Marketing Lessons From Top VC Brands

By David Card
Branding

Your brand distills your company’s purpose and story into its visible form. The public interacts with your brand before it ever learns more about your offering, with the harsh reality that some may never go past a surface understanding of your brand—unless you give them a compelling reason to learn more.

There are plenty of lists of top venture capital firms out there, but we all know success doesn’t rely solely on name recognition — nor do you become a household name overnight. In the fast-paced venture capital world, swiftly building an enduring brand is key to success over the competition. A strong brand is not just a name; it’s a promise for which you are recognized. A VC’s brand conveys a vision, a set of values, and a personality that resonates with both entrepreneurs and investors.

The most successful venture capital firms understand this and have carefully crafted their brand identities, as reflected in their purpose, vision, values, personality, voice, design, emotion, consistency, and competitiveness.

Have you stopped to consider how these VCs weave their core values into their branding strategy? What specific elements do they use to reinforce their mission and make sure they address their target audience?

Sequoia Capital: Nurturing legends that dare to soar

Purpose, Vision, and Values

Sequoia Capital’s purpose is to be the catalyst for greatness. They have a clear vision to back fearless visionaries daring to “build legendary companies.” Their core values center around partnership, with a focus on founders led by their own profound narrative and the relentless drive to create their vision; this directly informs the narrative behind the VC’s brand.

This narrative is woven into the fiber of everything Sequoia does, from the words they use, the design of their assets, and the cues they place along each user’s journey to interact with their brand.

Every venture capital firm needs to start their branding journey by getting very clear on their values; and remember, if any part of brand messaging feels too broad or abstract to be applied on a daily basis, it’s not an accurate representation of your brand nor will it be effective.

Personality and Voice

Sequoia’s personality is calm, measured, and forward-thinking. Their voice is authoritative, but it conveys a sense of strong partnership that is open to growth and collaboration rather than dominance. They are candid, frank, and authentic because they are unafraid to speak clearly. This confidence with a purpose asserts the brand and invites fellow leaders to rise and join the Sequoia ranks.

Does this mean there isn’t space for other VCs to share this voice? Of course not, as there is plenty of room for others to join the conversation; but while successful branding can weave in shared elements, you must develop your own unique personality by blending together different traits into a distinct narrative that is memorable and stands out. Be inspired, but never duplicate.

Design and Emotion

The iconic redwood tree symbolizes Sequoia’s brand, invoking emotions of strength, growth, and timeless resilience, but it’s subtly woven in; you don’t get bombarded by the “tree” imagery, although there is evidence of the organic in the earthy tones that ground the site.

Their unpretentious design references back-of-napkin handwriting and typewriters, conjuring up visions of bootstrapping, ambitious discussions, and a fast pace. This sort of imagery speaks to how there is no time for pretense; there is work to be done to execute on vision, and the time for action is now. These visual elements convey motion in a few strokes.

Consistency and Competitiveness

Sequoia Capital’s consistency in delivering success stories, alongside a long track record of wise investments, positions them as formidable competitors in the venture capital world. Many VCs aspire to the success that Sequoia has reached; frequently, our clients reference Sequoia as aspirational—and this is where we work to pinpoint the elements that carry over.

Sequoia Capital’s hand-drawn elements evoke collaborative ideation, while its natural color palette pays off its tree-based name. 


Andreessen Horowitz (a16z): Redefining the technology landscape

Purpose, Vision, and Values

a16z’s purpose is to empower builders and makers in the world of technology, fueling dreamers to build the code and systems that turn their visions into reality. The vision behind a16z is to put funding behind its values to build the world we want. Clarifying beliefs to uncover shared visions is a key part of how a16z does business.

Personality and Voice

To facilitate the types of discussions a16z lives for requires a very intentional approach to personality and voice. Simple “we” statements that clearly express positioning and clarify rationale are a core part of their approach. That clarification is based on simple declarative statements, with attention to never overreaching into over-explanation.

Their voice is unafraid to challenge the status quo, although this is done from a determined, rational perspective that walks through key points and surveys the entire picture.  Witness Founding Partner Marc Andreessen’s Techno-Optimist Manifesto, which takes an optimistically bold and controversial stand on AI as an example of this voice. 

Design and Emotion

Evident in their branding is that a16z focuses on innovation and the journey into the future. The visuals and patterns used across digital platforms refer to the power of abstraction, and the need to examine complex concepts in fundamental terms. For example, the background pattern on the homepage looks like the surface topology of the earth, or even fingerprints; a universal pattern that ties together multiple layers of the human experience.

Bold headings break through these patterns to guide viewers through key elements and fundamental points, leading the flow through pages and discourse. The concept of order is reinforced throughout the entire visual experience, although the perspective offered by a16z – in its content, in its headings, in its visuals – works within this order to provide contrast and disruption without interruption or destruction.

Consistency and Competitiveness

With their storied background, brain trust, and deep industry knowledge, a16z consistently ranks among the top venture capital firms. This is echoed in their branding: in line with the digital feel of tech while using copy and subtle design cues to spotlight their unique perspective.

Anyone interacting with the a16z brand encounters a simple, deliberate discussion of the ideas and strategies that will innovate and enhance technology around the world—and wants to join in.

The Techno-Optimist Manifesto perfectly aligns with the A16Z brand voice and tone.


Founders Fund: Transforming engineering brilliance into new realities

Purpose, Vision, and Values

Founders Fund focuses heavily on innovation in science and engineering, which means they are focused on the processes of design, construction, testing, and deployment. Technical expertise and creative vision go hand-in-hand to produce pioneering technology that disrupts the status quo and reimages the world into a better future.

Personality and Voice

The heavy STEM focus tied to Founders Fund reverberates through their personality and voice, which is solution-oriented and scientific. Everything starts with a problem to be solved; defining the scope of the problem, resources available, potential limitations, and other concerns is a critical first step to their approach.

Excitement is channeled into solutions, together with a passion for delivering the best possible final product, with the understanding that further improvement is always possible. Systematic innovation is what Founders Fund strives for, powered by individuals with visions of changing the world for the better.

Design and Emotion

For a group so dedicated to data and technology, there is a very interesting way the brand stays relatable with its audience – big-picture, strategic visionaries. Tech-y fonts and report-like page structures readily speak to the tech crowd, but subtle cues of tech nostalgia reflect the Founders Fund’s approach to tapping into emotion.

Using old-school science imagery and even visually referencing things like the Space Race or nuclear buzz, Founders Fund references childlike wonder and awe, stuff to nurture and power dreamers and disruptors over the course of a lifetime. The familiarity associated with nostalgia helps build community, while the references to thinking big (as even children do) speaks to the brainstorming and play that are required for invention. Their work is timeless and the impacts of these dreams transcend generations, which is a powerful message for any brand to carry.

Consistency and Competitiveness

Founders Fund’s consistent commitment to disruptive innovation in technology and engineering has established them as a major player in venture capital. They build up startups with vision. Even their approach to prominently sharing resources, from articles through podcasts, speaks to their value of informed discussion and collaboration. Winning is not for competition’s sake; winning is meaningful progress, according to the Founders Fund.

Founders Fund’s references to nostalgia evoke the wonder and play required to re-invent the future.

Conclusion

While you may wish to imitate the success of some of these VC firms, you know you should not duplicate their brands. However, you may take inspiration from some elements to weave into your own branding strategy.

At the very least, use these examples to help guide your thinking as you identify the takeaways you want everyone to have after interacting with your brand. Start thinking about how every brand touchpoint with your firm can reflect your values so you can focus your conversations on clarifying the problems you can help tackle and the solutions you can turn into reality.

Check out our resources on developing your brand strategy, or leaf through our case studies.

YOU MIGHT
ALSO LIKE

healthcare branding
Branding

Branding vs. Marketing: Why Startups Need to Invest in Both

Read More