Lesson on Branding, VC, & Pursuing Personal Passions

Last week E@C sponsored the “Celebration Conference” bringing back loads of entrepreneurial minded alumni to speak on a variety of topics. Being a road warrior for E@D I meandered around campus to see who had the most intriguing talks (and who gave out free food!) – Which ultimately brought me to collegetown’s Popshop for a presentation from the ‘old school’ and the ‘new school’ regarding startups, funding, and perspective.

In the red shorts it was JB Osborne from Red Antler, and representing the ‘new school’ of thought. I remember that I had met JB two years prior during a trip to Brooklyn for some career advice. Red Antler, a now well-recognized brand management and consulting group, was nestled in the hipster ‘hood of Dumbo in a chic loft packed with art, designers and skinny jeans. After an informational interview JB told me that he anticipates only more growth to come in the next couple years. Fast forward two years later and JB announced that his firm has grown from 6 to 43 people and they’re constantly outgrowing their offices.

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JB Osborne from Red Antler

What spawned such growth? JB talked about leveraging ‘creative destruction’ in the advertising world. Creative Destruction is when some new form of development arises from the destruction of some prior traditional order, or intentionally breaking the rules because you know there’s a better way to do something. JB saw this during his time at a traditional large ad agency that felt sluggish at times and maybe missed the boat on early venture marketing opportunities. More perspective was gained when JB left to grow a foreign agency here in New York. After some time he realized that he wasn’t interested in advertising itself, “That’s downstream. You can sell more of something, sure, but that something could be broken. You shouldn’t need to sell so hard, instead people should see the value and naturally come to you.” This “a-ha!” moment led him to break off yet again to start his own project focused on brand consulting specifically for startups. Scott Belsky ’02 founder of online portfolio platform Behance was JB’s first customer. “Use that Cornell network when starting out, you’d be surprised at how many other grads will support you” he notes. “Additionally, remember it’s not all about the paycheck, that can trouble relationships, instead at Red Antler we sometimes get paid in equity; this makes the statement of  ‘hey, were all in this together striving for the same goal.’ And that can reassure skeptical clients.”

At the end of the day – JB stressed that all too often overeager marketers and designers jump the gun on the creative side of business development. They’ll immediately start going for hooking consumers in what could be the wrong voice. Take a step back and look at your firm holistically, or from a macro perspective. Ask yourself the following: who is my target? What is my core idea that speaks to a need? And what design experience do I want to consistently ring out with my brand? After this, it’s not “getting a designer” it’s giving that designer something easy and tangible to create off of. Once you can capture that feeling, that emotion you want to your brand associated with, the customers should naturally follow.

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Eric Young of Canaan Partners

After doing his part for Jack Welch, Young went off on his own with Canaan Partners a VC focused on technology in healthcare that now has evolved into ownership in the spheres of digital media, mobile communication, and enterprise data centers. Mostly involved in Series A seed funding, the firm boasts an impressive 9 funds totaling more than $3.5 billion. Young talked about how we all know ‘entrepreneurship’ has become such a buzz word and major trend amongst capitalists, but it’s not to be knocked. Finally the startup infrastructure is developing where it’s easier and easier for visionaries to monetize their ideas and create! Young dropped words of wisdom and things to anticipate as we leave the Slope; this included

  • Cornellians, take advantage of the growing Big Red presence in NYC specifically technology startups.
  • Women entrepreneurs are more prevalent than ever. Feel free to “lean in” ladies.
  • Pursuing an MBA? Be mindful of the culture for startups in the school you choose. Innovation lab hotspots like Stanford, support academics up and leaving for a stint to follow personal ventures and that attitude is definitely felt in the student body.

My final takeaways were positive. I wanted to grab up this month’s edition of Entrepreneur and start hashing out my new ideas. JB taught me the having a solid brand is what separates good from great and Eric Young assured me that one can always leave the corporate ladder to pursue personal dreams. There’s not one path to succeeding with your startup – what may look and feel wrong could be totally fruitful at the end of the day. Just keep pushing.

 

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