director, Infinia Group // Founder, Biddlist

November 3rd, 2015

Being in this exact business, this is a really interesting conversation -- a few high-level points:
  • You mentioned logo, website design, packaging, and story. These are all aspects of branding, and depending on your company's growth strategy, they can be prioritized, which will allow you to dedicate time and capital to as appropriate. 
  • "Brand" is foundational -- it's good that you recognize that your story is part of this. Folks above who say to do it in-house or "just use Fiverr" don't fully appreciate the breadth and depth of what a brand truly is. If you don't have the capabilities on your existing team, you're going to waste valuable time riffing on logos and colors when you should be focusing on user acquisition or some other aspect of your business that's within your immediate skill set / wheelhouse.
  • It comes down to your company's growth strategy and expected value / ROI of branding...our perspective is "get it right now and save millions in the future." If your company becomes a huge success and you need to do a full rebrand, it's not going to be cheap.
  • "A comprehensive branding strategy" (full guidelines, identity, etc.) probably isn't something you need at your current stage -- but it never hurts to start thinking about it and populate those buckets as you can.
  • Find what works for you. There's a wide spectrum of help you can seek -- from the Fiverrs and 99Designs of the world, to readily-available brand design freelancers, to consultancies like Rocketure, to well established consultancies that might take you on as a passion project if you make the right connection. You should also be willing to explore alternative payment terms / schedules given your early stage -- which in some cases (equity, options, partnership deals) can lead to the branding team you work with having more "skin in the game" and therefore serving as a more effective partner (vs. someone on Fiverr, who is only trying to make quick cash).

Chris Gorges Managing Director, Infinia Group // Founder, Biddlist

November 6th, 2015

Benjamin, you make some good points, but wow -- irony alert.

Step 1: Accuse consultants who have contributed of "lacking real experience," "not understanding scale," and not having "any idea what you need as a 3-person company."
Step 2: Offer your own advice.
Step 3: Plug your friend's consulting business.

I'm just going to leave it at that.

Gloria Luna VP Marketing - Brand builder and creative problem solver

November 3rd, 2015

I agree with those here who say it is important to know who you are and have a message and image that makes a good first impression to your customers.  This would be particularly true if you are operating in a highly competitive space with other brands who have access to more resources.  

There is such a wide breadth of options and it is no longer necessary to spend a ton of $$ to create some good, professional branding assets.  If you align yourself with someone who has access to these resources and you define a budget, it can be done well and within reasonable parameters.  I would also suggest this effort include a strategy to market your product/yourself to make sure you get your great message out there to the right people.  I advocate that this all be done right at the start so you get off on the right foot.  You can make adjustments along the way as you further learn the landscape and get input from your customers.

Good luck Keira!

Yaniv Levi

November 2nd, 2015

Hi Keira, congrats on your new journey:)

I would not advise you to spend to much of your efforts (and $$) on branding/logo/design stuff. I know it makes a great 1st impression but as you go along meeting investors, you would have to change everything - your messages, your positioning and might even need to pivot the product - this makes all branding $$ go to waste and it is a shame. Keep your $$ to provide for yourself during that time and impress investors with who you are and what your skills are - they don't expect anything more then that :)

Gregory Stromberg Founder/CEO cannedwater4kids inc.

November 2nd, 2015

You need to define immediately what you stand for, your purpose and how you will define success. Let your most important customers create the brand & the experience. Listen to their voice and how they perceive you and the values you are delivering. You can then create your story from outside in. Hope this helps. Sent from my iPhone Greg Stromberg Cell 414-791-2450

Ema Chuku Designer. Product Developer. Founder @ NuPad

November 6th, 2015

@benjamin, I was beginning to feel what @Chris was feeling, but then as I read on your original post, I could see your advice (though pretty long) seems to come from an unfavorable personal experience you might have had. And I completely agree with your points. It's just that it's a bit penetrating to take in.

Mohammad Siddiqui Staff Completions Engineer (Wolfcamp) at EP ENERGY

November 5th, 2015

Keira, my two cents is that it depends on the industry you are in. for example, I am in the oil and gas industry (currently working on a product in my free time as a hobby in the evening), but in my industry (Oil and Gas), there is fierce competition in products and a lot of companies are advertising lots of things in order for you to even get a change to work/access Decision Professionals (generally engineers) you have to have good marketing for them to even give you a shot as a beta user. if it looks non polished, it gives it another reason for impeding growth. We are planning a hearty budget for marketing (10-20K). I understand there are couple school of thoughts on this but in the oil and gas industry it is a must and not an option. Please evaluate your industry and talk to people who are experienced in your industry to get insight, then make a decision.


Good luck!

Mo