Timothy Ferriss wrote The 4-Hour Workweek, chronicling how he turned his sports nutritional supplements company, BrainQUICKEN, from an 80-hour-a-week time suck to a four-hour-a week “muse” by leveraging automation, virtual assistants and relentless de-cluttering.
As a New York Times bestselling author with a six-figure Twitter following, Mr. Ferriss is a high-profile entrepreneur, yet he has rarely used his personal brand to promote BrainQUICKEN, which he sold last year. I asked Mr. Ferriss about the pitfalls of personal branding over branding a business.
Question: You have one of the best-read blogs in business, with hundreds of thousands of followers, yet you rarely used your personal platform to promote your business. Why not?
Answer: Unless you’re in one of a handful of businesses like public speaking, I think managing and growing a personal brand can be a huge distraction for company founders. I see all of these entrepreneurs trying to collect Twitter followers, and it reminds me of a matador waving a red flag in front of a bull. In this case, the founders are the bull. The bullfighter moves the flag away, and the bull comes up with nothing but air.
Steve Jobs has a personal brand, but it is Apple’s product design that makes it such a valuable company. He isn't jumping on FourSquare to develop his “personal brand.”
Q: I understand you do some angel advising and investing nowadays. Would you go so far as to avoid investing in, or advising, CEOs who put their personal brand ahead of their company brand?
A: There is room for ego in a start-up — it's necessary, I think — but there is no room for a megalomaniac.
Take a company like Evernote (disclosure: Mr. Ferriss advises Evernote), whose CEO is Phil Libin. Mr. Libin isn’t out building a personal brand at the expense of his company. He has said that every available dollar they have goes into product design instead of public relations and marketing. In a digital world, better product ends up equalling PR and marketing, but not vice versa. This is, first and foremost, the attitude more founders should have.
Aaron Patzer is the founder of Mint.com and stylistically provides a sharp contrast to Mr. Libin. Aaron is a much more public guy. Both styles can work, but I believe the product has to come first. People miss this. Mint had and has a great product. Then Aaron poured gasoline on the fire.
Q: In addition to founders who are obsessed with the usability of their product, what else do you look for when picking companies to advise and invest in?
A: I try to avoid things that are too trendy. They tend to be overvalued. I look for a capital-efficient business model that is predictable — they know their cost-per-customer — and has the potential to scale.
Timothy Ferriss’s coming book is called The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company. Follow him on Twitter @JohnWarrillow.