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Owned Identity

A brand is about people (target group) knowing about you, what you stand for, what you can do for them, and how. A strong brand helps you build Competitive Differentiation.

Why it matters:

Build agency

  • Build an authentic expression of yourself
  • Audiences cannot know or experience you or your product until they’ve experienced it. But why should they try it? Hence, you need to articulate a compelling image of an achievable future. It helps your team, investors, customers, and family see, smell, taste the future… it creates a pull to bring that reality to life.
  • Once they’ve bought and tried the product, what do they judge you against? That’s where a well-articulated brand promise comes in.
  • It is easy for a potential customer to communicate why they love the product, just like I could write why I want a Fairphone.

Protect against downside

Maximize upside

  • Track record matters: Given a level playing field, the individual, product, or service boasting better recall and a proven delivery history generally takes the win. By conveying who you are, what you stand for, and your capabilities, you enhance brand recall and increase your appeal to potential customers.
  • Expansion potential: It’s easier to envision Apple launching a car or a hotel than say Dell or Marriott, right?
  • Attracting opportunities in the long run: A well-established trusted brand can attract opportunities as individuals and companies seek to do deals via you, offering a share in potential deals. Case in point: Starbucks’ entry into India backed by the Tata brand.


A well-established identity or brand locks you in. It won’t change no matter how much everything else changes.

How to define?

Don’t invest in logos and brand colors! Visual differentiation without substance isn’t a moat.

Articulate your promise

Know what you stand for and for whom.

  • Culture is a tried-and-tested way to build a brand. To build an authentic expression about yourself, your Lived experiences and Things you own should weave into a coherent story.
  • Culture works because people have a preference to connect with, buy from, and sell to ‘people like us’, i.e., those with whom they have shared passions or tastes.
  • A major downside of using culture is that it by definition excludes people who are not like us.
  • Additionally, at some point, you’ll end up handing over the leverage over the brand to the community, exposing you to being canceled.

Build Trust. It is one of the major scarcities in society.

You can articulate your promise using From/To Analysis

Write a 10 word or less tagline. Inspiration: Discover new apps and startups in 10 words or less or The Art of Writing One-Sentence Product Descriptions

Name the promise

We humans give greater weight to things that have names.

  • If you want people to avoid something then given it a negative name.
  • If you want people to adopt something then given it a positive name.

Sign your work

Society trusts those who put themselves out there and take risks under their name. This is true for both your audience and investors. You need to be visible, and you need to be projecting transparency and a strong reliance on facts and data.

To build recall, regularly talk to your target audience.

  • Who: A brand is built for a specific set of people. Hence, always Target advertisements.
  • Where: Ideally, you want to build an Owned Media or audience to reach people repeatedly at no additional cost. But if you don’t have it, then you should advertise in Premium spaces.
  • How often: Ideas don’t stick just by saying them once. Hence, use spaced repetition — repeat the core message in different ways regularly — for it to sink in.

Take responsibility

No, its not about just putting a byline to your work. It is about being accountable for the work you put out (or do not). When you are accountable for the content you put out, society will start judging you. Eventually this will translate into credibility.

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In 1994, James Jebbia started Supreme, a small skateboard shop aimed at the New York skating scene. Over the next 25 years, Supreme expanded into high-quality clothes and accessories and became a staple in the streetwear community.

  • As a result, when Supreme drops new collections twice a year, there are often long lines of Supreme fans, often called Supremeheads or Hypebeasts, outside Supreme stores.
  • In November 2020, VF Corporation acquired Supreme in an all-cash deal for $2+ billion.

Why Supreme: Unlike the Tulips and the NFT market today, Supreme has been in the Collectibles business for over 25 years.

  • Supreme isn’t in the apparel and accessories business. It is in the collectibles business. It has made collectible clothes, shoes, crowbars, bricks, bandaid, bling, caps, and skateboards, to name a few.
  • It has outlived many recessions and bubbles and has steadily grown into a multi-billion dollar brand.

Supreme is valuable because the community it participates in — the streetwear community — believes so. Why else would someone pay $200+ for a brick from Supreme?


From/To Analysis helps you visually and succinctly articulate where you are today and how the future will be different. Here are some examples:

When it launched, this is how communicated the change it was trying to drive:

Another great inspiration is this early diagram on Intercom’s website.

When veteran journalist and founder of Storyful, Mark Little, started, he articulated the transformation they were trying to drive on their whiteboard.


Here’s how some of the biggest technology companies looked when they started:

Here’s how billion dollar revenue companies look today!

Compare these designs to the classy user interface of the now shut

The bottomline: Owned Identity or brands are built over years by delivering on your core promise. All you need is a design that is good enough that won’t kill the launch.

  • Google’s focus was its Search algorithm.
  • Amazon’s focus was on faster shipping, lower pricing, and greater variety.
  • Once you’ve cracked your core value proposition, the unique design can add to the experience, thereby allowing you to charge a premium.

In comparison: The Outline has overinvested in design relative to their size and earning potential and that capital could have been better deployed in experimenting with and iterating on their core editorial proposition.

  • This typically happens because editorial teams tend to mix up brand, design, and content.


A niche is a narrow and deep value proposition that you can target (reach) to a specific set of people. It so happens that most unprofitable niches are small.

Focus is concentrating interest and activity on one thing.

It’s a strategy best suited for those committed to the long game, building their Judgment and credibility in a specific field, and those devoted to cultivating their Owned Identity, business, or initiatives as their life’s work.

In fact, they are well-positioned to run their own media operations, thanks to their education, mindfulness, and thoughtfulness. They have the content ready!

Who are we talking about?

  • Professionals such as academics, researchers, reporters, policy makers, consultants, analysts, and think tank members who develop deep Judgment in their study field.
  • The “Fortune 50 million” rather than the Fortune 500—sustainable Work Products earning an honest living, solving specific problems for a clearly defined customer base (Niche).
  • Enthusiasts and hobbyists with a profound appreciation for their chosen subject or activity using Passion work products.
  • Independent media and content creators dedicated to telling the truth using Candid Communication.
  • Investors who’ve spent decades building their credibility and stand to lose from short-term, opportunistic decisions.

They tend to invest in things that don’t change. They’ve built up credibility over decades and have things to lose from taking short-term, opportunistic decisions. Eventually, they tend to become Anti-fragile. For example, Amazon believes that most of their investments are focused on three evergreen factors: lower prices, more choice, and faster shipping. They avoid the Peanut Butter Manifesto.

It is not for everyone!

  • Venture Capital funded products, if not profitable, may get axed (remember Google Reader), acquired (recall Posterous, Nuzzel), or simply fall out of fashion (think Orkut).
  • It also fails in organizations with extractive monopolies or businesses causing negative externalities like oil or tobacco.
  • This approach is not suitable for professionals in strategic industries such as law, politics, and diplomacy.
  • It isn’t suitable for those who chase what’s trending online for the sake of standing out, the focus here is on enduring value, not transient trends. Fast fashion flaunting influencers and Instagram-friendly food might get attention, but they lack long-term depth.
  • Beyond these categories, Candid Communication does not work for snake oil salesmen. Their modus operandi often involves altering opinions, personality traits, accents, and behaviors to suit their audience. They cherry-pick facts, favoring only those that benefit their narrative. These individuals project grand ideas without delving into the nitty-gritty of implementation, often complicating simple matters to disguise their lack of detail. Additionally, they tend to gravitate towards industries involving large sums of money but marked by low accountability.



The artefacts you own can symbolize what you stand for.

Why this matters:

  • Often the things you own can give you temporary access to other people who want to experience those objects.
  • The storytelling around those objects not only communicates that you’ve the ability to buy these objects but also to appreciate their significance and value.

Examples: The display of high-end bookshelves behind you in the backdrop during video calls (Zoom).


Trust is the belief that you’ll act in a reliable and dependable way. It is earned over time through consistent behavior and actions.

Do you have built a reputation for being trusted, reliable, high-integrity, long-term thinkers in an otherwise trust-deficit ecosystem?


No one can predict the future, but we know two things: it’s going to be different, and it must be rooted in today’s world.

Peter Thiel

Given this, take clear stock of what you’ve got — Capital, Owned Network, Owned Identity, Owned Media, Labor, Judgment, etc. and see what you can build from there. You should always want to Build multiple entry and exit options. But your Lived experiences will it close and which options it might open.

Building resentment or complaining about what you’ve got is against building a life of focus and ongoing practice.

Accept what have you got and focus on what you can act on.

  • Personally: Beauty, smartness, gifted ability, or lack of.
  • Socially: People will behave foolishly, rudely, ungratefully, take advantage of us, and treat us unjustly.
  • Situations: People won’t comply with our ethics and values.



Build a frame of mind that is so strong that you can build authentic expression — express your thoughts, ideas, opinions, world views, and beliefs — unapologetically without consideration of what others might think of them.

Why it matters:

  • It helps with Owned Identity: Being authentic helps you differentiate yourself. No two people are alike. Everyone’s Lived experiencescontext, knowledge, personality and situation is unique. By being yourself, you are differentiating. The more authentic you are, the less competition you’re going to have. It will also make your brand more real, human, and relatable.
  • In a world of Artificial Intelligence generated content, being an authentic real person is Competitive Differentiation

It will also give you the superpower to fail in public and survive.

You cannot be authentic if you don’t Think and act independently. Don’t conform.

How to be authentic:

  • Before expressing yourself, master the basics first.
  • Curate your beliefs because beliefs define your story: who you are and what do you stand for.
  • Build mental strength.
    • You should be able to focus on what needs to be done irrespective of how you feel.
    • You should be able to control your fight or flight response by proving to your physiological self that you are in a safe environment.

People have a tendency to attribute value to an individual or company based on their accumulated embodied cultural capital, which can be derived from either their personal identity (such as gender, ethnicity, color, race, caste, etc.) or the distinctive knowledge, perspectives, and abilities they acquire from their unique circumstances.

Why it matters: Recognizing the significance of this, identifying and embracing an Owned Identity that aligns with one’s embodied cultural capital can aid in developing a Niche that is more closely connected to their personal experiences.

  • However, this advantage tends to favor those who already possess significant leverage, resulting in unequal opportunities.

How: To leverage this aspect effectively, investing in the art of storytelling can prove beneficial.