Tag Archives: venture capital

What StartUps can learn about naming from Computershare

marketing brand names

Naming and the importance of not getting it wrong in a StartUp

I was going to hold off before I had a rant…but I’ve just had a letter from Computershare. And it’s a sorry story, or more like a farce, of the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ variety. But importantly, there’s a strong lesson for any start-up here about brand naming strategy, something that often does not get given enough thought. At it’s simplest, there are two ways to name your brand: either literal (this-is-what-we-do like SingTel or this-is-who-I-am like adidas, names after founder Adi Dassler, Kelloggs) or imaginative (glorious mythical associations like Nike or attractive fruit like Apple, Orange etc…).

Now keep in mind that these guys were pioneers, starting the company way back and took on the descriptive and potentially category defining brand name of Computershare. If share dealing on computers was invented today you’d give your left arm for that name.

I had a few shares in a company I worked for (M+C Saatchi), nothing impressive and I had to buy them at market price – why bother? you say…I know, but at the time I was learning. They’d started at 125p, dropped to 25p in 2008 and when all my old colleagues sold out, I stuck in there knowing it was a competent company and they knew how to run a business, then pretty soon they got back past 125p, climbed up some more and at some point earlier in 2014 got to 350p. I would have felt smart – or at least brave – if it weren’t for the fact that if I was the real McCoy, I’d have bought more at 25p…so that’s something to learn from…or not. If you believe in the company, buy while it’s cheap.

So when it fell back to under 300p, my newfound investment wisdom kicked in and I thought I’d sell a proportion to lock in at least some of the profit, not loads but good holiday money (although I should point out, we are frugal holidayers).

Here’s the story. I sold online through this company called Computershare, who as far as I can tell ‘own’ the dealing of the shares I bought. Soon I got a screen confirming the sale. But apparently not. A week later I got a letter saying I had to send certain documents, otherwise the deal would be cancelled. Not actually cancelled – instead, they would re-buy the shares at the new market rate, even if it was more expensive.

I was travelling and so didn’t get the letter until too late. So they rebought the shares at the market rate. Fortunately, the price had gone down a little, so at least I wasn’t liable for a large gap. But I was pretty annoyed: surely they could have communicated with me in a more timely, 20th century manner. I skyped them (well, I was on skype, they were probably on one of those heavy, black phones from the black and white Sherlock Holmes films). It went something like this (they claim to have recorded it but that’s way too modern, I reckon they used a stenographer…)
Me: You bought shares for me without my agreement. I could have lost serious money.
Them: It’s in the Ts&Cs.
Me: On the sales confirmation page, why didn’t it say something about the fact I hadn’t really sold them until you got the docs, instead of saying ‘sale confirmed’?
Them: I don’t know.
– Surely you have an obligation to make that clear? With all of your competitors it’s done there and then.
– Yes, it should be clear, I’ll look into it.
– And couldn’t you have told me in amore timely manner, so I could have done something about it?
– We sent you a letter.
– But that took two weeks to get to me and I was away. Why didn’t you email me?
– We don’t send emails.
– What??? You are called COMPUETERshare. Surely you have computers and therefore you have email.
– I know, but we can’t send emails to customers.
– What??? You could have phoned me then.
– We don’t phone customers.
– Seriously? OK, I want to complain but I can’t see anywhere on the website where I can email.
– It’s not on there. You be better to send a letter.
– What??? It’s not 1875…!!!

You get the picture. Funny in a desperately sad kind of way.

Still keen to lock in some profit, I sold again when I was back in the UK, at a lower price unfortunately. So I’d lost some profit. I called them, on the telephone, as I think they’d prefer to call it, made sure everything was right & proper and the sale went ahead. And in the absence of any income coming in here in Singapore, it is paying for our accommodation.

Then I get another letter, talking about regulations blah blah, asking me for more docs…otherwise I won’t get the money. But I already have the money. And it has been spent. So I want to get in touch with them from here to see if it’s still necessary. But of course there is no email address on there, no IM, no twitter….nothing that might actually involve a computer and it’s a long way away and there’s seven hours difference.

So tonight I need to find a quill and some parchment and I will pen my response and put it on the next steamer to London. They should get it in Spring.

So what can your average start-up learn from this when it comes to brand names.
First, if it’s a literal name that describes what you do, you have to live up to your name, not just now but FOR EVER. As expectations of computers change, so must you – and back then it was slap-you-around-the-face obvious that computers were going to change. A lot. Your business needs to future proof the name. Or don’t call yourself something you can’t be certain you’ll always live up to.
Second, really think through whether you want a literal or imaginative name. There’s been a movement to the literal this-is-what-we-do names which is largely driven by Google and SEO but also a lack of belief in the emotional nature of brands. But think about the brands’ people love. More often than not, they are named imaginatively and therefore are more emotional. It’s a tough one and you need to weigh up pros and cons.
Third, the more revealing element to this story is that this is a business that isn’t being honest with itself. That goes way beyond naming. With a name like that, you create an expectation. Are you delivering? If not, change and be seen to change. Be brutally honest with yourselves always and you might avoid having a blog post poking fun at you.

Starting up is hard to do

StartUp worksspace
Why StartUps need a proper desk

I think it was Neil Sedaka who said starting up is hard to do. Or was that breaking up? I’ll assume for the sake of this post he was talking about a tough StartUp he’d been involved with. Because starting up is hard…but in a good way.

After the coziness of salaried employment I’m sat here at my new (temporary) desk. Kind of alone. But then again, no politics, no power plays, no sulking. Other than my own. And being alone teaches you a hell of lot.

I know it’s obvious but because you’re alone you play all the roles. An old friend of mine started his own thing, just him, all alone. But he’d literally play all the roles. He’d answer the phone and say ‘I’ll see if he’s free’…even the client’s joined in: ‘would you like to take that back to the office and talk it through’. I think they liked him so much they wanted to – subconsciously at least – give him the respect of being a ‘proper’ company.

So I’m on my own and doing everything. It’s not like I’ve never done this before. I’ve been involved in three stand alone attempted StartUps and three within an existing business (still counts in a way). But there was always a team from the off. Now I am the team and there’s loads to do, much of which I’ve never done before.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Comfort Zone Theory, there are three stages as I was taught it:
1. Comfort
2. Stretch
3. Break

A few days ago, I was talking to a guy who has a great little StartUp, already operating, already proven. They’ve done a great job but he is pretty much petrified about visible marketing/PR, the stuff where they have to be seen to say something and even perhaps show a face, rather than SEO etc. SO he keeps putting it off.

In a StartUp you’re constantly being pulled out of your comfort zone, having to learn new stuff, both hard & soft skills. We all have to develop new coping mechanisms to make sure we stay in the Stretch Zone and don’t slip into Break Zone. After we got him to drink more beer I think he began to relax.

Hell, I’m even trying to learn some coding…I thought it was going well until I pressed save and nothing happened. That was at midnight. But at least I got my ‘beta’ site up and running, for now just something that I hope proves to the local authorities that I’m serious about this business and I’m not hear to sponge (on what exactly?! It’s costing me an arm & a leg to stay here with no income!). I’ll talk about the website development in a subsequent post.

Also – and this feels symbolically significant – I took on some pay-as-you-go office space at Collective Works. Having a workspace away from the kitchen table at home is good. But perhaps it’s greater value is the network effect. Normally, in an office, it just happens but not now. The stuff I’m confortable with is the product development, the business plans, the website and the content dev etc. etc…as valuable as these are though, I’m beginning to suspect that the network is going to be at least as important. And guess what, I’ve been rubbish at it. (I’m in good company: check this great piece on this from the excellent James Altucher.)

However, in pay-as-you-go space people don’t really talk to each other. What I’ve come to realise is that I need to get out of my comfort zone and force a network, I need to be proactive and make it happen. Now I’m asking pretty much anyone and everyone out for a coffee/drink. So this is going to be interesting…can I carry it off? So far it’s going OK and I’ve realised that:
1. You need people to bounce stuff off. Two brains are better than one. And other StartUp types love to help out, it’s in their blood.
2. Despite not working together, you, effectively, pool your skills. They teach me about SEO, I teach them about brand development.
3. You are energised by all these other StartUps trying to make it happen. That gives you momentum/ a kick when you need it.
4. Someone always knows someone else you should meet. So within a matter of weeks you have a network you can barely keep up with.

So the lesson for any StartUp is to force a network: get some office space, ask people out for a drink, email people you’ve never met, ask Person A if they can introduce you to Person B, sit in the right bar at the right time. Look it might not be the golden key but it’s got to improve your chances.