How to Build a Cult (With Your Startup)
Would Your Team Get Tattoos Of Your Logo?
Have you ever seen someone get a tattoo of something you’ve created?
One of our early team members at my last startup got our logo tattooed on their leg a few months after joining.
The strongest brands look like cults from the outside. Your customers do your marketing for you and never leave for competitors.
But building this level of brand affinity is extremely hard. You can have a massively successful business but still not achieve this.
It starts with the founder, trickles down to the employees and then eventually to customers.
So this week I’m covering what makes a brand loved and including a variety of examples — from startups to musicians.
Let’s dive in 👇
PS: If you like this issue, reply let me know — I’ll write more about what signals to look for from your team and users to know if they’re buying in to the vision.
Read Time: 05 minutes
How to Build a Cult (With Your Startup)
What Makes A Brand Loved
Think about the brands you love the most. Why do you love them?
Most likely it’s some combination of the following 6 things:
Make your users feel like they’re part of something special. Belonging is a core human need that most brands don’t think to nurture.
No one has leaned into this more than Airbnb. “Belong anywhere” actually ended up becoming the company’s vision statement.
Brian Chesky explains how they discovered this:
What started as a way for a few friends to pay the rent has now transformed into something bigger and more meaningful than we ever imagined. And what we realized is that the Airbnb community has outgrown the original Airbnb brand. So Joe, Nate, and I did some soul-searching over the last year. We asked ourselves, “What is our mission? What is the big idea that truly defines Airbnb?”
It turns out the answer was right in front of us. For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere.
- Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb (read more here)
Even if you’re not renting homes with your startup you can build belonging into your product and brand.
Give your users opportunities to connect with one another and, most importantly, make yourself extremely accessible to them in the early days. Blur the line between customer and friend, as much as you’re comfortable doing so.
Tactically community platforms, IRL events, and social features are the most common ways of doing this — just make sure yours stand out and feel inspired.
Societies have always been tied together by stories. The Odyssey was told by spoken-word minstrels across the various Greek islands and their extended network of ports as a way of building culture.
Even if citizens had heard the story many times, they wanted to hear it again.
Sharing the stories behind a startup in an engaging way builds similar cultural bonds.
Often these are about the backstory of the founder, how the company was founded, or experiences of specific users or team members that reinforce the values of the startup.
These are repeated to new team members when they join and maybe even shared publicly with users and beyond. If you do this really well people who are even your customers will know the story before they know anything else about the company, ideally because your customers mentioned it to them proactively.
With Megaphone, we’re trying to build this level of affinity by sharing stories like how we helped a founder grow from 0 to 2,500 social media followers in 24 hours, and another from 0 to 13,000 in 3 weeks, but Oculus is an even better example.
It was borderline unbelievable that anyone as young as Palmer Luckey had created a VR device that was truly 10x (or more) better than any existing option. Instantly, this was looked at as the future and he was the chosen one to lead the VR revolution.
The story was so good that even Mark Zuckerberg bought in and paid $2 billion to own the company.
An interesting potential example of this that’s playing out in real time is Bryan Johnson’s journey building Blueprint.
If he’s successful, we’ll look back on his journey with his own body and aging process as a landmark moment in the longevity movement.
We’re already seeing a cult-like response from some people in SF, who are spinning up their own startups based entirely on the movement Bryan is creating.