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📬 Let’s talk about Identity

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This week I began testing out how I'll announce the new startup I joined last month. I'm a bit nervou
 

Liam Boogar

April 17 · Issue #3 · View online
A weekly newsletter about what's important to me: technology, France, politics, culture & opinions. Lots of opinions.

This week I began testing out how I’ll announce the new startup I joined last month. I’m a bit nervous. You only ever get to make one first impression, and even though some will have already heard of the startup and others could care less, I tend to practice 1:1 for a couple weeks to gauge responses, tweak the language, and just get to a point where the initial reaction is the one of understanding (and, ideally, intrigue). 

More on that next week, but this week I’ve been thinking a lot about Identity. Despite being our interpretation of ourselves today, Identity is inevitably rooted in the past. And just as today changes every day, so does the sum total of our past experiences, and thus our identity. When I arrived in France, I was a Silicon Valley transplant. Eight years on and I look more like a Parisian who grew up in California than I ever thought I would. 
I wrote this revue while listening to 🎧 Islands by Bear’s Den - among other thing the music video for their single Elysium was shot in the aftermath of the June 2014 Seattle campus shooting with real students grieving (here’s the story). I haven’t watched the music video in years, but the imagery is powerful. 

Identity is a Crutch
Perhaps more an assessment of my own identity than anything else, but I’ve always repeated Identity is a Crutch as a litmus test for myself: 
“Are the foundations of my beliefs rooted in a fundamental truth, a choice or in something "inherited” - religion, gender, race, nationality?“ - Liam Boogar, right now. 
I’ve always found that I’m not a great advocate for white people, for men, for catholics - well, I might be a good advocate for those raised catholic who are agnostic, but, you see, I just put a choice onto something inherited.
For most people, their nationality is inherited, which is why right-wing nationalists always have such little substance behind their beliefs - their identity is rooted in something arbitrary that is beyond their control. Immigrants, of course, are the exception: immigrants are the only people who choose their nationality - some have a larger breadth of choice than others, but you can always choose whether to head north or south, and all immigrants choose.
🎧 I’ve known you all my life
And I worship the ground you walk upon
Getting Lost in Cuba
Getting outside yourself.
When Olivia & I visited Cuba last year just after our engagement, we spent seven whole days essentially having the same back-and-forth conversation: is capitalism necessarily the best choice? It’s certainly not the only one.
We were in a communist country where everyone we met was spectacularly happy with the way things were - at least, as much as any citizen can be content with how their country is run at any moment.
The potholes had roads, if you catch my drift, but then again, if your objective isn’t to optimize for financial gain, then does it really matter how smooth the roads are?
The buses run late, but, as our host said many times, “In America, time is money. In Cuba, time is life.” What does it matter to wait 3 hours to catch a bus to the next town if time is not money but life?
It’s hard to step outside one’s inherited sense of self - I never fathomed that life could be substantially different in another country until I went to Ireland for a month when I was 14. Realizing that certain constants - things that have been fundamentally true to you for as long as you can remember - are actually variables that were decided for you by someone else, that’s a powerful notion.
Identity & Brand
The gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is never more important than when you’re building brand for a startup. I have always found it difficult to proofread my own writing (thanks Olivia, unofficial Rude Baguette copy editor for 4 years) because when I re-read my writing, my brain reads what I was trying to communicate, rather than my half-finished sentences and spelling mistakes.
Likewise, when we pitch ourselves, our startup, every word we use so intuitively connects to how we want to be perceived, that we often don’t notice that our vision falls flat. Your audience doesn’t have the same obsession for the problem, nor the context for what your competitors have been doing wrong, and you hardly want their first question to be “but doesn’t Snapchat already do that?” 
Or maybe you do, but that quickly becomes your brand.
Like an Identity, Brand evolves as your startup grows - either deliberately because you take steps to grow that brand or reactively because you don’t nurture that brand with each decision you take. 
The underdog becomes the monopoly - Zuckerberg had a hard time convincing Congress that Facebook was the same startup he started in his dorm room oh so many years ago (cue Social Network soundtrack). 
The singularly-focused taxi company suddenly delivers food, buys scooters & has the occasional ice cream truck. 
Jason M. Lemkin 🦄
Best reasons to do PR, in order:

1. Make your team proud
2. Make your customers feel like made right decision
3. Boost recruiting
4. Maybe, get a lead. Maybe.
5:51 PM - 15 Apr 2018
Our brand cannot help but become the sum total of our experiences, and I couldn’t help but disagree (for once) with Jason Lemkin, who seems to underestimate the role of PR in the evolution of brands like Uber & Facebook, or the success of Slack & Intercom
Deliberate actions taken to impose oneself into a narrative and ultimately steer the narrative are the reason that Drift was able to arrive with a me-too product years after so many other companies launched in-app chat and to take the market: they made conversations core to their brand where all others saw conversations as a means to an end.
"As a French person..." Comments from last week's newsletter
If you ever try to talk about something that is associated with national identity, you need to be prepared for the “as a ____” retort, which can come as both an affirmation or a counterargument:
“As an old(er than you) French person, partly educated in the UK, living since 15 years in Germany and working in a Startup context, I find you did a very good (multicultural) job in this analysis of the strikes in France! But I am personally against people burning someone else’s property (call me conservative ;-) - Sedrik from Germany, from France & by way of the UK
Age, country of residence, country of birth - an inherited sense of identity which no better informs our experiences than someone studying our culture from an academic perspective, and yet: 
I couldn’t agree more! It’s the French who teach you best how to gain the optimal work-life balance, and how to be efficient without going insane. I can compare, I lived in Sydney! (I’m Polish, btw.) - Paulina from Poland by way of Sydney 
I appreciate how one’s perspective or opinion is justified by their identity, but I’ve never found inherited identity makes an idea more powerful, an opinion more legitimate, or an error any less wrong.   
"I’m a British person who co-owns a French company - we’ve been so stung by bad employees in the past that we now only employ one reliable French person and do the rest of the work ourselves!” - Katya from the UK, who co-owns a French Company
Something you may not know about immigrants is that the reason we tend to spend more time with immigrants (and people who have lived abroad) is because we leave Identity at the door, and keep things simple.   
“this was great, thank you” - Lucy from New York.
Who are you?
How important are your political beliefs to your identity? Your religion? Are you willing to die on the hill of gender or race? 
Even better: what is your chosen identity? If you strip away all the inherited aspects of yourself, who are you? 
This week I bought the domain SFOCDG.com because I have come to terms with my identity: I’m a plane soaring 600 miles per hour between San Francisco & Paris and back again.
Hit reply & I’ll reply,
-Liam
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