Strategic branding and the foundation of success

branding and the success of a start-up
Branding and the success of a start-up

Just over a year ago a couple of very bright and determined students stopped me at the end of class (I teach part-time at Kingston University) asking for some marketing ideas for their new-born company, Amberstalk. After listening to their project, after seeing their passion, and once I understood the potential that this company had, I was hooked. But, like many of my clients know, I am a firm believer in the importance of developing a strong brand before investing into marketing tactics. And so it all started, for one year the team has been busy building their company and developing their brand. What really impressed me was how easily they understood the key importance of their brand, how they worked on it until they were absolutely sure that they got it right, until they were able to clearly articulate their unique value proposition, their values, their essence.

Today I’m very proud to see how much they have achieved. They officially launched the company only recently at Food Matters Live and got more than 100 companies to sign up with them. Everywhere they go, established companies and other start-ups alike take notice, they are impressed by Amberstalk’s proposition and they are keen to do business with them.


So, for the first article of 2018, I decided to start with a positive story: an interview with Kirck Allen, CEO & Founder of Amberstalk Ltd. In this interview, I asked him to share more about Amberstalk and in particular about the role of branding in the successful launch of a start-up.

Amberstalk Interview

1) What is Amberstalk?

Amberstalk is the world’s first Hemp Commodity Trading company based in London envisioning to pioneer a sustainable future. We provide a value-added service that helps small to medium-sized businesses integrate Hemp into their products.

We offer 3 core services:

Hemp Integration which is a consultation-based service.

Quality supply where we offer the best quality organic raw Hemp materials from our key trusted sources around the world.

Marketing tools which consist of primary and secondary research that we offer to businesses to use for their marketing/ product development.

2) How was the idea of Amberstalk born?

The Idea of Amberstalk was formed in response to a market gap: the lack of connection between farmers/ suppliers who had raw materials and businesses who wanted to use them in their products or had no idea that Hemp existed. Through our company, we are able to introduce Hemp to a variety of new businesses in order to increase not only the educational awareness but to also show them how versatile and sustainable Hemp could be.

3) How did you choose this name?

That’s actually a funny story as we came up with 3 random names during one of our meetings: Hempstalk, Goldstalk and Amberstalk. We didn’t choose Hempstalk because we didn’t want to limit our company by only focusing on Hemp and we also didn’t choose Goldstalk because it sounded like a bank so, in the end, we settled for Amberstalk and then wrote our story about it.

The story behind Amberstalk is based on the first scene from the first Jurassic Park film, where scientists extract the DNA of a dinosaur from a million-year-old mosquito stuck inside an Amber to create and re-engineer thousands of other dinosaurs. So just like in the movie, Amberstalk would be a company that extracts the Hemp crop (or any other unknown crops) and unveil its core to create thousands of amazing products from it.

4) What makes Amberstalk unique?

Amberstalk is unique because of 3 main reasons: diversity, youthful, and the fact that we have common dreams and goals. Diversity is what keeps Amberstalk alive because we all came from different nationalities and backgrounds. We all have something to contribute according to the experiences we have from our own countries and we share them in order to build the culture around our company. We work as a team and we accept each other for our differences, treating one another like brothers and sisters which solidifies our bond as a team.

Although we are still a start-up, our team is composed of 7 members from different nationalities that range from the Philippines to Latvia, Hong Kong to South Korea, and Bangladesh to British, etc. We are also a very youthful company with members that are only between 22- 28 years old so our potential to grow not just as individuals but also as a team gives us a strong advantage. Since we are the millennial generation, we see things in a completely different light compared to the older generations that run the biggest companies that operate in fields related to Hemp.

Lastly, is that we have a common goal and dream: to change the world. One thing surprising about the members of my company is that our priority is not to make the most money for the company. Our aim is to create the best value that people/ businesses can get from the services that we offer to inspire them to use sustainable materials within their businesses. We believe that the biggest problem right now is that the way we are all living today, it is not sustainable for the environment, our economy and most importantly our health. Amberstalk is here to show a different perspective on to this and we believe that this is why we get a lot of people interested in our company.

5) Vision, mission, values, often sound like empty words to companies. You do have a strategic brand identity, how did you define your brand and what process did you follow?

We simply got out Vision, Mission and Values through a number of trial and errors. We had to revise our vision and mission at least 3-5 times over the span of 6 months. We kept redefining the company till eventually, it suited our ideals as a team and how we want to make an impact in the world.

It was also a big thanks to our Brand Advisor, Giulia Iannucci of KnowThyBrand, who gave us the guidelines we needed in order to complete our Brand Roadmap, a toll this one that helped not only to shape our brand but also with defining the way we conduct our businesses and who we should do businesses with. Branding is the foundations of a strong company, after meeting so many businesses myself, I have seen many of them grow very well for the first 3-4 years but get stuck and unable to expand because they have not defined their brand clearly. Amberstalk wants to pioneer a sustainable future, and that is why we believe that even if we take our company to another country we still have the same core beliefs and a common foundation.

6) How much do you think your brand strategy has helped you in getting ready for the official launch of Amberstalk?

The branding is very important for any business because it will serve as the face or the identity that people will perceive your company to be. Having a clear brand roadmap not only helped us attract the right people to work in our company but also to attract the clients who we would like to work with. In the Food Matters Live 2017 at the London ExCel Centre, we had the company launch which allowed us to showcase our company for the first time in public. In these 2-3 days, we were able to attract almost 100+ clients sign ups with companies such as Linwood, Twinings, Tesco’s and many other multi-million pound companies.

We were so busy in our small area that even the security guards and event staff at the front entrance were pointing guests to head towards the Hemp Zone. Our branding also helped us with our marketing tools such as the design and wording of our banners we used in order to attract attention to our company. Branding was the core of our launch and out of the few companies within the Hemp Zone area, we absolutely stood out. Our Facebook Live stream also reached views from as far as Bangladesh and Pakistan! And now they even want to start bringing Hemp into their country. To say the least, we couldn’t have asked for a better launch!

7) What is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far that your work on your brand helped you to address?

There were 3 major challenges that branding has really influenced the growth of our company and that was direction, communication and strategy. Because our brand roadmap was so clear, we were are now able to make decisions much easier because we had a direction to work towards. Our vision and Mission really gave us the discipline to make sure that every decision we make as a company should be pushing us one step closer to achieving our vision of a sustainable future. Secondly, is communication, at the very beginning it was so difficult to even describe what our company does or why does it exist. Branding really helped us communicate a lot clearer and used the words that benefit our company image. Lastly, is that Brading really helped us with a strategy to attract new clients, we were able to wow so many business owners that it was almost funny because they thought that we’ve already been trading for years but in reality, we’ve just started.

8) What is the biggest challenge your company has faced so far?

The biggest challenge for our company so far is administration; this is because the roles and responsibilities within our company have not been clearly identified yet and this affects the company’s work structure. Obviously, we are still in our early stages so we are working on this challenge as we speak to create a better company culture.

9) Where is Amberstalk today?

Today Amberstalk is getting ready for our next milestone which is to secure 100 clients and to dominate our digital and online presence through our website launch and our social media pages. Again, with a strong brand at our core, we will be able to conduct businesses differently compared any other Hemp company around the world. We are also setting up our #UseHemp campaign and the British Hemp Association which will further increase the credibility of our company as well as our presence in the UK Hemp industry.

10) What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Our aim for this year is very simple, and that is to create traction, we want to generate as much interest about Hemp in the UK to get more businesses using Hemp into their products. We look forward to seeing these companies succeed in creating amazing products that the everyday person can benefit from. This year will be the first big wave of the UK Hemp Industry!

11) Do you have a single greatest “aha!” moment that has helped you move the company forward?

Our “Aha” moment was the creation of #UseHemp Campaign that is still at the development stage. We wanted to create a campaign that would separate Hemp from the misconceptions of marijuana and to also give a new meaning by treating this crop as a sustainable crop. This campaign’s aim is also to unite the Hemp industries of the world to agree that we should look at Hemp not as an industrial, medicinal or health crop but a sustainable crop that utilizes every part of the plant. This will also do very well in putting Hemp in the digital space where it could possibly create a surge in Hemp utilization. Although it is still too early to tell the exact impact, this campaign lead by Amberstalk has already created waves of traction globally.

12) What are the 3 top tips you would give to someone who is planning to launch a start-up?

My first top tip starts with a quote from Steve Jobs that changed my life forever.

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. But that’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact and that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” – Steve Jobs

What this quote is trying to say is that you don’t need to be a genius to start a company nor you need a degree to become successful. All you need to do is to believe in yourself, believe that you can make a difference in someone else’s life, whether to solve their problems or add a benefit. Business is about serving others, if you start with this mindset you will have the potential to change the world.

My second top tip is to start with why, find the reason why you want to launch your own company. Your why will guide you through the difficult times especially during the early days of starting a company. Entrepreneurship and business are not for everyone, very often you would find yourself lost with no direction. As quoted by Elon Musk in one of his interviews, “Starting a company is almost like eating glass and staring into the abyss. You’d have to be crazy to start one.

As human beings we all seek to find purpose, this is because we want to give our lives meaning to exist. Entrepreneurs know this to their very core and that’s what helps them become successful in the long run. “If your WHY doesn’t make you CRY, then that’s not your WHY” – Coach Hite

My last top tip is to learn from the greats and become greater! I realized from the first year of my university that the fastest way to become successful is to talk to people who are already there. I’ve met millionaires/ billionaires from Jordan Belfort (Wolf of Wall Street) to Les Brown and almost 50+ different entrepreneurs from all over the world in the first 4 months of my university before I started my first company. I listened to their stories and I learned from their failures and finally adopting their mindset. I truly believe that success leaves clues. So get out there and meet people, or at least watch YouTube clips of these amazing entrepreneurs.

As a bonus tip, remember that your most valuable asset as a human being is our time. It is something that we can never take back and is very limited, so we must use it wisely. Your life is limited so waste it living someone else’s life! If you don’t build your dreams, someone out there will hire you to build theirs!

Kirck Allen

CEO & Founder of Amberstalk Ltd

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