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Margaret Roth By Margaret Roth • May 5, 2015

At April's Startup Soirée Baltimore Founders Take a Hard Look at What it Takes to Build a Brand

By Margaret Roth

With great resolve to keep the good in mind in a trying time, April's Startup Soirée went on as planned. In a conversation led by Hersh's Pizza and Drinks founder Stephanie Hershkovitz, the current state of affairs led to a deep and personal discussion on people, their stories, and how they are part of developing a brand. 

Hersh's Pizza and Drinks is known as an eclectic spot for great food and amazing drinks at the southernmost end of Light Street in Federal Hill. Currently, it has two claims to fame - one being the "best crust in Baltimore" and the second being "oh yeah that restaurant that gave out free pizza in exchange for Ray Rice jerseys." While the founders have great pride in their work over the last three years to develop their pizza, they take just as much pride in the hard work it has taken to develop their brand.

Stephanie, a lawyer turned entrepreneur, and her brother Josh, a culinary enthusiast with an MBA, started their Hersh's Pizza and Drinks adventure in 2012. Over the last several years they have learned, changed, and improved many things, as the identity of their company has emerged. Here are Stephanie's top five insights on the development of their brand:

  • You have to take yourself seriously to take your brand seriously. 
  • Never underestimate the value of consulting someone to discuss your brand. 
  • Things that work in New York are not necessarily going to work in Baltimore. 
  • Pizza does not naturally come in slices. 
  • You have to learn to distinguish between the things that are important to you versus the things that define your identity.

That last one is the hardest of all. As Stephanie noted "Sourcing things locally is important to us but it is not our identity. Learning to distinguish between the things that are important to us versus the things that define us is the most important challenge to overcome" as you develop a brand that you, your products, and your staff can stand by. 

From this point a great discussion evolved, covering everything from the process of naming things, the stories of brands coming together, developing the team that represents a brand, and some great advice was shared. Below are some of the highlights. Forgive the paraphrasing.  

  • Unless it's a really specific product, a name matters more when it's bad than if it's good in certain ways. Find something that is both broad and specific enough that it does not pigeonhole you but makes you unique. 
  • A name needs to make it so that a lot of people can approach it without feeling judged and can just be excited about it. A name should be something that people can make their own.
  • Think about how the name feels in your mouth. It's important not to forget the visceral aspects of a name and think about how it impacts the way people relate to something. 
  • Document your name and your brand in a way that can be trained, that way as you grow your employees can represent your brand well. 
  • When you make one thing more challenging for your customers you have to make some things easier so that you're not challenging them on all fronts. 
  • Make sure that your target market gets what you do from your name, but be careful not to pigeonhole yourself through the brand that evolves around the name.
  • Remember that whatever is going on with you and your employees 24 hours a day is the person that is coming to work with you.
  • Read stuff. There's a lot of great things to read out there from a lot of people who have been where you are before. And don't be afraid to fail.

The most important thought that was left in everyone's mind as the discussion wrapped up was that all of these stories and struggles are shared by all of us as founders of businesses in this city - Baltimore's people are our people, it's story is our story, it's brand is our brand. Charm City. Monument City. The Greatest City in America. Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner. The events that have unfolded over the last three weeks will continue to influence the city's future for years to come. And Baltimore's entrepreneurs, startups, and business owners will continue working relentlessly to move our story forward.

Many thanks to Stephanie of Hersh's Pizza and Drinks, Ashley Riddle of Up Dos for I Dos, Chris Sasche of Horsetail TechnologiesChris Schaffer of Christopher Schaffer Clothier, Patrick Rife of Pixilated, and Dana Sicko of Gundalow Juice for sharing their advice and experiences. Thanks to the whole team Startup Soirée and all the brilliant Maryland entrepreneurs that came out to support and learn from each other, no matter what. #BaltimoreStrong.

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