Sheila Marcelo tells NY startups to "be authentic"

Marcelo explains at Vator Splash NY that branding is about building relationships

Lessons learned from entrepreneur by Faith Merino
December 5, 2012
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I think I have a feminist crush on Sheila Marcelo.  The CEO of flew in from the UK to speak at Vator Splash NY (her plane literally landed an hour before Splash started, and she looked fresher and more awake than I do on a weekend).

She came to the event with a few key points on branding inside and out. 

“Haven’t you ever written a paper in college where you just banged it out really quick ‘cause you were in the zone—that’s like building a brand,” said Marcelo.  “You’re writing a story, but it doesn’t have to originate logically, it has to come from your gut.  What authentic story are you telling people that’s resonating in their gut, that’s not trying to trick them in any way?”

And here’s the part where my inner feminist became glassy-eyed with love: Marcelo talked about how her own life experiences influenced her decision to create

“Rule number one is to be authentic.  I was born and raised in the Philippines and went to mount Holyoke college.  I got pregnant in college—my son is now 20 years old.  A few years later we had another unplanned pregnancy in grad school and I asked my parents to come help us with childcare, but my father had a heart attack.  I found myself with care issues.  That’s my story.  After graduating from Harvard, I thought maybe I don’t want to do this kind of business.  Maybe I need to do something that’s sexier, ‘cause I got an offer to be the CEO of a gaming business.  Then my mentor took me aside and said ‘are you in the pain business or in the pleasure business?’”

Marcelo went on to explain that developing a brand is about developing relationships with people.  If people know they’re being lied to or feel like you’re trying to sell something to them, they aren’t going to go for it.  The brand needs to be authentic, which is why, she said, the tagline, “There for you,” came so easily to them.  Building a brand, she said, needs to come from your gut—it needs to be an authentic story that isn’t designed to sell something, but to build relationships.

For more of Sheila Marcelo’s thoughts on business and building a brand, check out my recent interview here.   


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