In his discussion of Yappers and Shippers, Tim asked an interesting question:

Is the tech industry in Silicon Valley in any sense a celebrity-driven culture? You know, in the sense that the film industry in Hollywood is celebrity-driven.

It didn't take but a few seconds before I commented:

Of course it is. Sometimes the celebrities are real people, sometimes products, and sometimes brands. In some cases you get all three in one organization, like Apple: Steve Jobs, iPod, and Apple. Or Google: Larry/Sergey, Search, Google.

Upon thinking about it a bit more, I've come to realize that having all three is a remarkably powerful combination. A famous company with a killer product and an authoritative celebrity face to associate with them both is golden. The three can feed off each other in very powerful ways. And I'd never really thought of it in these terms until Tim brought it up.

Based on what I've seen, the brand depends on the person (often the company founder or founders) and the product--especially early on. As products gain traction, companies grow. And when that happens, that's where things get tricky. More often than not, companies don't capitalize on their star(s) as much as they could.

Using the same two examples is interesting. Apple, in my mind, is the model of how to do this. Steve Jobs is the undisputed rules of Apple, literally and figuratively. What he speaks, it becomes gospel. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else at the company who comes remotely close to his "authority" on anything related to Apple.

Google is a similar case. Early on, Google was inseparable from Larry and Sergey. The company seemed, quite literally, like an outgrowth of them. They have one of the most famous brands in the world and a killer product that's clearly number one. But now when they need to speak authoritatively on something, Larry and Sergey are strangely absent. Instead they trot out Eric or Marissa. It's an interesting choice they've made.

Technorati is another example. While it's hardly a household name today, it has a loyal following, great product, and Dave Sifry (again, the founder).

If I knew anything about business history, I'd be tempted to see how this played out in the early automotive industry. Cars (and car companies) seem to inspire the sort of passion and devotion among their owners that many people associate with their favorite technology products, brands, and people.

And where's Microsoft in all of this?

Posted by jzawodn at December 30, 2005 07:53 PM

Reader Comments
# BillyG said:

Where is M$? Exactly what I was thinking, unless authoritative means throwing chairs lol but the same could be said for Y! too you know; I know nothing about them nowadays, way less than I know about M$, and I really don't even keep up on that kind of thing...

on December 30, 2005 09:00 PM
# David Sifry said:

Why thank you Jeremy, that's an remarkably kind thing to say. I'm humbled.

But much more important than any one person is the team. I am incredibly lucky and grateful to be surrounded by one of the finest teams of people that I've ever had the privilege to work with. Truly they are the stars, and deserve the credit for Technorati's success. Me? I'm just a reasonably crappy coder who got pretty lucky. :-)


on December 30, 2005 09:22 PM
# grumpY! said:

steve jobs is unique in that he is both product visionary and uber salesman - his celebrity follows from his mastery of these roles, not from contrived shameless self promotion, of which he does none from what i can tell (which distinguishes him from the self-proclaimed 'visionaries' of web2). when jobs is on stage he is selling apple, not himself.

the larry and sergey show was sold by pr firms the same way the jerry and david show was - to pique the public interest, all trying to capture the modern zeitgeist of the hewlett and packard story. placing yet another article about those unconventional founders isn't going to sell more shares at this point. all four of these guys clearly made incredible impacts and got insanely rich, but none of them will likely match steve jobs for sustained leadership and vision of a multi-decade period.

on December 30, 2005 09:46 PM
# Michael Teper said:

And how is Bill Gates / Windows / Microsoft different?

on December 30, 2005 10:26 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

The more I think about it, I guess Bill/MSFT/Windows are in that class too...

on December 30, 2005 11:25 PM
# Greg Whitescarver said:

Yahoo? At least one celebrity: Jeremy Zawodny. My impression that EVERYBODY knows about this blog is regularly reinforced. In that favorite barroom discussion of "Who do you read," the name has come up more frequently than any other.

on December 31, 2005 10:46 AM
# Adam said:

Yeah, I'll echo the other posters... where's Yahoo?

And no, Jeremy doesn't count. While I love reading this blog and think Jeremy seems like a cool person, I'm betting you that I could ask 100 non-geeks "Who is Jeremy Zawodny?" and maybe 1 or 2 would know.

Compare that to "Who is Sergey Brin?" or "When I say Larry and Sergey, what do you think of?" or "Steve Jobs... ring a bell?" and I'm sure that at a light would go on in the heads of at least 25 of the 100 non-geeks.

Part of the problem is that Yahoo doesn't clearly stand for anything specific nowadays, not outside of geek-land, at least. Apple? iPods. Google? Still search, despite their 20% forays. Microsoft? Office or Windows.

But Yahoo? Seriously, what the heck does it stand for, and who is in running the show?

* * *

Don't get me wrong. I greatly admire Yahoo! Heck, I even applied to work there (twice, albeit No Dice). I love and use many Y! products.

But the lack of a passionate non-geek icon distresses me. Say what you will about Balmer and Gates, but they've got passion... and they're not shy about exuding it publicly (even if just in defense of Their Evilness :P) Marissa... while I personally think Google could (and perhaps *should*) find a more PR/Communications-talented person to be their spokesperson, you could do a lot worse than Marissa. Brilliant, passionate, and often blunt.

Yahoo should promote Stewart and Caterina to the role of Co-President. Now that's an articulate, humble, and talented couple if I've ever seen one :) Or heck, just have them be the general Yahoo spokespeople. I think morale and even your stock price would improve... honest ;)

on January 1, 2006 04:54 AM
# grumpY! said:

to Adam:

who is "running the show" at Yahoo are the employees together as a team - not a couple of egos run amok.

on January 1, 2006 09:15 AM
# John said:

For Microsoft, I think Ray Ozzie is the new point man visionary:

Can This Man Reprogram Microsoft?
Bill Gates is counting on Ray Ozzie, who joined Microsoft just eight months ago, to help the company tackle Google.
December 11, 2005. The New York Times

As for Yahoo!, I think Yahoo! is much more of a PR, sales, and marketing company than a visionary or product driven company IMHO. Jerry Yang is more involved than Filo in strategy, etc and shows up at obligatory conferences to speak, but he does not DRIVE Yahoo's strategy and vision. Filo is involved in the backend infrastructure of Yahoo!, but he doesn't DRIVE Yahoo to think of the Yahoo! infratructure as a competitive advantage, like I think Larry and Sergey do. As for Dan Rosensweig, he comes across to me as a slick sales guy, but I could be wrong.

As for colorful Silicon Valley leaders & visionaires, I find Larry Ellison fascinating, interesting and amusing. The biography on Ellison, Softwar, with Ellison's commentary in the footnotes, is quite interesting and entertaining. As well as the book, "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison*: Inside Oracle Corporation" (*God doesn't think He's Larry Ellison)

When Sun was hot, Scott McNealy was a great spokesperson/visionary for network computing. In the early days of desktop publishing, John Warnock at Adobe was considered a visionary and lead in a non-super star manner.

But no one can beat Jobs in vision and showmanship!


on January 1, 2006 01:23 PM
# Brian said:

Microsoft? That is an easy one... Bill Gates and Windows. I heard of these three way before Apple/Jobs/iPod. Good article!

on March 5, 2010 12:17 PM
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