Pete Kistler couldn’t get a job. After several rejections, he found out why. When employers would Google his name, the first result would be Pete Kistler, the convicted drug dealer – not Pete Kistler, the Syracuse student.
So BrandYourself was born as a way to give everyone the chance to manage their online reputations. “The industry was still only catering to really wealthy people,” Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of BrandYourself, told Opportunity Lives. When Kistler initially looked for reputation management firms to help his search results, he was quoted tens of thousands of dollars.
BrandYourself, by contrast, allows users to create a free account and instantly categorize the top search results for their name as “positive,” “negative,” or “not me.” They can then submit other links they want to be given higher ranks in Google. Ambron’s background in search-engine optimization helped him create a useful formula to make the service effective.
“It’s a very simple process,” said Ambron. “It’s no longer rocket science.”
Premium users can submit unlimited additional links and track when their name gets searched (and the location of the person searching for them) for only $100 per year.
It took a lot of time to get the site working. “Neither one of us had ever built a back-end software before,” said Ambron, and he also never took a business class in his life. After two years of hard work, the company just wasn’t working very well. A tipping point occurred in March 2o12, when BrandYourself relaunched and had more users sign up in the first week than in the entire 3 years prior.
BrandYourself’s customer acquisition costs are zero as news of the company has spread quickly by word of mouth. Because BrandYourself charges so much less than the larger reputation management firms, the company has “a revenue stream no one else has in a market no one else is able to reach,” said Ambron.
The company has won awards from SXSW, The White House, and several magazines – including Entrepreneur Magazine, PCWorld, and Inc. Magazine.
But possibly the company’s biggest publicity boost came from appearing on Shark Tank, a show in which entrepreneurs pitch their companies to wealthy “sharks” in an attempt to get an investment in their idea. Though Ambron was offered $2 million by tech mogul Robert Herjavec, Ambron turned down the deal because he didn’t want to give up Herjavec’s desired 13.5 percent of the company.
The Shark Tank appearance still generated immense publicity for the company. “There’s a very large business for consumers that may not be computer savvy that want a better reputation or to get rid of something,” said Herjavec on the show. He was right – today, over 500,000 users have accounts with BrandYourself.
Ambron said he has learned a lot from the entrepreneurial process. “The most important thing is to make sure you’re willing to really work incredibly hard and sacrifice a lot with possibly nothing to show for it.”