No, you don't have to be super glamorous, but Lauren Rieckhoff, CEO of the consulting firm WilyFoxx, explains how and why your personal image matters so much to your business's success.
Tell us a bit about the concept of ‘celebrity founders.’ What does that mean and why does it matter?
After spending the first twenty years of my professional life surrounded by A-list superstars, I was bitten by the startup bug. Not necessarily for myself (although I have indeed started my own business), but my excitement primarily stemmed from the rise of inspiring entrepreneurs who were suddenly ubiquitous.
The notion of “celebrity founder” is defined by a media frenzy that rivals today’s biggest movie stars. And now more than ever, there has been a seismic shift within the advertising industry where it is no longer just a bidding war for the highest paid actor / actress / athlete / rockstar.
Consumers want role models, and brands are redefining their strategies by aligning with folks who have aspirational and inspiring stories. Buzz words like “authenticity” make their way into every brand brief for a reason—today’s consumer craves trustworthiness and legitimacy from advertisers, as Pepsi can clearly attest to given their marketing debacle last month..
How do traditional celebrity endorsements vary from celebrity founders?
Celebrity endorsements extend the brand, while celebrity founders are the brand. Both play an important role, but when it comes to startups, founders are the ones that need to be front and center as company evangelists.
Why should women in particular focus on creating a personal brand around their company?
We’ve made some progress (and we are literally marching on), but women are still wildly underrepresented when it comes to startups and the investment world. Only 17% of startups have a female founder. A pathetic 7% of investment decisions are controlled by women. However, there are a few VCs leading the way who recognize that putting faith AND dollars behind a female founder is not an act of goodwill, it’s a strategic investment.
Female entrepreneurs are tireless in their pursuits, and steadfast in maintaining the authenticity of their brand. They are inquisitive, and unwavering in their dedication to their consumer. For those women considering the leap into the startup game, we need your voice!
Who is doing it well? Who inspires you?
I continue to be inspired by Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway. These women intuitively understood the cultural shift from an ownership economy to an experience economy - and as a result, RTR is dedicated to democratizing luxury fashion by enabling women to rent designer pieces. Sara Blakely of Spanx, Alexa von Tobel of LearnVest, Kathryn Minshew and Alexandra Cavoulacos of The Muse—these women are not only the celebrity face of their own brand, they’ve each inspired and energized the next generation of female start ups.
In addition to disrupting the industry in a major way, the best female founders are the ambassadors of a sisterhood that runs deep. There is a profound sense of “paying it forward” between women, and each of the Founders mentioned above continue to advocate for and bolster the businesses that their female cohorts are launching now.
Not to say that men don’t abide by the philosophy ‘share the love’, but check out the twitter feeds of the most successful female founders, and you’ll see a generosity of spirit that outshines almost any other industry.
What about the women who are out there who are reading this saying—that’s not me, I’m not a celebrity.
You can be.
You might already be! Hire an expert to help you. “It takes a village” doesn’t just apply to raising a good kid. Successful startups may have a Founder front and center, but there are scores of folks behind the scenes helping to keep the lights on and the customers happy.
While you probably considered your strengths while building your business, it is equally as important to consider your weaknesses. Bad at coding? No problem—hire the best programmer available. Speaking to the press gives you anxiety? Get a charismatic and eloquent PR executive. There is no shame in hiring experts to help you; they will strengthen the team and further elevate your status.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from time in Hollywood is that even the greatest of talent needs a great team. The same is true for founders. Build your village to support you, because you are the new celebrities.
What’s one tip to get started?
Be high tech and high touch. Take advantage of the social stratosphere and establish yourself as an authority in the space. Blog on sites like Medium and Linkedin, and leverage social media channels like Instagram and Snapchat to build a brand identity—like any talent, you have to put yourself out there to be discovered.
Also, remembering to stay high touch. Attend conferences, speak on panels, host dinner parties with thought leaders in similar industry verticals. You want to be seen as approachable, accessible, but also aspirational.
Lauren Rieckhoff is the Founder and CEO of WilyFoxx, a bi-coastal consulting group representing thought leaders and startups in fashion, media and entertainment. Previously, Lauren was an Agent at Creative Artists Agency where she represented iconic celebrities, global brands, and innovative startups throughout her 14 year tenure.