Ashley Garner, owner and designer, Violet Wears

Q: How do you build brand trust with a new business?

A: I love this question. As an entrepreneur, I’m asking it of my own business right now.

New firms face many challenges to legitimacy because of their young age, not the least of which is brand trust, including a wide range of challenges such as raising capital, gaining access to inputs and developing the required human capital.

The company, without operating history, faces a lack of legitimacy until it has proved itself.

Violet Wears reminds me of several fast-growing businesses that came out of the University of St. Thomas recently that have found ways to minimize this liability. Love Your Melon gives hats to kids with cancer when someone buys a hat (or another clothing item). Bizzy Coffee makes cold press coffee for retail sale. Both have recently passed the legitimacy tipping point, gaining national distribution of their products. They live and breathe their mission and their brand.

The LYM founders dress up like superheroes and visit kids in hospitals, demonstrating their commitment to the cause. Their physical presence with the kids builds immediate legitimacy and brand trust with the community of families dealing with the cancer. Bizzy Coffee used East Coast and local incubator experiences to demonstrate their commitment to product development and market entry, raising their legitimacy in the eyes of potential investors and distributors.

The challenge for all founders is to find the time to do everything else that needs to be done and overcome the liabilities of being new. An effective method available to most new companies is to develop a strong advisory board. In addition to providing much needed advice and perspective, advisers become champions to promote your brand and mission. Their credibility and legitimacy can pass to your business.

In building a family of advisers who believe what you believe, you can more easily gain access to investors, suppliers or other decisionmakers who can positively influence the trajectory of your business, minimizing some of the liabilities of newness.


Alec Johnson is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.