Nobody wants to admit it, but building a personal brand is essential if you want to thrive in a business world dominated by social media. This is especially true for entrepreneurs and even venture capitalists who have only recently stepped out from the shadows and into the spotlight.
I became intrigued by the rising role of personal branding in the VC world by a New York Times article last week that discussed how more VC firms are hiring PR specialists to help brand their firms.
Here's a quick excerpt from that article:
"Now, Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley is one long parade route. Venture capitalists are hiring full-time public relations experts to tell bloggers and reporters of their investing prowess. They publicize their every doing and thought on Twitter and in blog posts.
In the last year, several top firms have hired people to handle marketing, branding and public relations full time. Among them: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lightspeed Venture Partners and True Ventures. Many others, like Benchmark Capital, New Enterprise Associates and Greylock Partners, keep public relations firms on retainer."
In the old days, VCs simply helped make things work behind the scenes. Then Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr came along and shattered that dynamic. Pioneers like Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Mark Suster of GRP Partners began blogging about their experience as VCs and started doling out advice to entrepreneurs. Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs ate it up.
Why did these VCs gain so much name recognition for their blogging? Simple: content creators are the rock stars of social media. And so the few VCs who were generating content started becoming rock stars.
It's not a bad thing. In fact, I think social media has completely changed venture capital for the better. It has brought transparency to a world that many entrepreneurs knew nothing about. It's also been a boon to the firms that have embraced it.
Almost every company has one person who is the face of his or her company (in rare cases, there are two or three). Facebook has Mark Zuckerberg. Google has Larry Page and Sergey Brin. TaskRabbit has Leah Busque. Wildfire has Victoria Ransom. Square and Twitter have Jack Dorsey. Yahoo has Marissa Mayer.
It's convenient for the media and the public to associate one or two faces with a startup. One personality, usually a founder, is dominant. Bigger companies will sometimes have a few prominent faces, but one or two always dominate.
The same has become true for venture capital firms, even if VCs don't want to admit it. Andreessen Horowitz has Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. Union Square Ventures has Wilson. 500 Startups has Dave McClure. Greylock has Reid Hoffman. SV Angel has Ron Conway (even though David Lee is the one who runs the show). Accel Partners has Jim Breyer. CrunchFund has Michael Arrington and MG Seigler.
These personalities have done a fantastic job raising the profiles of their respective firms by leveraging their personal brands. I argue that, without these faces, these firms would not be where they are today. Without their personal brands, they wouldn't get the same deal flow, and they wouldn't be able to get into as many hot deals.
That's not to say every firm has a face or even needs a face. And that's not to say that personal brands were made in part because these firms have done so well. But I firmly believe that Wilson's A VC has dramatically raised Union Square Ventures' profile and given it deal flow it wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Dave McClure's visibility has helped his firm get into 250+ deals already. These are just a few examples.
Personal brands will never make or break a startup, and they certainly will never make or break a venture capital firm. But they do provide an undeniable strategic advantage. VCs shouldn't shy away from the spotlight -- they should embrace it and use that spotlight to help their portfolio companies in any way possible.
The VC game has changed for the better.