How to turn your founder vision into a reality

As the founder of a startup, you’ll have developed and nurtured a great idea over many months, maybe even years. Perhaps you’ve isolated a problem and worked out how to solve it. Or been frustrated by the lack of options available in a particular sector and hit upon the perfect way to fill the gap.

Whatever the venture, one thing that nearly all founder-led startups have in common is that they’re trying to break new ground and make a change. As a result, they have very specific needs – and one of the key issues they all face is defining and communicating their unique vision to the uninitiated.

So what’s a good course of action? At this stage in the game, it might be worth considering partnering with a brand design agency. One who appreciates that it’s about creating new stories and new ways of working in order to discover your brand truth, before communicating that to the world. 

Ultimately, you need people who ‘get it’; who understand the specific needs of founder-led startups and scale-ups compared to those of more established businesses. Founders are generally visionary creatures; they’re emotionally and financially invested. They benefit from partners who listen to them and understand their ambitions quickly, before creating strategies that do what they’re supposed to – serve as a commercial driver.

Inviting new people to the table is a big deal, but the following four points may help clarify what you stand to gain if it’s done right.

A good agency will:

  1. Let you in on the process

A lot of startups are surprised and relieved at how collaborative, research-led and strategic the branding process can be. It’s not a magic formula: listen to the client, challenge them where it matters, and always connect the work to their objectives. It works better if founders are involved every step of the way, rather than being summoned in three months’ time for a ‘big reveal’.

It’s helpful at the start to broaden the conversation beyond graphic assets (logos, colours, etc). While these are important, they don’t provide answers to questions like: ‘What could a summer campaign be?’ or ‘How will an event shape up?’ A brand will answer those questions, not a logomark.

Brand design agencies should be partners to founders, helping to demystify the process, show potential and opportunity and, ultimately, create powerful assets that help the business grow.

  1. Act like a therapist

Allowing in a fresh perspective can pay real dividends, helping to reveal what you have the potential to mean to consumers, and how to let them know. Zoning in on any weaknesses is a necessary step, as is stress-testing concepts and asking difficult questions.  

Businesses aren’t always started by one person: often there’s a team of collaborators, all close to the venture and all with different perspectives. Bringing in an agency puts you all on the same team again: brand partners as acting as challengers and moderators, founders providing a united front.

  1. Challenge the status quo

Creating cut-through and telling a new story are central to any fledgling venture. When we worked with Wahaca, then a startup, our first step was to list everything that we associated with Mexico – from cacti to sombreros to tequila – and put a big red strike through it. Founder Thomasina Miers had a new approach to Mexican food, so we wanted to challenge perceptions and move as far away as possible from a ‘safe’ branding strategy.

The breakthrough came during an immersion visit to Oaxaca, the country’s culinary centre. Travelling through the markets, we noticed a specific culture to the street-food scene borne out of a practical mend-and-make-do spirit, with painted signs and car boots repurposed as coal barbecues.

This was distilled into our first Wahaca, with clashing electric colours, hand-drawn typography, light-hearted tone of voice, surprising elements like matchbooks that turned into habanero plants. And not a sleeping donkey in sight.

  1. Offer expertise

Sign up with the right branding agency and you’ll be working with people with the skill sets required to carry your brand message through every touchpoint, guiding you from concept to implementation.

Coffee roaster Caravan provides a case in point. It had a couple of venues, was sourcing and roasting its own beans, and with great success. When it wanted to start selling online, the team came to us because it needed help developing a fully branded and experiential digital platform. The process has helped take the brand around the world.

Many people approach brand design agencies because they think they need a logo. Often they work out new and better ways to reach people, and develop businesses that are strong enough to cope with whatever challenges the future holds.