On Rebranding: The Evolution of a Startup Identity posted by: Jareau Wade

PoundPay ==> Balanced

A bit of background

Balanced is a payments platform offering credit card processing, escrow, and ACH payouts in one simple API. We work with companies like Fancy, Grubwithus, reddit, and Crowdtilt. In the summer of 2012, we changed our name from PoundPay to Balanced. I’ve been asked about this experience a few times in the past several weeks, so I figured I’d share my thoughts here. Thanks to Andrew Kinzer of our client GroupTalent for helping me gather my thoughts.

The Story

#### Act 1: PoundPay – Oct. 2010 - Jan. 2011 The name “PoundPay” came from our first product, which was a mobile app for sending money to friends – similar to Venmo but free and the money was available in your bank account instantly. The # symbol on the phone’s keypad as well as a potential bump-like transmission protocol inspired the “pound” portion of the name – “pay” was just descriptive. Our CEO, Matin, got a logo made on 99designs, built a website, and launched the product to actual paying customers (aka friends and family) in late 2010.

Act 2: Pivots & Bottlenecks – Jan. 2011 - Apr. 2011

By our first YC dinner in January 2011, we had decided the mobile payments app wasn’t going to be a profitable business – users expect to send money to friends for free – so we decided to build a payments API for P2P marketplaces instead. The new PoundPay allowed buyers to make payments on a marketplace’s website via an iframe, but required the seller to create a PoundPay account on our site – it was part API, part consumer app. We continued with the name PoundPay frankly because it was good enough and we didn’t know if the product/business was going to take off, so there was no point polishing the name. In short, we solve the most important bottleneck first and changing the name of the company wasn’t the highest priority task at the time. Getting customers was.

Act 3: Do No Harm – Apr. 2011 - Jan. 2012

Thankfully, we ended up getting a handful of amazing private beta customers. One of our earliest clients, Zaarly, did some great user testing, which indicated that their users thought PoundPay was a scam. Apparently, a lot of early Zaarly users were previously selling on eBay and Craigslist, so when PoundPay – a company they had never heard of – sent them an email inviting them to create an account, they thought it was a PayPal scam. We had started to dislike the PoundPay name for other reasons –mainly that there were too many lewd jokes that could be made with the name – but the feedback that we were potentially harming our customer’s business was alarming. Simply changing the name of the company may have solved this specific issue for Zaarly, but based on all of the feedback we were getting in late 2011/early 2012, there seemed to be a more important message from our early customers: “Get the fuck out of my product experience.” Many of our partners didn’t want our brand exposed to either the buyer or seller; they wanted to control it all. Unfortunately, most of our resources during that time were focused on registering, integrating, and deploying our new banking/processing infrastructure, so we waited. Just like before, we wanted to change the name and had good reason to do so, but it still wasn’t the most important thing for us to be working on.

Act 4: Balanced – Feb. 2012 - May. 2012

The feedback from our customers, combined with the processing/banking power we had with our shiny new bank, gave us the impetus and opportunity to change our product; changing the name was conveniently included in this process. The name “PoundPay” was never harming us or our customers (e.g. Zaarly) enough to warrant a change on its own, but a new name actually helped us distinguish our new product from the old one, which was imperative to launching it. The working title of the new product was “Product X,” but it would eventually be called Balanced.

The Process

Procrastination

We brainstormed for weeks, white-boarding and eventually requiring everyone in the company to come up with at least 5 names and post them to a shared Google Doc. We talked about the different choices a lot, but kept putting off a vote. All the while, we were actually building the new product, then called Product X for the sake of having something to reference it by. Finally, we set a deadline by which to select a new name, but we backed away from that because the deadline felt arbitrary and unnecessary since we were still a few weeks away from actually launching the new product.

Getting Out of the Building

Throughout this process of brainstorming, two names emerged as front-runners: Tender, championed by me, and Balanced, championed by our CEO, Matin. We were at an impasse with only our opinions to arm ourselves, so Matin sent me out to get some data. I developed a list of 5 company names, including Tender, Balanced, Braintree, Stripe, and Square. I then spent two days asking anyone I met what they thought of each of these names for a payments company. It was a pretty informal process – I would ask people at parties and networking events what their thoughts were. But I discovered an overwhelming signal: women loved the name Balanced. They thought it sounded professional, trustful, and “clean.” That was enough for me, and I began to champion Balanced over Tender. With Matin and me supporting the name, we got the rest of the team on board, and went about the process of developing a new identity.

Creating a new identity

We came up with a new logo before anything else. This helped anchor the new branding around something tangible. From the logo, we could decide what colors, tone, and layout the site and payments dashboard would have to include. We also tried to grab the domain “balanced.com” but the current site owner didn’t want to play ball for the amount we were offering. We launched our new product on balancedpayments.com with the understanding that we’d switch to balanced.com once we could justify paying for it. So far, there has been no branding concern operating under that domain, and we’ve even noticed one nice SEO advantage.

How it’s going so far

The main downside we’ve experienced is that “Balanced” is a terrible name to search for because it’s so ambiguous. As a result, potential customers have taken to searching for “balanced payments”, which of course brings up our site. The flip side is that new customers take to calling us Balanced Payments instead of just Balanced, but once again, that isn’t really a big deal.

Overall, the new name has been received very positively. I’ve heard a few “oh that’s a great name” when I introduce myself and my company to strangers at conferences or networking events, and even those that think it’s a bit bland understand the meaning once I tell them Balanced specialized in two-sided transactions. Another minor benefit of renaming the company is that we no longer felt hesitant to get certain pieces of swag made. We were always afraid to make PoundPay t-shirts because we always knew we were going to change the name “soon.”

Tips if you’re thinking of rebranding

Follow Balanced on the interwebs: (twitter, github), and check out our docs.