Becoming a tech opinion leader: Three principles to build an authentic personal brand as a female founder or investor
Let’s start with the facts. Women are currently a huge minority in CEO roles: 8.2 percent in the Fortune 500; 7.3 percent in the Fortune 1000; 6 percent in the S&P; 5.6 percent across the Russell 3000; and 7.4 percent at private companies with revenue over $1 billion. Venture capital is also a male-dominated profession where females constitute only 8.6 percent of all venture capitalists and 8 percent of firm partners within the US.
While these are systemic issues that will take a collective effort to address, there are ways women in tech can stand out. One of those ways is by elevating your personal brand. It’s how you grow your network and your business – or even find one to invest in. When we think about a brand, we usually think of a company. Whether it’s a beverage or a beauty product, iconic brands convey a sense of purpose, authenticity, and intrigue. But as you’re building your career, you should strongly consider your personal brand. It’s no longer a question whether each of us have one, instead, the question is how much do we cultivate and develop it ourselves. Let’s jump into three principles on how to become an opinion leader in your industry.
Align yourself with a mission
Aligning yourself with a mission starts with you sharing unique insights or perspectives in a genuine way and tying them back to a unifying vision. This builds trust, narrows your focus, and can facilitate access to like-minded collaborators, whether at a conference or over LinkedIn, Medium, or other channels. A female founder who exemplifies this is Katherine Ryder, founder and CEO of digital health company Maven. As a strong advocate for women’s health, she was a founding supporter of the ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’ to guide post-pandemic economic recovery by focusing on working mothers. Her advocacy and values strengthened her brand and Maven’s business. They were the first unicorn in women’s and family health after raising funds from Oprah, among others.
By creating a personal brand that authentically ties to a larger purpose, you form community, momentum, and a visible plot line to achieve a vision. You present clear value to a defined audience. This doesn’t just entail public advocacy either, but also requires building relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations. To give one more example, Éva Goicochea is the CEO of maude, a modern sexual wellness company. Eva has a compelling message in healthcare and challenges a legacy industry by redefining the sex essentials arena for modern consumers, which has helped her gain coverage in Vogue, Fast Company, and hundreds of other publications. Not only is she building a brand, but her company’s bottom line as well.
Attach someone, or something tangible, to your brand
To build community and engagement as a female founder or investor, you can offer something to your audience that helps them grow, or attracts a wider audience. Using the latest example, Eva partnered with actress Dakota Johnson, who embodies FemTech in her films, to expand the maude brand to new relevant audiences. This partnership felt authentic because of the brand alignment between maude and Dakota.
Allison Baum Gates is a General Partner at venture capital firm Semper Virens and shares weekly LinkedIn content on the future of work. She even turned her insights into a book published by McGraw-Hill. Allison’s LinkedIn posts established a credible voice, which in turn brought in deal flow, made her an opinion leader in her field, and most importantly, established trust amongst a community. By delivering weekly insights via LinkedIn, Allison’s followers came to expect her perspective on relevant issues tied to her personal brand. This content model can be highly effective for leaders able to maintain a steady cadence of activity.
Another idea of creating something tangible for your audience could be a tool, opening office hours or hosting a monthly industry event. Lolita Taub made a Startup-Investor Matching Tool that she introduced to underrepresented founders and also has a bi-weekly newsletter for founders, funders, and friends that reaches 20,000 people. At Left Lane Capital, we host events, our biggest ones being the Fast Growth Summit in New York and London for executives, founders, and investors. It allows our network to connect with each other, unlocks brand awareness for our founders, and expands our brand across the globe.
The important factor to remember here is consistency. You can’t do one thing and expect it to grow your brand, you need repetition. Finding ways to make yourself genuinely valuable to others helps you become associated with positive outcomes.
Articulate and become known for something specific. While honing in on a niche might initially give the impression that you are shrinking a potential audience, by being very specific, you actually have more impact.
A leader with exemplary storytelling skills is Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who has demonstrated these skills via Masterclass and other avenues. She consistently shares how she started Spanx from scratch with no prior fashion experience and turned it into a billion-dollar empire – exploring tactics she used to go from a struggling entrepreneur to a high-net-worth business mogul. She taps into the business crowd with her entrepreneurial grind story. Additionally, her niche isn’t ‘fashion’, it’s a sub sector of that: comfort in your own skin and body appreciation.
Meera Clark, a Principal at Redpoint Ventures,is another great example. Meera focuses on the climate tech, consumer, and infrastructure sectors. She uses Substack to share her views on where the market is going and, in her words, to explore “the establishment of a new ‘new normal’ that is likely to define the coming years”. By honing in on this specific topic, she embodies her favorite quote (by Coco Chanel): “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
Immediate steps you can take to revamp online presence:
Start with one channel and own it: Find what works for you – Twitter is witty, LinkedIn is more professional, and podcasts are more intimate. Bea Dixon, founder of The Honey Pot Company, uses Instagram to put a face behind her fast-growing business, the world’s first plant-based feminine care line. Start by finding one channel and be consistent with sharing perspectives.
Follow founders and investors that do content well to get inspired: Engage with them, see who they follow, and reflect on what it is about their content that you admire.
Stop just reposting and start adding a POV: Authentic thought leadership requires self-awareness, strong communication skills, and a willingness to be vulnerable and share personal experiences.
Plant your flag and be engaged: You become a hyper-trustworthy industry voice when others start recommending you as one. Pick your niche. Respond to comments and feedback and build relationships.