Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

Bright & Early Podcast

Building Your Brand with Kelly Miller

Episode Transcript

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Brian: Hey everyone and welcome to bright and early the podcast for people building early-stage startups.

I’m your host Brian Rhea.

I talk to entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and marketing pros to learn what works, what doesn’t, and why; giving you at least one thing to apply to your business first thing tomorrow.

my guest today is Kelly Miller Kelly is the author of get attention brand building for startups she’s a communication strategist that works with both large corporate organizations and early-stage startups Kelly is also the co-organizer of tech rebalanced a DC based hackathon and training day for under-represented genders and technology Kelly welcome to the show hi thank you for having me I’m excited for this conversation it’s no it’s my pleasure to have you on thanks so much for for responding and and coming on I can’t wait to hear everything that you’ve got to share for us when I came across your site I’d read a bit about the book that you’ve written I thought this is this is absolutely perfect and so I can’t wait to can’t wait to hear more great yeah in your audience these are the people that I want to reach so this guy I think I think so so yeah audience will just go ahead and mention get attention dot CEO huh you’re gonna you’re gonna want to check that out before we before we really dig in I want to ask what is your favorite podcast that you’re listening to right now or what is the last show that you binge oh great okay well I am a huge podcast fan and my kind of listening goes the whole range from a couple comedy podcasts I’m really I really love Tim Heidecker ‘he’s hours podcast right now he’s a comedian I admire and laugh at a lot and then I also I believe like the what is its side hustle school or its kind of the side hustle of the day I forget exactly what it’s called but I listen to that very often and I also another of my favorites is just start up the Alex Blumberg story which was oh man that that was one of my favorite shows of all time every single season has been different and excellent and I had tears in my eyes when I heard the news they sold that Spotify I was just so crazy because I felt that I was along their ID with them it was very interesting to tears of tears of joy or for me for me it was it was tears of joy III yeah I trust them I trust both of them the founders two kind of for what that decision was and also it was also just I just know what kind of stress they are under towards the end and so I I’m assuming that they’ll have a little bit off their backs but hopefully still kind of taking active leadership positions within yeah yeah I I loved the first several seasons at some point I kind of fell off and I forget I can’t really put my finger on which season it was that I stop being such a an obsessive listener to that show so what did the past season or two of that one been like um so so they’ve had one one was very interesting where they were and I don’t remember the name of the kind of competition but it was like this kind of hackathon build a company in a couple days competition that took place on a bus on several buses that were leading to one central place and so they just had a recorder on the bus following some of the companies and it was very funny it was kind of the height of blockchain and everyone was gonna do something on the back chain but that’s been created but what I’ve really enjoyed recently are the kind of check ins with gimlet they’ll usually do those and just kind of one two three Episode stints and those have been very very interesting okay yeah I’ll check that one out have you been listening to to build your sass no I haven’t okay people are going to be rolling their eyes now because I I think that I have mentioned this every single episode so far but it’s it’s great it’s Justin Jackson who’s building transistor FM which is where this podcast is hosted actually yes but they started it like a year and a half ago and it’s basically like you know micro you know the startup podcast it’s it’s them building their podcast hosting you know platform and you start with them from $400 mr are and today they’re at around 12 K and hey it is it is so much fun yes I’ve heard enough wonderful storytelling I know I’ve heard nothing but great things I’m a huge fan of Justin so it’s been on my to lists list for a while so maybe it was the push that will finally out yeah check it out and start from episode one that’s what that’s what I did it’s been it’s been fun right okay hey Kelly I tell us what are you what are you working on these days so okay so kind of back up a little bit yeah I wrote the book in about 30 days well it was actually in exactly 30 days so so that was kind of what propelled me into this kind of been dependent entrepreneurs I was a member of women make only kind of shortly before then and that’s an organization I’m pretty much on telegram there’s also a newsletter and then solid Twitter community um run by a lovely woman named Marie and lots of digital nomads there but so I joined that group about a week before they had this kind of build something in a month it was the just cuss word effing ship it challenge and zoom I like it yes so I so for a while for that entire month it was just building and writing this book and so ever since and so that was also just really again got me introduced to this very exciting world which led me to learn about people like Justin for example and to meet people like yourself so um so that was just in October so since then so since I launched the book I I’ve also I’ve just kind of been raining in my love of working with especially early-stage founders so I’m advising early-stage startups you’ll see very recently I launched office hours on my Twitter at Kelly F mill but I did see that that is immediately retweeted it was like this is super cool yeah yeah that’s awesome oh no of course it’s um it’s it’s what I love to do those are the common whenever I met these kind of happy hours their networking events that DC I end up just talking to one founder and they probably want to get away from me after learning about this journey and what I found is that a lot of people you just get so kind of hyper focused on your product yourself so you really need the communications help but um we can get into that in a second but what I’m working on now is kind of continuing to connect with founders and help them which kind of their communications journey their everything from PR to marketing needs and also so advise a couple companies have been also through office hours and then in the in the fall or in actually kind of late summer I’m going to work for I’m gonna be an advisor for a cohort at Vanetta project in DC which is an organization that I really admire it’s kind of a capital platform that connects it kind of connects funds and then these promising female founders so that’ll be a more in person endeavor whereas everything else kind of been digitally so that’s kind of in the in one bucket and then also I definitely want to kind of keep growing the book a lot of feedback that I certainly got was that people found the worksheets very helpful and was almost kind of an afterthought after I had kind of written the book in this 30-day fury and yeah and so but but one thing that I’ve heard over and over is how helpful the worksheets are so that’s definitely something that is kind of on my a on my radar for next steps kind of build that out to kind of make Wilbur make something more hands-on yeah what were people saying that they found most helpful about them I think it’s just with communications in general so many people are just starting with total blank page syndrome it’s they know their product in and out but they don’t know how to talk about it and and what the worksheets did is it gave you a good starting point and so and I think there’s just a lot of a lot of different aspects of your brand of your communication strategy that can be really just kind of Q & A and you just have to have the right questions you have to be asking yourself the right questions and so that’s where something like a worksheet will come in so I’d love to do more of those yeah I feel like that’s that’s something that’s so I mean when I do product consulting for people or the sort of thing that you’re talking about right now I feel like that’s one of the really helpful things especially for solo founders is just having somebody else asked a question yeah it somehow gets the knowledge that you’ve already got dug down in there but you it’s just almost impossible to objectively ask yourself the right questions I could see that being that being super helpful yeah it’s really hard to take a step back again it’s I mean especially technical founders where you’re not only just kind of in though what does my product do you I mean you’re in the code all day and so it’s just like there’s really no I mean that’s just it’s such you’re in such some microcosm of what your products can how your product can help the world and so it’s really easy I feel like to just get kind of distracted and and a little bit too caught up in the details rather than big picture yeah right so you you were mostly remote with your clients where you said you’re starting to you do some one-on-one or sorry not one-on-one but you do some in-person yeah as well yeah so so I also so so my day job is also a I’m the communications strategist at banner public affairs and so that’s where I work with kind of usually larger corporations um and so and so a lot of my work there is you know I get pretty hands-on with my clients and a lot of them are to see base but they’re also kind of around the world but in terms of working with startup founders in addition to the kind of to the more sustained projects that I have DC based startups I I’m it’s a lot of that is digital and a lot of it and especially outside of the US that’s been a great thing about women make is getting to know all of these independent entrepreneurs that are living these amazing digital nomad lives in Bali and South of France for a couple examples so yeah amazing well so so let’s talk about that work that you’re doing with with startups I an early-stage companies I can speak from experience on trying to launch a number of things this is something that Claire Suellentrop in a previous episode that we talked about was just how crowded the space is becoming because I mean that the barrier to entry to launching assess is is lower is getting lower that’s a great thing entrepreneurship business ownership should be democratized but I mean a common problem is like how do I make people care about my company how do I so what are your thoughts on that yeah I really like that question actually in it and what it made me think of is is this woman an lor who is the author of the book making shine have you heard of her I’m curious I have not but I’m driving that down yeah so she is amazing I was connected with her through women ache and we actually were the two people and that in the cohort that were writing ebooks at the same time there was a lot of overlap for hers or more about building a personal brand and and very kind of targeted to the independent entrepreneur and one thing that she really stressed a lot which I thought was very smart was building in the open and just really leveraging a community whether that’s digital or in person and so if you’re kind of talking about how can I get people to care about my project it’s really just starting to kind of scale that those one-on-one conversations like the one that I mentioned earlier like the happy are how it’s just so fun to talk to these people that are passionate about their own projects and so what does it mean to kind of work in the open it’s this is something I did when I was writing the book is I just had a Twitter thread of every single day I wrote what I worked on and you see a lot of people doing different iterations Justin does a lot of that it seems like you do a lot of that and I think that’s a really good way to kind of get people involved and then the other thing is why they should care is kind of just thinking of this question in a different way is if your company description is specific enough to tell them why to tell your potential customers why it will help them then they’re gonna care it’s I mean you’re right it’s a crowded space there’s probably a lot of companies doing very similar things but I think what your job from the branding and communications and what will ultimately help shape the best product is that you want to focus in on your unique value proposition keyword being unique why are you different why are you better and what and how are you helping people and so if you can kind of succinctly tell people this is what my product or my software or my company will do to help you I think they will care I love the idea of building in the open and I completely agree that that letting bringing people along on the journey as you tell your story and tell it well it just builds so much you know personal trust in connection and etc etc I think though one major obstacle that a lot of people have in committing to that idea of building in public to things come to mind and the first is having it damage your credit that your company’s credibility early on like if you’re talking well we have 11 paying customers like I’m really worried that you know some potential customer is going to come along they’re getting ready to sign on and then there they say that we have been transparent about our numbers oh my gosh that that could turn them off and then the second is like fear of consistency like can I can we really commit to keeping this up and our do we want to do we want to give resources to to this part of of our marketing strategy or whatever you have any thoughts on those two things damaging credibility and maintaining consistency yeah definitely so for damaging credibility I think that everyone has a different comfort level with the kind of amount of information that you do want to share I have a great amount of respect for this kind of open startup project and I was just peeking out over reading all of them Peter levels stuff yesterday and how cool that is but so great it’s amazing but I mean you’re right it’s like that is probably the best case scenario I’m sure there are many that have kind of tried you go that route and then it ends up kind of you know it might be damaging to your credibility in some way one thing is that that’s kind of part of the idea of doing that is it’s an accountability thing and and I and I and I do think that part of that is just kind of this leap of faith it’s like hey I am if I’m gonna build this in the open I’m gonna have to build this fast and I’m gonna have to build this in the right way and so it’s kind of that’s part of the process is the fact that it’s open and it could there’s the potential to damage your credibility but also I think there’s a lot a lot of different levels that you could take with that approach for example for the book I I haven’t said anything really publicly about my sales numbers but I still was very vocal when I heard for how true how I described when I was building the actual book itself and that really truly did help for when I launched it’s that I had a lot of people that were following that thread every day or they kind of had seen other people commenting on it and and that it really did kind of help build kind of a core people who cared when I launched so so I think that there’s kind of a broad spectrum of the ways that you can kind of build in the open it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to share every dollar that comes in and goes out yeah and then your second question what was it I’m sorry well you actually you actually addressed it um with the fear of you know consistency wouldn’t we what if we commit to building this thing and then we you know we change priorities or like we don’t have enough time to get to it or you know etc it’s that’s right I mean you you kind of addressed it in well yeah if you do that then it’s gonna it’s probably not gonna go so great you’re unique yep other the side benefit of building in the open is that you are you know bringing on an accountability partner in the form of your actual audience and yeah sometimes things get hard and you you don’t want to give that extra little bit to it and doing it in this way kind of hold you accountable yeah 100% and and but but I really do like that question about consistency that’s something that I asked all my clients a lot is big ideas sound great but I the first question you have to ask is okay are you gonna still have the bandwidth to be keeping this up in three months so I so I think that you’re you know it’s good to put it about in the open and I think that will kind of help you stay consistent but but I also I really like that you’re thinking about that because you can’t do everything a lot of what kind of my book actually talks about is you know there are all these change channels available to you for you know for finding your audience but let’s focus on the ones that’ll work because you might think oh man it’d be great if I was on Pinterest that sounds awesome but there might just be kind of a small segment of your audience that would find the information that way and you everyone has bandwidth issues so if you can’t host the Pinterest success like consistently then skip it so so I do really like that you’re thinking about that [Music] hey everyone its Brian and we’ll get back to the interview in just a bit but I wanted to let you know that bright and early is brought to you by tech stars studio text our studio enables you to rapidly envision validate and launch disruptive new startups partner with the tech stars worldwide network to access entrepreneurial talent and a proven track record of helping the most promising startups succeed for more information visit TechStars comm slash studio and if you decide to reach out let them know Brian’s a Chuck [Music] what are some other are some common mistakes that you see founders make in the early stages that’s a good question I think kind of ignoring communications and branding completely is the most common but I’ve actually been very pleased and kind of surprised to as I’ve started to get to know this entrepreneur world everyone knows that they should be doing it but it’s just very easy for it just kind of slip to the last priority and I completely understand that I mean your your product your company is your baby and it’s it’s kind of easy to fall into the trap of thinking okay if I’m not building it’s not like I’m being stalled and and and if you think of building a brand as hope that means that to pause my coding for the day I’m not gonna be able to add this feature today because I have to tweet that’s not the way that you should think about it but I think that it’s the way that a lot of people do so I think that just people who get a little bit too focused on building out their product and not kind of finding their audience first that’s a big kind of mistake that I see and another to get back to what we were just discussing is consistency um it’s it’s really hard to build a sustained audience if you’re not gonna be there regularly not necessarily every single day but building an audience really builds on itself and then it could be you know the third time that someone sees your blog posts or the either you even post it that you even see that you posted a blog post it might not be until the third time that they read it because you know they’re not that familiarity with your brand now now they’re gonna read it third blog posts that they read that they want to start to learn more about your company and then once they’re there so being consistent is very important and I think that it’s something that a lot of people struggle with yes okay let me ask you a question about you mentioned mentioned a couple of platforms there would you advise you know early-stage companies who are committed to the idea we yeah we got it consistent we want to tell our story we’re gonna build this thing in public but we do have limited bandwidth and so we are going to we’re gonna be active on Twitter and we’re gonna have a podcast we’re not gonna be writing blogs we’re gonna ignore LinkedIn and Pinterest altogether or would you say look anything that you’re putting on Twitter you should just as easily put on LinkedIn and you can can throw something on Pinterest is there a is there a spectrum there of you see what I’m asking like if you’re gonna be out there hey be everywhere yes or is it okay to focus so the first question you should always ask is where is your audience so so if if you’re building a product that that for example for Justin is trying to look attract podcasters where are those podcasters are they on LinkedIn my guess I I don’t know I don’t have any of that information on me right now but my guess is probably not so maybe there’s some there but but if he’s looking at other channels like you know a blog or reach podcasters where they are from search terms or just kind of the following that you guys or the podcasts about a podcast like those are just channels where he’s gonna want to spend more of his energy and so and that’s exactly what I’ve seen him doing so make sense but I think that you have to tear because it’s very easy to get overwhelmed there are so many channels and I do not subscribe to the belief you’re already posting for Twitter you might as well throw it up on LinkedIn that takes that takes mental bandwidth to think like oh gosh I have to do that LinkedIn post maybe in theory it takes five seconds but you know what we have to make decisions of where we’re gonna spend our time and energy and there’s a lot of ways that that can kind of take up room in your brain even if you know it takes five seconds to write that post that to have that in your brain every day when you wake up is that I have to post on ten channels today that’s not how you want to be focusing your efforts I think that you should find your kind of top two to three methods of reaching your core audience I mean them where they already are and that’s where you should focus your efforts I like that it reminds me of exactly where I saw this the first time but somebody was kind of expanding on the idea of product market fit and saying you also you also need to have founder market fit and you’re saying you know if my if my if I’m trying to build something and my audience hangs out on Pinterest all the time but I don’t know the first thing about Pinterest or how people are accustomed to seeing content there which is true that’s probably not a great fit for me I am probably going to fail at marketing so I like the idea of what you’re saying like is your odd you know your audience do you relate to them do you know how to talk to them yeah it’s yeah that’s interesting and do you know what in them really yes yeah yeah right on all right so are there some companies or founders you think that are doing this super well I would say of Danny Kochi at contain at diversified tech GI I’m not sure if you know her but she is one of the entrepreneurs that I admire the most okay I am pretty I am pretty sure that she is in the mega maker slacker yes yes I know yep totally I know you’re talking about yeah yeah she is someone that I admired for a while and is also just a great friend an amazing supportive person but she is very very good at identifying what it is that her company is doing and how they are helping the people so for example for diversify tech her tagline is so specific it leaves no questions it’s a collection of resources for underrepresented people in tech once a week we’ll send you upcoming conferences scholarships scholarship events education education scholarships job opportunities and more and you know exactly what it did that’s eloquent it’s it’s simple and it works and and I really like where it’s she’s cited and again it’s it she knows where to reach your audience to she’s very very plugged in what’s kind of these this beginning coder communities on Twitter and and what a lot of these diversity and inclusion groups so she’s really really fantastic at doing that that’s great I’ll be sure to link to her in the show notes yeah and I think I’ll reach out to her on slack and see if she wants to come on the show yes yes hey so we we’ve only get about a handful of minutes here left and just want to say thanks again for everything that you’ve shared people check out get attention dot Co and also find Kelly on Twitter it’s Kelly F nil with two L’s yes yes in the in the middle of course Kelly with two L’s in the KS yeah well as a Brian with an i i i can i can relate to you anything that you gotta clarify that from time to time so working on startups can make you feel just a bit nuts from time to time if you don’t actively work on maintaining your sanity and so i’m just i’m curious if there are any practices that you have found helpful that you might want to might want to share with us this can been asking this in a way that this can be anything on the spectrum from hey here’s how you manage your to-do lists all the way over to meditation and mindfulness practices so like how to add are there any practices that you have found helpful that you would like to share yeah that’s that’s a great question i try to walk every single day and that was something that was really helping me and i didn’t really realize it until i heard someone else saying how important walking to them was it was it was actually a libre de Bergerac honor and CEO of the bridge which is a they kind of connect innovators and regulators across the country its bicoastal DC sense is still everywhere in between but um she was on a panel in time and i was listening and she was saying how she just it doesn’t matter how busy she is she just has to get out and walk for a while every single day and it wasn’t until she had said that out loud that i realized oh that’s what helps me to and so i’ve been very conscious of even on the weekends and they might be jamming on some project it’s just i try to spend some time outdoors and just walking around sometimes my best ideas come to me what happens to you thanks for sharing that do you intentionally not listen to anything or you go with the flow maybe you listen to something maybe you don’t I’ll mix it up it’s funny it’s I sometimes I’ll just eat 20 minutes into a walk and realize I never hit play planning and listening to a podcast as sometimes I do need that silence that other times you know it’s music it’s podcasts it’s yeah sorry depends okay thanks so much for everything you’ve shared Kelly I can sense it that we we’ve barely scratched the surface I think we could do another entire episode I would love to to talk to you again later and I’m so glad to have met absolutely I’m so glad as well so how can listeners find and follow you online yeah so the book and a little bit more about me is that get attention see oh and then I’m on twitter at ke l ly f as in Frank Mill mi ll so Kelly F metal on Twitter my guest today has been Kelly Miller Kelly thank you so much for your time thanks [Music] all right let’s do a little bit of closing thoughts here first is that after doing this interview with Kelly I went back and found like the mini season of startup on the startup bus and it basically follows it’s a it’s a five episode series I think I’m halfway through the third one maybe but uh they they put a bunch of people on a bus in New York and they are driving to new New Orleans and trying to prototype a business idea before they arrive in New Orleans where they will meet up with a handful of other buses who have been journeying from different parts of the United States and they will pitch what they what they’ve got done so far and it’s it’s good storytelling it’s just like classic gimlet stuff and it’s pretty fascinating some interesting characters a lot to think about so if like me you you loved season one and then kind of fell off at some point the little five Episode miniseries I think is pretty pretty fascinating so from the other wise from the interview I I’m feeling what it was the right like encouraged or convicted to do some more building in public I just in in the in the in that conversation and in even in listening back to it just kind of chewing on it over over the days following I just I just completely agree the with the the the notion of bringing people along on the journey aspects of it just do totally feel feel scary or what what pieces should you what pieces should you share what’s too much uh you know that’s I think there’s things that you’re gonna you gotta wrestle with along the way I just know for sure and the people that I really enjoy following and have learned so much from the more they share honestly candidly the as the more trusted builds and the more I feel like I respect them so I would like I’m trying to find a couple of more companies who are doing this this in an interesting way and I mean yeah well that goes immediately right back to the startup doesn’t it I mean we like Kelly I listen to you know the first season of startup and if you haven’t if you have not and you really really owe it to yourself one at one of the episodes Bloomberg is pitching Chris Sacca sa CCA I mean it was extremely well known investor and he fully fully Boches the pitch it is a hilarious and beautiful disaster and I remember listening to that at the time and just feel like man what a dude to be able to put this out there in the open and it’s just it’s just it’s just crazy how bad it goes and now fast forward a handful of years and in that company is this have you know a great rise and an amazing amazing journey and yeah they’ve been sold to Spotify not that being acquired is the ultimate goal in their case that that was the path that they were on and and they they achieve that and so if a lifestyle business if a small business that supports you and maybe just you a Paul Jarvis company of one situation or a small team it’s either way sharing the journey building it in public and growing your audience as you go just seems it seems like the seems like the the thing to do if it comes naturally and it’s something that I want to do a bit more of if would you yeah you guys hit me up you can either email me just at Brian at Brian Raycom or you can get me on Twitter at BR h EA and are there are that besides like the jewelle suspects of you know building and public companies and the bear metrics open startups page are there some that you’re following that you have really enjoyed listening to or reading I would love to really would love to hear on that so the other part when we were talking about you know related to building in public was she was Kelly was talking about this that the 30-day process of of writing her book that you can get at get attention dot CEO and how there was the the scary aspect of accountability and just you know having that thread that she was posting to on a regular basis yeah that is that is scary or you may you may not be as consistent as you want things may not go exactly as you expected but I do think that the lesson in there is having some accountability and and just and being willing to go for it and it is scary and you might drop the ball and it may not be pretty but sometimes you just gotta sometimes you do just have to go for it there will always be good reasons not to do something I am a firm believer in starting with no and in most things because you know saying saying yes to something is saying no to a hundred things and so I I will definitely cop to starting with that as as the default position and a lot of things with the caveat being that it’s not it’s not that the only things you should say yes to are the things that don’t have any downside you will be stuck in a rut you will be making no progress for a very very long time if if what you’re waiting for is some idea that that seems to not have any downsides or or even even reasonable expected predictable downsides but I think you know the the benefit of a building in public having that accountability in in your audience is that it does sort of force you into movement and you know helps you start to build momentum it’s it’s kind of in it may be that it’s resonating with me so much because in my in my personality type momentum and inertia is just such a strong saying I feel like once I can get moving in a direction and build up that momentum and and and positive positive like velocity and and speed I I inside I I really do I start to feel unstoppable and I have a tremendous amount of confidence even though my my skills or experience in a particular thing may not have changed whatsoever the momentum gives me gives me a lot of confidence and I’m able to move forward on the flip side of that is you know if I’m at rest if I am stuck and feeling that way it’s really hard for me to get moving and that’s just that’s just an aspect of my personality that I’ve learned I learned about over the years and so I am you know trying to find ways to counteract it so maybe maybe that maybe that resonates with you and so to relate that back well that the where where I notice myself having success creating streaks building positive momentum is when other people are in it with me and so that definitely means you know my my in my personal life my wife my closest friends you know in community groups in that way are in it with me and what I liked you know they Kelly was sharing their what resonated is you can build that accountability in as you’re developing your audio as you’re building and growing your audience and your your people you are you’re accountable to them to continue to to do something that you’ve promised or to to deliver something that’s going to improve their their you know their help them make some progress in their life or in their profession and so that a lot of that just deeply deeply resonated with me it’s the it’s the thing that has stuck with me since doing this interview is just continuing to think about they’ll do doing things more more publicly Kelly does this in a pretty cool way and a couple of different with a couple of different projects that she’s been working on and so you should definitely check her out at Kelly F mill on Twitter and and check out her book at attention Co all right that that should do it should do it for me please let me know what you thought about the interview what’s your which are takeaways were these closing thoughts if you’ve got any ideas on them let me know you can find me at BR h EA on Twitter that’s beer a and thanks as always