I always find is fascinating watching companies evolve in the tech arena. It seems like there is always a single "ego" that defines the company (even if the company has 5,000 employees). With Apple was Steve Jobs, Microsoft was Gates, Facebook has Zuckerberg, and of course Google has Page and Brin. Within the "founders" ego you can learn a lot about a company and its future.
The ego becomes so strong and so embedded in the operations of the company, it itself becomes the dominating brand of the company.
The days of manufacturing a brand is over. Where 10 marketing executives sit in a room, and ask the question "what do we want our brand to represent?". The seismic shift of advertising and marketing to the user and away from the spoon-fed medium of TV and Radio, has made it close to impossible for a company to control their brand. They are at the will of the people.
So, what tends to happen is the company brand is created from the founders ego. This trend started with the bigger success stories in software - but now on the Internet is seems to be the absolute trend in all tech companies (big and small).
So what does this mean for an entrepreneur? Focus on your Ego, not your brand. You can try to spend thousands of dollars building a brand, but you will fail. Your brand will be built around the people who use your product and their interaction with you (via email, blog, website, etc).
Some things to consider:
1. Don't be Fake. The best advice in building a brand is to be authentic. You can try to "pretend" you are something you are not, because you may think that is what people want to buy - but at the end of the day - you can't pretend to be You. You are the brand, the brand is you. Whatever passion inside you that caused you to create your product - is what people will see. Not your logo or tagline. Just you.
2. Don't be a Jerk (to your users). I think its obvious that no one likes jerks... but it may not always seem this way. Steve Jobs is kind of a jerk, but people still buy IPhones. Mark Zuckerberg is a jerk, but people still join Facebook. The reason that their "jerked-ego" works - is because they are not Jerks to their users - but jerks to their competitors. Both are famous for their anti-corporate antics - but you can see some level of humility and dedication to their users that rises above the "negative" press they get from industry pundits. Its because the users decide the brand, not the media.
3. Don't ignore your ID. There is a certain quality in entrepreneurs that I believe most people embrace - the ID (alter-ego - the sub-conscious passions). It's the darker side of the brand, that is not necessarily always front and center, but looms in the unconscious. Typically, when users hear from the ID, it is in the form of an unconfirmed rumor. If you ask any marketing (self-proclaimed) expert - they will insist that "negative press" will kill your brand. We need to control our brand and message to the letter. Wrong. The brand (like you) is human. Its ok for the dark side of the mind to influence your message. Do you think Facebook turning down 2 Billion dollars was a sound business decision - or the ego at work? Do you think Google building a gPhone or funding a launch into Space is good business or ego? These actions based on pure ego is what creates the buzz around these companies.
So, if you are looking to brand your company - look in the mirror. Ask yourself, what made you want to start this company? What is my Ego telling me (after all, the fact that you think you can start a company, build a better solution to a problem, and build an empire proves that you have a big ego)?
Then, communicate with your users, and they will do the rest.
According to Freud,
...The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world ... The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions ... in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces [Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)]