10 July 2017
“Jamey Stegmaier is an asshole. I’ll never buy anything from Stonemaier Games.”
I’ve seen a few people say this over the years on social media, and it stings every time. It stings that someone perceives me that way or that I may have acted in such a way to deserve those harsh words.
It’s not just personal, though–it’s business. If my behavior causes Stonemaier to lose a customer, that’s potentially hundreds of dollars of lost revenue. This is the danger of having a company so closely tied to one person, whether they’re a leader, an advocate, or an endorser.
Take the Livestrong charity, for example. Remember those yellow wristbands that support cancer survivors? Before Lance Armstrong became entangled with doping accusations, Livestrong had close to $16 million in annual contributions. Just a few years later after the drug tests were confirmed, donations dropped to $3.8 million.
It goes beyond social media and personal scandals, though: When the success of an organization significantly depends on a single person, it’s really hard to scale up. You can’t be everywhere at once all the time (physically and digitally). And, worst-case scenario, what if that person is hit by a truck tomorrow?
So why would someone allow their personal identity to become so closely entangled with a product, company, or Kickstarter project? Because it can have a hugely positive impact on customers.
I’ll never forget a story someone told me 5 years ago. They had recently bought Mice & Mystics from Plaid Hat Games, but one of the miniatures was missing. They e-mailed customer service, and within a few minutes they had a response from the CEO himself, Colby Dauch. That’s what stuck with them.
In many ways, the personal touch is what drew me to Kickstarter in the first place. I loved that it gave me the opportunity to personally connect with people who shared my passion.
Also, if people like you, they’re often more likely to view your company in a positive way. This impact is magnified the more closely entangled to the company you are. You’re more likely to be loyal to a person than they are to a company.
Jason Fried of 37Signals sums it up well in this article about acting your size: “Your customers will always know whom they are dealing with. They’ll know they’ll get the most personal service possible. A lot of people have had the experience of working with a company only to see their key contact move on to another job. The relationship is lost. That’s not possible when it’s your business. You are your business. They’ll have you from start to finish. That’s a big advantage.”
If you’re a Kickstarter creator or a small business owner like me, how can you benefit from being the face of the company while avoiding the pitfalls? Here are a few tips, and I’d love to hear your additions in the comments.
- Determine if you’re likable. It may turn out that the best face (or voice/personality/etc) for the company may not be yours. This post may help you determine if you can be that face; if not, partner with someone who can fill that role.
- Delegate. Instead of being the only face, be one of several faces. Several websites I follow closely use this model.
- Don’t be an asshole. We’re all going to have moments of weakness, but you can minimize it through self-awareness. If a comment, post, or situation makes my blood boil, I try to measure my response very carefully (or I don’t comment at all). I’d particularly recommend reading this before posting something controversial.
- Praise publicly, criticize privately. By celebrating the impact other people have on your company, you deflect attention and adoration from yourself.
- Don’t get hit by a bus. Or acknowledge that life is fragile and that you may want to delegate so your company can outlive you.