Branding, Startup Advice

“They’re going to have Googled you”: Girl Geek Academy co-founder Sarah Moran on how to take control of your personal brand

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Girl Geek Academy

Sarah Moran and the Girl Geek Academy team. Source: Supplied

Whether she’s winning awards for entrepreneurship, popping up in videos for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission or championing other women on Twitter, it seems like Sarah Moran is everywhere lately, offering insights into her life as co-founder and chief executive of Melbourne ed-tech startup Girl Geek Academy.

Moran undoubtedly has a profile in the Australian startup scene, but she’s also being recognised elsewhere; she recently picked up the Australian Women’s Weekly Women of the Future award in the entrepreneur and business category.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Moran says building a personal brand is something she’s done very deliberately, although “that isn’t necessarily advice I would give every startup founder”.

And it’s not all about online presence either; it also comes down to how recognisable Moran is as a person — and as a woman at that. And this even means making conscious decisions about what she wears.

Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day but sadly women don’t always have that luxury,” she says.

“I wear seven dresses a year so each are investment pieces and are worn roughly 52 times. I have two sets of glasses and I wear plastic poppy shoes.

“That way I’m recognised — woman with the dresses, glasses and happy shoes. Consistent,” she says.

Everything Girl Geek Academy does is “about marketing in some way”, Moran adds.

So, beyond personal styling, what can startup founders do to make their personal and business brands pop?

Know your audience

“I knew who my potential customers are and could be,” Moran says, and she’s focused on finding “the most effective way for me to get on radar and acquire those customers”.

There’s also focus on the shared brand here, as well. Each of Girl Geek Academy’s five co-founders have strong, individual brands, that are inter-connected with Girl Geek Academy itself.

“For us, that’s been really important, because what we’re selling is the idea that technology is about friendship,” Moran says.

“I want everyone to feel like they’re coming to join us at Girl Geek Academy,” she adds.

But while this branding has been well-received in the Australian market, it hasn’t quite translated to the US.

Australians tend to be very receptive to Girl Geek Academy’s message of gender equality, but people in the US sometimes “just don’t get it”, Moran says.

“We basically don’t sell it to Americans,” she adds.

People who do get the concept tend to reach out to the startup anyway. In Australia, the team can be proactive in starting conversations, whereas in the US, “you just have to wait for [people] to turn up”.

As a result, Moran takes her international audience into account when sharing on social media.

“There are certain things I post at different times of day because I know Americans are asleep,” she says.

Understand your limitations

Moran believes founders shouldn’t beat themselves up about “not being on all every social media profile all of the time”.

There’s a reason that many brands pay social media managers, she adds, “it’s a full-time job”.

Rather, for business leaders, who typically have a long list of other things to do, “it’s about having a strategy for how often you want to be heard,” she says.

Moran’s approach is to have “one new thing to add to the ecosystem every week,” she says.

“Realistically, there’s probably 52 things a year that people would be interested in that I’m working on,” she adds.

Know your voice(s)

“If you can write, you should,” Moran says.

“If you’re the CEO or hustler co-founder, your job is to set the company vision and make that accessible.

“You’re going to sit in meetings, and they’re going to have Googled you, so take control of that.”

When you’re synonymous with the company you lead, your personal brand is the company brand too.

“You don’t have the luxury of those two things being separated”, Moran says.

However, it’s important for founders to maintain both brands.

If a founder stays on top of their business LinkedIn page, for example, but doesn’t add anything to their personal profile, it starts to look like the individual isn’t part of the whole setup.

“What I would say to that founder is just half and half it,” says Moran.

Moran will put one post out for the company, and another — with different wording and perhaps a little more personality — on her personal profile. That way, “you can use them to talk to each other”, she says.

“Some people care about the brand and don’t care about you, and other people care about you and don’t give a shit where you work,” she says.

Just by having two profiles you could open up your audience by about 50%, she says.

Girl Geek Academy has its own strong company voice, and when it posts online, it could be from any one of the founders.

“Knowing the voice of that brand and how it should be speaking, and how different that is to your own voice — or how similar — is very helpful,” she adds.

NOW READ: Personal brand: The one thing you need to get sorted before any other marketing activities

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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