The other day I had a talk in a entrepreneurship cell event at KJ Somaiya college. I spoke about Branding for Startups…

Having worked with a large number of startups at DigiWhirl in different stages – one person startups, 5 – 10 people, 25-30 people and then of course bigger companies as well – Branding is an interesting topic for startups because a lot of times they don’t really do any major branding. A lot of people that met me after the talk were wondering about what branding to put in place when they were really Early Stage startups – like just a few months into their company.

Typically in early stage the focus of the startup should be on fine tuning their deliverable whether it is product or service. Also unless already funded, there won’t be any employees or just the bare minimum employee strength which means the founding team is doing everything. So practically in terms of time and money it is never possible to put in a great branding in place.

So what I suggest to them is to set up a really, basic branding in place. This shouldn’t take more than a days brainstorming within the team. Request an experienced entrepreneur or marketing person to be part of this session if possible. Then you can just quickly wrap this up. Because the most important thing in early days is speed so you can test out your product/service and get enough market feedback to ensure this is a viable venture.

Quote for Early Stage Startups

Remember, all your branding elements need to be created keeping in mind the person it is intended for.


Basic Branding for Startups:

  • Logo – There are a few ways to get this done cheap,
    • hire a low cost designer to get this in place
    • bring a group of young design students to office. Ask them to design logos for you and the one you choose gets paid. Rest get free pizza.
    • request a designer friend to do it
    • just design it yourself!

“It took me less than 10 minutes to create the logo. I honestly thought it was going to be a throwaway,” MacAskill says. But it stuck. Eight years later, SmugMug has more than 50 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers. The SmugMug smiley face, known as “Smuggie,” has developed a following.” Read about SmugMugs logo here.

  • Your Service in One Line – you will need to summarize your service in short. The company name and logo may not convey your services clearly. This one line is important to create a clear context about what you do. This can go on your business cards, pitch presentations, email signature…..
  • Your Service description – This can be about 5 lines. It needs to succinctly introduce your service, USP and benefits to the customer.
  • Broader Vision Statement – How does your brand change the world? This is not describing your service. This is a broad level vision about how your company will improve the world. If you are wondering how to actually brainstorm this, here is a simple exercise given by Arielle Jackson that should be very useful for this.
  • Social personality – Think about your company as a person – what kind of person would it be? In the earlier exercise Arielle suggests identifying 3 qualities. It is important to articulate these qualities well because different people understand qualities differently. There are also other methods to go about this… you can also list down a lot of soft qualities about the person – music preferences, causes it supports and so on. This can help with many small choices that the company makes – for eg: Which music to play at events or which NGO should we associate with?
  • Design: This goes hand in hand with your logo design activities
    • Colour Scheme: Choose a set of colours for your brand – this can be easily done along with your logo from the designer or just go to ColourLovers and pick a swatch you like.
    • Fonts: Choose two or three official fonts. One should be cursive, another can be the main font used in all words docs, website content and so on. Don’t take very obscure fonts as it may create problems for people who open your material on other PCs which don’t have that font.
    • Templates: If you would be making a lot of Presentations or Word Docs just create a standard template for this. Nothing elaborate, just simple logo & colour/font customization.

Once you get these activities done I think your branding needs are pretty much sorted for a while. So you can then focus on getting your business up and started. Anytime you need more collateral like say a brochure then you already have a colour scheme, font and logo. Plus you have your service description, broad vision statement this can help you embellish content. Plus the overall style of writing will be as per your social personality.

Also do remember, that if you in your early stage then all the above elements would not be final. You may be lucky and get a really good logo in the first shot itself the way SmugMug did, but quite possibly you won’t be. So after a while once you have your business running well and you have gained some amount of understanding about your customers then you can rework on all the above parameters. Once startups reach series A of funding then they typically bring in a full professional marketing & branding teams so then all your branding needs are addressed in-depth.