The concept of “personal branding” has evolved dramatically over the last few years. What used to be the territory of naturally self-promotional individuals has now become an imperative for many professionals. Whether you want it or not, employers and potential customers will look you up on social media and form judgement. It is essentially no longer possible to “opt out”. Seen more positively, personal branding can be a powerful vehicle for professional empowerment, opening up new opportunities and limiting one’s reliance on any given employer, in a context where more of us than ever will switch occupations, industries and locations several times during our careers.
For many, particularly in freelance and creative professions, the need for personal branding goes one step further, and has become synonymous with building a business. A comparatively small group of “influencers” were able to build a strong following, and monetize it, through product placement for example. A much larger group now relies on social media as the primary means to promote their brands and connect with customers.
Not so long ago, designers, chefs, personal trainers, real estate agents and local entrepreneurs may have focused on creating a website – now it is all about Instagram. The channel has been growing exponentially and hit 800 million users last month (CNBC) – a 100 million increase in just 4 months! In addition, Instagram has 8 million business profiles, a 6 million increase in the past year, and the majority are small businesses (Sprout Social)
For those professionals in particular, higher stakes means a lot of work and higher levels of stress. The irony of Instagram is that it is incredibly easy to get started, but incredibly hard to stand out, with 500 million monthly unique users and everyone else putting their best foot forward. Big brands and celebrities use the services of expensive social media consultants, professional photographers and photo editors. Millions of others do the work themselves, manually, with no marketing background or any real understanding of the complexities of ever-changing algorithms that impact exposure on social. Massive amounts of efforts go to waste in a context were 70% of Instagram posts don’t even get seen (Sprout Social). Many end up seeing their peers get ahead because they have a better mastery of social marketing, even though they may not have the actual professional skills to back their marketing presence.
Enter SelfMade, a service that addresses exactly this pain point, and democratizes social media marketing at scale. SelfMade started with an impressive “photo editing as service” offering, and is now building more and more features to provide what is in essence a social media team in your back pocket.
A core part of the SelfMade ethos and experience is an emphasis on creativity and personalized self-expression. Once you’ve worked with SelfMade on establishing your “brand brief”, you simply upload a pic, and specify what “treatment”you’d like on the app. Through a distributed backend of experts around the world, and an amount of artificial intelligence that will continue to grow over time, SelfMade can take your plain pictures any creative direction you’d like (see bottom of the post for some examples).
SelfMade has operated in stealth for the last 18 months or so – and, judging by its rapid early success and ever-growing waiting list, it has clearly struck a chord with its target market.
Today I’m excited to announce that FirstMark has led an $8M Series A financing in the company, joined by GGV and returning investors Primary (which led the seed), Box Group, Founder Collective, CrunchFund and Marc Benioff. SelfMade sits nicely at the intersection of key investment themes for FirstMark, such as social/images (Pinterest), creative tools (InVision, Sketchfab, Frame.io) and the future of work (Upwork, MissionU).
Beyond the thesis, the primary driver to an investing decision for us is always the intersection between a compelling mission and founders who are uniquely passionate and suited to pursue it. We are thrilled to be working with this founding team: Brian, formerly co-CEO of dating website HowAboutWe (acquired by IAC) is a a terrific consumer product guy and entrepreneur. Zach, a Stanford grad who most recently was running engineering for Google Docs, Sheets and Slides in New York, brings deep technical and managerial capabilities. Worth noting that this founding team is emblematic of the overall maturation of the NYC tech ecosystem: we’re excited to see more and more entrepreneurs going for a second or third venture, and partnering up with technical talent that grew up professionally in one of the NYC offices of the tech giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
To become a SelfMade member, join the waitlist at https://www.selfmade.co/ (or email me!)
P.S.: Brian, Matt & Zach – before and after!