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The Over-hyped Idea of a Founder Brand

Well-known founders built incredible products. Incredible products then became very useful to a large number of people, and as a result, the products themselves became "famous".

45-second read

With influencer being a "real job" and LinkedIn hustlers promoting this idea of a "founder brand", it's easy to think that well-known founders became well-known through self-promotion. What’s most common is the opposite.

Well-known founders built incredible products. Incredible products then became very useful to a large number of people, and as a result, the products themselves became "famous". The popularity of the product then enabled the founder(s) to have a voice that people wanted to listen to. In essence, the product catapulted them to the front of the line. And luckily so.

Today, founders have become some of our most important cultural figures—sparking necessary (and often hard) conversations by challenging norms and antiquated policy ideas.

Bottom line: If your work enables you to have a voice that people want to listen to, great. But this opportunity usually only comes after creating something useful.

Don’t forget the order.


Here are a few examples:

  • Ryan Peterson, Founder/CEO of Flexport: The supply chain problems that his company is solving are some of the most critical and relevant to virtually everyone. And because of his deep level of domain expertise, he has become a go-to expert who's helping to move mountains that have previously seemed unmovable. (He’s a great follow on Twitter.)
  • Brian Armstrong, Co-founder/CEO of Coinbase: Regardless of your view, he’s not only built a product that's being used by millions of people conducting billions in transactions, but he also put one of the most significant stakes in the ground with regard to organizational culture. (Read his much-discussed letter to employees here.)
  • David Heinemeier Hansson, Co-founder/CTO at Basecamp: Over his 20+ years as a founder, DHH has been part of radically redefining organizational culture (amongst many other things). Now, he’s an outspoken figure on everything from big tech overreach to social issues to politics. (His newsletter is one of the most honest and thought-provoking that I read.)

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