You’re part of an elite group of builders, creators and innovators who have accomplished something that few can claim: You’ve founded a company. Now, the challenge of standing out in the crowd begins. How you differentiate yourself counts. Building a brand and growing a business can be expensive, it can be time-consuming but you have a key advantage and a secret strategy, one that will set you apart no matter your industry, no matter your product or your company size.

You have a story and it’s one of your most valuable assets. In Founder Brand, marketing expert, Dave Gerhardt reveals how to build your brand by positioning yourself as the story, the heart and the soul of your business, this is a tactical guidebook that first shows you how to tell your story and then how to put your story to use as a marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how social media provides a bridge between you and your customers, the platforms that are appropriate for your business and how to measure results to truly determine value. This book is the ultimate resource for founders, CEOs and marketing teams trying to find their company’s niche, strategizing for the future, and creating brand awareness that establishes the credibility and trust your product deserves. Here is my conversation with Dave Gerhardt.

Welcome into The Author Hour, I’m your host Benji Block and today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Dave Gerhardt who has just released a brand-new book titled, Founder Brand: Turn Your Story Into Your Competitive Advantage. Dave, thank you for being here, glad to have you on Author Hour.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, thanks for having me and shout out to the team at Scribe for helping me get this book out there. I’m excited. I felt like this would never happen when we first started, it was like November of last year and I’m like, “Cool, when can we publish?” They’re like, “You know, how about 18 months from now, buddy? Relax.”

Benji Block: Yeah, it is, it’s one of those — you don’t realize till you get into the weeds, right? Man, writing a book is a process.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah.

Benji Block: Awesome, well – 

Dave Gerhardt: I came to hate it and I wish — I’ll just be real about this and so I’m saying that I hated it, it sucked.

Benji Block: What was the worst part?

Dave Gerhardt: I mean, it was weird because I typically am not an over-analyzer. But something about it being a book just made me feel like, even though it was a thing that I said and/or edited and wrote after, just hearing some of the things that I said were like, I don’t know, like changing words which is really odd to me to do. Then I hated the process of edits and feedback because when the feedback is not short, I’m going to — I have got to spend two hours right now giving thoughtful feedback and sitting down to write.

Over the summer, I was pretty much taking an hour or two, four or five times a week to go through things and it just became this grind. And I would print out two pages at a time and go through it and make edits. The whole time, I just want to — I can’t wait until I can touch it. And now I’m sitting here with the book in my hand, doing a podcast about it and I just put 30 copies to friends and people in the mail today. It’s pretty cool that it’s actually here.

Tap Into One of the Most Powerful Tools at Your Disposal: Social Media

Benji Block: It has to feel so rewarding. Congratulations on the release. And give us this because I’d love to know, what prompted the book and give us the ”why” behind the project?

Dave Gerhardt: Okay, this is very honest and vulnerable. I mean to say, I wanted to write a book. I wanted to, before even thinking about Founder Brand, I wanted to write a book just because I felt like it would be a challenge. But I also felt like I’ve been putting content out about marketing, about B2B marketing, about startup marketing for a couple of years and have seen that take off and get some traction within a small community. And I started my own community of B2B marketers called Dave GerhardtMG and I just had a feeling. 

I want to create a book because I was not into reading my whole life but the last five, six years, I got into books. I love reading and I love learning and I saw people either in the marketing or in the business world putting up books and I just thought there would be such a cool career thing to have. The idea of — social media is great, podcasting is great, all this digital stuff is great but to put some of my ideas and thoughts down into something physical that I can hold in my hand and can live on a shelf? I really wanted that, the tangible piece of it. 

And so, I had basically just thought about, “Hey, what are one or two things that I kind of lived by or have done in market?” I knew it was going to be about marketing, obviously, and I have a couple of philosophies and I wrote a bunch of them out, and then have like a notebook where they’re just going to be scribbling in all the time. People who know me and working with me back in the day have seen that. 

And one thing that I kept coming back to was, at each of the companies that I’ve worked at recently, Drift and Privy, we kind of focus a lot on marketing effort around the CEO and the founder — the founder being the megaphone for the company — and not really relying so much on traditional PR. Building relationships and building a brand through the founder was such an important piece of helping both of those companies grow. 

It’s not just about growth, I saw it create relationships and connections with customers and people in the community that I hadn’t seen in other kinds of B2B software context. And so I was like, “Man, maybe there is something here.” And she was like, “Well, it’s kind of like you’re focusing on building a brand for the founder where a lot of times the marketing team is just focusing on marketing the product.” I messed around with that concept and I was like, “Yeah, this is a thing that I really have done and believe in, this idea of building a founder brand.” It became, kind of serendipitously, I start to get messages from startup founders like, “Hey, can you help me with some storytelling and brand building?”

I was like, “Okay, this is – there’s an idea here.” But what I did was I took the topic idea and I posted it in my community, in the Dave GerhardtMG community, asked for feedback on it and people were like, “This is amazing, you should write this, please do it, please do it!” I was able to even test the idea before we did it and then committed to the founder brand idea. Then really, just told the story of a couple specific things that we did at Drift and did at Privy. Then got some friends and industry experts to come in and share their perspectives on why it’s so powerful and how you can be your own media company today without having to go spend $20 grand a month and hire a PR agency to get the word out about your business.

Benji Block: Yup, so much I want to dive into with you here. Give me just an idea when it — obviously, book’s called Founder Brand. Those that are most interested in this book, those that you want to pick up and read it, is it someone on the marketing team, is it for the founder? Specifically, who are you imagining as you’re completing this project?

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, it’s both of those things. I think if you’re — ideally, it’s [for] startup founders who are interested in doing more marketing because that’s who this is really written for. But also, the marketing team that support them. Because, a lot of time, it’s not just the founder on their own. I think that if you’re the marketing team, looking for different angles and different strategies to stand out and to build a brand, this is also like, “Huh, I wonder if we could apply this framework to our business, to our founders?” It’s a combination of the two of those people, and most of it is really in based on my experience which is in B2B SaaS. But you could take this concept and apply it too, whether you own a beauty company or a fitness brand or you’re a personal trainer or a physical therapist.

The whole point that I’m making is, social media is not just a gimmick channel to build your business on and it’s not just about the end of any metric. It’s one of the most powerful channels you have because you can reach your dream customers directly, with no middleman, through the powers of storytelling, social media and podcasting. So I think it’s a playbook that anybody who wants to become the megaphone for their brand can follow.

Benji Block: Yup, love that. Okay, take me back in your story, Dave, to when you started to actually discover that, that this process that you unfold in the book. Give me the rundown on your discovery and how it unfolded.

Dave Gerhardt: In the early days of Drift, I got hired as the first marketing person at Drift. Drift today has a couple, probably three or 400 employees, offices all over the world. I was one of the first marketing people there and the founders hired me early on before they even launched their product. The goal was to really build an audience for the company, so they weren’t ready to launch it but in six months, when they launched, we wanted to have a waiting list and interested people to actually launch to. 

The challenge is like, “Well, what the heck are we going to do for six months if we’re not talking about our product yet?” The founders in particular, David, the CEO, he’s a very well-known founder in this space, the space that you represent which is like marketing and sales tech. He was the former chief product officer at HubSpot, which is a company that a lot of people knew.

Benji Block: Yup.

Dave Gerhardt: He had kind of already amassed a pretty significant following on Twitter and he had become a popular person to follow for things about product management and startups and being an entrepreneur. When it came to me having to build an audience for the company, it was like, “Well, nobody knows what Drift is yet but everybody knows the CEO, David Cancel, we should double down on that.”

And so it was actually he and Shaw who wrote the forward to the book. He was an advisor to Drift and he was like — I spent some time with him in the early days, he’s like, “Look, there’s lots of different ways you could take this. David has a brand and it’s bubbling in B2B SaaS, you should double down on that and make that the channel.”

We spent – he was a very… I don’t want to say provocative, I don’t think he was saying anything like controversial, but he was having controversial takes about sales and marketing in the startup space, which played really well. Then he started to blog on Medium and then we started this podcast called Seeking Wisdom. I had initially started the podcast just to interview David and we were going to go ghostwrite articles and stuff for him. 

We put him alone in a room to record a podcast but it was really awkward for him and really uncomfortable just sitting in a room like, “Hey, marketing.” I told him to rant about topics and I’m writing about it, this is weird. I eventually came in and I was like, “Okay, how about, I’ll interview you and we’ll cut my side of the audio out because nobody knows who am I, nobody wants to hear me on this podcast.” It morphed into this amazing conversation and we were like, let’s run this as a podcast.

He had this idea to call it Seeking Wisdom because his mission’s going to be this lifelong learner. So we launched Seeking Wisdom, and between social and Seeking Wisdom, the podcast, we started to build this unbelievable connection with a community of sales and marketing people well before we launched our product at Drift. So we did that for months and like obviously, we don’t have all the time in the world to go through all the nitty-gritty details but we do that for months. 

Then, by the time we actually are ready to launch the product, we’re reaching out to these people, “Hey, these are people who have been listening to us, hearing from David and getting insights for the past six months now, we also have a new product to tell you about. Go check it out.” It just was like, this holy shit moment for me where like, “Wait a second, we built an audience, we built a community before we had a product.” And now, you see this over and over again, especially today in the eCommerce world where I’ll give you one example.

I’m really into golf and I want to do something in the golf space one day. I have no idea what that is but I know that what I’m going to do first in this space would be, I would lead with a podcast or content, I would build a community first. Because if you build the audience first, then you can sell the product, then you can get people to tell their friends. I saw this happen at the B2B software scale which is, it created such a ripple in the market, it created such an advantage for us as a business. And then I went to Privy and we applied some of the similar things and then I saw it happen again. It was those two things, I was like, this is a thing that I think more startup founders should be doing, instead no, I don’t like – I don’t understand why startup founders brag about how they don’t do marketing, because I’ve seen just the insane benefits you get from doing it and it’s not just vanity metrics like Twitter followers.

It’s more inbound interest from investors, more inbound interest from people who went to work with your company. More inbound interest from partnerships, from co-marketing opportunities, from customers spreading the things about your brand. Benefits are crazy, I wanted to try to find a way to codify that and spin it back to people.

Benji Block: Yeah, community and audience man, that’s — I don’t want to call it the game now but that’s just where — 

Dave Gerhardt: That’s definitely the game.

Find Your Voice

Benji Block: Yeah, that’s where everyone is. Clearly, that’s where, as marketers, we have always wanted to be, why wouldn’t you try to build that from the outset? I love that you’re hitting on this. Okay, having the founder be public has a lot of advantages, I know there’s also a certain type of temperament that lends itself well — the situation you were in, there was a large Twitter following that was already there that you guys were taking advantage of.

To a founder that’s listening or maybe a marketing team trying to convince a founder, do you feel there is a specific temperament that’s required for that person to have or is it something they can learn? Tell me about that?

Dave Gerhardt: It’s not a temperament because it’s not like 2004 where the only pressure you’re going to get is like some TV opportunity. You have to be a great speaker on camera. Dharmesh Shah who is a founder of HubSpot is by self-proclamation, one of the most introverted people around, and he is a prolific Twitter and content creator on LinkedIn. So I don’t think it’s a temperament thing, it’s more of a — maybe it’s like vulnerability because I think a lot of founders are — maybe not afraid is not the right word but they’re like, “I don’t know, this just seems kind of corny to share these things that I’m doing all day.”

I think what they’re missing is — I’m not saying tweet about the hamburger that you ate for lunch. I’m saying, you’re the founder of this company, you have to be crazy to start a business, right? It’s very challenging, you have [to] by nature, as a founder, you probably have some interesting story about how you started the company or this big epiphany or this big thing that happened in your life or your background that led to start it.

You’re already interesting by default. Then, because you’re a founder, you’re in meetings and conversations 24/7 about from everything, from partnerships to comarketing, to finance, to sales, to engineering, to recruiting. You have, more than anybody else, your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the business and in the industry. I think that opportunity is, how can you start to just open up a little bit and share some of those things that you’re observing, that are happening? And it doesn’t have to be. You’re sharing trade secrets but you must have some thoughts, you must have some things that you talk about over a run or a walk or a beer or whatever, with a friend in the industry.

Start sharing some of those things online. Usually, founders have a very strong and unique point of view anyway. That’s the type of stuff that does really well on social media from attracting people in that industry perspective. That’s the trait that you have that nobody else does inside the company.

It’s about becoming okay sharing what you’re doing, and for people that are uncomfortable like going straight to Twitter and tweeting that, what if you just, for a week, in the notes app in your phone, whenever you have a thought on what’s happening in your industry or what’s broken or not working or some trend at your company or something you’re learning, write it down. Write it out, three or four posts, and then next week, you’re going to have three or four posts, not so daunting. And then you can start to publish those posts and the best part is, you get this direct feedback loop from your dream audience. 

You can see which topics are interesting with people, which content is interesting for people and start to get — feel more comfortable [about] what stuff to post more. I think that you have to start posting to actually feel the benefits from getting that. I don’t think it’s a temperament thing, I think it’s more of like a, “Can you suck it up and get over the fear of publishing?”

The last point on this rant is, I think a lot of people misconstrue the value of social media. For you, it doesn’t matter if nobody’s following you or nobody’s commenting on any of your posts in the early days, because what you’re trying to do, at least for the first six, 12 months of you doing this, this is for you, this is writing exercise. This is about you finding your voice, becoming a clear communicator and figuring out how to articulate thoughts in a way that make it easy to follow and follow along with on, on social media. 

It doesn’t matter who is paying attention. If you’re afraid or embarrassed, that’s okay because the goal is not actually to even get a reaction out of people. It’s to just get yourself used to going in the gym every day and starting to write and put thoughts out of line and mold them over time.

Benji Block: Yeah, you want to have a pulse on the insights that you have, right? When someone says, “I wouldn’t know what to write about.” Obviously, once you start writing then you’re going to know more of what you want to write bout and what you actually, the knowledge base that you have. I love that.

Dave Gerhardt: Well also, on that point thought, I think the best thing for a founder to be is an expert in an industry. So, if somebody says, “I don’t know what to write about” I would say, “Bullshit, yes you do. You founded a company in this space, you know more than most people because you’re crazy enough to start a company about it. What of those things could you start to share?” Because when you share those things that you start to attract like-minded people who are also in that space. 

Benji Block: Yup, that’s so good. Okay, one more sort of practical question on that side is the medium that you choose, medium of choice. Is it just strictly up to — for those that are more writing, just use LinkedIn. Is there a specific outlet that you recommend because we’ve talked podcasting, there’s video, there’ s a million different mediums you could choose. Is it just up to the founder in the sense, whichever one they feel most comfortable with or what do you recommend?

Dave Gerhardt: I really like to just simplify this advice and say, start with Twitter and LinkedIn because all you need to succeed is just text-based content on those platforms. If you’re not comfortable making videos and you’ve never been on TikTok, this is not my advice. This is not, “Hey, go try to make a TikTok channel work.” It’s not going to happen.

Benji Block: Please don’t do that.

Dave Gerhardt: Right, but you’re typing and you’re texting and you’re writing all day, so I think that Twitter and LinkedIn are the best for that. I like to stick there and I think LinkedIn is the number one channel if you’re in the B2B space, but I think that’s also shifting. And that if you are in any business position, whether you sell to B2B or B2C, LinkedIn is kind of like the professional version of Twitter. 

I mean, that’s a very mushy word. I don’t know if that’s the right description for it but if you know LinkedIn, you know what I’m talking about and then Twitter can skew more. I think there’s more value in being — in building a large, meaningful following on Twitter if you’re in the eCommerce or direct-to-consumer space. But I like those two because they don’t require a creative team or a budget. They just require you typing the same way that you would text a friend.

Become A Storyteller

Benji Block: Now, I jumped straight to more of the practical side but you give levels in the book and so I do want to provide the framework that you talk through. You have three levels there, beginning actually with storytelling and then we would go more into the social media medium things that we’re just talking about. Tell me a little bit about the framework itself. Give listeners a flavor for those three levels from a high level then I’ll dive in a little bit to each of those sections.

Dave Gerhardt: I put level one, become a storyteller and the reason that become a storyteller goes first is, because despite everything we’ve talked about in the first 20 minutes of this podcast if you don’t actually have anything interesting to say, there’s going to be nothing there. I think it’s really on the surface to look at this book and to write it off and say, “Oh this guy is telling you, tweet five times a week and magic happens.” And that’s not it at all. 

You actually have to hone in on your story. Storytelling is everything today and it is a thing that is going to give your brand a purpose. It is going to give your story a reason to stick with people. So before you even think about publishing, I think you need to really focus on, are you a good company storyteller? Can you tell a compelling story about your company, why your business exists, how you got here, what problem you’re solving, who is the villain that you’re helping people from?

You have to like — it’s not that this is a formula that you’re going to take and then plug into social media but I put the storytelling piece first because it’s working. You can’t really go to social media or start a podcast without first having a clear pitch, something beyond like a catchy one-liner for your company. You have to actually be able to tell a compelling story about who you are and what purpose you serve. 

Benji Block: Yeah. I do think there is some vital pieces of the founder’s story that you would say definitely include this, and then I guess on the flip side, are there some pieces you’d go, “Cut the fat here, you don’t have to go into a ton of detail”? How do you know what’s important to include in that founder’s story? 

Dave Gerhardt: Okay, so the very first thing that I look for is, can you somehow relate this back to the niche that you’re selling to? In the Drift example, we were building a company in the sales and marketing space. David and Elias, the two founders, they had started a couple of companies together and one of them, they had a successful acquisition and they both were HubSpot, so we could create this story that, “Here is two founders that [have] spent the last decade having success in sales and marketing. Now, they are working on a new company together to do X, Y, and Z.” 

We use that as a way to signal credibility and trust and so, I think you use those ingredients as it relates to your story but they have to be directly related to the problem. There’s another example that I give in the book about Hint Water. The founder of Hint Water had young kids and couldn’t find a drink that was actually healthy and didn’t have like 40 grams of sugar in it, so she ended up creating this. 

I think as it connects to the greater purpose that you are trying to solve as a business, you have to connect into what’s going to be valuable for you to be known for. If I am the CEO of a company in finance and I have a history as a skateboarder, maybe that might be a nice anecdote to make me more likable and relatable but that is probably not going to be the key piece of the story. 

Benji Block: Yep, okay. 

Dave Gerhardt: That’s why I think this is a simple — I wrote this book because so many of the founders that I have worked with or know, so often, I am sure you have seen this in your life, they didn’t start the company because they wanted to get rich. There was some problem, some cause, some industry they were in. The other example that I have in the book is Zoom. Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, was VP of engineering at Webex before this. Do you think that what he learned and created at Webex –

Benji Block: Totally informed it. 

Dave Gerhardt: Totally and so it would be silly for the team to not lean into that as a piece of the proof. So I would say that is the most important piece and if you don’t have that ingredient, then there’s going to be some other why. If your story is like, “Yeah, I am just here to get rich and flip this company in a year” then there’s probably going to be no meat. But I would say for 99% of people who are going to read this book, if they are the founder, there is some real reason. 

Here is another jib, I built this B2B marketing community. If that is my company and I am the founder, “Hey, I am Dave Gerhardt. I spent the last decade working in B2B marketing and one thing that I learned was that B2B marketing is something that nobody learned at school but everybody has to learn on the fly on the job. So I started Dave GerhardtMG to help.” That’s how you can help connect those pieces. And then the other key bullets that I give are, what’s the founder’s story, what is the founder’s backstory, what’s the problem? Simple, who is the villain? 

I love when companies create a villain and a villain doesn’t have to mean something like competitor that you name that’s your sworn enemy forever. But at Drift, we were creating a new chatbot-type product. The villain that we created was lead forms like having to go to somebody’s website and fill out a 13 field lead form so it’s really — 

Benji Block: What’s your villain for Dave GerhardtMG?

Dave Gerhardt: Probably a $200,000 MBA. 

Benji Block: Nice answer. That’s a great answer. 

Dave Gerhardt: But I have it. If I have really thought about the storytelling of a company or here’s a villain for this book, the villain for this book would be a six-figure PR agency that you have to hire. I’ll give you this book for 16 bucks and you can do a better job on LinkedIn and they would have done for you, right? That’s the villain. 

Benji Block: Yeah, I think villain is a huge one that people maybe overlook. The other thing I was going to say about what I love about this whole first section, Dave, is you humanize the leader of the company, right? By humanizing them, we as companies, as marketing teams, we’re always developing the why, right? Why does our company exists, how do we story-tell that? But that still can be very disconnected from an actual person whereas you can explain the why behind the founder and immediately there is a building of,  “Now I know this person, I like this person, I trust this person.” 

Dave Gerhardt: Well, yeah and you’ve exactly brought it up. That’s the ultimate reason why for doing all of this and that’s how we buy. That’s how people like to make buying decisions today. “I bought this product because I have been following this person on social media and they seem to be an expert in this industry, and I have learned something from them so now, I am ready to give them my money.” 

That’s what this is all about and so there is a great example in the book of Amanda, she is the founder of House of Wise, which is a CBD brand for women. Her telling her story on social media and people creating a relationship with her, and hearing her stories about stress and anxiety, or whatever, are the things that you first build a connection with her. And then you’re like, “Yes, I believe in this and then this person is ready to — has a product that is ready for that solution.” 

When those things match up in a genuine way that’s where this is really powerful. I mean, this is what my favorite — Instagram can suck for a lot of reasons but one of the things that I love is, I love finding an expert in something and hey, I started following this woman recently who is really into golf and fitness and she has a lot of great drills for mobility and flexibility and your hips and hamstrings and I have been following her on Instagram for six months. Now she has a new video course out about a six-week program to relieve your back pain. I am going to buy her thing, no problem. 

The same thinking works in the B2B enterprise context as it does in the consumer brand, and I think this is what I want to push more people to go and see and go and build and go and do. They are not just some CEO that just got placed in by the board to run this company so often. Startups, it’s a founder with a clear story. That is why we’re trying to push you to go build a founder brand. 

Benji Block: Yep, okay. That’s the first section is really hyper-focusing in on storytelling. The second section, which we hit on a bit earlier is this social media and publishing piece. One of the things I had a question on as I was reading that section, and you can tell me if I am wrong here, but Twitter helped fuel the podcast Seeking Wisdom because you already had an audience, right? The founder had an audience, then Seeking Wisdom, the show becomes fuel to an event that you guys call Hyper Growth. Here is my question, if you were — 

Dave Gerhardt: Wait, can I ask you a question for a second? Did you really read the book? 

Benji Block: I did, I really read the book. 

Dave Gerhardt: That was your takeaway? 

Benji Block: That’s one of them. That’s one of the things that I – 

Dave Gerhardt: Awesome, that makes me happy because you are one of the first people I’ve talked to that’s read it. I’m like, “Okay, that’s good.” If people get one or two of those takeaways from this book, I’d be really happy. 

Benji Block: Okay, so here is the question that I have from that, because there is already an audience that had formed on Twitter, then you’re using the podcast and then you’re doing the event; is that the order that you recommend? Do you think that there is like a — because you give steps, so I just wonder to you like if you were starting from scratch, how would you go about that because they’re ultimately going each other. 

Dave Gerhardt: It’s a good question. It’s one of the things that I struggled with in writing the book is so much of this advice is not definitive. But I think to me, the sequence of those things probably doesn’t matter because you could launch an event first and you could use the content from the event to then fuel what you go and create on your website and social media and learnings, and “Wow, these were the two most popular speakers at our event and so I wonder if we should go start a podcast?” Or “the person that had the most questions after a session or an event was a woman who gave the career session. Our audience must like that, I wonder if we go start a career podcast if that works?” 

So I think it works both ways. I think the bigger point is like — 

Benji Block: Audience and community. 

Dave Gerhardt: This is the type of thinking that — yes, exactly. This is the type of thinking that can be so powerful when you have an audience or as you build one. It is the leverage that you create from testing those feedback channels and so I didn’t know — you know, it is not that we — the product roadmap at Drift was tied to each podcast episode. And I think that some people can take this too literally, but you start to just get insights and general, like, lick your fingers, stick your finger in the wind feeling, what types of things people are interested in so you can go and create more of them. 

I think one thing that really gave us an advantage was, because of what we are doing with social media and the podcast and email, we had a direct connection. We were hearing feedback and feedback comes in the form of Twitter replies, direct messages, email responses, emails about your podcast or whatever. We were getting that stuff all the time and so we just had this feeling of, I felt like, we can go and create things that people would be interested in because we had this direct line to the community. 

When we said, “Okay. Hey, we’re going to do an event, what shall we call it and what should the 10 speakers be about?” A lot of that was based off of this intuition from having done the podcast for a year and having been on social media for a year, starting to feel what topics people are interested in. Like, “Wow, yeah, marketing people are really stressed out right now and they’ve talked a lot about burnout and anxiety. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we did a session on meditation at our marketing event?” I think that is how you start to piece some of those things together. 

Build Your Community Based on Mutual Benefit

Benji Block: Okay, last question on that section. The marketing strategy you executed and you’re kind of vying for, is one where companies are building basically a media company for a given niche. The question that I had is, you’re wanting that to be basically built from within. Have you seen it outsourced well at all or do you feel like this is something you need to be thinking about as an in-house thing for startups? 

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, I think it’s got to be in-house because I think in-house, it’s just too hard to — there is something about being in-house where you’re also talking and the product team really. Often you are talking to engineering, you are talking to sales, you’re talking to customer success, you’re in various meetings inside and outside of the company. I think it’s going to be the people inside of the company who are closest to the customer. 

You could hire an agency or whoever and I see more of them popping up that will help you build your community but I guarantee you that so much of what those companies, those agencies, do is they come in and they’re like, “Yeah, we are going to need…” They are going to spend the first month listening to sales call, talking to the people at your company, interviewing people, and so I think it is going to come from the internal stuff within. 

This is the stuff to be looking for. Like at Drift for example, it didn’t just come from marketing to be like, “We might have an idea in marketing,” but then it’s validated by something that we hear from sales. And then a designer who is doing UX research, here’s something else and I think you have to be on the inside and you have to have that very open and strong communicating company internally to make it work. 

But the big mistake is, people then try to make the community or audience they’re trying to build too company-focused. People don’t care about your company. You have to build the community and audience around some selfish benefit to them. And so the reason Seeking Wisdom worked really well is because as a podcast, or Drift, is because it was not the marketing tactics podcast. We could have done that but that would have meant we would have to talk about our product more and pitch it back to what we do. 

It was about seeking wisdom, which is the selfish benefit of, “Hey, you as a salesperson, marketing person, startup person, you want to get better and you want to get smarter. We’re going to talk about those types of topics and so invest in yourself.” Listeners of this podcast created a relationship with us and then by the way, “Because you are in this industry, you also happen to be a fit for this thing we might sell you down the road.”

Benji Block: Yep, selfishness will not work when you’re trying to do this well. 

Dave Gerhardt: Well, I have seen it. Companies were like, “Oh yeah, everybody is starting a community,” and so they create a Slack group of 40 people in it and they just send out like, “Hey, we have a webinar tomorrow at 2:00.” It’s like that’s not what’s going to work. 

Benji Block: That’s 90% of LinkedIn, right? It is reposting your company’s blog with no text over it. Yeah, good luck with that, okay. 

Dave Gerhardt: That is another good nugget. People who are listening to this, if you are fearful of publishing, like my god, look at what content is being put out there, you surely can’t be doing worse. And 99% of this stuff is very — you know? It is either broetry or it’s very self-promotional for the company, and so just look at what’s going out there being well, yeah, you could probably do better than this. 

Benji Block: Yep, okay. Final level as we begin to close our time together. Let’s say we have our story, we have our niche, we’ve got some reach or maybe a podcast, social and now it is about feedback. You talked about the value of feedback in some of the events you did but give me maybe two more examples of how you actively have sought out feedback and how it informs work in projects. 

Dave Gerhardt: I mean look, I basically came up with the whole title and concept for this book through posting it through my community. There is a — for people to have the book, I’ll have on page 181, I posted it on February 9th of last year. Wow, that’s almost a year to the day. “Do you want to know the title of the book I’m writing? I just sent it in, any guesses?” And so, I created this thread of people just going back and forth on the title. 

Even before that, I would be posting ideas and so right now, I am thinking about rebranding this thing that I have, Dave GerhardtMG, I don’t have to do that in secret. It doesn’t have to be a mystery. I am going to ask them and so I posted in the community a couple of days ago. It’s like, “Hey, I am thinking about rebranding Dave GerhardtMG. If you were naming it what would it be?” It’s something people that — 

Benji Block: That used to be off-limits, right? 

Dave Gerhardt: What, asking for feedback?

Benji Block: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think we did it to ourselves without needing to but we built walls where they didn’t need to be, built between us and the consumers of our content or the consumers of our products. And you’re breaking that wall down intentionally, which I think is a better way to do community and audience, because there is a back and forth happening instead of it essentially being like you’re standing on a stage and just, you know, “Here is my keynote.” But it is back and forth. 

Dave Gerhardt: Right and look, there is some things that I don’t like to do that for because I understand the balance as a founder that people would want of opening up first. Like, “Hey, we’re just doing some level of just doing this.” But I don’t always — it is not like this is easy advice like, hey, I post a question and people will answer it and they could be wrong. Everybody loves the Henry Ford quote, right? 

Just because people tell me, if all the comments in my group tell me some title and I don’t like it, I am not going to shift that because they liked it and I didn’t but I just think it’s another data point, but that is an example. If I direct response things like, “Hey, do you have reviews for —” or whether you are on Instagram or Twitter and you’re like, “Hey, my wife and I are going to Austin, what’s the best hotel in Austin?” 

Because I have Twitter followers, it’s like a cheat code to actually get a good hotel recommendation that is better than Google from people that follow me on Twitter. That’s amazing, that’s so amazing and you could do that for your business. That takes time, so that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to ask direct questions, but I think that the secret skill is just taking the non-obvious insights, right? 

Which is like, “Hey, at our event Hyper Growth, the break-out session that we did about product marketing was insane. It was the longest line, it was the most questions, it was the most engaged. Is there something there?” Then we go back, we have a meeting, we talk about it. We’re like, “What if we launch a product marketing podcast?” The response to that was so powerful. Now, we already have the wind at our back. 

We have a feeling that our audience is interested in this, then we put out, we create that podcast, right? It is looking for signals across all these different inputs that you’re getting and that can come from reviews on the Shopify app store or G2 Crowd or wherever people write reviews by your business. They can come from social media, you’re just like when you create a platform on social media like this, it gives you your finger on the pulse all the time about what’s happening and you could kind of check-in. 

It might even be like, “Hey, what memes are funny to people in your industry right now?” That if you are there every day you are going to know so when you send out an email and you want to put a funny meme in it, you’re probably going to land that joke more than somebody who has not been on, not been in the community and talking at people for weeks. 

Benji Block: Okay, last question as we close. When you think of a reader being done with the book, the complete reading it, I wonder, what’s your sort of champagne moment in your head? Like, “Mission accomplished. This book did what I wanted it to do, readers are really getting it.” What is that sort of champagne moment for you, Dave?

Dave Gerhardt: I would say they actually take some of this advice and do something with it, whether that is, “I’ve been wanting to start a podcast” or “I’ve been meaning to invest more and actually posting thoughtful things to LinkedIn with intention this year.” I think the book is very tactical and that’s because I think like the stuff that people want is like, “All right, what should I actually do? How should I actually be thinking about this?” 

For me, it’s to see more — especially if you’re the founder because it’s like some marketing is hard but this part is not. If you have a good story and a strong background, you can somewhat easily elevate your company’s brand by sharing your personal story and I think you should stop overthinking that and start to publish it. You’ll see the impact that it has on building up your audience that you can ultimately hopefully benefit from down the road. 

Benji Block: Yep, that’s going to happen for so many when they read this book, so thank you for taking the time — 

Dave Gerhardt: Also, I learned a good lesson from David Cancel, who is the CEO of Drift that I talk about in this book. When he pushed me to really get into reading books and learning and stuff — imagine that —and I used to obsess over reading like I got to learn every word on every page and he’s like, “Look, what did you pay for this book? 12 bucks? 15 bucks, 16 bucks, whatever? If you get one or two ideas out of this, if this book is the thing that’s like “Yes, we are going to go double down on your podcast” then a year from now you have a podcast that’s got a meaningful impact on your business.” 

I don’t expect people to hang on to every word, this is not a novel. You know, I expect — I want people to take one or two actionable things and go out and apply them. Because a big part of this is like you have to get out there and start publishing consistently to then see what you should be going after. And I don’t know the answer to that but that comes from the feedback from the audience. 

Benji Block: Fantastic, I love this conversation. There is so much more we could ask questions on but that is why you have a book, so people go get the book. Dave, there are numerous ways for people to connect with you but just quickly highlight a couple, where can people continue to follow you and reach out? 

Dave Gerhardt: [NO AUDIO] Production Note: Connect with Dave at davegerhardt.com, LinkedIn, and on Twitter.

Benji Block: Wonderful. Well, the book again is called, Founder Brand: Turn Your Story Into Your Competitive Advantage. It is on Amazon now, you can go purchase it and it’s going to be a great resource for so many. Dave, thank you for being on Author Hour today. 

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, thanks for this, and your thoughtful questions have made for a good conversation. Thank you.