Personal brand as moat


Cedric argues, based on Warren Buffet’s ideas, that a brand is valuable if it leads to sustained pricing power. In plain English, if it can’t raise its prices compared to its competitors, the brand isn’t worth anything.

A great example that immediately jumped to mind is Apple, the world’s most valuable brand. They are known for being expensive, and yet people buy them anyway.

This is an interesting insight into what the term “personal brand” stands for:

“A personal brand is .. a set of expectations around your skills, your behaviour, your values and your worldview.”

That immediately makes me think that I have not built the best personal brand. I wish I was known for quality work, but honestly my work has always been more MVP-ey than quality…

“It’s important to remember that consistency is the key component of a strong brand, not excellence. “

Cedric uses the example of McDonalds, but I think that’s an incorrect argument. Sure, McDonalds is consistent and that makes it great. However, it has also spent many thousands of man-years optimising their food to taste the best to the largest amount of people. Saying it’s “a subpar experience” when it’s exactly the experience people are looking for seems incorrect to me.

I don’t think you can build a personal brand on a consistently bad experience. I am not sure if it’s better to raise the bar of your worst work to be great, or the bar of your best work to be world-class excellent—I tend to the latter but I’m not convinced.

Cedric points out that many VCs nowadays have strangely misaligned incentives. They build a personal brand through their investment activity, which they use to raise a fund or two, pocket the management fees and then use their personal brand to find a soft landing in another position.

I don’t think any VC necessarily has harmful intentions from the get-go. However, becoming a VC nowadays is a pretty good deal: in the worst-case scenario you make some money off the fees, build a personal brand because you Build a diverse network and Talk to people all the time and then transition that into a lucrative job elsewhere. That’s a pretty solid worst-case scenario, particularly when the best-case is to be rich out of your mind.

I think his point on careers being 40 years long and the peak being when you’re 50 to 60 years old is interesting. That certainly makes me think that I should prioritise getting my Twitter followers off of Twitter and onto a mailing list—not because I like writing mailing lists but because e-mail will likely always be a thing. Twitter? Maybe not…

On the other hand, I am not sure if this is true now. If I personally still have to work when I’m 50-60 I did something wrong. I have infinite leverage at my disposal to find something to generate enough wealth so that I don’t have to work anymore.

That doesn’t mean I won’t work anymore when I’m 50-60, it just means I shouldn’t be in a position where I don’t have a choice.

I definitely think I have done a bad job of building a reputation and need to focus on that. I can easily think of some of the people I worked with at some jobs that are excellent and that I would hire in a heartbeat, and only a small fraction of them have a big audience.

I am probably the opposite: while I’m not bad, I’m not great. It’s not like every programmer who’s ever worked with me is like “This Max guy is the best programmer I’ve ever worked with.” I know that I can be that. I can work fast and smart at the same time, which is how I can get away with working two hours a day and fucking around the rest. But imagine if I worked ten or even just six hours a day…

I should focus on being great in order to build that reputation, which does indeed seem like a more lasting advantage (career moat) than followers on Twitter.