Logos, Brand, and Underpants: One Startup's Journey to Finding Their Visual Identity

During this webinar, RJMetrics CEO and co-founder Robert J. Moore shares the story of the evolution of the RJMetrics visual identity as the company grew from 2 to 120 employees. A visual identity goes much deeper than a logo, and it's played a significant role in defining RJMetrics brand and company culture.

You'll learn:

  • The 3 reasons every startup should invest in a strong visual identity
  • The lessons Bob learned on the path toward building a brand every team member is proud of
  • What to do if you end up with a logo that looks like underpants, and how to gracefully recover from brand mishaps

Transcript

Thue: Welcome to today's Kissmetrics webinar. Today we'll be talking about logos, brands and underpants, one startup's journey to finding their visual identity. My name is Chewy Maxton, I work in marketing operations here at Kiss Metrics. I'm really excited to have all of you here for a great webinar today. Well without further ado, I would love to introduce to you, Bob Moore of RJMetrics. Bob, why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bob: Absolutely. Thank you so much, it's great to be here. My name is Bob Moore. I am the CEO and co-founder of a company called RJMetrics that is focused on helping online businesses make smarter decisions using their data. We are really excited to be collaborating with Kiss Metrics on this webinar. My background originally is actually in the venture capital industry where I worked as an analyst at a venture firm in New York called the Inside Venture Partners for a few years before identifying the challenges in the market that RJMetrics solves and setting out with my co-founder to build a company and solve them. And since then, he and I have been working on RJMetrics. We were founded in...and today have two products in the market which I'll tell you a little bit about in just a minute.

So throughout the webinar obviously if you want to send me tweets, I am @robertjmoore. Also, if you have questions, definitely use the interface here inside of go to webinar so that the Kiss Metrics team can send any of those questions my way during the Q&A at the end. We've also got a hashtag for this event which is #Kisswebinar. So, be sure to include that in any tweets that you might send.

So just diving in here a bit before we get to the content of the presentation, I think it's important to provide a little bit of a lens through which to view this story. Because what I'm going to be talking about here today is really the evolution of RJMetrics as a brand and all of the good, bad and ugly that came with that and the experiences that we've had along the way. RJMetrics, it's important to know what we do in order to really understand that. So just really briefly and we've got two products that are out in the market that we're very excited about. One is if you've interacted with RJMetrics any time in the past, most likely the one that you've used is called the RJMetrics Cloud B.I. And the Cloud B.I system is built from the ground up to provide it with a full stack solution for using your data to make better decisions. And what that means is that we pull data in from all of your disparate data sources, be it your backend databases, third party SaaS applications, file uploads, ADU push for APIs, etc., and consolidate that all into one central data warehouse.

And then we provide you with and awesome front-end where you can go in and even if you don't know SQL and if you're not necessarily a data scientist by trade, you can draw data-driven insights from all of that data we've consolidated. So, it's a very powerful dashboarding and collaboration engine along with an ad-hoc reporting engine and the great solution for pulling in all that disparate data. Our second product is called the RJMetrics Pipeline and it's just the first half of RJMetrics Cloud B.I. So what RJMetrics Pipeline does is it pulls data in from all of those various data sources that I talked about and just sends them out to any Amazon redshift database that you might potentially want to use. So this is a database that you spin up yourself in your own Amazon infrastructure and it may have other data in there that you have from operating your business.

You may just use RJ Metrics to get it all in but once you've got that data in there, you can do anything that you want with it. If you want to write in our script, you want to write a SQL query, if you want to pop a visualization tool like Tablo [SP] on top, those are among the many options because ultimately it's just putting your data right in your hands. So depending on your level of sophistication around data and what you need to do, one of these two products almost always ends up being an amazing solution and a really valuable part of people's inside data infrastructure. So, definitely check out RJMetrics.com if you haven't used one of these before.

So let's get into the meat of the webinar here. We're going to teach you a few things over the course of the conversation today. Really we're going to touch on some reasons why startups should be investing in a strong visual identity. And we're going to be doing that really by stepping through the story of the RJMetrics brand as it has grown and evolved and there's a couple of things along the way that I think are on the interesting side. One of them involves potentially a little bit of visual confusion that we encountered with our brand when we did a logo redesign at one point. So you'll get some more details on that and a little information on how we turned some lemons into lemonade in that situation. So to start out here I want to talk a little bit about this idea of company DNA. Here's a photo of our staff, we are about 130 people. It's a bunch of data lunatics as we like to say. The one thing that binds everybody in our team together is this shared drive to inspire and empower data-driven people.

And that really speaks to the DNA of the company in some way. But what is important to think about and I think it's probably something that is probably a more common problem for a lot of the people in the audience is what it really means to have a company that is much smaller. Where what is the identity that company is really just summed up in the founder or in the few people that constitute the business. So at RJMetrics, we got started pretty much just like any other company which is that we had two people who were really passionate and were willing to make some personal sacrifices to pursue a really big idea that we believed in a big way. This amazing thing happened which is once we started doing that, then we built the product and we brought it to market. People started buying it and we started getting more and more success when it came to the actual revenue dollars coming in the door and basically the ability for us to hire more people.

And what happens when that takes place is that the team grows. And you obviously encounter a lot of things. There's this big question of what happens when you grow as a company and I have the answer because I've lived through it. The answer is that everything breaks. Every single thing that you can imagine, the every single piece of the story is something that ends up just not coming together in the same way that it used to and it requires a lot of re-invention and iteration. And this is true for all kinds of different things. We've seen this come out in, for example, the communication among our teams. So we, for example, noticed a long period of time where we used to have a daily stand-up meeting where every single person in the company could stand in a circle and just give a very brief update on any work that was presenting a challenge or anything they might need help with and what they were going to be working on over the next 24 hours in case people wanted to inject any thoughts or insights or help into that.

And one day even though we tried to cap this things as 15 or 30 seconds per employee, it got to the point where the circle was so big that you couldn't hear the person who was talking if you were in the opposite side and they were so many different, if every single person in that circle has a node and you picture all the different arcs that might connect to it as nodes, those nodes grow exponentially as the number of people grows linearly. And the number of times that interaction was required or something that probably should have been a one on one conversation happened in front of a group of 20 or 30 people, that multiplied in a really big way. And it got us to the point where daily stand-ups for the entire company just became entirely impractical. And we rolled out a number of tools, collaboration tools, workflow tools. We used Trillo, we were on Yammer for a while. Now we're huge fans of Slack which we use internally for a lot of these stand-ups and communications.

There's a photo there in the bottom right of General Stanley MacChrystle who was the leader of the Allied Forces in Afghanistan during a recent conflict there. And he has a number of leadership concepts around bringing together large disparate teams. And one of them that we've adopted is the idea of an O and I call. Which stands for operations and intelligence. And we have this O and I call, it takes place every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8:30. And everybody in the company who wants to voluntarily can call in and listen in. And there are a very set number of people in the meetings who are designated to speak and provide some kind of update. So people that are basically providing the pulse of the business for the perspective of a number of different areas. There's a lot of focus on sales on that call, power tracking toward goals, etc. It's really a sales originated and run call, but it's interesting that in some ways you're kind of come full circle, no pun intended there Stand up meetings in that we now have a mechanism by which everybody is in the same place, at least virtually, at the same time again. It's just that we've had to iterate a layer on systems in order to fix what's broken. And at various points along the way there, we certainly felt the pain of being in a state where the thing that we had as a status quo just wasn't quite doing the job. As you can see we've iterated through quite a few.

And you notice that [inaudible 00:09:15] there's a theme here. I mean management style as well. We as a business had, for a very long time, held on to the idea of being a very, very flat organization. And I think it has a lot of benefits, I think it's appealing to a lot of folks particularly people who are very motivated that they'll be coming into an organization early on in their career. They want to have a very fast track to a lot of authority and have the importance and impact of their job be very visible very early on. But the flip side of that coin is that getting everyone full autonomy and having a very flat organizational structure also can create a little bit of chaos when it comes to decision making. Where in large organizational decision making strategic mode and if different people are going to be extremely well qualified to make different decisions, we are big fans of autonomy for people like that every layer of the stack. But there really came a day here where probably the most poignant version of this that came to be was really for myself as the CEO of the company. I was an engineer for a very long time. I spent a lot of time working on the code base of our product. And actually I have a piece that I've worked for the New York Times about this that you can find called when a chief executive puts down his keyboard.

And it's all about this transitions that I had to make from being a sole contributor who happened to have a title of CEO to someone who's actually in a position of leading a business, making executive decisions and driving the vision and strategy forward and seeing that centralized vision got executed upon. And that required less flatness in the organization. It required some executive structure. And what was amazing to me and a very big educational experience was how much the people in other areas of the company who had now felt that it was much more clear that I was their boss and in a lot of ways influencing what they were doing in a day to day basis without as much input from them, how well that went and how much they embraced that because it took a lot of responsibility that in a lot of cases were not well suited for or even very interested in having off of their plates and allowed them to have the autonomy where they wanted it. And rest assured that the ship was being steered by someone who was capable and very much in control of those big decisions. So that happens at the company level. That happened as we were maybe a dozen or so people at each individual team as they got to the point where they were approaching that 10 person mark, the same thing happened again. And if you look at our company today, we have a very well-defined organizational structure. We have a CEO, COO, we have six vice presidents across different departments. We have directors and team leads. And it really breaks down like an org chart just like this one. And you know what everybody has a very big sense of autonomy because their ability to make impact within their team is still very real.

And I think that's just, it's a more philosophical thing of whether or not you are afraid of having an org chart and feeling like a big company. All kinds of other things break along the way and I won't spend as much time as these other items. But as we go to recruit any of the company's larger, a lot of what can be appealing and the risk profile of the people who might find those jobs appealing changes in a very interesting way. And making sure that you're drifting in a direction that ensures that the passion of your team is maintained while also getting to a point where you can actually hire the volume of people that you need. If you hired 10 engineers one year and then you need to hire 50 the next year, there's a very, very different approach that you need to take in order to make that happen. And this requires attention and a lot work.

Obviously office space works just the way people communicate and workflows, all of that stuff tends to hit some breaking points along the way. But the one that has really mattered to us time and time again and has seem to continue to become transitioning from this amazing thing where it's really proud of to something that is a liability for the business that needs to be fixed in very rapid iterations has been our visual identity as a company. And I mentioned company DNA before. I'm actually not a huge fan of the terminology of company DNA. People use it and I understand that the reason that people use it and what it means. It's used to signify the most potent attributes of the founding team of a company. It this happens a lot in a venture capital circle. You'll hear people say, oh, they've got sales DNA. Or they've got product DNA. Or that theme has a very specific set of technological DNA related to it. Data analytics. Or something like that. It's usually tying back to what the founders of the company's brains tend to default toward. What they like to invest energy in and are best at when they have a few minutes of downtime. And those pieces of the company where you've got that strong founding DNA, in a lot of ways end up being prominent and shining and not being areas of concern or risk. Whereas the areas that aren't well aligned with the DNA end up becoming the things that we need to be focused on and built out through a more robust executive team.

So the reason that I take issue with the idea of company DNA is that implicit in that is the idea that this DNA is a kind of identity that really sticks with the company forever. And to me that's a really weak metaphor because company DNA in my experience is something that definitionally mutates in its own lifetime. And in the lifetime of a single human being, unless you are a member of the X-Men, your company DNA, your personal DNA that is, is not going to be mutating. It's going to be something that is static. It's going to be something that kind of lives on inside you forever and you couldn't change it if you wanted to without disastrous consequences. And I actually feel that company DNA mutates and evolves many, many times over its own lifetime. And I'm going to talk to you about our company's DNA evolving today and I'm going to kind of do that through the lens of our visual identity. So it's worth asking the question. What was our founding DNA initially, before any mutations happened or growth happened? This is myself and my co-founder Jake back in 2008 in my attic looking hopeless on a number of dimensions here. There's quite a bit that has happened since then including the diversification of our khaki shorts game.

But this was really a time when the two of us were the whole company. And what was in the company's DNA at the time was what in our DNA which at the time we were broke. We had no outside funding, we were operating out of an attic and our DNA was frugality. We were eating literally eating ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches pretty much every day for quite a long time as we figured out how to get this business off the ground and make it something exciting. There are some good examples of that along the way. I remember this time up in the attic Jake and I getting into an argument over whether or not we should buy the 50 pack of paper clips or the 500 pack of paper clips. Obviously the 500 pack, it was way better economy of scale but the question is, what's our cost of capital relative to those economies of scale and what would be our passive consumption on the paper clips that we would buy? These are the kinds of nerdy conversations that we would have that in a lot of ways it was frugality to a false because that to me was kind of confusing, being lean and being a lean startup or just being cheap and nor leveraging the founders time in a way that actually valued it and understood the opportunity cost of it.

But this stuff kept coming up. Once we had our first couple of employees, there was a question that was posed to us to whether or not the company should provide coffee? And we kind of had an internal debate about this and you know it's a couple of cents a day to provide coffee to a team but we were very much spending every dollar that we had on trying to bring new people in the door as customers and as employees. And ultimately we initially did not offer coffee and we drifted toward doing it later and never looked back. Just a hint to anybody that is having this internal debate. Always buy coffee. If your team members are volunteering to take a drug that is going to make them work harder, you should not hesitate to provide them with that drug. So I'm a big fan of supplying anything that the team needs to be fueled throughout the day at this point.

There was also a point in time where we had some decisions to make around office space. So we got to the point where we had a small number of employees. My attic wasn't cutting it anymore. Probably worst of all, it didn't have air conditioning. It was there in Southern New Jersey and we went out looking for new office space. And we encountered this town called Camden, New Jersey that was not that far from Philadelphia and also not that far from the attic where we had been founded. Camden is a city that I have really been rooting for because there are a lot of great things in which years but if you look at the map of the downtown Camden area and if you know anything about Camden and its reputation, there are a few landmarks that have become a little more challenging over time as it's come to actually building up an economy downtown there. One of the characteristics is that at least at the time that we lived there, just north of the bridge there actually, north of where the arrows pointed, there's a state prison that was operational at the time. There was a county prison that was a block or two away from the downtown area.

But from us and looking at the world from the lens of a very frugal company, we saw this building over here and said, "Oh, $400 a month, sold!" This is a fantastic opportunity for us to both have a roof over our heads and have air conditioning. And we loved it and went to Camden but as you'll see as the story progresses, it ended up kind of being a challenging piece of our history as our DNA evolved a bit. So that's what was in our DNA. It was that frugality. I want to [inaudible 00:18:57] we had a great talk about what was not in our DNA. And some of those weak spots. And this is a shot at me from TEDx, Philly in 2010, I believe. And just to zoom in a little bit there. A couple of things were highlighting. The tie that is almost going down to my knees, the wrinkle MC Hammer style pants that I think had been sitting in the bottom of a drawer for the three months before I gave that talk. The point that I'm trying to make here is that style was not in our DNA. It was not something that came naturally to myself or my co-founder. It was not something that we invested energy in or in a lot of ways saw the value or passion in the way that we saw that value and passion around data. So that really kind of came through in our web properties as well. This is the last company that I founded prior to RJMetrics. It was a website I had in college called what's my image. Not exactly the pinnacle of great design right here. But this is the last thing that I had personally built. And that kind of aesthetic kindle of rippled through.

So when it came time to release our product and build things initially that were branded as RJ Metrics, there came a day where we had to pick a logo and we had to make a decision around what our visual identity was going to be. Because it was do or die, we had to put a product down on the market. So there's this question that you can ask which is what do you do if style is not something that is not in your DNA naturally? And the answer is, you buy it. If you have the dollars available, you can, of course, go out and spend an unlimited amount of money on branding, on logo design, on the way that your company is presented to the world. Now we happen to be a company that as you remember was quite frugal at the time. So the question is, if you can't design your own logo, you almost definitely have to buy it from somewhere. And if don't want to spend a lot of money, you can't hire your won graphic designer or maybe a marketing or branding firm to do the design. The answer is that you outsource it.

And at the time there weren't great companies out there like 99 Designs and a few of the others where you can go and really crowdsource design of logos. You kind of had to make a bet on a single designer. And for us, we went to a site called Elance that allowed us to hire people that had designed backgrounds to do logo iteration. And this is what we started getting back from the people that we hired on Elance. And these are, there's a couple of things worth pointing out here on these logos. You notice the theme of ones and zeros, so much transparent in the back of almost all this. For some reason we thought that would be a cool thing to include in the logo. And some of like all these little shiny...remember, this is back in kind of a 2009 era where shiny logos were the big thing. So we wanted to tap into that. But as you look at these logos and some of these others that came through, what was really noteworthy here is that by and large, now that I've seen enough companies go through this process it's very evident to me that when you hire one of these bargain basement firms to go do logo design for you, what they're really doing is pulling from these large libraries of either clip arts or static designs that exist that are generic logos and just kind of slapping your company's name in there. So things like the pyramid on the top right or the plus and percentage sign, basically there is some large stockpile of logo designs somewhere. And the designers are just spending a few minutes slapping your logo in there to get these initial drafts through.

And we went through and picked the ones that we kind of liked and iterated and iterated and iterated them. I want to highlight one of the ones that I think is particularly bad just to show you a few things here that to us really should have stood out in a way that they didn't as we were going through this iteration process here. As I mentioned, the shininess here. The color pallet selection is very, very bizarre here. It is not something that comes off as clean or all that exciting. It doesn't contain any of the pallets that are traditionally associated with innovation or even technology for that matter. This murky maroon color has very weird...the gradient that exists on the logo and on the bar underneath ultimately would make it hard to do things like presenting it in gray-scale or attempting to project it up in a way that relatively large. Even the shininess hindered the light arc there was so extremely, strangely defined with a weird kind of parabola of bottoming out in a strange spot. This [inaudible 00:23:32] is not versatile. So this is an example of a really, really bad one that came through during this iteration process. And what did we do with that really, really bad logo? We made it our real logo. That was actually the logo that we chose initially to use for the branding of RJMetrics. This was our website circa 2009. And as you can see there, the RJ logo is prominently shown. And something was happening in this era that was really important that I think hadn't quite hit us in the way that it should have and we ended up catching up on this very, very quickly.

Which is, what you see here is basically household and computer internet use and the growth of that over the course of time from basically when I was a kid to when we were coming out into the market with RJ Metrics. And you see those darker red bars are really the important ones there. There's this period of time in the early to mid-90s where computer use that was happening in business was quite prevalent, but the use at home was still pretty limited. And for software vendors, that meant that you could build stuff that looked like this and kind of get away with it. These interfaces that were relatively complicated and not necessarily strong with user experience but that provide some business value were very, very common placed. And the enterprise offer to this day still has this reputation generally as a category of something that does not scream intuition and does not scream ease of use or widespread use within an organization. Enterprise is synonymous with big and clunky and slow and hard to use. And it had earned that reputation over a long period of time because during this period of time, you would come into work and you would experience software. And this would be what software was to you. There was no standard for comparison. So you put up with that pain. Whereas, when you came home if you were lucky, you had this experience which meant you had an Apple IIe hanging around. And maybe got to play Oregon Trail from time to time. But it wasn't something where you were making an apples to apples comparison at home and at work with your experience in and around software.

Now over time as computers became more prevalent and more sophisticated in the home, that changed drastically. And in 2008 which we were founded the tail end of that year, you started to see some of these web properties come up and completely change the game around user experience for consumers. And in the context of business like use cases. So mint.com is my favorite example of this. You could have made mint.com today and it may not, if you're a first-time user and you're living in 2015 going in 2016 here, it's not something that is necessarily going your eyes bulge out or knock your socks off. [Inaudible 00:26:13] from mint.com in 2008, one of the first sites ever to use AJAX and background requests happening in real time as a web page existed without reloading. Being able to show a lot of intuitive data through interfaces that made sense without having to go through a tutorial, mint was really an innovator in a number of ways in this area. And this happened at the same time that computer use and internet use at home was basically becoming pre-standardized, at least in the United States, around broadband use. And it changed the standards for enterprise software because consumers were coming home and realizing that it was possible to build software that was intuitive, that worked well, that contained complex information and that still delivered value. And this trend is the trend of consumerization of the enterprise.

So for us, remember we are living in this world where we just released that ugly maroon logo. And we've got the very first version of our software kind of starting to come out. And for us frugality but not design was in our DNA as a founding team. And as we started to bring on more engineers, these are our first few team members, Chris Marek, and Phil Peel, who today are still on our team and leading our engineering team, they had a little better eye for design candidly. And this is a moment in time when our company's DNA evolved. And it was also a moment of time when this was happening. Our lovely home in Camden was having some of its own troubles. And as we were hiring more and more people, we started getting into a spot where the pressure was rising for us to bring on new team members as our sales were growing. And bringing in all these team members was really important to us because this was in this critical moment when this DNA was clearly evolving and we had some big decisions to make around who we wanted to be as a company and what we wanted our identity to be. And our engineers and designers were a key part of that.

So we made this very lean startup move of, we thought maybe that Camden was the issue. But you go to any city and it's hard to hire engineers. To this day, I was just having a conversation just before we started this webinar about the challenge of recruiting on the engineering side. So what we wanted to do rather than just move to Philly and assume that that would solve our problems by being in a city with a big university system and a lot more engineers, we just lied and said that we were in Philly. And we put up the same job ad with the Camden address and the Philly address and what come out the other end was that we got about seven times more applicants for this Philadelphia job. So we started interviewing those 70 or so applicants that came in within a couple of weeks and we also started looking for real estate at the same time. And we ended up signing a lease and moving into our Philly office in January 2011 and that was really the day before our first engineer from that batch started. So we just got in just under the gun.

But as you can see here, this is me and Jake in January as the office space in Philly was coming together, kind of getting there stylistically. I think what's interesting here as we were starting to feel the pressure of style in the universe of our business. Jake and I are still very aesthetically challenged in some ways in the [inaudible 00:29:24]. But at the same time things were happening in our personal lives where actually moving to Philly and realizing how nice it is to have a nice space that we worked with an actual designer, like an interior designer for our office space in Philly. And it taught us a lot of things about the aesthetics and flow of an office. And it actually caused both me and Jake to move within about a year of when we moved into this office. We both moved our personal apartments. Not necessarily to be more convenient to work but because we knew that we could have a better experience around us aesthetically. This is our personal DNA evolvement along with the company's. So we get into this time now where we knew as the team is around 10 people or so, we knew that the aesthetics of the business were increasingly important. We had a client that we loved, a company called Threadless that we had a lot of respect for their website and their aesthetic. And we're friends with a number of the founding team there. And we just asked them, who did your stuff? And they pointed us to this firm called X-Team. That is actually an Australian company and we hired them to re-design our website.

And we kind of had this afterthought which was, we're doing this all website redesign. Maybe it's time to get the logo redone. Can you throw in a logo? Can you toss in a logo? And to X-Team's credit at that time they said, a logo is not a thing that you just throw in. It's a big part of your identity. It's a really big the starting point of your business. And they were generous enough to work out a deal where they would include a logo in that package but we did some work this time around. And we really talked about what was important to us in our identity and what we wanted to include there. They were able to be very thoughtful about the aesthetics and solving a lot of the problems that we suffered with our first logo. We knew that we cared about metrics and we ended up with this, which was our RJ Metrics logo for quite some time. A lot more...a lot cleaner look, a lot of flexibility, a very defined mark there. That cascading kind of combination of a line and a bar graph growing exponentially there was something that we can hold onto and use in a number of different places. Our website got redesigned and this for the 2011 time frame was a pretty great website that converted really well. And we started putting together trade show materials and things like that, having fun tag lines. And this is an era when I like this slide because it kinds of encapsulates both. You can see the logo behind me there in the photo, but we're also in this point and time where we had a number of competitors in this space that were raising tons and tons of money. And we had this question that we were asking ourselves and asking it quite publicly around. When is the right time for us to raise outside capital and grow a business by fundraising?

And we did a little bit of analysis internally on ourselves in this era as we were evolving. We had such an amount of passion around that frugality and the bootstrapping that we had done historically that we really hadn't done a lot of work introspectively asking ourselves the question of whether we leaving the opportunity on the table by not having to get any outside capital up until this point. And this is around the 2012 time frame. And one thing that we learned a lot about was the [inaudible 00:32:29] economics in a software as a service business and the J-curve, which you see here. And if you study this curve and picture it as your profitability as a business, not overall, but in the context of a single relationship with a single customer, this for most businesses is what that relationship looks like. Which is, initially you are spending, spending, spending in order to acquire that customer. You're spending money on marketing to get the lead initially. You're most likely spending money on a sales person to interact with that lead. And also if they close the lead, paying them incentive compensation to have closed it. You're even maybe giving a free trial and spending some money on the infrastructure and hosting involved in the trial of that product. All of that is money that goes out the door and it's not until that parabola bottoms out there when they actually start paying you and you start recovering. Ideally that grow this actually somewhat exponential and not just linear because they even pay you more over time as they upgrade or grow their services relationship with you.

And for us, this is exactly what our customer relationships look like. And that's a perfectly healthy thing. But what it meant was, we were constantly out of money. Because we would grow very, very rapidly. We would find channels through which we could acquire customers. But definitionally that meant that we took this graph and we multiplied it by 100x if we acquired 100 new customers. So for us what doubling every single year meant was that at any given time, 50% or more of our customer base will be less than a year old. And what that means is that if it takes you a year to reach that break-even point, which if you look at, you pull the S1s for a publicly traded SaaS company, that's about where the healthy mark is. If that is at the one year mark then you are definitionally not profitable yet on half or more of your customer base. Which means by definition, you will burn capital. And this is why you see in the SaaS universe, so many companies that are so extremely capital consumptive. Even to this day saleforce.com has not had a full year of profitability in its entire history where it hasn't burnt cash. That's a pretty impressive thing to say relative to salesforce's incredible market cap and market position. But it's because as long as there are opportunities to grow and the long-term profitability within customers are valuable, then you as a business are very, very justified in continuing to make investments and acquire customers and the capital markets will support that time and time again.

So we were in a spot where if we wanted to grow faster we had to spend more money, even if we were doing the most financially conservative possible thing. And that we realized that our cost of capital had dropped a good amount because of the scale of our business and the strength of our unit economics. So it was cheap to get money for us and if that money would allow us to grow faster and even though raising capital means as a founder you own one less slice of the pie, if the whole pie gets so much bigger that you end up eating more at the end anyway, the economics make a lot of sense to raise money. So we did and we raised a sea ground of a million bucks. And about a year later we raised another six and change in a series A from Trinity Ventures. And then about a year later, we were at the $16,500,000 round from [inaudible 00:35:31] capital. We had participation program existing investors all the way along. But raising $20,000,000 in capital in a pretty short band, you know a little over a two-year time span, that is something that will impact your company's DNA and that will be something that forces the question of what is our visual identity?

And our DNA had been mutating in so many ways. The way in which we provided perks and experience on the people on our team, it gave way to efficiency. Frugality gave way to efficiency and as the capital came more readily available but well justified, it made a lot of sense to make sure that we were taking good care of our team and that you have the marginal cost of [inaudible 00:36:11] in the kitchen or allowing people to take a Uber home if they work past 8 PM was so small relative to the impact those people could have on that, the economics of the business. And we also got to hire people that were a little more specialized. Instead of just hiring every single person as a generalist engineer, we hired people like this guy, Zack Cossack, who came screaming saying, "Hey, we need a new visual identity." We actually have somebody on staff then that was able to work on that. This guy Zack and among other things he pointed out that our logo was a little too similar to Microsoft's CRM solution logo there and really just needed a little something that was more us.

So we had this things called hack-a-thons at RJ Metrics. Many companies have them. We have it about once a quarter and Zack has a hack-a-thon project put together a presentation about why we needed a new logo and what that new logo should be. And he put forward this idea that patterns are things that we encounter everywhere in nature and everywhere in business. And presented the idea of the platonic solids to us which is an idea that dates back many hundreds of years, long before modern science had evolved to the state it's in today. And it was this idea that three-dimensional shapes that were composed of simple flat two-dimensional shapes bound together. Each had their own significance and meaning in the world where there are different symbols that might represent water, or air, or earth. And there was this one shape that they would get a dodecahedron that represented everything else. It represented the ether, the things that could not be represented by the physical things that you could touch or see or smell as human beings. And Zack presented the idea that RJ Metrics should use the dodecahedron as its logo. A three-dimensional shape that actually provides this story of, we are in fact the company that deals in the ether. We deal in this ones and zeros that flow around from place to place, that are challenging to grab or grasp a hold of. But if you can understand and become at peace with and one with, you can be a more fulfilled business and a person that has really made the discoveries that you need to make to move forward as an individual or as a company. And we love this idea. And one of the challenges of course with a three-dimensional objects as a logo is that you need to make a two-dimensional projection of it in order to print it on things or present it on a website.

And we did just that and we took Zack's advice and we rebranded the company around the dodecahedron and it was this really simple, clean, smart look. We of course went and made it our Twitter logo. That was one of the first things that we did. At the time that we were buying a ton of Twitter Ads. So one of the things that happens when you buy a lot of Twitter Ads and you change your twitter logos is that thousands of people see your logo, your new logo, almost immediately. And we started getting these tweets that were coming in. Kind off topic, people asking, "Hey, why your logo is a pair of Y-fronts [SP]?" And I have never had the term Y-fronts before. I got the first one and I just kind of brushed it off. Then a couple of days later another one comes in. These guys just appears in promoter's week, that logo looks like Y-fronts. I'm still very confused. Hey, RJ Metrics. Is your logo supposed to look like a pair of Y-fronts? It started to get to a critical mass where I decided to do maybe just a little bit more of investigating. And we are going to play together my favorite game which is Risky Click of the day, which is going to display exactly was my experience was when we initially Google image searched for Y-fronts to understand what it was that these people were talking about.

Three, two, one. Oh no. It turns out that Y-fronts aren't that. A term that is used predominantly in the U.K to describe tighty whities or jockey underpants. And if you kind of look at it and twist your head a little bit, you can see some of the resemblance there. And it was very interesting to us that we looked back at all this tweets, every single one of them was coming from the U.K. And we ended up doing a Google Consumer survey, just showing that logo and asking people what does this look like to you? And in the U.S, effectively no one saw underwear or Y-fronts. But in the U.K about 1 out of 40 people would see a pair of underwear when they looked at our logo. And this actually was a bit of a challenge for us. And we had to ask this question, what do we do? Do we abandon the dodecahedron? Do we hang our heads in shame? What we decided to do was embrace it. And this really dates back to one of our core values of just transparency and kind of being one with the market. And I wrote a blog post called, "Our logo looks like underpants. Case study in the internationalization." And pretty much just laid out exactly what I've laid out for you here which is around the story of us coming up with this logo idea and the backlash that we had and the way that we used data to determine what the issue was and then solve for exactly what to do next.

This blog post blew up. It was number one Hacker News for a full day. It was at the top of, I think Digg was still a pretty big thing back then. It got some residual coverage in a number of different media outlets. And what happens when you do that, which is crazy for us, this is just an example of a conversion funnel that you might see at a really high growth stats business. If you're growing 100% plus a year, you get this crazy multiples on recurring revenue. And even with the traffic that was relatively low quality with a 10 basis point conversion from a unique visitor to a sales qualified lead, that was SQL is here, we could actually sell quite a few deals out of the traffic that we got off of that blog post which translated into a mean for amount of new annual recurring revenue for us. You apply those crazy ARR multiples that you're able to get at high growth rate and boom, this logo underpants story that turned into a blog post on our blog, converted ourselves into revenue that corresponds into saved millions of dollars of equity value that had been generated in customers that we got through this. And making the move to be transparent and actually share the story rather than quietly make a change or hang our heads in shame actually ended up making us millions of dollars in terms of the value of our business.

And I mentioned that before that I have done some writing for the New York Times small business blog. I got that gig as a result of that, which is a hilarious turn of fates. To have the underpants story turn into an opportunity to even further expand our brand and grow the reach. Also, we were like now a member of the secret society now. There are so many businesses out there that now they...when their logos look like underpants, they reach out to me and want to share a drink and wallow in their bad fortune. We've seen quite a few of these come through. [inaudible 00:42:43] new logo has taken some heat around that. Watzi [SP], which is a great start up. It's doing a lot of great things for the world. Has a pretty blatant underpants logo as well. For us, solving the problem, by the way, was really just a matter of re-orienting how we give the 2D projection and just providing a little bit more detail inside of the logo. So we now do not actually get any underpants feedback to this day.

One little lesson here also. Hack-a-thons are for hacking. One of the things that we did hear and this is so systemic time and time again that we have really been able to evolve past but had to learn our lesson a few times on is with our original logo, we cheaped out on it. With our second logo, we tried to make it an afterthought into a web design process. And with our third logo, Zack didn't have the opportunity to bring it up and work on it except of the context of the Hack-a-thon, where he worked 24 hours straight without sleeping. This is not how you do logo design. This is not how you do visual identity work and we've now, at the times I did that I think we were maybe a 20 person company. We're now 130 person company and the work we've put into visual identity is a whole other ball game.

So my closing thought here is just really around, you look at the evolution of these logos and at a moment in time for each one of these, this was the right logo for our company. And it did what it needed to do and it solved the problem. But if that good standing of the logo in our own history changed as the times change, as the identity of our business changed, as our company DNA evolved, and as the macro-market around us evolved as well. And it really, what really speaks to is that identity in a big way is a part of culture. And when I look at that progression of logos, I don't just look at, okay, this is what our visual identity was over time. This is what speaks to what our website looked like. This is our company. This is the story of our business changing and you can see so much about the culture and even the product vision for what we were doing as a business evolving over time with each of these logos. And that should be no surprise because identity in a lot of ways is an output of the culture that you are creating with your business. And it inputs the culture of things like how people treat each other, you core values, just the way that your business operates.

And the outputs are things like perks and identity. A lot of people try to, they have trouble with company culture. They'll buy a ping pong table and stick it in the office and they'll say okay. We'll now, our team wished it was a more fun environment. Now we've got a ping pong table, it's a more fun environment. And no one ever plays ping pong because the ping pong table didn't show up because there was a demand for ping pong. The ping pong table showed up as a potential patchwork solution to the challenge of they're not being a culture of fun and competition between people on staff. The companies that have ping pong tables that get used all the time, those are the companies that have a healthy culture because the ping pong showed up as an output, not as an attempted input towards the culture the business was.

So I promised you three reasons every startup should invest in a strong visual identity. Here they are. So to me, industry-leading businesses in every single vertical are now using user experience as a point of differentiation in competitive advantage. Not true in 2008, not true before that in the days of Organ Trail and the clunky enterprise software. Today it matters, no matter who your end user is. UX matters. UX, again, much like your logo, they're tightly bound to each other and are outputs of the culture that you are building. And a focus on visual identity should be a part of that culture. And that really hits on number two as well.

And for number three, just a strong visual identity really requires a deeper exercise around your company's vision and values. If you don't understand that you...I mentioned earlier, RJ Metrics is a company that's on a mission to inspire and empower data-driven people. That is our mission statement. That is what we do as a business and that got said many times in the process of designing our most recent and active logo. And that exercise is shocking as big companies as it feels and as adverse in the early as it was to it. Much like I was adverse to that organizational structure chart and that management tree, ultimately going through the exercise of doing this for something we have never looked back on and I wish we did when we were a two-person company instead of a 20 person company. And if this is not an exercise that you've gone through so far with your business, I strongly, strongly encourage you to do it ASAP. It's never too early.

Now we've got this dodeca everywhere and we're super proud of it. And it's a really big part of our story. And I mentioned before that if you double your customer base every year, half of your customers have been with you for less than a year. Well also noteworthy. If you double your staff every year, half of your staff has been with you for less than a year. And that's terrifying for someone who's starting a business. And that's the reality that we live in today. And we've had to do a lot to really make sure that this professional newness is an asset to us and not some liability that damages our culture and we've done a lot of things around the way we onboard people, the way we communicate to our team, the resources available to make sure that that is something that we benefit from and that we're really good at indoctrinating people into and absorbing the good things that they can contribute to the culture but not letting bad habits show up at the same time.

Every single person at RJ gets their own custom business card, designed based on something that is a part of their own personality or their own DNA. Or something that really resonates with them. And that's a good way for us to allow people to basically maintain their own identity as a way of integrating themselves into a business that really is evolving with them as well. So I love these things, I can look at these all day. So anyway, I mentioned the mission, I mention the products. What's really important to us is, if this evolution is not done. We are still evolving as a company. We are still people who are working really hard to make sure that we are not just the best company we can be today, but we are positioning ourselves to be the best company we can be over the long run. And that's something that I encourage everybody who's listening to go ahead and do for themselves. So, that's it for my presentation for now and if there are any questions, I'd be very happy to take them in the time we have left.

Thue: Bob, thank you very, very much. That was pretty awesome. A lot of funny stories in there.

Bob: Well, thank you.

Thue: We already have a few really good questions here. First question here Bob is from James. And James asks, how did your visual identity affect your ability to get clients in the beginning?

Bob: Great question, James. I think that visual identity is a really, really subtle influencer in your conversion funnel. And by subtle, I do not mean unimportant. I think that one of the things that we have taken a lot of pride in is having a culture of testing. And I mentioned AB testing on hiring. We're constantly doing lots of AB testing on our websites in order to answer questions about what's the right thing or the wrong thing. And the natural response that I want to give you to that question is, oh, we just AB tested it and then we knew. We knew what the input was to the conversion funnel that would drive the most. From an identity step point, an identity is so extremely comprehensive that it's almost impossible to AB test without doing an enormous amount of work that we didn't have the bandwidth or the money to do it at the time. So I, unfortunately, cannot quantify for you that we had a four percent lower conversion rate because our logo was unappealing aesthetically in the earliest days.

What I can tell you is that when it came time to start really getting into competitive situations and looking like a real grown up company, that concept of nobody ever got fired for buying software from IBM really does start to come into play in a really big way. So for us, we were a company that services very small businesses along with some enormous companies. We've got some Fortune 500 brands that we work with as well. And in the different conversations, I think you can have a somewhat different impact. But my sense has always been that as we've gotten into larger and larger companies, the importance of the visual identity has mattered more and more. Because there's a little bit less empathy for the idea that we're a startup and we're figuring things out, as opposed to the idea that we need to be someone who's going to be reliable. We're going to have a lot of uptime. And the care that we put into the logo and the visual identity is just a reflection of the care that we put into the things that are important to our business, like our products. So to me it matters in a big way. It wasn't enough to prevent us from growing and getting to the next stage and I think we were able to get past that. But do I think that if we had an amazing logo from day one, maybe our conversion rates would have been a couple of percentage point higher? Yeah, I do. I really do.

Thue: I absolutely agree Bob. That's actually one of the reasons why we've recently went through a visual overhaul ourselves is there has to be a connection between where your company is and its visual identity and who you are selling to and how you're selling to them.

Bob: Yeah, I totally agree.

Thue: Next question is from Alex. Do you see it being the same for B2C companies and companies in emerging markets? Any thoughts on this?

Bob: Absolutely. If that is so, those are two...I will answer those separately because I think B2C has its answer and international has its answer and then there's kind of a B2C international Venn diagram intersection there. For B2C, in some ways that idea of the consumerization of the enterprise that I talked about, for consumers, for B2C businesses, that's business that sell to consumers, they didn't even have to go through the consumerization of the enterprise because they are selling to consumers to begin with. So we take the consumerization of consumers, that's not a thing that needs to happen. That's just the identity of a consumer is implicit there. So for B2C, they even have a higher challenge because it's not like people are coming into work and half the software they use is this new generation of UX-driven SaaS tools and half of it is this clunky old enterprise software. Consumers deal with nothing but awesome consumer products with great identities all day. And to get to any point of market scale, big, big investments get made by B2C companies on the visual identity side. So I'd apply a major kind of order of magnitude factor importance on visual identity around companies that are in B2C. It's way more important than it's ever been for B2B, but for B2C it's always been important and that has not changed.

For international, I think it depends on your market honestly. There are some considerations we made even when naming our company. We looked at what the name of our company translates to in other languages if there may be any kind of unintended implication around the name of our business in other markets. There are even, Google this, countless stories of mishaps around naming businesses where people accidently have companies that translate, their name translates into some profanity or undesired meaning in other markets. I think that stuff is really important. And I think that the aesthetics of different markets can be very, very different when it comes to international. And you can't really please everybody at the same time but you can spend a little time, a little energy figuring things like that out. And the underpants in the U.K is a great example of that. If we had just not made the if we had not made this a hack-a-thon project and actually done our true, our best diligence before releasing the new logo, we probably would have done some panels. We probably we would have done some international testing and gotten people to say, hey, what do you see when you see this? And we might not have been asking or intending to hear about underpants but we would have heard about underpants and we would have seen the geo breakdown on that and understood the issue before it happened. So that's the kind of staff for internationalization that I think you want to be most careful about.

Thue: Thank you. Joshua asks do you have a designer or a design team in your company now or do you still outsource them? And if you have a team, when do you decide to make that change?

Bob: Yes. So we do have a full team now. We don't outsource anything really on the design side. Our design team is spread across our product organization and our marketing organization. The guy, Zack Cossack who I mentioned is our senior designer on the marketing side. He's responsible for a lot of things related to our brand. Everything from the logo to identity within websites and assets, even like this presentation that you saw here today. All the way to when we move into a new office, he's literally picking the paint colors on the walls and the carpet and that stuff matters to him. He's a big supporter in that way. We also have head of the UX on our products team. A guy named Kevin Jackson who is amazing and has been...he's actually been at it within the last year. He's been injecting a lot of great design practices into the products we've been building. RJ Metrics Pipeline in a lot of ways has a lot of his stamp and his aesthetic on it. And then we have some other great designers on the marketing team who have done a lot of work on our web assets and things like the business cards that I showed and the materials for trade shows and any other collateral. So the entire design team, if you look at people with designers, some are all of their title. It's probably between three and five people in the org today. And I think that is a right size team for an organization of our scale. If anything, it's a little bit small. In terms of when we added them, Zack was our first designer. He came on board when we were probably maybe a dozen or 15 people. And then it was a while before we hired another designer. The next designer probably came on when we were at that 50 or 60 mark or so.

Thue: Awesome Bob. Let's take one more question, then we will be rounding off the Q&A and jumping into our demo of Kiss Metrics. The last question here is going to be from Laura. And Laura asks, if you are a company on a limited budget, what's the best use of your budget for visual identity above and beyond the logo?

Bob: That's a great question. I am a...As I mentioned before I am a big fan of AB testing. Having that stems from being someone who, I'm very much a free market guy and I love just letting the masses decide in a lot of ways. There are thing...there's something to be said for when you're doing the logo design and the big visual identity design, your vision matters. You shouldn't just optimize on every single little thing. The way that you want to think about your company in the long term is not something that should necessarily be AB tested. That's something that needs to come from you. But once you've got these table stakes down and you've got a logo and you've got a general aesthetic, investing your resources, and I mean not just your money but also your time, the opportunity cost of your time in getting answers to questions about is this messaging better or is that messaging better in terms of converting people can actually teach you a lot about your market and a lot about what people are saying and how people are thinking and what language people will respond to. I think we've learned more from being out there running AB tests than we ever have from just kind of spitballing and seeing what comes at the door or iterating endlessly on something inside the echo chamber of our own office. So even if you have to spend money on focus groups or Google consumer surveys or there's I believe usertesting.com is a service that we use a good amount to just get people to interact with our assets and talk out loud while they do it. That stuff I love and we've gotten great, great insights out of it. And it's really not that expensive to do.

Thue: I absolutely agree. Bob, thank you very, very much for taking the time to put this together for us and for coming out today. Everyone, we'll be jumping into the demo in just a second. I'm just going to try and throw the screen over to my colleague.