“You have to pick and choose which battles you fight.” Vivy Yusof, Co-founder and CCO of FashionValet and dUCk said in the third instalment of the EndeavHER webinar series. Joining her in the all-woman panel were two other remarkable female founders: Ankiti Bose, Co-founder and CEO of Zilingo, and Hande Cilingir, Co-founder and CEO of Insider.
Moderated by Veronica Allende Serra, Founding Partner of Innova Capital and Endeavor Global Board Member, the whole panel consisted of Endeavor Entrepreneurs from the global network. The three shades of branding includes personal branding, company branding and employer branding. Focusing on their first-hand experience with these three shades of branding, here they shared the many lessons learnt throughout their careers as well as the different ways of branding your businesses. As they inspire entrepreneurs around the world, these extraordinary women explored it all at EndeavHER.
Thoughts on personal branding as an entrepreneur?
It comes with pros and cons, hang on for a bumpy ride
For Vivy who co-founded her own fashion e-commerce company almost a decade ago, personal branding has always been very close to her from day one of her entrepreneurial journey. There are undoubtedly many benefits from being so involved with the community. One of the many being that it is easier to reach out to their consumers, to market available products as well as accessing networks. Nonetheless, with every light there’s always a shadow. Looking back, she acknowledged that when an entrepreneur is the face of the business, they definitely become more vulnerable to the public in comparison to big corporations and faceless brands. “When there is a personal brand tied to a company, it comes with pros and also strings along with a list of cons as well. There is always a risk for a public backlash, where the ups and downs can potentially affect the business. As much as personal branding is helpful to the company at the beginning, the company or the brand has to be able to grow bigger than the entrepreneur’s personal branding- to be able to stand with or without the personal brand,” Vivy shared.
Stay focused on what’s important
Echoing Vivy’s thoughts, Ankiti Bose, who leads a multi-national start-up in the e-commerce space observed that in the social world these days, no one has control of what will go right or wrong. “Whenever something goes right, it’s usually not acknowledged but when something goes wrong, it gets amplified in social media. This might be disruptive to your mental health if you don’t know what to listen to and what to flush out of your system,” she said.
Taking the pandemic for example, Ankiti mentioned that if a business is affected, as an entrepreneur or a good leader, you would have to make tough decisions in order to survive such. Your ultimate job is to keep the lights on, ensure that your customers and employees are satisfied and ensure there is growth. However, because with such a strong personal branding, where the human angle of your personality is so exposed, you are vulnerable to both kinds of opinions: emotionally and objectively. Hence, it’s crucial to stay focused and be able to distinguish what are your principles and what you are comfortable with getting flagged for. As the company scales, entrepreneurs should be looking into separating their personal brand from their company brand to allow their company to grow better.
How did you battle through the challenges?
Pick and choose which battles you fight
Transparency is a valuable virtue one often finds hard to embody, be it for entrepreneurs or any other individual. Adjacently, since the beginning, Vivy has been very transparent with her customers as she believes that the people value transparency. However, despite her effort in upholding the said virtue, there is still a fair share of cyberbullying received on her side. She indeed believes that it is inherent for an entrepreneur with a strong personal branding to attract unnecessary negative backlash due to many possible factors. In dealing with such, she emphasized that it is crucial for one to know when and how to acknowledge them. “Over the years, I have learned that you don’t always have to respond to everything. Once you become more vulnerable, that gives the public more power to dictate you not just as a public figure but as an entrepreneur as well,” she further explained.
When you take the love, you have to take the criticism too
Ankiti shared that her personal journey has been ‘a true come from nothing story’. When she started Zilingo in 2015, it was a rare sight for Indian women to be in the forefront of startup companies. Hence, what people organically like about their story is the relatability and the inspiring element of their work which creates an inspiring story- “If she can do it, maybe I can too.” In light of the current pandemic, she emphasized that as an exemplary leader, you should be able to adapt and overcome a multitude of situations. In which, this includes the plethora of opinions that are thrown your way. She reveals that “when you’re being put on a pedestal, they have the right to criticize you”. Hence, she believes it is a fair transaction as a public figure. However, for a company to receive repeated feedback from the public who more often than not, know very little about the whole picture, can be very detrimental for the bigger scheme.
Does personal branding affect your company’s culture?
Let the achievements speak on your behalf
Although Hande is a successful woman of power, who co-founded a global online media company, she expresses that she doesn’t view herself as a role model. Hande touches on how different her company branding plan is compared to many others in the region. In Hande’s case, personal branding didn’t affect it significantly as the company culture and values have always existed. Specifically, personal branding doesn't really revolve around her own personal life but more so in highlighting ongoing important events. Stating that it focuses more on the ‘branding of the events and content itself’.
Brimming with tons of experience, Hande begins by sharing that “values should never change but only evolve for the better”. This is evident as she proceeds to share that there’s no financial investment for her personal branding. “The features in write ups and magazine covers were all due to the recognition of their achievements”. It is an indirect investment they made by continuously improving and achieving as a company. Being a woman of power, this has affected the company’s culture as it inspires more female entrepreneurs. It also highlights that her personal branding is in line with the company’s culture; A story that will encourage future generations of women to step up.
Company branding: what worked and what didn't?
Timing is crucial; Invest in your branding at the early stages
For B2B companies, branding and marketing is something Hande thinks should come later, as she believes that the product should always come first. While already having a pre-existing presence in the US markets, she shared that “If you're planning to enter markets like Europe in countries such as the UK and France which are highly competitive, you should consider investing in your branding at earlier stages of the product”. Emphasizing that it is important to get the timing right for a B2B sales company. Echoing Vivy’s and Ankiti’s view earlier, Hande also highlighted that most of the time, one’s company branding is a reflection of the founders’ personality which later, should stand on its own.
Company branding doesn’t work when you don’t actually embody it
Learning is an important component and value for any product in a company. Drawing from her personal experience, Vivy stressed on the importance of embodiment. “When you brand your company, don't be someone you're not,” she said. Vivy then begins to promote learning, stating that the best advocates of your company are your people, invest in them! Opening up on one of their company values which is to ‘Be a Spongebob’, she emphasized the importance for an individual to keep learning and continuously absorb knowledge. Echoing her thoughts, Veronica added that companies start declining when they stop learning or when they “think they are there and there's nothing to change, that they are perfect.”
The content of this article is summarised from the EndeavHER event organised by the APAC Endeavor offices: Endeavor Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam & Japan. Endeavor is the world’s leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs. We dream big, scale up, and pay it forward. Follow us on our social media pages to get the latest news on upcoming events and key learnings.