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The following is an edited transcript for “5 Ways to build a unicorn, more than just a business”, dubbed as a masterclass on “Entrepreneurs on Fire” which has about one million monthly downloads globally.
This masterclass by Joanne Z. Tan, CEO and Brand Strategist of 10 Plus Brand, Inc. was aired on July 10, 2021.
If you prefer to listen to it instead of reading this transcript, here is the Podcast link:
Entrepreneurs On Fire
Welcome to Entrepreneurs on Fire. Today we’ll be focusing on how a unicorn builds a brand, not just a book of business, and to drop these value bombs I brought Joanne Z. Tan into Entrepreneurs On Fire studios. Joanne is a global brand builder, brand strategist and visual branding expert. She leads a multimedia digital brand marketing agency – 10 Plus Brand, Inc. She mentors startup CEOs and executive coaches.
Today Fire Nation will talk about how the founder’s DNA sets the brand vision, how to get your team to buy in. We’ll talk about the difference between a stargazer and a firefighter, and how you build a power brand, and of course, so much more.
Joanne, share something that you believe about becoming successful that most people disagree with?
Wonderful, I love the word “becoming” in your question, because success is a process of growth, not an event. It is a journey, not a destination.
So most people would say possession of money, fame, and power is “success”. Yes, it’s part of the success metrics. But there has to be more to stay successful, and to keep becoming more successful.
Growth is first in growing the founders and CEOs themselves. And that process is never ending. Then, and only then when the founder and the CEO can grow their own vision, mindset, skill set, EQ, IQ, can their startups and their companies grow in a healthy way in terms of culture, products and services, long term loyal customers and revenue.
So for most entrepreneurs, they want to scale fast, make millions or billions as fast as possible, even to be a monopoly like Google. And there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. The desire for getting rich quickly alone cannot get you very far. Even though it might motivate you to end up with money, maybe tons of money, how long will that growth last? Are you happy with yourself? Can you sleep at night? Are you content with what you are offering to the world and with how you spend your own lifetime doing that?
So you need vision, not associated with money to inspire first yourself, the founders and CEOs, and second, your “do or die” team members, and third, your loyal customers. So here are examples of Apple versus Microsoft. Apple is a brand. Well, I’m a branding expert. So I would like to compare them at that level. And Microsoft is forever a computer machine, a functioning machine. So Apple commands the leadership as well as a high premium in terms of how they make money. But Microsoft is always a machine. A cheap version of a computer.
Okay. Now, how does Apple lead with vision? Thanks to Steve Jobs more than 30 years ago, he had a vision and that is the vision of the apple: that we celebrate the greatness in humanity, we “think different”. And because of all that, Apple is where it is today. Of course, you have to iterate that vision. You have to be loyal, and you have to execute well in that vision.
And also think about Uber. They got where they were some years ago, very fast, okay, they were “successful”, but their brand is stained because of their bad culture. And that stain will stay with them and with the consumers for a long time.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
And that’s where I want to move to next Joanne, and I want to talk about getting your team to buy in. Because if you do that, a culture is born. And just like you mentioned with Uber, like, whenever I hear the word Uber, I just think kind of what a scummy guy, Travis, in a lot of ways. Like, that’s my first thing that I think about, you know, as a potential user of Uber. And that’s bad for their brand, for obvious reasons. So explain what you mean by if you can get your team to buy in, a culture is born, and maybe give us another example or two?
Well, it all starts from the very top, the founders, CEOs, they set the tone. So when Uber was celebrating, openly, all this, just completely, not acceptable behaviors, celebrating the wrongs, they’re on the wrong side of social justice, equality, equity. And monkey see monkey do. And they attract people, sometimes inadvertently, but sometimes, perhaps purposely the like minded thinkers and doers. And that is like cancer growing in the company. You can make tons of money, but sooner or later is going to haunt you.
What the teams buy in, – I’m not trying to moralize it -, is what the product can do to change the world in a positive way, not just with your own products and services. Yes, Uber’s products and services have made the world an easier place and more convenient place to live. But that’s not all that matters.
Another example is Nike. Nike relentlessly is making the consumers and making the world think about the brand Nike, more than just a pair of shoes, or sneakers. They celebrate human greatness, they celebrate human aspiration for justice, for social equality. And remember that controversy of siding with Colin Kaepernick, right? He was kneeling during the national anthem before the game and even then President Donald Trump was taking advantage of that, you know, saying that you cannot treat our flag like this. But there are other ways of viewing it, not just about the flag, but about social justice. So Nike made the choice to take a stand. And there are plenty of people who stopped buying Nike. But at the end of the day, Nikes’ profits, whether intended or not, increased a whole lot for the next two years. Yes. So that is about your team’s buy in. You celebrate something, you stand for something when your brand stands for something, you have the vision to become greater than yourself. And that’s why Apple started on the right foot. Apple becomes the brand of excellence. That’s why Nike will forever do what they’re doing. And I hope that they’re gonna keep doing that. It depends on their management. But if their management, if the CEO, if the leadership changes in mind, then they are no longer Nike. I hope not. So the leadership sets the tone, and then you inspire the teams to buy in, to buy in not only about the money, you need them to buy in about the process of making profit, but also about what the product stands for that inspires people to make the world a better place for everybody.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
So Joanne, one thing that you talk a lot about is either being a Stargazer, or a firefighter, which are two very interesting words. So can you explain what this means and what the difference is between the two?
Being nose on the grindstone is a grinder. Or being a Stargazer is not losing track of where you’re going. You don’t lose track of your vision. I talked about vision, that if your brand stands for an out-of-this-world, idealistic vision, it inspires people. It inspires people more than just mere shoes or a mere computing machine.
So a Stargazer is to always look up to your North Star, and align your company’s actions, performance, culture, how you motivate your employees, how you inspire your customers and followers with that vision, and that will propel you on the right track. Remember, growth is a journey, okay? It’s a never ending journey, but you always need to follow the North Star to stay on track.
If you’re putting out fires every day, nose on the grindstone and never looking up, you’re not going anywhere. You’re just chasing after the next quarterly result. And you’re just in a hamster wheel. Okay? And you can’t grow, you cannot scale. If you are not a vision driven leader.
It’s hard because most of the startups, they don’t have enough hours in the day, the founder & CEO, they have fires all over. So once they’re so absorbed with daily grinding the operation they lose track of their vision, – what is it that I really want to deliver to the world? What does my product or service stand for? Sorry, you cannot be going very far and become a great brand.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
The reason why you’re reading this is because you want to become a great brand. And we’re gonna be talking about becoming a great brand, we’re going to talk about becoming a rock star building a power brand, and then you know, hiring, in building the right best team you possibly can. So Joanne, I want to talk about becoming a rock star. How do we do that? What is the process?
Dare to dream big. Dare to think of your brand as a great brand. And there are great brands out there for you to copycat, okay. Think big, dream big, and start with a grand vision and stay on course with that vision. When you do that, set the foundation for yourself to become a rock star. So for those whose visions are very limited, “Oh, I just want to sell my company in four years.” Yeah. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.
But I’m talking to those who want to build something that lasts a long time beyond your exiting this planet Earth. We have Walt Disney, we have great brands like Tesla, we have great brands, like Nike, and so on, so forth. This is what I mean, when you become a rock star, you have to dream first and foremost, and prepare yourself to be a rock star. Again, even if you fail, what a grand way of failing. You did not waste your time, you’re pursuing your dream, you are pursuing the greatest of yourself, you dare to push your limits to get yourself out of your comfort zone. You’re thinking your vision is more than just quarterly results. So that is the difference between a rock star and anybody else. When you dare to think like that and push yourself like that, I can assure you one thing: at least your journey is fun, exciting and rewarding.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
Let’s talk about building a power brand. Let’s talk about vision. Let’s talk about discipline. Let’s talk about execution. Break this down for us, Joanne.
Let me give you an example of the American Revolutionary War. At a time it was a colony and for those revolutionaries to dare to proclaim that we are going to become our own country, they risked losing their heads, their family, their reputation, everything, like property. Okay. So for them to do that, is more than just “I’m not going to pay the tax you’re imposing on me without representation”, they need vision, they need a grandiose out-of-this-world cause, and that is the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”, the words that soldiers will willingly give up their life to die for. And even after the war is won, “all men are created equal” continues to inspire humanity indefinitely. After the War, we are one teeny tiny little step towards that grandiose goal, but humanity as a whole is far from achieving that goal. That’s the power of having a vision, okay.
Then you have to make sure you have a mission: how many years we’re gonna fight this war, it has to end, we’ve got to win this war as soon as humanly possible. It is defined by time, we’re gonna win this war in five years, or 10 years, and then we can declare Mission accomplished.
And then you need to fight each battle and win each battle in order to win the war. So for a company, you need to execute, and you don’t plan the next 18 months. What’s my business plan? Then two years, three years, five years? No, you do it reversely: What is my mission? After you develop your vision, your vision needs to be out of this world, grandiose, like, “I have a dream,” like, Martin Luther King’s. If you don’t have a dream, well, Obama would not become the first black president of the United States. Back then, you know, you got to declare something that is associated with your company’s vision. Then under that you have a mission within 10 years, or within five years, “what do I want my company to become?” Then in order to realize that mission and declare it complete, what do I need to do in the three years, and then in 18 months? So that’s execution, and they stay on course, and you tweak here and there and see, what did I do right? What did I do wrong? To stay on track to achieve the vision, to achieve the mission, to achieve the goals, very specific goals, and 18 months after to evaluate, have I reached the goal or not? How much closer or how far am I from my three year goal? You stay on course, so you work hard, stay on track, but keep your eyes on the North Star and be a star Stargazer, at the same time. For us, we help brands to first establish their vision, establish the brand essence, establish their brand persona, and the strategies, and the structure, and then we help them stay on course. We amplify their brand messaging internally and externally, so they will stay on track. To become a great star.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
There’s so much there, I really hope you took all of that in because it is the vision, it is the discipline, it is the execution that’s going to result in the success or failure of the brand that you’re building. So you Joanne, recommend hiring people that are smarter than you, which I totally get. I love being in rooms with people that are smarter than me because of course, I’m learning something from these people. And I also believe that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So I want to spend time with smart people. How do we actually hire people that are smarter than us? And get into details as to why?
Building a company is like building a bonfire, every log needs to burn to its fullest to contribute to the grandest, most spectacular bonfire and to keep that bonfire burning, you need to keep fueling the fire with the best quality logs. Okay, the firewood. Now, the firewood: each piece is a talent who really specializes in their respective field. The CEO’s job, the magic for a successful or not successful CEO, is how you can inspire and get on board top talents and then grow with them. You grow together. So, again, it’s circling back to your vision, to your dream, because people jump on board, not just because of what you promise as tons of money, yes, that’s important, but also the vision of where your company’s going for the future. Because people are spending their precious lifetime with you trusting not only you as a person, but also your dream. They need to buy into your dream. So to retain top quality talents, the CEOs need to be humble but also inspiring, humble in terms of respecting people who have expertise that you don’t have, – you cannot do it all. You cannot be a micromanager. You have to be a source of inspiration. That makes the great CEOs or failure CEOs, whether you have that ability to inspire, and let them shine, and not be a micromanager.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
You want to give smart people a long leash, you want to let them run, let them allow their genius to shine, give them the freedom that they want to create greatness. I mean, I love that example of how Google gives their employees sometimes 20% of their total work time on free projects. Like that’s how Gmail was created. That’s what other great projects were created. Because you give great, smart, brilliant people flexibility to pursue their genius and pursue their passions, and then you see what happens as a result. Joanne, give us the one key takeaway from our entire chat today, then share how we can connect with you, any call to action that you have.
Number one is to make sure the company is growing on a solid foundation. To build that foundation, take your time, make sure you have the DNA (I call it a DNA decoding). you have the DNA sequence mapped out for your company, and then build the structure, the strategies, the stories, the three S’s. Once you have the DNA sequencing, then you put the meat on the bone, okay. Then you can continuously inspire yourself and your company and your customers with your brand vision. So that’s number one.
Number two: execution takes discipline. I would say most of the time a CEOs time is very stretched. So make sure you have motivated and mobilized experts in different areas to be coordinated, really executing the vision of the company. And then the specific tasks that will lead to mission- accomplished, you always have to stay on track.
We can help as a trusted partner for your journey, both in terms of establishing your brand DNA and then help you, hold you accountable with specific metrics to execute that brand vision for internal as well as external growth, both the internal morale and culture as well as externally attracting loyal fans and loyal, long term committed customers who believe in your brand, not just buying a product or service. So these two things we can do.
And we excel at creating the content that will be based on the brand DNA and then amplify with AI human hybrid digital marketing. So if you have questions, you can email me, info@10PlusBrand.com, or go to my website, www.10PlusBrand.com and see if you are interested in any specific areas of our service because we have a full service menu, from DNA decoding, to creating content, to creating website and videos. And to amplify the brand with marketing technology.
Entrepreneurs On Fire
So much value was given here today, and you are the average of those five people you spend the most time with.
So hire smart people and spend time with smart people. So make sure to keep that heat going. Type Joanne in the search bar of Entrepreneurs On Fire, her show notes page will pop up with everything we talked about here today.
Make sure to visit 10PlusBrand.com.
Joanne, thank you for sharing your truth, your knowledge, your value with Fire Nation today, for that we salute you. And we’ll catch you on the flip side.
I host a podcast series called “Interviews of Notables and Influencers”. Because I’m very close to Silicon Valley, I last interviewed Tim Draper, the First Family of Silicon Valley about crypto, about Bitcoin, Elon Musk, and inflation, everything else. Before that, another Silicon Valley celebrity called Steve Hoffman, who just published a book called “Surviving a Startup”. I interviewed him about that book and a lot of questions because I mentor startups as well, early stage startups. Thank you so much. Thank you for the honor.
© Joanne Z. Tan
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Building a company is like building a bonfire, every log needs to burn to its fullest to contribute to the grandest, most spectacular bonfire and to keep that bonfire burning, you need to keep fueling the fire with the best quality logs. i love this tip! thanks!
Glad you agree, and like this comment. Thanks.