It has been my experience the most authentic brands are the ones where the founders are actively hands on driving the craft or skill that created the brand to begin with. Think about Yvon Chouinard innovating climbing pitons and forming Chouinard Equipment, Ltd. and making and selling them himself. Or a modern example, Navy Seal Andrew Arrabito making his hand made rugged and functional combat knives under the Half Face Blades brand. Or the guys at Kuiu who fully live the brand and obsessively innovate to make the lightest, most high performance hunting gear on the planet. Or the guys at Mission Workshop or Black Ember, the list goes on. Not to mention guys like Al Merrick of Channel Islands and Paul Schmitt of PS Stix taking a hands on shaping and engineering approach making the best surfboards and skateboards on the planet (with their name stamped on it).

With the notion that a brand is simply a reputation for a company (a gut feeling in the minds of consumers) it really takes a visionary and an obsessive, irrational, uncommon person (or partners) who are directly connected and invested in the company to ensure the level of detail and quality is infused into every aspect to create the brand. That relentless drive, dedication to the craft and quality along with consistency is what builds great brands and creates authenticity.

All too often my peers take on roles where the founders have become disconnected, or worse, are removed from the company and the brand is tasked with scaling and growing. The challenge becomes replicating the same level of obsession, passion, vision and attention to craftsmanship and detail the founders had when it was in their garage, which is nearly impossible with 150+ employees who are not as deeply connected to that same vision and level of commitment. Or worse there is a CEO who simply doesn’t get it or care about the original founders point of view, values or ethos.

So, my take is the most authentic brands are the ones where the founders are still directly engaged and are hands on in the process to ensure the end product or service is totally uncompromised. As brands grow it becomes challenging to maintain that same level of consistency, detail and craftsmanship unless the founders are involved on some level.

If you are looking for authentic brands look for the ones where the founders, these irrational passionate entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, creators or inventors are still at the helm in some capacity or in the mix influencing the product or service. This creates an authentic brand.

Lots of mentions of Patagonia and Vans. Both deserving to be highlighted and are great examples of brands that have scaled greatly while still embodying the founders original intention, values and vision. Not an easy thing to do and maintain at that size, a testament to the clear brand values, discipline, integrity and leadership at play.

Brands with passionate founders actively involved (or ones that can operate like they are) exemplify the true meaning of Authenticity.