Ep 38: Guy Kawasaki on Personal Brand (or not) – Part One of Three

This is the first episode in a three-part mini masterclass on modern day marketing with Guy Kawasaki. During this episode, Guy and Erica talk about personal branding: whether it is important or not and if we should even be thinking about it. They also discuss authentic messaging, using your platform to advocate for good, and Guy shares his thoughts on public speaking.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s first interview in a three part series with Guy Kawasaki on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


people, personal brand, hear, thinking, marketing, canva, extraversion, followers, influencer, extrovert, evangelize, visionary, attention,

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:36

When you host a podcast, you have a hit parade of dream guests. When you host a podcast on marketing Guy Kawasaki is 100% going to be on that list. As you’ll hear in this episode, he doesn’t like terms like guru, visionary or anything like that. But you know what, that’s what Guy is when it comes to marketing. He’s always a few steps ahead of everyone else, he doesn’t try to get to a higher, better place on the curve that everyone else is playing on. He jumps to a whole new one. So initially, I reached out to guy to see if he talked about personal brand as a force for good. And we ended up talking about that as you’ll hear, but also we just talked about so many things that it ended up kind of sort of being a masterclass on modern day marketing with Guy Kawasaki. It wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it turned out. So rather than one long episode, I decided this conversation would be more digestible as a three part mini-series. So part one, I’m still going to call personal brand as a force for good, or not. Part Two, technology as force for good, or not. And then Part Three is about democratizing marketing and shaping narratives. So when I asked Guy to come on the podcast, it was to talk about personal brand as a force for good. We didn’t talk so much about that because Guy has some specific and strong opinions about personal brand. But have your ear tuned into how he thinks about or defines personal brand. Basically, he thinks it’s bs to build up and here I’m air quoting “personal brands”, if you have nothing of value to offer the world and I 100% agree with that. However, if you do have something to offer as many listeners, if not all listeners of the show do, I think it’s worth thinking through how you want to show up in person and online. So your message is heard in a way that feels authentic to you. And really, that’s what Guy goes on to describe. So we may have conflicting opinions about personal brand, that boil down to how you define it. But it’s really interesting to hear from someone like him about how he makes choices about how to show up particularly online, which is how most of us experience him. He doesn’t hold punches and Guy you know, he throws a lot of curveballs, also just a note, there’s some swearing in this episode so if you have little ones around, maybe listen to this on headphones, so they don’t hear that. I hope you enjoyed this wild ride of a conversation as much as I did. Let’s dig in. My guest today, tell me if this is accurate is chief evangelist for Canva,  creator and host of the Remarkable People podcast, executive fellow of the Hoss School of Business at UC Berkeley, adjunct professor of the University of New South Wales, was past tense, chief evangelist of Apple, and trustee of Wikimedia Foundation.

Guy Kawasaki  03:35


Erica Mills Barnhart  03:36

He has written, holy crow, Wise Guy: The Art of Start, The Art of Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment ,that’s one of my favorites, and 11 other books, we could spend all of this just going over that.

Guy Kawasaki  03:50


Erica Mills Barnhart  03:51

Okay, back to present tense has 1.4 million Twitter followers, 93,600 Instagram followers, more than 3 million followers on LinkedIn and more than 423,000 followers on Facebook.

Guy Kawasaki  04:06

All that’s true, although I don’t know what it means, probably half of whom are Russian bots.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:13

Yeah, they could be Guy, but I don’t think so. I was first introduced to your special brand of magic 20 years ago.

Guy Kawasaki  04:22


Erica Mills Barnhart  04:24

Uh huh. Yes. This  conversation, unbeknownst to you, has been for me 20 years in the making. When I saw you speak at the social enterprise alliance in San Francisco.

Guy Kawasaki  04:34

I’ve no idea what that was.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:36

You were great. You were so great. So great. Okay, now we’re gonna talk about personal brand which means adjectives because adjectives describe nouns and you’re a human and therefore you’re a noun. I would describe you, my guest, as confident yet humble, techie yet human, curious yet respectful, and super nice while definitely never being somebodies doormat.

Guy Kawasaki  05:01

Okay, oh, I’ll take that.

Erica Mills Barnhart  05:03

Okay, we’re gonna come back to it, you’re gonna be able to edit and offer input. Okay, let’s talk about these fans and followers. Because it’s just a lot and I have a specific question, which is, do you manage all of these social media accounts?

Guy Kawasaki  05:14

Yes and no. Someone else also posts for me, and I post too. I post the bulk of it. In fact, when you see a post that is highly political, highly opinionated, that’s probably me. When you see something about productivity, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, that’s probably Peg Fitzpatrick,

Erica Mills Barnhart  05:35

Got it. Because it is a ton of content.

Guy Kawasaki  05:38

It is a ton of content.

Erica Mills Barnhart  05:40

And when I reached out to you, I said, will, you want to talk about using personal brand as a force for good because I literally was sitting here thinking, every single listener manages a personal brand. For some, they were just like, I don’t even want to think about it. And yet, here we are. So you do. So I was thinking, like, who has been at this, you know, and can really offer some wisdom? And you came to mind immediately. And you’re kind and gracious enough to say, sure, I’ll come on and talk about it. Let’s do that.

Guy Kawasaki  06:08

Well, okay. You may want to end the interview right now, if you ask me what my opinion is of the concept of building a personal brand.

Erica Mills Barnhart  06:17

I won’t want to end the interview, I want to hear it.

Guy Kawasaki  06:20

So I think that you should not even be thinking about your “personal brand”, that you should just do whatever you do very well. And your personal brand will naturally fall from that, fall out from that. And it’s the people who say, I need to enhance my personal brand. Maybe I should write a book, maybe I should write a white paper, I need to position myself as a guru, as an expert, as an influencer. I think that’s bullshit. And so if you want to take the extreme example, I don’t think that Steve Jobs woke up one day in his life thinking, How do I enhance my personal brand? Steve Jobs woke up thinking, How do I build the world’s greatest computer or phone or tablet or store or app store? I don’t think he woke up thinking about how do I enhance the personal brand of Steve Jobs. And he did those things so well, that the personal brand of Steve Jobs was great. So, long and the short of it is I don’t worry about my personal brand, per se. There are times where, you know, I would not support some causes such as, I don’t know, carbon based fuels or tobacco, or republicans not necessarily in that order. So I worry about my brand in that sense, but I’m not sitting around thinking, Oh, I gotta make people think I’m smart and effective and blah, blah, blah.

Erica Mills Barnhart  07:58

Okay. If I’m playing devil’s advocate, though, I hear your point, by the way, but if I’m playing devil’s advocate, I can hear a listener saying that’s right Guy, because you don’t have to because you’re Guy Kawasaki.

Guy Kawasaki  08:09

Yeah, well, the way I got to be Guy Kawasaki is not wasting my time writing friggin white papers and you know, I never wrote the book The Guy Way published by Guy press. Okay. So-

Erica Mills Barnhart  08:24

When somebody asks you, what do you do, what do you say? I mean, you’re a multi hyphenate extraordinare. What do you say?

Guy Kawasaki  08:31

I say I am the chief evangelist of Canva. And the creator of the Remarkable People podcast.

Erica Mills Barnhart  08:37

Okay. Leave it there and overtime that evolves. And so is it fair to say, based on what you’ve just said, you wake up in the morning, and you think how can I best evangelize for Canva? And how can I make Remarkable People as remarkable as possible?

Guy Kawasaki  08:50

Basically, yes, yes. But I’m also a public speaker. So I have to worry about you know, how do I get gigs and fulfill people’s expectations of my speaking?

Erica Mills Barnhart  09:02

So where does that fit in?

Guy Kawasaki  09:06

In the sense of where does it fit in in my life? My financial situation.

Erica Mills Barnhart  09:13

Well I am not gonna ask about your finances. No, just in terms of like, if we’re sticking with this idea of like, don’t worry about your personal brand, worry about being as good as you can be, as great as you can be, at what you’re doing, is public speaking a third thing? Do you think about that as much as evangelizing for Canva?

Guy Kawasaki  09:36

Public speaking for me, is a means to an end. And the end is the ability to give my family the lifestyle that they are expecting. So it’s a means to an end. I don’t speak publicly to position myself as a thought leader. At all. I mean, if I never spoke again in public again, because I didn’t need the money, I would be perfectly happy with that, I am completely okay with that. I don’t need the attention. I don’t need to think about and it’s not because I don’t need to do it because I don’t need it anymore. I just, I don’t have a psychological need for people to think I’m a guru or thought leader or visionary. Not at all. I don’t give a shit.

Erica Mills Barnhart  10:37

Um, fair? That’s fair. I mean, you know, I think for a lot of people, you can go either way, public speaking can be an ego, you know, stroking activity?

Guy Kawasaki  10:53

I’ll Okay, I’ll answer it a slightly different way than may shed more light upon the subject. I think that you should speak publicly and I also think that you should write a book, when you have something to say. And so it’s not about what you want to communicate. It’s about what people want to hear. And if you have something to say, then speak and write a book. But if it’s just because you want to position yourself as a guru, thought leader, influencer visionary, it’s total bullshit.

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:27

But you’re vapid and don’t have content. So you’re just creating content. You’re anti that in the same way, to the same extent that you’re pro getting vaccines.

Guy Kawasaki  11:39

That’s a leap but yeah, absolutely yes.

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:43

Do you identify as an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert,

Guy Kawasaki  11:47

I identify as an external extrovert, who’s forced into that role, but fundamentally, I’m an introvert, I don’t need the attention. I don’t like to be in crowds. I’m also deaf on my right side so that makes it a pain in the ass to be in public situations because people talking to me on my right, I wouldn’t ever even hear and they, they think I’m ignoring them. So if, you know if I, if I never went to another cocktail party dinner or reception, I would be perfectly happy. The next big event in my life could be my funeral, I would be, that would be fine.

Erica Mills Barnhart  12:27

I bet people are surprised to hear that. I mean, I am exactly the same way primarily introverted. And after I do speaking, things people often say, right, but it’s easy for you because you’re an extrovert. And I’m like, oh no I am not. But to your point, I am so passionate about people understanding the power of words, and how they can use them to lead more awesome lives and to make the world a better place. I’ll stand up there and talk about that all day, every day, as long as anybody will let me. And then I’m going to go back and I’m gonna be really quiet for a really long time. My husband knows this. He’s awesome.

Guy Kawasaki  13:01

I could build the case, I don’t know the exact definition of extraversion, but you can be on a stage in front of 10,000 people and not be, you know,  not be trying to make 10,000 friends.

Erica Mills Barnhart  13:27

So the technical definition of is extraversion is where you get your energy from, and if it’s interacting with folks or not, but actually, I think that that supports your point, which is, the bigger the crowd, the less there’s actually connection in some ways, sometimes, right? So you’re not getting energy.

Guy Kawasaki  13:46

I’m a complicated guy. Listen. So if I were speaking to 50 people versus 10,000, I can honestly tell you that I find it more thrilling to speak to 10,000 than 50, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s it’s a greater challenge.

Erica Mills Barnhart  14:01

Do you think it’s greater? Why do you think it’s greater?

Guy Kawasaki  14:04

Because well, first of all, so many people will be totally intimidated by 10,000 people. My sweet spot is about 1000. From 1000, you know, under 1000 is okay, but 1000 plus is where it gets interesting. And I just like the challenge of it.

Erica Mills Barnhart  14:24

Yeah. Well, you know, people say to me all the time, it seems like you’d love to teach and I say it’s nothing I love to teach, I love seeing people learn.

Guy Kawasaki  14:33

Hmm, there’s a difference.

Erica Mills Barnhart  14:34

Yeah. And so for me, it’s like if I can’t, you know, if it’s big enough that the lights are down andI can’t see who I’m communicating with, and I’m in conversation with, it loses a little magic. I feel like a big crowd. Don’t get me wrong, but again, because the more people who understand like verbs are where it’s at, he happier I am, the better the world is gonna be.

Guy Kawasaki  14:55


Erica Mills Barnhart  14:55

Okay, so let’s not use the term personal brand. I don’t want to give you like an eye tic every time I say it, that’s not my goal. Let’s say though, I mean, again, from my perspective, one of the reasons I reached out is, you know, there are folks who I think it’s very, you know, obvious Angelina Jolie, you know, is an ambassador, like a UN ambassador. So there’s like, you know, folks who are really, you know, specific to a nonprofit, I think is sort of the classic like, oh, they’re using, they’re using their influence their powers of enchantment, for good in the world. I feel like yours is more nuanced yet intentional, like to me, Canva, that’s democratizing design, 100%, a force for good. But like you said, you’re a complicated guy so maybe this is par for the course, but how do you make those choice about what about what you’re going to be associated with, and evangelize and to be an ambassador for either formally or informally?

Guy Kawasaki  15:53

First of all, I have to love what they do. So, could I be a brand evangelists for Lincoln, Mercury? No. Matthew McConaughey can do it. But deep down inside, do you truly believe if you went to Matthew McConaughey’s house, that he’s driving Lincoln’s? Do you really believe that? I don’t. So I have to love the thing. I am not doing it for free. So there is some financial reward.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:29

Well, but you’ve been you’ve been vocal about your feelings about vaccinations or not and I assume Pfizer or whoever is not paying you for your opinions.

Guy Kawasaki  16:40

Yeah, no, no, that is just, well, I think it’s just, it’s a moral responsibility. And, I will tell you that there are very few “influencers” and professional speakers, etc, etc. who have come out as strong anti Trump, pro vaccination, pro science, pro voter rights, and pro immigration, most people won’t touch that because they’re afraid that I don’t know the NRA was gonna select Guy as a keynote speaker, but then he found out that he’s pro gun control, so they won’t invite him and that’s gonna cost him money, I could give a shit. I would rather, I do not want to go to my grave thinking, Oh, I I helped the NRA and I helped the tobacco company and I helped you know, these people make the world a worse place and there’s a lot of people that say, well, Guy, you know, you take a strong stand, and you’re antagonizing 50% of your followers and that is simply not true, because my followers have self selected and so I doubt that there are very many evangelical QAnon people who are my Twitter followers. And you know what, I know that some people think this is overly dramatic. But I really think that for a while, it was like 1930 Germany in America. And we could have turned into a fascist state. I think we’re closer than most people realize. And so a lot of people said, well, Guy, you know, how come you’re so anti Trump? Aren’t you afraid of losing followers? LinkedIn and social media shouldn’t be used for politics. It’s about professional development and connections and blah, blah, blah. And my response to that is I don’t want to look back and say, Oh, so you know, I didn’t resist Trump because I didn’t want to lose followers, that is freaking pathetic, that is pathetic. And I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to antagonize people who might have hired me for a speaking gig, because I was anti Trump, pro science, pro vaccination, pro voter rights, pro LGBTQ rights, you know, I mean. Now, again, as you point out, some people might say, well, Guy, it’s okay for you because you’re relatively you’ve made it you don’t have to worry about your next paycheck. Which is kind of true but that’s not why I copped this attitude. I copped this attitude because I believe I have a moral obligation to resist this. I don’t want my grandchildren to ask my kids did grandpa resist when America almost became a fascist state? I don’t want them to have to ask that question. I want them to know.

Erica Mills Barnhart  19:59 So now you have a sense for the one and only Guy Kawasaki. In the next episode part two of this mini-series, we turn our attention to technology. Guy is a techie through and through and I always appreciate hearing what he’s paying attention to, what he sees on the horizon and of course, what’s complete and utter bs that we shouldn’t be giving any attention to. All that and more awaits you in part two of the series. I’m so excited for you to hear it. I will see you there.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?