Choosing a color for your startup

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

Color me...successful? 

A color (like a name) won't tank your startup. But it does affect marketing, and that can take you down.  💣

Getting a business off the ground is plenty tough enough without a poor color choice making it harder. That’s why we wrote the guide below. 

Choosing your startup's color 🎨

There are a LOAD of colors out there and that's pretty darn overwhelming. 😅

To lower the intimidation factor, write these ten colors on a sheet of paper ✍️: 

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Pink

Your goal is to isolate one color - then one variation of that color - to use in your brand.

A "good" color will jive with your target audience, fit your brand personality, and differ from your competitors. 💥

Step 1: Know your target audience 👨‍👩‍👧

Factors like industry, gender, culture, and age all influence color response. So, it's important you know who you're dealing with.

If you’re familiar with your audience, you’ll lean toward or away from some colors. For example, pink isn’t a gender-neutral color and black isn't common in the food industry. 

Take Action: Strikethrough colors that won’t resonate with your audience. Also, remove any colors you really dislike. (You shouldn't hate seeing your brand. 🤢)

Step 2: Outline how you want customers to perceive your brand
There's a whole field of study, called color psychology, devoted to how people react to color. It gets pretty nuanced, but the broad patterns below will help you narrow down your choices.👇

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Images from Smashing Magazine's 3 part series on Color Theory. 

Note: These perceptions are specific to the US; different cultures and geographic regions have different interpretations. 


Neutral colors - black, brown, white, gray - are more contextual than the ones above. For example, black can be dark and creepy 👻...or modern and sophisticated. Be cautious about using this as your main color unless you know how to walk that line.

Take Action: Eliminate colors that don't match up with your target brand personality. 

3. Research your competitors 🔍
If you have major competitors, check out what they're using. Steer clear of matching shades or color combinations. 

You may find it helpful to pull screenshots of logos/app icons into a google doc or mood board. You can use a chrome extension, like colorzilla, to determine the exact color a competitor uses.

Take action: Based on how you want to differentiate yourself, are there any other colors you can eliminate? 

4. Pick your main color
Take action: From the remaining colors on your list, pick one. ✅ Seriously. Pick one. 

(Feel too unceremonious? Remember that color shouldn’t be the most important decision you make this week!) 

5. Nail down a color variation 🔨
Decide whether a vibrant, pastel, or darkened version of your color is most appropriate. Darker variations will feel more serious, whereas pastels will feel more playful. 

Say you chose purple. You'll want to pick one of the purples from the spectrum below: 

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Tip: use HTML Color Codes or Color Hexa to generate your options. 

As you’re deliberating, consider how you’ll use the color:

  • Do you want to print business cards and swag? A variation that’s very dark or very light will be difficult to reproduce. 👕
  • Will most of your marketing materials be online? Light shades are difficult to read against a white background, which makes them limiting. 🖥

Take action: Choose one variation that aligns with your audience, brand and intended use. Store the hex code (the unique code associated with each color) somewhere you’ll remember. 

6. Put that color to use 
I mean, we're not doing this for kicks and giggles. 😁

Use your brand color in your MVP, on your landing page, on social media...wherever you promote your brand. 📢 

Take action: For credibility, make sure you consistently use the same color in each location. Keep that hex code handy!

A note on stealing 

There are thousands of color schemes on PinterestDribbble and lots of other places. This is a great way to find inspiration if you have zero design chops. 

Just be careful about using the same color scheme or same shade as major competitors. It's not very common, but businesses can trademark color usage within an industry. 

Remember, this is a reversible decision 👨‍🎨

Some decisions you'll make as a startup founder are irreversible. This isn't one of those decisions. You shouldn’t change your brand color often - that can damage customer trust - but you can iterate your brand over time. 

So go ahead, have fun and color outside the lines.  🖍

"It's always important to think about what a color means. What does it represent and how does that relate to your brand? What emotion does it drive and why?" - Bill Kenney, Partner at Focus Lab

Want to see us cover a topic? Have major startup questions or sticking points? Email andrew@builtbykrit.com