BY ELLIOTT TOMAENO
In an ideal world, our products and business plans would speak for themselves, and all we would have to do is drop them into the laps of investors and watch the funding roll in.
But let’s be honest: Our products aren’t great conversationalists, they don’t know how to answer follow-up questions, and they certainly don’t have any networking skills. For these reasons alone, every startup needs an authentic human face to represent it — and this individual must be ready and able to create connections for the brand anytime, anywhere.
Back when I was first launching ASTRSK, my PR agency, it was just me and an intern — so it was pretty clear that I was going to be the face of the company. Up to that point, I had always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, so the thought of putting myself out there and pitching the company to investors and the media felt a bit strange.
Even though it was slightly uncomfortable, this experience helped me realize how important it is for brands to not just be represented by a face, but by the right face.
The evolving face
Early on — especially if you’re the sole founder of your startup — you will likely be confronted by a scenario similar to mine: You’ll be the face out of necessity. It might be nerve-wracking, but this is actually the perfect time for you to be in this role. VCs are used to working with humble founders and hoodie-clad product builders. (Bonus points if you’re both.)
But as your startup grows and begins expanding its reach, it’s smart to highlight other members of your team who can effectively and accurately convey niche areas. For example, if you have an interview with a tech-focused publication, featuring your CTO as the face of the brand is likely the best choice.
Things can get a little awkward if your startup has multiple co-founders, but with some strategic thinking, it shouldn’t be too tricky to decide who the right face is. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve created a new makeup line, and your executive team features two men and one woman. In this scenario, the woman should probably be your face. Similarly, if you’re a fitness startup and one co-founder is in much better shape than the others, consider making him or her your brand’s face.
What makes a face?
It’s always best when the face’s personal brand matches the company’s brand. Frameri, an eyewear startup ASTRSK works with, is a perfect example of this. Its founder was shot in the eye at a young age, and his family couldn’t afford for him to own multiple pairs of glasses. He created a company that offers affordable interchangeable lenses and lots of fashionable frame options. Everybody loves a good “I made this for myself” story.
But when it comes to being the face of a startup, looking the part and having a great story are just half the battle; you also need to embody these four mental traits:
1. Quickness on your feet: The face of a startup needs to be ready to tackle anything at the drop of a hat. Investors and journalists will ask tough questions, and this person should always stay cool under pressure. I was recently put to the test when a VC asked me a very specific question about a client. I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head, so I quickly shifted the conversation toward a more high-level topic regarding the company and its industry. We still ended up having a delightful, productive interaction.
2. Careful daringness: Launching a PR startup in New York City was probably as risky as opening a coffee shop in Seattle. There were hundreds of agencies already here, and the only way to stand out was by embracing a unique and memorable personality. For example, I wasn’t afraid to wear sneakers and a leather jacket into a boardroom, and I often wore an “E.T.” pin (my initials) on my lapel. At the very least, my quirks were great conversation starters and helped people remember me.
3. Master networking capability: Your face must genuinely enjoy human interaction. This person always needs to be on the lookout for networking opportunities, and can’t be afraid to strike up conversations with complete strangers. I’ve found that good networkers are able to connect with individuals in a nontransactional, lighthearted way. Try leaving your business cards at home and not e-stalking people prior to meeting them. Connecting on a human level is one of the most powerful things a face can do.
4. A “Susie Sunshine” perspective: A startup’s face needs to be friendly, approachable, and able to project a happy demeanor for extended periods of time. Even if this person is feeling stressed, he or she must always remain jovial and positive — which is easier said than done. To put yourself into “Susie Sunshine” mode before a big event, I suggest unplugging from your computer and doing something you enjoy. Go for a long walk, pick up a book — whatever it is that brings you back to earth.
Every brand needs a face to tell its story. Be sure that yours can walk the walk, talk the talk, put on a happy disposition, and wholly embody your startup’s unique identity.