Don’t #BeSomebody

_81434915_kash2An integrated approach is essential to every marketing strategy.  As the internet of things has grown, a marketer must consider how offline activities will affect online activities, and vice versa.  With marketing undergoing rapid and massive changes, it is inevitable that there will be the occasional high-profile slip-up.

One of the biggest risks that any campaign faces, particularly when targeting younger demographics, is the risk of coming across as tone-deaf or otherwise hypocritical. This is exactly what happened when an experienced and highly successful marketing professional, Kash Shaikh, launched his much-maligned “inspiration” company, #BeSomebody (yes, it’s a hashtag and the company name).

The idea behind #BeSomebody was fairly simple. Connect aspiring hobbyists or professionals in everything from piano playing to scuba diving with actual experts who can teach them how to be successful in those fields. In order to market their company, #BeSomebody had the fairly unique idea of conducting inspirational assemblies at high schools throughout Texas and (eventually) the rest of the United States.

Unfortunately for Kash Shaikh and #BeSomebody, their message fell on unbelieving ears when they conducted an assembly at Austin High. Instead of finding the assembly inspirational, the students felt like Mr. Shaikh was using his particularly privileged experience (in the form of an impressive resume, extensive travel, and ability to live with his parents well into his adulthood) to connect with high school students, many of whom had little to none of the privileges that Mr. Shaikh had available to him.

Ultimately, the students at Austin High launched a robust campaign of mockery, in which the hashtag #Lookadouche was used to disseminate parody videos and other derisive material.

What we can learn from #BeSomebody

While #BeSomebody ultimately had a fairly bad reaction to their marketing strategy, there is still a great deal that we can learn not only from what #BeSomebody did wrong, but what they did right as well.

What #BeSomebody did wrong

Clearly, #BeSomebody made mistakes in the execution of their marketing plan. Perhaps the most egregious mistake they made was failing to test properly their message before going out to schools such as Austin High. If they had tested their message in a smaller, more focused setting, they probably would have found that their message came across as out of touch and hypocritical, and could have adjusted it (or scrapped it altogether).

The other misstep that #BeSomebody made was their reaction after the mocking campaign from the students at Austin High. Instead of taking the message in stride, Kash Shaikh acted fairly petulant, mocking everything from grammatical mistakes to the overall reaction of the students, including claims that the students simply lacked the proper passion and motivation. Clearly, this was not the right approach to take, which was proven by the fact that Mr. Shaikh later went on to apologize and thank Austin High for their “tough love”.

#BeSomebody could have even turned this situation around.  The company could have accepted the criticism and positively engaged in the conversation.  In 2005, a journalist created a blog called Dell Hell that chronicled the horrible customer service that he experienced.  Dell Hell caught fire, and many unhappy customers jumped on board.  However, Dell turned lemons into lemonade.  A couple of takeaways from the event include:

  • Real conversations are two-way.
  • Think before you talk—but always be yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize.

These were a lesson the Dell learned in 2007, and it is just as powerful today.

What #BeSomebody did right

Despite the outcome, there is still a lot that can be learned about what #BeSomebody did well. For starters, they used a very creative marketing tool – high school assemblies – to reach their target market. If their message had gone over well, this would have proven to be an incredibly cost-effective way to build an audience for their app and their company. Additionally, #BeSomebody was able to execute a plan using a very small team and utilizing very little overhead.

At the end of the day, #BeSomebody is a lesson in testing one’s message and ensuring that the message actually resonates with the target audience. While they did make mistakes, #BeSomebody has a great team of creative and marketing experts. Whether or not #BeSomebody ultimately turns out to be a successful company, the team will find success one way or another. That being said, we should all look closely at what they did wrong and right, so we can avoid, or replicate, where appropriate.

You Can Learn from Dell Hell, Dell Did
Austin Tech Bros From #BeSomebody Are Losing the Fight They Picked Against Local High School Students
Pep talk #BeSomebody backfires at Texas school


About Christine Alemany

Christine is a marketing executive that has managed global P&Ls and developed metrics-driven strategies and methodologies on leadership teams at both Fortune 500 and startups alike. She has a broad range of experience implementing integrated campaigns and launching products across consumer, SMB and enterprise markets. Visit to learn more about her company, Trailblaze Growth Advisors.
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13 Responses to Don’t #BeSomebody

  1. Stephanie Poule says:

    Hi Christine, thanks for the article. I found this while searching the #besomebody hashtag for my morning dose of positivity and inspiration. Instead I found yet another uniniformed, unreaearched article from someone who – with no ill intentions I’m sure – has absolutely no clue about what the #besomebody stands for, or what the founder has created, or what the team does everyday. You say above if only they “tested their message in smaller venues”…. Christine, the #besomebody movement was built largely from Kash and his team going from school to school for the past three years. Was it marketing genius? Probably. But more importantly, it was authentic and powerful. Kash spoke at my school (I am a 9th grade math teacher), and the kids were blown away. They still talk about his inspiring speech more than one year later. #Besomebody has been to about 200 schools across the country, and one school in their backyard has a small but vocal group dislike their talk. Instead of just latching on to a couple one-sided articles you’ve already seen about this Austin High story in the press (the media likes controversial headlines), it would have been nice if you actually did a bit of research on the history, purpose and mission of #besomebody, or at least learned enough to know that since it started so small, they’ve been “testing” their message on smaller stages for years. It’s true that the message may need to evolve, but that’s only because as they grow, people are being more envoys (ie “haters”), certain SCHOOLS are more privleged (Austin High is a notorious privledged school, I grew up in Austin), and many people like yourself would rather get a few free clicks to their blogs or stories by sullying the name of a movement, community and idea than actually taking any time to learn more and research more and expect more.

    You could learn a lot from the #besomebody movement. Take care.



    • I’m sorry if you felt that the overview was one-sided. Having lived in Austin for a number of years, I found the story very interesting especially since so many people have strong opinions about the marketing approach. The idea was to show the good and the bad of the marketing program, not the company.


      • Sarah says:

        Christine, thanks for the article. While some people might find a positive message in the besomebody rhetoric, I think as you pointed out, it is taken apart fairly quickly. Combined with the petulant response from their ceo, it’s clear that they are anything but authentic. The CEO spoke at my company and even managed to refer to one of the schools in Africa as (apologies for the strong language, but it’s a quote) “a piece of shit on the inside” before his team painted over the outside. Combine this with his trotting out “underprivileged children” during SXSW and calling them such, it shows a sense of not being totally in the real world so much as being hyped on himself and how he is viewed. This is a prime example of someone who is totally out of touch with reality and dare I say, full of himself. He can’t admit to any wrong, refuses to change his message and likely, we will see the end of this company in the next 6 months. I do hope it goes on as a lesson on how to not run a PR campaign however as I think there are many valuable lessons to be learned as you pointed out both the bad and the good.

        Pay no attention to the trolls from besomebody that comment on this article as any sort of criticism is viewed in their eyes as slanderous. They aren’t open to criticism and border on cult status, employing many of the same tactics that religions such as scientology use.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Sarah. One positive thing that I forgot to mention is that the talk did inspire students in the Austin High Media Arts Program to create something. I was impressed with the level of production, writing and acting in their spoof. The #BeSomebody team should try to positively engage with the group and leverage their talent.


    • Unfortunately, I had incorrectly assumed that the BeSomebody team had not gotten negative feedback prior to the AHS incident. Anthony Ha from TechCrunch had cautioned that BeSomebody’s “passion” messaging may backfire in an article that included an interview with Shaikh in June 2014. The company should have anticipated the backlash and have had a plan in place to avoid potentially brand damaging coverage. One strategy would be to just to ignore the original opinion piece written for the student paper… Unless you believe that there is no such thing as bad press.

      Here’s the TechCrunch article: Besomebody Inc. Raises $1M To Build A Passion-Focused Community And Experience Marketplace.


  2. Stephanie Poule says:

    ps sorry for the typos. Writing and running to work.


  3. Neil Patel says:

    Christine – the person below is not being truthful. Kash spoke at our company and was eloquent, funny and inspiring. Some “haters” have come out of the woodwork here in Austin because of his and #besomebody’s success. I know you are trying to do a good, helpful thing, and of course also get more readership by jumping into what appears to be a popular debate, but please be aware that the majority of Austin is upset about the Austin High actions and reactions – particularly of the faculty at that school. I would encourage you to research the demographic at AHS. It’s a privledged school with historically bigoted views. As a south Asian, Kash came up against a very negative, ignorant, “good ol boys” club in that school.

    #besomebody’s marketing strategy is clearly working. The world is talking about a movement that’s now become a startup with an innovative mobile platform. Your article forgets to mention that the movement has been around for 6 years. The startup a few months. It will be exciting to watch this grow.


    • If the marketing strategy is to leverage controversy, then it is definitely working. However, I would caution that the coverage and the social media conversations do not positively reinforce their brand.


  4. Katie says:

    I’ve been an avid follower of #besomebody. since it started and I 100% know that no one on that team, especially the founder would ever refer to the wonderful schools they have attended as “a piece of shit”. I know in my heart that that is a complete lie. Sadly, this article along with a lot of negative comments seem to be founded on nothing but plain hatred, for what season I can hypothesize but will not say. The sad thing is that this movement is pouring every cent they have into other people, they might as well submit for a 501C3 Bc they would definitely be approved for one. Also, it’s soooo weird to me that people are using the fact that he poured his lives hard work and savings into besomebody as a reason to call him privileged? Since when does saving and working for 12+ years and then cashing out your 401k to build something for others make you privileged?


  5. David Banner says:

    Why don’t you just say you’re really Zachary Paul Michalka instead of Sarah? Coward.


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