After seeing the constant pants-jizzing on Twitter by Keith Rabois about Quora, I finally signed up and started using the service. Today I got this question…

Matt Mireles, As a CEO, do you find that your mohawk has a positive, negative or no impact on how you are received by peers and members of the funding community (VCs, Angels, Bankers)?
The reason I ask is because I am in a VP position now and am looking to found a company and although I don't have a mohawk, I do have a very large imperial mustache, and I'm wondering what to expect.

My response…

It depends on who you are as a person, what kind of public persona you want to cultivate, and what kind of market you're pursuing. 

Generally speaking, having an unorthodox/flamboyant persona is a strategic asset if you're selling to consumers. Remember, when you're a startup, any press is good press. And umm, yeah, you've got nothing, ergo you've got nothing to lose!

That said, if you're selling to businesses, the flamboyant persona tends to be more of a liability––or at least it takes a lot more finesse and work to neutralize the liability aspects and magnify the asset value. 

For me, the mohawk is and was a conscious choice and part of a broader branding strategy for both myself and SpeakerText. In my view, the "CEO with a mohawk" is just part of a larger decision to be known as a slightly crazy, shit talking, scrappy mofo of an entrepreneur with working class roots––despite an Ivy League pedigree. Similarly, I want SpeakerText to be known as a scrappy company filled with serious hackers who care about satisfying customers and achieving world domination WAY more than pleasing investors or adhering to uptight social norms.    

Simply, I decided that I was going to be a high-profile person and create a high-profile company with a very strong and meaningful brand.The mohawk, the blog, the plentiful f-bombs, etc. are all just a part of who I am as a person, but I also choose to accentuate that part of my personality for strategic reasons. 

The beauty of this approach, if you ask me, is that it creates a very useful selection effect with regards to potential employees and, to a lesser extent, investors. When you have a strong brand that's genuine and that you're proud of, especially one that seems "risky," it signals that you the founder are a person of principal, that you stand for something beyond making a quick buck, that you're passionate and you care. Some of the best people spend their whole lives searching for meaning, searching for a community of people with real values. And by being unafraid, by signaling that you in fact are willing to risk a suboptimal short term outcome by cutting a contrarian view, you become able (quite ironically) to attract some of the best people to join your crazy company at a discount, sometimes at a steep discount, versus the market rate, which is the key to long term success.