We sat down with Lee Lam, Bright Space Specialist Adviser in Start-ups and Organisational Strategy, to get her thoughts on two areas we see start-ups struggle with; early-stage communications to stakeholders and brand reputation.
Last week Lee Lam, Bright Space Specialist Adviser in Start-ups and Organisational Strategy, was the guest editor for our Friday Five newsletter. Lee shared insights into the early-stage priorities for start-up strategy, reputational risk and AI. You can read her weekly wrap-up here.
So valuable were Lee's thoughts that we sat down with her to continue the conversation on two areas we see start-ups struggle with; early-stage communications to stakeholders and brand reputation.
“The first 12 months are tumultuous at best” Lee Lam says, “the company you launch on day one, is not the same company on day 365.”
“We've really moved away from this idea that the brand externally shown to the market is totally separate than the identity and the culture within the company.”
So, where to start? Lee explains.
Start-ups tend to fall into two camps Lee says, “one that spends way too long putting together their logo and branding, and one that doesn't even think about it.”
“It’s important to go to market with a set message. It’s very difficult to launch when you're not precise with what you stand for as a company, and what it is you're selling.”
Historically there’s been more focus on product over value or as Lee puts it “selling the thing rather than the company.” But that's working less and less she says because “people are now more sensitive to what brands stand for.”
“As a start-up you need to engage with the people who you're trying to take on the journey with you. Because some of your first customers will be people who believe in you as the company and the brand, more necessarily, than the product or service you're selling.”
“The biggest example of it was during the pandemic when we started seeing companies having to pull on a lot of the soft skills and the goodwill that they had for their brand. The companies that survived and thrived during that time were the ones who had a crystal-clear message of what they stood for.”
Who takes priority?
When dealing with your three key stakeholders; customers, investors and employees, it can be tricky to know where to prioritise time. Lee believes your team is the “core” because “it’s the engine, right? If your team really understand what it is you're about, they will better commit their time and energy to the job.”
“It’s also the first element an investor will look at. They'll assess a team that's working cohesively, and together on the same logic. Once you've got the team in place, the investors see the team as strong, then you're much more confident to go out to customers.”
For example, Lee warns what she sees time and time again, is companies building fast, focused on externals, but someone who's unhappy inside, drops a truth bomb, and says this is not how it appears on the outside.
"Then all the reputation that you've got is washed away” she says. "This doesn't just apply to start-ups. Companies do not understand the significance of reputational risk as much as they should.”
“Most reputational risk happens from how you treat your people. It's not a customer complaint.”
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