When I have an idea, the first thing I do is try to articulate the concept in as few sentences as possible. If you can’t explain an idea in a minute or two, it’s still too abstract to be brought to life.

 

Patrick Ambron is the CEO and co-founder of BrandYourself.com.

Patrick is recognized as a leading expert in Online Reputation Management, Online Privacy and Search Engine Optimization. He believes as individuals live more of their lives online, they need tools to protect their own online privacy, identity and reputation.

In 2011, fresh out of college, Patrick lead the BrandYourself team to win New York’s #1 Emerging Technology Award, making him the youngest person ever to win the $200K prize. He was named Young Entrepreneur of the year by the SBA, and most recently, named to Inc Magazine’s top 35 under 35. He’s a contributor to Inc, Entrepreneur, HuffPost and a guest writer for publications like the Washington Post where he writes about online privacy and reputation. He’s a regular instructor at General Assembly and guest lectures regularly at universities including Columbia, Syracuse, Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania.

Patrick has led BrandYourself to secure over $6 million in venture capital and grow to over 90 full-time employees. The company was named in Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2015 “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” as well as one of The Hottest Startups in NYC.

The company has been featured on SharkTank, FastCompany, LifeHacker, Refinery 29, Cheddar, Quartz, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, HuffingtonPost, Mashable, TechCrunch, New York Post, WSJ, The New York Times, PandoDaily, US News & World, and many others.

Patrick also serves as Mentor of Syracuse University’s Student Sandbox, an incubator that helps aspiring entrepreneurs push their ventures from ideas to company, and an advisor to The Blackstone Launchpad, a campus innovation ecosystem with a global network across 20 Universities world wide.

In his free time he enjoys movies, playing soccer and trying new craft beers.

Where did the idea for BrandYourself.com come from?

BrandYourself started when my CoFounder couldn’t get an internship because employers were Googling him and mistaking him for a criminal with the same name. He researched “online reputation management companies,” but none of them would quote him under $25K or so. They were catering to big corporations and enterprises, but nobody was catering to individuals or professionals. We realized that, as an individual, what showed up about you online mattered. A single negative result–be it an ill advised tweet or a nasty blog post from an ex–can happen to anyone and can ruin your career. At the same time, having a strong personal brand helps your career, but not everyone knows how to maintain one.

Since then, BrandYourself has been dedicated to creating tools that help people clean up, protect and improve their online reputations. Over the last few years, online screening has skyrocketed, making what we do all the more important.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My days really vary quarter to quarter based on the company’s quarterly goals. I basically dedicate myself to concentrating on where I can have the most impact. That said, there are a few frameworks I try to maintain that help me stay productive:

Exercise in the morning: I’m not a morning person by nature, but I’ve found that exercising regularly helps me maintain focus in general. I’ve found this much tougher to do after work: there’s always something that pops up that keeps me well into the night so by the time I leave work, it’s pretty late. On top of that, impromptu meetings or events generally happen in the evening. Luckily, working out at 7am does the trick and actually sets me up for a productive day. The barrier is just ignoring the snooze button!

I spend my first hour answering emails, planning out my day before I jump into anything: Every week I make a list of the most important things I have to accomplish. However, as most founders can relate to, things often change day to day. As a result, I spend the first hour of work level setting. I answer emails, look at my to do list and make any necessary adjustments. By the end of the hour, I have a very good sense of what I need to do by the end of the day, which helps me focus and get the most I can done.

I try to break up the week by area of focus: In any given week, I’ll have my hand in product/engineering, sales/marketing, fundraising/investor relations, and general admin. Rather than spread them evenly across the week, I try to dedicate certain days to certain areas. I may be doing product on Mondays and Tuesdays, and save all sales/marketing tasks for Wednesdays, for instance. I’ve found that there is a lot of mental friction that occurs when you jump from one task to the next. It prevents you from really diving in and using the creative and analytical resources you need to get a lot done. By dedicating large chunks of time to one area, you avoid the mental-switching costs that occur when you are trying to solve too many large problems at once.

I keep our quarterly goals at the top of every to-do list: It’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of any given task, and to forget why you’re doing something in the first place. At the top of every to-do list I have, I write the quarterly goals. Seeing our high-level goals at all times helps me determine if what I’m doing is moving us in the right direction or if we need a course correction.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When I have an idea, the first thing I do is try to articulate the concept in as few sentences as possible. If you can’t explain an idea in a minute or two, it’s still too abstract to be brought to life.

Once I do that, I do the same thing for the target audience, value proposition, key features, marketing strategy, etc. I keep refining and refining until the whole go-to-market strategy is really clear and easy to articulate. This doesn’t just work for new products–it works for internal policies or anything you’re trying to bring to life. This process forces you to sharpen your idea to its most effective form so it can be communicated to others. Communication is key because it’s vital to get teammates, potential customers, potential investors, etc on the same page.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I think we’re seeing a big shift in consumer awareness when it comes to online privacy and reputation. We’ve spent the last decade or so moving more and more of our lives online. We bank online, we shop online, we socialize online, we even date online. While it’s been a largely positive shift, consumers weren’t paying attention to how organizations were using all of this data. If someone wanted to, they could easily access everything you’ve ever browsed, typed into a search box, bought, posted on social media or even wrote in a private message. This is very sensitive data, and until recently, organizations were getting away with abusing it in certain ways because consumers weren’t calling them on it.

However, that’s beginning to change. As more stories like the Cambridge Analytica scandal break and more and more organizations use invasive online screening techniques, consumers are demanding change. I think this is a really important shift. While yes, it benefits my company, from a macro standpoint I believe it’s a step in the right direction for consumers to demand more protection and control. I think in the next 10 years, we’ll see a shift where consumers have a lot more direct control over their online data, and an organization’s use of that data, in a way that’s transparent and mutually beneficial.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think it’s the habit I mentioned before. I constantly examine my own to-do list and map it against my higher level goals. I’m obsessed with making sure that my day-to-day tasks are pointing me in the right direction. I’m aware that any given task is a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. It takes a little time each day, but it helps me orient everything I do in line with a larger goal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and look for teammates who compliment your strengths and bridge your weaknesses. It sounds obvious, but it’s actually hard to practice. By nature, you’re drawn to people who are like you and have similar strengths. Like-minded individuals feed off each other, which is fine in social settings, but potentially dangerous in business. When building an organization, I’ve found it’s more important to have people with a diversity of skills, strengths and background. By building a well rounded team, you can accomplish more and avoid the blind spots that occur when everyone thinks and acts the same.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Warning: my answer to this is going to be super meta. This is a question entrepreneurs get asked a lot and I actually think this question is overrated, though you might disagree.

To me, the question is a bit self indulgent and misleading. For one, I don’t believe I have any ideas that almost nobody agrees with me on. There are billions of people on this planet, and I doubt I’m so unique that I’ve had a truly original thought. Second, I don’t think that’s how most entrepreneurs become successful. I don’t think it’s a matter of them thinking something that nobody else has thought about or agreed with. I do think that entrepreneurs tend to feel more strongly or passionately about certain ideas, and apply a lot more application to executing ideas before others do. I think successful entrepreneurs notice a trend and just dive deeper into it than other people, and are willing to take a risk before others are. It goes back to the old adage that execution is more important than idea.

To that point, we were very early on when it came to consumer online reputation management. We believed that individuals needed tools to clean up and protect their online presence before the average consumer really cared. We certainly weren’t the first people to advocate for consumer privacy, but we were one of the few teams to go all in and actually build an organization around it. I think that’s the difference maker.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I constantly reevaluate everything I’m doing. Is my strategy still right? Are my convictions still right? Are we still working on the right tasks? This can be exhausting but it makes a big difference. It’s not about self doubt–it’s about being willing to start over if you learn information that presents a better path forward.

Here’s an analogy I use with my team: Imagine being in school and spending an entire year doing research on a thesis. Imagine getting to the end of that research and discovering something that leads you to an even stronger thesis. It’s tempting to ignore the new path and stick with your original thesis, especially if it’s solid. Otherwise you feel like all that work was for nothing. It’s more important not to view that work as wasted time, but as the necessary steps to present the new opportunity. If you’re willing to reevaluate, you keep making your strategy and convictions stronger.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We’ve been able to attract over 1M people to our product with less than six figures in marketing spend. Our strategy is simple. We create free tools and content that help people solve problems nobody else is solving. For the last six or seven years we’ve simply been paying attention to what problems consumers are trying to solve in our space, based largely on what they’re searching for in Google. In the early days, people were searching for “how do I remove a negative Google result” or “how do I brand myself,” etc. As time went on that evolved to “personal branding” or “how do I clean up social media profiles.” We see those as opportunities and create tools and guides that help people solve these problems. Sure, we give a lot away for free, but it helps ensure visibility and authority. Becoming the authority on certain problems is an opportunity to sell more advanced tools and services later on.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We spent the first three years of business launching failed product after failed product. Three years in and we had nothing to show for all of our effort. No revenue, no customers, no users.

The issue was lack of focus. We were first-time founders and had never built a product before. We tried to be everything to everyone. If someone suggested a feature, we’d try to build it. If someone wanted an additional value prop, we tried to solve it. Instead of being really good at solving one thing, we were mediocre (at best) at solving 100 things. It’s impossible to get any traction that way. After our third failed launch in a row, we decided to sharpen our approach. We focused on solving the most important problem and ignored everything else. We chose a few vital features and made sure they were razor sharp. The end product did much less than previous versions but it did it much better. We launched the new product in 2012. The result? We signed up more customers and generated more revenue in that first week than we did in the previous three years combined.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This one is a bit topical. If I were looking to start my own firm, I’d become an expert in GDPR compliance and offer my expertise. The new GDPR compliance laws are complicated and organizations are scrambling to understand them. There aren’t many great resources out there to make sense of it all. It’s a good opportunity, because GDPR is a consideration for any new startup or organization planning to launch a product internationally.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Dropbox. I’d be lost without it.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Made to Stick” by Chip and Bryan Heath. It’s not necessarily a business book, but it teaches you how to articulate and refine any idea you have so you can communicate it with other people. It’s one of the most important skills you can have in business.

What is your favorite quote?

Even God can’t steer a parked car.” I like this quote because it reminds me to move forward, even in uncertainty. It’s easy to get decision paralysis and over-analyze certain situations. However, when it comes to startups, you need to move. You don’t have the luxury of staying still.

Connect:

Patrick Ambron on Twitter: https://twitter.com/patrickambron
Patrick Ambron on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrickambron/
Patrick Ambron on Adweek: https://www.adweek.com/contributor/patrick-ambron/
Patrick Ambron on Enterpreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/author/patrick-ambron
Patrick Ambron on Huffingtonpost: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/patrick-ambron
Patrick Ambron on Quora: https://www.quora.com/profile/Patrick-Ambron
Patrick Ambron on Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=138547530&privcapId=137354858