Once upon a time: Life lessons to help build your brand

Microsoft for Startups
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This presentation was first given at the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub Latin American Founders Symposium on November 9, 2021. You can watch the full presentation now on YouTube.

The speaker was Miri Rodriguez, storyteller and Head of Global Intern Program at Microsoft. Miri Rodriguez is a globally recognized Storyteller, Head of Global Internship Program at Microsoft and author of Brand Storytelling. She is a creative journalist and content strategist, evangelizing brand narrative and showcasing how thought leaders can leverage storytelling techniques for culture activation and influence in the digital age. 

Miri’s expertise and empathetic understanding of the power of personal branding should resonate with all early-stage entrepreneurs as they build their profile and begin to establish an identity with colleagues, mentors, investors and customers.

Hello. I'm excited to share with you a little bit of my story. I'm a business owner, like you, and I have learned a couple of things in life. I want to share with you some of those things to be happy and successful.

Define your own success

I found early in life that it was important for me to define success for myself. I have been able to reach those milestones that I wanted, not because society or my parents or religion told me I needed to get married at a certain age or become a VP, or have this title, or have a business at a certain age. It was my own definition of success, of what I wanted to become at certain time of my life.

I came here to the States when I was 13 years old. I was born in Venezuela to parents who are missionaries. We didn't have a lot. We came here and we started learning the language and trying to live the American dream.

Certainly, going to an Ivy League school was not something that I thought I could do. And as I got older, I decided, "Hey, why not?" And so, I decided, "By the time I'm 40, I'm going to graduate from an Ivy League university." And I did. Two days right before my birthday, I walked out the Georgetown University campus with a master's degree in communications and marketing.

Imagine if somebody would've said, "Hey, you have to graduate by 24 and that's it. That's your window. You're done." I would've missed it. I have learned in life that it's never too late to succeed at something that you think you want to do.

That’s the first thing. Define your own success. This is your life. You are the CEO, not only of your company, but of your life. You get to own your own success. Define that for yourself and celebrate those small moments, because those are big moments in the end.

Find your tribe

The second thing I learned is that success is a team sport. You don't get there alone. Someone changed your diaper. Someone gave you a bottle. Someone took you to school to learn. We're not self-sufficient, we're not self-taught. We have people that have supported us and helped us and encouraged our journey. I certainly wouldn't be here, had it not been for my mentors, for people that have rooted me in the most dire times of my life.

I used to see this saying, “Behind a strong woman is herself.” But I know that I need all the help I can get. And I take all the help I can get. For me, I have been able to share every success with people around me, my tribe, people that have been with me throughout my life.

Get yourself a tribe. That's very important. Get yourself mentors if you don't have them. It's been a most teachable moment when I can pass something through my mentors and get that wisdom of someone who's been there before. It's a team sport and you celebrate it with people. Don't do life by yourself. Don't do business by yourself. You have people behind you and you have people that can help you. Get yourself that tribe.

Brand yourself

The third thing is to brand yourself. I don't know that I would be here had it not been for the platform that I created with my brand. As I began to build this this small empire for myself, what set me apart was that I took time to build my voice in my brand. Self-branding is not getting on LinkedIn and putting up your resume. It's not just having social media followers. Social media is a channel. It's not your brand. Your brand is how you make people feel, who you have set out to be.

I wrote a book called Brand Storytelling and during my research for the book, I learned that the two most recent generations, Generation Z and Generation Alpha, want to befriend brands. They want to know what you stand for, who the human behind the brand is.

What are your core values? What do you stand for? Generations Z and Alpha question some brands depending on their political stance, or their sustainability methods. When these new generations think about branding, it goes beyond who you are and it translates your values into the company. 

Start with a mission statement. Just like you have one for your company, you should have one for yourself. Create the attributes that your brand is about.

I started this journey 10 years ago. When I started it, I was thinking about the attributes of my brand. I decided that my brand would be feminine and kind. So those two things are where I gauge everything about my brand. Am I dressing feminine and kind? Is my email feminine and kind? Do I show up feminine and kind? 

Think about those attributes and stay on brand. Then that translates organically to your business and people tune into that and there is authenticity there.

I don't think of my story is remarkable, but other people do. That's the beauty of branding. It's sharing your story so somebody else might find it inspiring. I didn't go to the moon or anything, but my story has been enough for people to get inspired. And I'm sure yours is as well. 

I encourage you to take time to build your brand. That will bring success beyond what you actually have already. It'll exponentially help your success in everything that you do.

Work on your legacy

Once you've decided to brand yourself, the next level is to think about your legacy. This is one of my core values. I have two boys. They're big, but they're still boys in my heart. I think about my legacy through them and through their children. It's beyond me, but it starts with me. What will people know me for long after I'm gone?

I've branded myself and I've opened myself for people to get to know me. What will they say when I'm gone? It's beyond just a mission statement. It's not just the business. It's not just how you show up. It's how you make people feel and beyond. Create an intentionality around your legacy. Ask yourself what you want people to know you for and work on that. 

If you want to be known for being generous then you begin to be generous. If you decide that you want to be known for teaching others another language. Then you start doing that. Those are the things that build your legacy.

Research shows that we are the happiest when we give back to others. I find that very curious, because we spend a lot of our time thinking about our own happiness and how we make ourselves happy, building wealth and building knowledge. How we give that back is part of your legacy. 

I come from Venezuela and I still have family there. The country has immense poverty. There's a lot of political unrest. It's just devastating when I think about a country that was one of the richest countries in Latin America. It's devastating for me to think about where we are today.

Now that I am in a position to have a bigger impact, not just to my family, but to my country, to people that live there, what will I do? How will I do that? Those are things I think about.

I encourage you to think about where you come from and the opportunities you have in your life, to leave something for the generations after you, and after them. Generational wealth is not only about money. It's knowledge and wisdom. It's what you can leave that is everlasting in the generations to come.

The beautiful thing about our story, our brand and our business is that we have an opportunity and a platform to leave something for the next generations. I encourage you to write that mission statement with the idea of what will you do, not just for yourself, but also for others.

When I look back and define success, I think about all those things that I am. Someone that works at Microsoft, someone that owns a business, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, so many different things. I look back and say, "Did I do my best in any of these areas?"

That's how I define success. How do you define success? I want you to think about it and not let other forces define it for you. You are the CEO of your life.