Branding Your Startup for Success: The Story of Start Now
Startup Pubcast: Thank you for tuning again to the Startup Pubcast, I am Scott Summerhays. This is a weekly program where we sit down with a member of Toronto’s Startup and entrepreneurship community for a little lighthearted chat and insight. This interview was recorded from the Banknote Bar at the corner of King and Bathurst, on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
We’re interviewing Daniel Francavilla, the Creative Director of Now Creative Group. You can check out their beautifully minimalist logo on our Instagram feed. Now Creative Group is just over two years old now. They celebrated their second anniversary in June and for 2015 they launched a new sub-brand called Start Now, which is all about helping startups get off on the right foot.
You see as startups begin, they’re bootstrapping and most do have the broad skillset the companies like Now has. They may not know how to build websites, design a logo or produce a video and Now does. So let’s start there. Where did this idea come from?
Daniel: Well after running the company for just over a year and a half I have received a lot of request from startups and entrepreneurs, solopreneurs that don’t necessarily have a big business behind them that really just need help starting. That includes more than just the initial request, which starts off usually for a logo as everyone needs. It’s either they need a logo, or they need a logo to put on a business card or online profile, and so we take them in and start from there. So it started off as getting requests for various graphic design services and then realizing that people need the whole package. They do need a website, they need social media or they need a video and unfortunately, sometimes when they have it already, it’s very inconsistent or they did it themselves or they got a friend to do it.
Startup Pubcast: Let’s talk on that real quick, the consistency. So in our huge world of social media or online world, consistency and branding is one of the most important things as you need the same colors across all your platforms and you need nicely designed stuff because especially nowadays, the stuff that either doesn’t work properly or doesn’t look good, it really just falls by the wayside.
You lose your attention really fast especially load time on a website, if you don’t know how to frame a photo, if you don’t know how to take a video properly or get good audio, then you can really fall behind. So how did you convince startups that this is a worthy service?
Daniel: Most startups, especially in the tech space, are bootstrapping (where they’re funded by the founder or a couple of friends and family), doing whatever they can. What you realize is that there’s a lot to marketing and building your brand required that you might not be aware – and in most cases, it’s not your specialty. You’re expertise is the product you’re building. Whether it be a technology product, a clothing product or whatever that is.
What we do is explain to startups that the time you’re spending doing haphazard branding and posting things here and there whenever you have a minute is taking away from two things. One, the growth of your actual product and company and two, it’s actually taking from the image that you want to establish out there. Keep in mind that everything that you put out there — especially if it’s the first few things — you’re immediately judged by that or become known as that.
Startup Pubcast: I want to talk a little bit about any difficulty for clients thinking, why would I hire a startup to brand my startup? So how do you kind of convince people in that way that you’re qualified other than your own portfolio? With a smaller team, you could be a startup bootstrapping yourself sometimes. How do you convince people that you’re qualified to give them the best possible brand?
Daniel: For us, the big advantage is that I’ve come from working with several businesses in the past. I also run a non-profit organization and through working with different clients I’ve seen people start from the ground up. Dealing with service providers I know how frustrating it is and see how you wouldn’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, but ultimately if you can trust someone and you know that they’re going to provide you with a holistic solution and they’ve got your back, that’s what I want to offer to other people. So my diverse experience working with so many different brands and startups and speaking with so many entrepreneurs, I can apply that background to my business and other client projects — even though it’s my own business being run as a startup, it’s not the first startup that I’ve been exposed to by any means.
Startup Pubcast: For sure. Let’s talk about some success stories then. What’s one good example of this? A success story that’s got consistent branding and you’ve done the whole shebang with them and they’re very happy.
Daniel: One of the ones that we did earlier are when I began the company is a company called iamsick.ca. It’s a healthcare app started here in Toronto. I believe they were also working out of MaRS at one point. It’s a group of people who are medical health professionals, people with backgrounds in science, engineering, academics, that have great knowledge, great understanding and great ideas. But there are not the most visual people, and that’s to be expected. So with iamsick.ca, we are basically asked to design a logo – and although it’s simply a logo, what we had to keep in mind was they’re building a website, with plans for an app (which they have since launched), and marketing materials to be distributed across Canada which also include in a major Indiegogo campaign to bring them nationwide. So that simple logo turned into several design components and the color scheme and something as consistent as just having that color applied everywhere whether it be the blog, the campaign, the t-shirts they wear really helps them stand out.
Startup Pubcast: For startups that are reading this right now, and maybe they’re bootstrapping and maybe they’re doing their website and logo and all that stuff all in their own, I think sometimes they need some convincing. So what are the pitfalls if you’re not stating off on the right foot, if you’re not branding yourself properly, how can you fail? What are the possibilities of failing or what are the difficulties in finding your customer niche and things like that?
Daniel: One of the key things is that people try to just keep it generic, or not commit to one design and one logo, and not commit to a consistent identity (because they don’t want to isolate a customer based, for example). But when we work with them and create a brand that speaks to a certain customer or certain target audience, they’re extremely more likely to be successful because they’re drawing in people automatically. Before you even meet them, just the presence the potential customer/user saw at some point. They may have seen your logo at a conference somewhere, they may have seen you clicking in some social media feed that immediately resonates with them without you even knowing, and you don’t have to convince them again. You already have the image that matches. When it comes to things like consistency, if you are busy building your product and you have social media and you update it once a month, new customers are going to see that and think you’re not very active as a business. They’re going to think you’re not even operating, you’re not innovating — even that you don’t have a big enough team to maintain your own presence, so you’re not going to be a good service provider.
Startup Pubcast: Well you also are a commercial branding agency as well or a design firm, Now Creative Group. This is just kind of a sub-brand. The Start Now is a sub-brand for all of that?
Daniel: We do price certain services differently for startups (and non-profits). We do hope to grow with those entrepreneurs; there’s no shortage of things they will need in the future as well. So we do have a startup package, it’s called The Start Now Package at StartupSuccess.ca and that’s $2,500 and what we’ve done is put together a pretty solid list of offerings that you wouldn’t be able to get from any one graphic designer, any one copywriter or web developer for example, and put it all in this one convenient package that’s priced less than half of what we would charge for those individual services.
And when you look at the cost of some of the other startup costs: a few months of rent at a co-working space or one piece of technology that you might need (say a computer that you might have buy), when you put that in perspective with a brand that’s going to last and stick with you and get major exposure, it’s pretty insignificant at that point.
Startup Pubcast: But you walk down the street you see millions of different logos every single day and so I guess a difficulty some startups may have is, “why do I need to put money into this or why I’m different? I’m not going to fail, I’ve got a unique idea.” Everyone thinks that their idea is like no one else’s – and some are. So do you think branding is actually the thing that stands out? Do you think it’s the brands that looked the best that succeed?
Daniel: I think it’s not just about how they look initially. It’s about having something memorable that sticks with you regardless of where you’ve seen that logo. People usually need up to 10 touch points before they actually recognize your brand. They need to see it several places. So if you’re going to pay for that exposure through advertising, it’s going to be a huge, huge cost. But you can actually create content – like quality content that resonates people like it’s shared virally free, from their friends – so instead of just investing in a great logo and then call it a day, or getting a logo done by someone you know for a few dollars, what we actually do is we start with a Brand-Centered Action Plan. This asks who you want to target, who you are, and how can we best express you so that you’re not putting out this fake image of brand X that someone else came up with for you. What we also do is we write content to back this up. So we can create social media content, we schedule post for you, we create graphics for your social media profiles so that it’s totally consistent. Not only the visual branding, it’s not just the logo: it’s actually the type of content, it’s the messaging, it’s the voice.
Startup Pubcast: Is this an entirely consistent package, does it go for many months or is it short term? What are the different ranges you do this?
Daniel: The Start Now Package is basically everything to get you set up to launch. We want people to be able to launch, we don’t want delay their ideas from potential investors or clients. So we get them up and running starting with the Brand-Centered Action Plan, the logo design, website design, print materials of your choice and then the social media (we launch the profiles and then we have the option of doing ongoing management) so we’ll actually help you create content and schedule it out for you for those first 3 months.
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Startup Pubcast: Do you have any intention to also doing exchange for equity of these startups?
Daniel: We haven’t so far. I know a couple of peers and clients who are doing that, offering services through equity. What we’re trying to do is provide a foundation that’s affordable as possible and then of course if there’s a larger need for services and if it’s something that were totally on-board with, we’d be definitely opening to partnering with them.
Startup Pubcast: I want to talk a little bit about the failure rate of startups. Last time I check that it is somewhere in 93% of startups don’t live out the year. So what is the danger for you in doing that? That’s why some big companies stir away when they get offered to do advertising or commercial work for startups. They say no because “you’re not going to pay me any much money and it might not last very longer. There’s no insurance that I’m going to get returning cash flow from you as a customer.” Was that a consideration in starting this?
Daniel: It was a consideration but the whole point is again to keep this a separate aspect of our business so that we know that we’re able to offer startups. If it’s anything below that package, we know that it might be too much or a risk of our time and energy because when we get in there, we really want to provide a whole solution. We’re not just going to shove a design mock up at you and say see you later. We really invest our time and effort into each client. So usually if there is any kind of major risk involved, it has to be with a client that we’re super confident in. And we do like to do a lot of stuff with non-profits and social good projects — those are usually worth taking the risk on, especially if there’s a cause that’s really valuable and have people rallying behind them.
Startup Pubcast: So really I guess your mission is to get that “startup fail rate” from 93% down. If you brand them properly right out of the gate then they’re going to be a success, you hope.
Daniel: Yes. And another thing too is investing in the actual founders, as opposed to just that one idea. We have had a couple of clients that have come back with us with multiple ideas and multiple startups, and that’s something that I’m more than happy to work with them and help them as much as possible, be it just on the design if we can help them in that sense. And we do have a client that we’ve done three different startups for and more are coming – some are running simultaneously, but it’s awesome to see that we can help them immediately transition to the next phase of what ever their startup journey is.
Startup Pubcast: Well I’m also curious, what is your process in going through and making sure that these startups, these people are actually serious. Many people start startups or quit their jobs to come up with an idea on a win. They’re off the cup with some of these ideas they have. So how do you ensure that as you’re backing someone, you’re putting work towards something that you know isn’t going to become a burden?
Daniel: I definitely find a difference between individual entrepreneurs vs. once they have a team behind them or partners with them, so that’s a consideration. Also, starting off with a Brand-Centered Action Plan where we really have our brand strategist sit down with them. I think one of our unique points is that we actually find out about the person first and find out what the real motivations are, why did they come up with this idea and which elements of them are embedded with this idea. Because we find sometimes people hear of great idea somewhere and they execute it but they’re not connected to that idea in any way. So there’s a higher chance that they’re going to fail — but more often that that, they will just give up. (They may just quit before anything even happens). So we want to make sure that there is that intent to pursue this awesome idea.
Startup Pubcast: Have you had any experience with someone who’s kind of started your services and then just drop right off the map?
Daniel: We have had someone who started his idea and definitely plan to come back for at least two thirds of the services that we had initially spoke about but ended up not being successful. Part of that could be a result of not launching quickly enough. We did a video for him where he skimped out on some of the core details that we highly recommended for that video. So yes it’s unfortunate, but there’s so many factors out there.
Startup Pubcast: But then again, as we just discussed, this is more of a service for the startup that doesn’t have a whole bunch of money. So being very fiscally responsible, it comes with the territory. And so when you say to someone, when you try to upsell someone in maybe something that they really just…they go, I can’t. I can’t do that. How do you upsell and make sure you’re getting the most or make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck but also they’re getting the most bang for their buck without kind of pricing your client out.
Daniel: Right, and the big part is showing that we are working with them long term. We made it easy by dividing up our packages that you could in three payment installments for example. We also do things like taking the main startup costs and then doing the second package for all the ongoing stuff, and really dividing that up over 6 months of 12 months depending on what type of work it involves. And we obviously want to make it flexible, but if they’re not willing to put in that work or really invest, then we may as well do that startup idea on our own.
Startup Pubcast: Well exactly and that could be another thing. People that come to you with this idea…well let’s I come to you with an idea for something like Start Now and I say hey I want to build this company all about Start Now, you might see it and go, oh this isn’t going to work out. Do you have any rules or responsibility on making sure that you’re not crossing your territory of afterwards you go like, oh they have a decent idea about trying this or doing that.
Daniel: Right. I don’t think we’ve gotten that far in terms of major IP issues or anything. Most of the time when people come to us, they’re ready to execute – they’re beyond ready. Many times we find that they’ve tried two or three other options, whether that be freelancers or family members that happens to know how to use Photoshop – so when they come to us they’re like, “ok this is execute phase, we’re ready to go”. We have a client who had been working in the professional non-profit space for over 20 years and decided to get into independent consulting to help people make social impact on their own. So she has never had her own brand, she’s never had to invest in design, but having that brand to start off helped get her significant traction to start off.
Startup Pubcast: Most people when they’re starting their company; it’s their child. They get very territorial about what they’re going to allow you to do in change in design. They have their own idea in their mind. Even I have encountered someone who wanted me to design a logo and they gave me a few samples of their ideas and they’re like, “no it has to be this”. “Okay but it’s not going to look good because it doesn’t look good.” How much experience or how much difficulty do you have convincing startups that your branding is better let’s say?
Daniel: We’ve had that if they provided us with something especially, or if they’re trying to get us to work with a logo that was done by someone else and they want to bring that over, usually we’ll ask them several questions about where they’re trying to go with it and if we can show them our new ideas directly help them get to their goal, it’s a no brainer. It does take convincing if we are rebranding altogether. That is a big thing, like someone who’s been up and running for a year or more that just needs a refresh and has a direction. It could cause some tension but we did recently brand two sisters who were running a company that sold beauty products, wellness services, and they also had several other components of this company and we really helped them get rid of that name altogether, created a new name with three product lines, three offerings and they’re super happy with it. So some people don’t know the power of that clearly defined branding and service offering, and once you show it to them, they’re sold.
Startup Pubcast: You said you’ve done some work with non-profits as well and the biggest thing for non-profits is that they don’t have a lot overhead. They don’t have a lot of money to spend. So in experience with some non-profits, is it more of you’re giving them the value because you believe in their cause if you give them the value because they have the money to spend on it?
Daniel: Normally the value-add is the fact that I’ve run a non-profit. I know exactly what it’s like to receive funding and how grant cycles work, so we’re able to relate on that level can be flexible when it comes to timeline and deliverables. Usually though, the ask is going to be much bigger than what they’re able to afford. So if we’re able to throw in a few things, we’ll absolutely do that if time permits. Arrangements can also be made with non-profits if we know that they’re going to be receiving funding later on, or if it’s an annual thing for example and we’re going to be working with them every year. However, we don’t want the work to suffer in that sense. Sometimes there’s a minimum because we really have to have multiple team members involved and to have multiple team members there’s a minimum cost for that.
Startup Pubcast: Finally, I want to finish up on your branding which includes a very minimalist logo but also the word, a three-letter word “now”. Why is now the time?
Daniel: When I started, I was going through a frustrating period of just being shoved with work that was coming my way that wasn’t necessarily the work I wanted to be doing or the right type of client and thought I needed to start something fresh and I to be able to easily collaborate with other creative. I also wanted to remove the barriers for clients that would normally go to a large design firm, or people that would be frustrated shifting from freelancer to freelancer to free template (to just these frustrating individual solutions). I thought, let’s remove all these barriers. Because now is the time to do this. There’s no better time than now.
Let’s get this together so that you can launch quicker, so that you can be successful sooner and so you can make an impact. It’s also that you want to help people make an impact and we want to act on that momentum and the momentum is happening right now. You’re inspired right now, let’s just do it.
Startup Pubcast: Alright. So let’s finish up the interview with advice. What advice do you have for a new startup, for someone even in the ideation phase, how do you get them to be inspired and get their branding right?
Daniel: The biggest advice I have is to not worry about “limiting yourself” as a result of choosing a niche or choosing a focus. That’s something you can always add to later, you can always grow later. But by choosing one specific audience or one specific offering, you can build a strong brand around that, one that makes sense. One thing I notice is that for a founder, it may make sense in your mind how these six things are connected, but the average person walking down the street or seeing your ads somewhere may not understand it all. So we have to kind of just start small and allow yourself to make a very clear statement. Choose one thing and go for it.
Startup Pubcast: And probably your best advice is to come in contact now, so start now.
Daniel: Of course, yes. So StartupSuccess.ca is the place for startups.
Startup Pubcast: And where can we find Now Creative Group online on social media and stuff?
This interview aired on the Startup Pubcast, produced by Motivv. Motivv makes a variety of shows and series as well as sponsored content for brands of businesses that want to engage with and grow their following. The host is Scott Summerhays.
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