A breakdown of 15+ VC brands (and why branding matters!)
Venture capital has never been more competitive. There were 2,718 active venture funds in 2022, up 140% from the 1,132 active venture funds in 2013. As more firms enter the market, brand matters more.
A distinct brand and position is a statement designed to attract founders (and sometimes LPs and co-investors) that align with the firm’s vision and values. It’s a beacon. Funds establish their brand through a combination of what they put out into the world and the perception they receive from others.
VC brands vary greatly. Some are loud. Some are quiet. Some are silly.
Firms such as Benchmark have an understated “no brand” brand. Other firms like Root Ventures seek to leave a memorable impression. While Benchmark’s minimalistic landing page speaks to the firm’s belief that its partners should do the talking and relationship building, the distinctive landing page of Root Ventures highlights the funds’ desire to leave a memorable first impression. And for good reason, as the best brands speak to what is authentic about a fund.
Venture firms use their brands to convey their position and focus within the ecosystem. For example, through its brand, a fund like Iconiq Growth has articulated a clear generalist position in late-stage investing, while a fund like Countdown Capital communicates its focus on investing in companies specializing in revitalizing American industry. We’ll explore in depth in this piece how venture firms use key brand assets like their landing pages to convey their chosen messages.
If you only have a few minutes, here are some takeaways:
- Effective branding has a clear target “customer” and position in the market. Successful product companies know who they’re building for, informing their brand and how they communicate with their target user. VCs should too. A clear founder definition should inform the firm’s brand and how they position themselves in the ecosystem against alternatives (i.e. other investors).
- A firm’s landing page is often the first impression. Almost every founder visits the firm’s site before meeting with a partner. This is the firm’s opportunity to create a strong early impression and set the tone.
- A great brand isn’t necessarily big and flashy. Minimalist, understated presentations may resonate just as much as loud productions.
How to Define Your Brand
A venture firm’s brand is an important part of its identity and external appearance.
“A venture firm’s brand communicates its personality and values, giving prospective founders, LPs, co-investors, team members, etc., a sense of what it would be like to work with them before ever meeting. Strong brands are built over time through consistent behaviors and actions, which is why there is usually a correlation between the brand's strength and the firm’s tenure and track record. New funds and emerging managers set expectations on what they are working towards through their choices in branding and positioning their firms.
A firm’s brand is often synonymous with the reputation of its founding partners or most well-known general partners, so my advice to anyone putting effort towards branding their firm right now would be to be bold and differentiated to stand out but also be authentic to who you are so you can effortlessly and consistently meet the expectations your brand sets. Consistency is key to building trust and building brand.”
— Helen Min, Phenomenal Ventures
But how does one define their own brand? A few questions to ask yourself:
Why does my fund exist? What’s our investment thesis? The values, focus, and backstory for why a firm exists can be the best guide for defining its brand.
If my firm were a person, how would it speak? What would it look like? Defining the language and “vibe” of the firm can help establish structure for its landing page, messaging, and aesthetic.
How Spice Capital Defined Their Brand
“I defined my brand by listing out all the reasons why I started a fund. Each WHY became a brand value, which then evolved into a design pillar. I think the best way to define your brand as a fund is to build up from your investment thesis. What is your unique differentiator you pitched to LPs? I've learned that the best brands offer consistency. The design can be different but the core values and messaging need to be consistent to both your investors and your founders.
For Spice, our thesis is ‘cultural arbitrage’ - and that means we have to BRING it on design, and cultural flair. Guardian mentioned our website looks ‘more like a recent art school grad's portfolio than a VC firm’. This is exactly what I was going for if I'm going to be pitching founders on helping them become part of the cultural zeitgeist and pitching LPs that I invest before a startup becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist.”
— Maya Bakhai, Spice Capital
How South Park Commons Defined Their Brand
“Our process started from an honest need to communicate SPC's reason for being. We focused on category creation and were much less concerned with owning the category than with defining it for the rest of the industry. One of the most powerful things you can do with branding is to give people new language or concepts to help them better understand their own experiences. The definition helps create best practices, repeatable processes, and benchmarks. It lets you communicate what you are doing and why it is worth doing well. What's the thing your fund excels at that founders intuitively understand but can't articulate?”
—Ruchi Sanghvi, South Park Commons
How Hustle Fund Defined Their Brand
“Our definition of joy on our team is bringing our authentic selves to work. We don't put on any effect and just act like ourselves at work as we do at home. At Hustle Fund, we have a specific voice guide: imagine a 15-year-old girl, who is super sarcastic, but a closet idealist. That describes our team pretty well and gives us permission to create content and a brand that is funny, enjoyable, educational, and great to consume.
Our big tip to other VCs is to figure out what your authentic voice/persona is and to write it out in your own voice guide. Stick with your voice guide in all materials you put together for your website, social media, blogs, etc. Founders will notice the difference and will overtime, be able to clearly identify you from the sea of other VCs out there.”
— Eric Bahn, Hustle Fund
How Slope Defined Their Brand
“As a fund, we provide brand services to our portfolio companies, we deeply believe in the power of brand - how companies + users communicate themselves via design + creative is important.“Our process for defining our brand is pretty rigorous since we provide this as a service It includes landscape research + a lot of asking yourself, ‘What is the brand purpose?’ ‘Why does Slope exist? Then, how do you want to convey this?’ The answers to these questions should act as a ﬁlter for all of your decision-making. And it should stand for something.“
— Karine Hsu, Slope
Landing Page Breakdowns
Landing pages are often the first thing a founder encounters before meeting with an investor. They typically (although not always) provide useful information including a list of team members, portfolio companies, investment focus, and contact information. But they’re also the “vibe setter”, a gateway into the personality of the fund.
We break down some notable VC landing pages and what they reflect about the fund.
Benchmark's minimalist website reflects the firm's commitment to authenticity and reliance on their partners making real connections with founders. By consciously eschewing elaborate website design and branding, Benchmark aligns itself with the idea that the true essence of the firm lies in the genuine relationships it fosters with entrepreneurs.
Most firms probably shouldn’t follow this approach. It works for Benchmark because of its reputation. The site doesn’t need to sell Benchmark. Its intentional lack of salesmanship is a subtle flex that reinforces its position.
Root Ventures' website is fun. It resembles a programming terminal, serving as a testament to the firm's dedication to catering to its target audience of highly technical founders and hackers.
One needs to have some familiarity with a terminal to even be able to navigate the site. Implicitly, Root Ventures is telling technical founders, “we get it”, reinforcing their target’s desire to feel understood, supported, and empowered.
Founders Fund team page stands out in contrast to other VC firms' team pages. Founders Fund seeks contrarian founders and their team page is a subtle attempt to illustrate their team thinks for themselves too with floating heads against a space-like, dark background.
Bloomberg Beta doesn’t have a traditional website. It’s not even hosted on their own domain. Their site is a Github repo. Here’s why, in their words:
“In treating our founders as our customers, we often think about how to build as much trust as possible with them. We believe transparency — in how we think, what we believe and why — is the first step to that trust…. We've moved our entire web presence to GitHub to become even more transparent. Here, you can see how things have changed over time, propose improvements, or even take our ideas and make them your own (the investments are ours, though).”
Their positioning resonates with technical founders and perhaps those who are attracted to substance over sizzle. Additionally, it highlights Bloomberg Beta’s willingness to meet founders on their own turf, emphasizing a genuine partnership rooted in mutual understanding and respect for technical innovation.
Pace Capital's website looks like a busy computer desktop with multiple projects. It’s a subtle head nod to those that are just starting out. The cluttered but organized display shows that they understand the chaotic process of starting something new, resonating with those who appreciate the journey of creating and exploring. It's like they're saying, "We get it. We're here to support you through the early stages of your projects.”
And it certainly leaves an impression; curiosity to learn more.
Kyber Knight's website has this cyberpunk style that perfectly matches its tagline, "Investing in the Arcane," aligned with its deep interest in supporting founders with far-reaching visions. Its futuristic appearance, with its vibrant neon elements, creates an atmosphere that's both intriguing and forward-thinking.
Hustle Fund's landing page takes a unique approach with its standout tagline, "We invest in hilariously early startups," signaling its distinctive investment philosophy.
By incorporating the word "hilariously," the tagline becomes more memorable and aligns with the team’s genuine playfulness. It suggests a willingness to support founders at their earliest stages, even when all of the other investors say “no”.
Quiet Capital's minimalist website perfectly mirrors the firm's name. The absence of unnecessary embellishments and distractions on the website embodies their "Signal Above Noise" essence.
Worklife’s site feels like a magazine. It opens with the philosophy underlying the firm:
“Where work is more creative, and anyone can start something…Where everyone is a triple threat.”
It’s designed to appeal to founders focused not just building for the future of work, but also on embodying the future of work themselves, emphasized with photos of portfolio founders.
A brand is often best defined by how others describe it. Shrug lets its network speak on their behalf, featuring a long list of testimonials from portfolio founders and collaborators.
The site is professional but doesn’t miss communicating Shrug’s savvy marketing and irreverent tone with a link to its drops and case studies.
Andreessen Horowitz recently updated its homepage to feature Marc Andreessen's essay, “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto”.
Since the beginning, the firm has been vocal about its values and beliefs through writing, podcasts, books, and events. The quip within the tech community that a16z is essentially a media company that monetizes through venture capital.
Having a strong opinion and making it known is one way to attract the type of people you want to partner with.
Essence has a striking landing page, characterized by bold text that states their explicit focus. The page communicates their singular focus on investing in data infrastructure and development tools. We can’t help but appreciate the hat tip to this classic clip.
Landing pages, marketing campaigns, and other brand-defining strategies play a big role in the perception of a fund, but their actions is what matters most. The best “branding” is often driven by what a firm’s portfolio tell their founder friends.
As Ben Horowitz famously said, What You Do Is Who You Are.
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