Homegrown: Why brand sits at the heart of the seed-scale-sale journey
Interview with Kari Owers (Founder) and Kirsty Ostell (Managing Director) at O.agency
“The tech landscape has always been hyper-competitive – it’s those that understand the need for a compelling brand from the get-go that survive,” says Kari Owers, Founder of O.agency and consultant to entrepreneurs in the tech space since the dotcom boom of the noughties.
Kari has been a PR & comms consultant for the last 25 years and has worked with some of the UK’s most exciting entrepreneurial and tech companies, sitting at the top table from early seed funding rounds right through to exit, advising on how to communicate effectively at each stage of the growth journey.
“So many fast growth businesses come to us when they’ve had their first taste of success but are struggling to position themselves for the next stage of growth – whether that’s a funding round or the need to recruit talent to keep up with growth. The tech industry is saturated with competitors, so stand out, they need a strong brand story.
“One of the most important things often overlooked is the narrative. They get caught up in the innovation roadmap and the products and forget that, without a human element, tech is just bells and whistles. It’s important to foster trust in the hearts and minds of customers and stakeholders. Everyone knows that Apple got that right from the beginning – they understood why they were innovating, how it would change people’s daily lives and had a charismatic leader to put a face to the technology,” Kari says.
Kari leads on the development of the brand positioning from a narrative standpoint – ‘who are we as a brand? What type of people do we want to recruit? What difference do we want tomake in the world?’ are all the questions she asks to shape up a clear brand story thatwill stand the test of time.
From here her expertise lies in PR and brand strategy; both for the company in its key markets but also for the leadership team that will be the face of the company, not least to investors. “At one end of the scale I’ve worked with tech scale ups to ensure their PR punches hard to place them in the national press, right in front of key investors and the tech sector from early stage. It’s a competitive marketplace and being featured by the business and tech media is hugely important to build credibility as you grow. It’s super important to have a PR advisor that knows the lay of the media landscape and can take a long-term view of how you build your brand, so you can focus on your business.
apple understood why they were innovating, how it would change people’s daily lives and had a charismatic leader to put a face to the technology.
“At the other end of the scale I’ve been there when the company has got to the point the founders want to cash out, helping plan the communications around an exit often years in advance and building out the right messaging for a potential purchaser.
“Both external and internal comms have to be well thought through for every stage of the sale process. This can often involve working in a multistakeholder environment to ensure all messages are aligned and the story breaks in a positive way for the employees, new owners, funders and exiting shareholders.”
Working alongside Kari is Kirsty Ostell, O’s Managing Director and integrated strategy lead who brings 15 years of experience in marketing within the corporate finance arena, developing marketing strategies and go-to-market plans for new products alongside how to develop a compelling investor pitch deck.
“We thrive working with scaling and innovative tech businesses, especially when it comes to launching new products to market or supporting businesses to move through their next investment round to support their innovation journey.
“The big challenge for a tech entrepreneur can sometimes be to take all of the passion and excitement for what is often very personal to them, whether that’s the idea itself or the original innovation, and share that with the world in the right way, or to take others on that journey to scale. We are key in that part of the journey, unpicking the opportunity and helping a tech business present that to an investor, a new board and their customers. “Helping a tech business to launch something brand new to the market, where they can solve big industry problems or create new opportunity doesn’t come without challenges.
“Often, we are working to tight budgets, or helping a business to pick the right audience to go out to first, helping them to experiment with channels and use guerilla tactics to make noise against established or large competitors.
“To bring the best results we spend the time in discovery with the marketing and products teams, audience mapping and developing fast paced strategy sprints that allow for experimentation and testing, in the places most likely to bring success quickly. Everything needs to be based on insight and data, along with the big idea to stand out in the market.”