I love working with startups. That blank sheet of paper representing the hundreds of decisions waiting to be made is where my breathing quickens. There are all those detailed product decisions. There are customer/market decisions that can influence how quickly you grow. This is where great companies are built, or not.

In many ways I think it is easier to build out your product or target your first customers as compared to figuring out your company's identity. I have found that there are two schools of thought on startup brand building:

  • There are those who think it is a wasted effort and that you should concentrate on figuring out product & market, and
  • There are those who are assuming success in product & market and want to set the brand early.

Now, to be clear, when I speak about the "brand" today, I am not talking about the logo, or colors, or even the name of the company. Today, I am talking about the words you use to describe what the company is about. You can call this your UVP (Unique Value Proposition) or your elevator speech or your message.

I find that too many startup founders try to pack too much into this short description in the hope that one of those words or phrases will resonate with you (the investor, prospective customer, job candidate, etc.). Herein lies the biggest mistake you can make.

The clich "less is more" has never been more appropriate than in the initial branding of your company's value. Resist the temptation to describe all of the potential ways your idea can serve a ever-widening list of customers. You don't have permission to think that broadly yet. Your task is to build some initial customer traction and the only way that happens is if you target, i.e. message narrowly.

Regardless of what brand building camp you fall into, your initial tightly honed message is your key to unlock first success. Apply that message to a 99Designs logo or apply it to the logo your spouse created. It won't matter, the logo will come along for the ride. Craft a messy message and the best logo in the world won't save your company.

Last week, I ran a startup boot camp here at The Startup Factory and worked with 8 companies and 18 founders and the one thing everyone had in common was their desire to share too broad a message. Want a great tool to test your discipline?

Describe your company in 6 words or less.