Most lean startup experts believe strongly that personal branding should take place after product/ market fit. This is because we should concentrate on Customer Development that will allow us find out what customers want. However, this is not the whole story.
There are two parts in the equation of building a business. The first part is undoubtedly the customer and his/ her needs. This customercentric view is not only useful for the first stages of customer development; it is absolutely essential for the survival and later for the scalability for the business.
And yet, sometimes we tend to forget that the entrepreneur is the second, equally important part of the equation. No idea, solution to a problem or business would ever exist without the entrepreneur. S/he is the one who will come up with the original idea. S/he will offer a solution according to his/ her skills, passions, knowledge, vision etc. S/he will later interpret the customer’s needs into a product or service. This interpretation will obviously be unique and reflect the personality of the business(wo)man.
If we move from a fully customer-centric model to one that has a dual aspect (both the customer and the entrepreneur), there will be implications for the timing of personal branding.
How do we start personal branding anyway? According to one of the gurus activated in the field, Dan Schwabel, brand discovery is a soul searching process:
“(It) is about figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life, setting goals, writing down a mission, vision and personal brand statement (what you do and who you serve), as well as creating a development plan. Have you ever been called intelligent or humorous by your peers or coworkers? That description is part of your brand, especially if you feel those attributed pertain to you. …
Before you enter the next step in the personal branding process, you’ll want to select a niche, whereby you can be the master of your domain.” (Schwabel, D., Personal Branding 101: How to Discover and Create your Brand)
When I first read this paragraph, I thought there were striking similarities between customer development and personal branding. In the first phases of business building discovering what is the customer’s problem seems to be equally important to who the entrepreneur is, what his/ her passions are. After all, s/he will be the only person responsible for the solution, which reflect a big part of himself/ herself.
So, how can we combine personal branding with customer development without undermining the basic lean principles?
First of all, as entrepreneurs we need to make certain that we have an in-depth understanding of our mission in the world. How do we fit in the current social system? Who else is part of this common mission?
Secondly, we need to have a clear idea about who we are. What is our identity? What are the main characteristics of our being? Part of this identity are the values and beliefs we live by.
This sort of introspection is important in the beginning of every business, not only as part of personal branding but also as part of the process that will lead us to the creation of a company that will reflect who we are. This questioning will further help us identify our skills and talents, essential for finding solutions.
When we finally come in contact with our EarlyVangelists, we will be clear about our Mission in life and what we want to achieve. The first customer interviews will serve into clarifying the fine details of this mission in a more practical, down to earth manner.
When we approach the customer with the necessary self-knowledge, they will become part of our vision and they will become more eager to help us achieve our aims.
For more information on lean startup methodology, you could take a look at my other blog posts.