If you’re a startup trying to land funding, there are a ton of factors that come into play when turning your dreams into reality. You need a compelling message, an awesome product or service, and you need to be willing and able to stand in front of a group of VCs and sell them on your company with a killer pitch deck.
But even with the right message, product and presenting skills, there might be something else holding you back you probably never even considered: your branding.
Let’s take a look at some ways your logo and brand identity might be preventing you from getting the funding you need to take your business to the next level—and what you can do about it:
1. Your design is dated
While good branding is about more than being on trend, having a sleek, modern design aesthetic built into your product can set you apart from competitors. By showing investors that you understand current trends and how to position your product in the marketplace, you’re giving them confidence in your ability to put their investment to work with a marketing plan that will spend your newfound budget efficiently.
Most startups nowadays have access to the same tools, networks, freelancers, etc… needed to launch a business. This means getting a company off the ground is cheaper and faster than ever before. But it also means there’s little you can do to stop your competitors from building an almost identical product to yours. The implication? Often the startup with the best branding wins.
Take Wework. Product wise, it’s very similar to a company called Regus, but WeWork clearly put more stock into building a brand and website with a clean, modern look. A better design aesthetic reflects a more modern approach across the entire business, making it easier for your VC to say “where do I sign?”
On the flip side, it’s possible to scare off investors by leaning too heavily on a trendy logo and flashy pitch deck without the product and balance sheet to back it up. Trust us, VCs can spot a company that’s “all sizzle, no steak” faster than you can say “tofurky.”
2. … or sloppy
Look, we’re going to get really real with you here: your logo usually isn’t the end-all-be-all determining factor in whether or not you’ll get funding. But, if you don’t give your branding the attention it deserves, it will certainly raise red flags with investors.
Think about it from a VCs perspective; if you lack the good judgment to build your brand on the level of design your customers expect and deserve… what else are you lacking?
Accoring to Cyril Ebersweiler, founder and MD at HAX Accelerator, “Bad branding can reveal some level of sloppiness. When you are a startup going through fundraising, the last thing you want the other side of the table to think is whether or not you even considered to cover your basics.”
Solution: invest in design
Part of being a successful entrepreneur is about knowing when to delegate. If you don’t have a background in design, it’s a good idea to tap an expert for help with your brand identity.
Now look – we’re not saying you need to break the bank to get a decent logo. But investing a bit of time and energy into having a polished look when you pitch to investors tells them you understand the importance of branding enough not to try do it yourself.
As Joe Saijo, Managing Director at Recruit Strategic Partners* puts it, “Brand matters. Getting people to easily understand the value of a product can be challenging–that’s where great branding and design come in.”
3. Your brand is inconsistent
Do you want to know why fast food companies, like McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger, do so well? It’s not their equally delicious and unhealthy menu of artery-clogging goods (although I’m sure that doesn’t hurt).
You know when you walk into a McDonald’s, whether you’re in Los Angeles, CA or Topeka, KS, your french fries and Big Mac are going to taste the same. And that’s what keeps you coming back for more.
It’s the same concept with your brand identity. When customers experience your brand, they expect the same experience wherever it happens—whether it’s on a website, social media, or in person.
If you’re one brand on Facebook but a completely different brand in your advertisements or on your website (think colors, fonts, and brand voice), people are going to be a) confused, b) put-off, and c) wary of trusting you. When your brand lacks consistency, it shows you don’t have the attention span to pick a brand direction and stick to it.
Not exactly a situation VCs want to pour money into.
For Evan Luthra, serial entrepreneur and CEO of El Group International, inconsistent branding is a deal killer. “It’s very important that you’re sending the same message everywhere… we have so many different online profiles and so many platforms, it’s very important that it looks the same everywhere you go. You can’t have a black and white design [on social media] and then on your website it’s red and blue… I get a thousand startup pitches a week, and when I realize they don’t have any branding ethics… that turns off a lot of investors. I would say, take a step back, focus on your branding. That can be the difference between closing a check and not closing a check.”
Solution: consistency, consistency, consistency
The solution, of course, is to give the people what they want: be consistent. If you’re a fun-loving, energetic brand, be that brand across all platforms. If you’re more serious and corporate, that’s all good—don’t alter your branding because you think you need to speak exclusively in emoji to hang on social media. The more consistent you are, the more trustworthy you’ll be to customers—and the more likely you’ll be to get funding.
According to Simon Chuter, Sales and Marketing Innovation Advisor at Sussex Innovation, the key to ensuring brand consistency is establishing brand guidelines that are adaptable. “You can create the most beautiful brand, but if the guidelines you come up with have only been designed to fit one application, you’ll soon need to design something for another purpose, and that’s where inconsistencies start to creep in.”
4. You don’t know what you stand for
When you pitch investors, you’re asking them to give you a huge chunk of money because they believe in you and your potential. But if you have no idea what you stand for, how can you expect them to stand behind you—and cough up a bunch of cash to boot?
For Expressive AI, as soon as they answered the “what do we stand for” question, doors started to open. After trying (and failing) to break through with a name and logo that they didn’t feel great about, co-founders Angela Field, Jared Peters and Chris Shaw decided to make a change.
“I think the hardest thing for us was getting consensus. We had had many conversations over the prior year about our brand but nothing really grabbed all of us. It was the combination of luck, having a strong reason to make decision quickly, and having a really strong understanding of our company and what makes us unique. A year prior we were playing with things that were more wonky, technical, or gimmicky in retrospect. “
Sure enough, as soon as they found a brand identity that clicked, other things started clicking too. They presented at Venture Beat and within days they were accepted into the Boost VC accelerator and got their first round of funding.
How’s that for a Cinderella story?
Solution: get clear on who you are as a company
Before you think about establishing your brand identity or asking VCs for funding, you need to get clear on who you are as a company: your mission, what you stand for and what you want to accomplish. Without that information, you’re asking investors to believe in something you haven’t defined yet—and that’s a recipe for disaster.
For Timan Rebel, Co-Founder of NEXT Amsterdam, it’s important that founders focus on doing these things in the right order. If you start working on your branding before you know what you’re all about, you risk burning a lot of time and money. “We believe that you should first validate your ideas and find a working and repeatable business model. Only when you have validated that your solution actually solves the customers problem and adds value, it’s time to start looking at brand identify. Before that, your solution is likely to change and it would be wasteful to spent a lot of time and energy on your brand identity.”
5. Your pitch deck doesn’t tell the right story
A well-designed presentation… allows me to quickly assess the company’s brand position and it’s importance.
Your pitch deck plays a huge role in whether you walk out of your VC meeting with a big, fact, check… or a “thanks, but no thanks.”
When it comes down to it, your pitch deck is, essentially, just another part of your brand identity—the part responsible for proving your value. But if it doesn’t tell the right story—the story that convinces your VCs that you’re a slam dunk investment—you’re going to walk out of that meeting empty-handed.
We asked Andrew Braccia*, a partner at Accel for his perspective on the importance of branding to a VC. To him, presentation can be everything. “ A well-designed presentation helps a lot with first impressions when meeting with new companies, it allows me to quickly assess the company’s brand position and its importance.”
Solution: show, don’t tell
If you want to create a pitch deck that gets you funded, think of it as an opportunity to show, not tell.
Use your numbers and data to paint a picture of the state of your company, and present it in a visual way that’s easy for your investors to understand. If you’re selling a product, include photos and videos of your prototypes so your VCs can get a real understanding of the product and how it works. If you’ve designed an app, include plenty of screenshots that show exactly how users will experience your app.
Telling your VCs they should invest with you isn’t enough. You have to show them—and your pitch deck is the place to do it.
6. You’re too married to your first idea
Look, we get it: You’ve done the hard work, you’ve lived and breathed your product for months, sometimes years. You know your brand better than anyone, so why should you listen to feedback from someone who is just seeing it for the first time?
We chatted with Kaushik Sen, COO of Spaceship, an Australian investment platform, about their “placeholder” logo and the road to funding. For Kaushik, it’s all about inspiring confidence.
“Our previous logo was just a placeholder designed by someone in the team (not a designer) and we told people that. Our early investors absolutely would’ve hesitated had we been married to our old logo…”
After getting their first round of funding, Kaushik and his team went to 99designs to redesign their logo and brand identity.
“Since our first round in July 2016, Spaceship has successfully raised $19.5m from some of the best VCs in the world. Every presentation and pitch deck has carried our [new] logo. We have received countless compliments about our strong brand from both customers and investors. [A strong] brand can give investors confidence that your team has the ability to make your product appealing to customers.”
Solution: be open to feedback
Most of the time, investors know solid branding and design when they see it (or at the very least they know when it’s not right). By showing them you’re open to feedback on your branding, you’re showing them you’ll be eager to take criticism as feedback and use it to improve on other aspects of your business, which is a huge predictor of success. Sure there’s value in sticking to your guns, but if your investors say your branding needs work, chances are, they’re right.
At Sussex innovation, providing feedback on visual identity and branding is viewed as an opportunity for them to add value. “A lot of our members are very smart individuals with some kind of technical expertise, and we see our role as helping them develop business confidence around that expertise. So… we’d take the view that poor visual identity is an opportunity for our team to add value. As long as the founder recognizes that it’s an area that needs work, of course – it’s trickier when they won’t admit there’s a problem,” says Chuter.
Don’t let your brand identity hold you back
There are already plenty of hurdles on the way to getting funding, so don’t create any more for yourself and your business. Now that you know how to use your brand identity to your advantage—and not let it hold you back from getting funding—it’s time to get out there and get pitching!
* Disclosure: Andrew Braccia and Joe Saijo are investors in 99designs and serve on the board of directors.
This article was written with input from Deanna DeBara.