Editor’s Note: In honor of 10 years of the IDS program at the iSchool, Alexandra Archambault will be leading you through a 10-episode podcast series. Each episode highlights a different successful startup company from the program.
Alexandra: Today we’re featuring Patrick Ambron of BrandYourself. BrandYourself was founded in 2009 in the Syracuse Student Sandbox. Today, the company has over 100 employees, with offices in Pennsylvania as well as New York City. I got to chat with Patrick on the phone and learn all about how they got there.
What is Brand Yourself?
Patrick: At BrandYourself, we provide software and services to help individuals clean up, protect, and improve how they look online. As an individual, whether you like it or not, you amass a pretty large online presence. People are constantly searching, looking, and screening that presence. What we help you do is make sure you don’t have anything out there that can hurt your career prospects or your reputation and make sure you have things out there that can actually help you!
Where did the Idea Come From?
Alexandra: The idea the for BrandYourself developed when Patrick’s co-founder, Pete, realized he shared his name with a criminal. This boded quite badly for him when it came to applying for jobs, as he was being mistaken for someone he was not; so he looked to Patrick for help.
Patrick: I had a background in search engine optimization. (Before) Pete came to me, I had never thought of it from an individual perspective: this idea of online reputation management.
Pete had gone to traditional online reputation management firms but he couldn’t get a quote for under $25,000. They weren’t aimed at individuals, they were aimed at enterprises and corporations with very specific and sometimes complex needs.
We realized this is something that individuals are going to have to start thinking about with online screening becoming more prevalent. And that’s really where the idea came from.
Taking it to The Sandbox
Alexandra: After they had their idea, the boys decided they were going to try to build the company, so they took it to the Sandbox. BrandYourself was actually part of the first class of students to go through the program.
Patrick: What we got was not what we really have now. We went down to the Tech Garden and got some office space in the corner of the Tech Garden which was helpful because we got somewhere we could work everyday.
It was a small group of mentors, including John Liddy and a few others. Those mentors helped us through the early stages of ‘how do we actually incorporate? What do we need to be thinking about in terms of setting up our business?’ And resources like that.
It was pretty basic in the beginning, but even those small things helped turn the idea of starting a business into a more tangible reality with having a space to work and having people help walk us through starting a business just from a logistical standpoint. It was really kind of a bare-boned version of what the Sandbox has evolved into.
Beware: Rocky Road Ahead
Alexandra: While Brand Yourself has ultimately become really successful, Patrick admits through the beginning it was not an easy road.
Patrick: I think what was interesting is if you looked at us from 2009-2012, we were working, building products, and trying to launch it out there. We were working (obviously) long hours and building a lot of stuff.
For the first three years we had absolutely nothing to show for our effort. We had no customers or no revenue. You get to the point where you start really doubting if this even makes sense for you to keep doing it. You’re working a lot, not making much, and you feel like you’re falling behind.
Then in 2012 we finally started hitting a stride. Fast forward to today, we’ve been able to grow a bunch. I think understanding that a lot of success stories you hear can be glamorized and give you the false idea that you’re not on the right track. Once you start getting traction, you’ll continue to get traction. But that can take a really long time to get there. Not everybody has that happen overnight with the perfect idea at the exact right time.
Where’s the Company Headed?
Patrick: In terms of where the company is going, right now we are the leading premiere consumer online reputation management company. Meaning, working with individuals to put their best foot forward on the web.
Where we see this going; I think the need is becoming more and more important for consumers to understand not only their reputation but their privacy online. We’re creating tools to help people make sure that they don’t have social media posts that can hurt them. Making sure that they have a strong personal brand.
We’re releasing tools that help them understand their privacy online: where their information is, where it shouldn’t be, places where they being tracked where they may not want to be. We really see ourselves building a modern day life-lock that actually provides meaningful services and tools for individuals.
I’ll be back again next week with another cool start-up and their story!