How Important is Brand Image at The Early Stages?

Q: I’m involved in a start up where we’ve made a lot of progress.  We’re currently in our coding stage but there are a lot of undefined areas as far as usability and layout are concerned.  A few of the team members strongly believe its necessary to get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image.  I, on the other hand, feel its not necessary at this stage and these can be accomplished once we close our Series A round.  Specifically my question is, how important is brand image at this stage in development?

A: (Brad) Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not a fan of “classically defined textbook marketing.”  “Brand image” can fit in that category – or not – depending how you approach it.  If you “get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image” you are engaging in a set of activities that I think are a complete waste of time and money “pre Series A.” 

Instead, develop your own brand, image, and style that is consistent with the company you are creating.  Let it come from you – rather than an “experienced” consultant.  A great example of this is Dogster, a company I have an angel investment in.  No one is going to award the Dogster website the “most beautiful website in the world” award, but it has style.  Dogs (and dog owners) appear to love it (based on their traffic growth) and it is definitely “dog freaks crossed with computer geeks.”

Once you’ve raised a Series A and have plenty of cash in the bank, feel free to hire expensive consultants to help you take your brand image to the next stage.  Or not.  But don’t spend your precious seed stage dollars on it.