How to Rebrand a Startup: An Interview with Noah Waisberg

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Startup branding is hard. Founders can spend weeks or even months soul-searching and brainstorming ideas to craft the perfect brand for their venture. When the pieces finally fall into place - the catchy name, a distinctive logo, the right colours - a brand is born and a journey begins.

But what happens when that journey starts to take a different path? When the mission starts to outgrow the brand, is it time for change? When will you know and how do you do it? In this interview, startup founder, Noah Waisberg talks us through the ins and outs and ups and downs of his company’s successful rebrand from Dilligence Engine to Kira.

David Bushby: Well, hello and welcome to today's podcast. Our guest today is one of the earlier pioneers of this new wave of start-ups servicing the legal sector. And he's been hard at it since 2010, building a contract analytics platform helping attorneys do large scale due diligence and contract reviews for corporate deals. That start-up was called Diligence Engine and when we spoke last year it had already seen billions of dollars’ worth of deals run through its platform. When I returned to check in earlier this year, the name had changed. There was a total rebranding so I invited their CEO, Noah Waisberg, back to the show to explain yourself. Welcome back Noah!

Noah Waisberg: Thank you David, it is great to be on with you again.

David: Well look can I just start with the big question? What happened? Did you guys pivot? Was there an acquisition? What's the story behind this?

Noah: No pivot. No acquisition. Just different ways that people are using our system. So, the basic story is I used to be an M&A lawyer in New York and I spent a bunch of time reviewing contracts and supervising people reviewing contracts as part of transactions. I realized that people spend a lot of time reviewing contracts of the same stuff over and over again that they screwed this work up and because they were looking for the same stuff over and over again that maybe we could get software to help them find that information. And we were just focused on mergers and acquisitions contracts for the first few years of our existence.

We came to realise that there was a lot of other contract review where people were doing exactly same thing but just in different domains. So for example in lease review, people would be abstracting leases for a number of provisions where they would read through the leases, pull out the exact same stuff in every single lease, and drop it into a database. And while it wasn't necessarily M&A law looking for change of control or assignment clauses, it was contract review professionals doing exactly the same thing over and over again.

So as we started to hear about this use case more and more and started to respond to client needs which were telling us we need to be able to teach our system to find things that other clients need. Eventually we started building out features to sort of meet that demand and as we did, the Diligence Engine became less and less appropriate. We were doing great in the diligence sector; literally worked on 70 billion dollars or so worth of deals in our first year out of the gate. But, so much of our business was morphing beyond diligence so we still were doing and are doing quite a lot of diligence work and have a pretty big announcement coming out in that part of our business very soon. But we are just seeing so much more than that.

We felt like the Diligence Engine name was constraining us.

That it was sort of like we would go into these meetings and it would be like we do more than diligence right and you know we just do general contract review and people were thinking of us as just a diligence company so at that point we decided we needed to have a name that reflected our broader mission. We then launched into quite a searching time of trying to come up with a new name.

David: And talk us through that. Is that searching in terms of looking at your values? Are you conducting research? Engaging consultants? Or was it a bit more finger in the air type of stuff?

Noah: Well we did it all ourselves. I think the biggest step was finding a name that we were all satisfied with internally. And one where you could get a decent domain name for it, and decent sort of social media handles, right, like a good twitter handle and that type of thing. It took us a while to come up with that. Like longer than we originally anticipated. Specifically, we did tons of stuff with just trying to decide should it be something like a made-up word, a word in a foreign language. You know we literally spoke to like- I emailed my friends and sort of colleagues emailed people they knew right like my Stanford Professor friend was getting an email about you know do have any appropriate words for this type of concept. And I think we had a set of concepts that we thought matched what we were trying to express about giving people insight and wisdom from their documents.

I literally remember reading an Iroquois dictionary, I read an Elfish dictionary, I read a Sumerian dictionary, all trying to just find words that expressed that concept that sounded nice, that were easy to spell.

We then tested some of them, I think we actually sort of thought about doing one pretty seriously and realized it just wasn't distinct enough and then ended up with Kira. The sort of funny bit about Kira is we had actually just hired an intern with that name.

David: So they are spelt differently I imagine?

Noah: Uh, no not at all. So I wasn't actually the one who came up with Kira but I was the one who'd hired the intern and I felt really, really badly for her. But I think she was flattered. I hope she was, she really, she was excellent. I think she will be a good reflection of the brand.

David: As a brand, what does Kira mean?

Noah: So Kira is a Sanskrit word that means ray of light and we hope that represents how our system helps you cast light and illuminate what's in your contracts.

David: And going with the Kira brand you've got a logo design, you've got colors like there’s that green and black. Is it all kind of wrapped up in one.

Noah: Well, we've always had the green. The shade of green has shifted a little. We've often used the black too. The logo was something that our team came up with to represent capturing information. And so we did all this stuff basically in house like a little bit of support from our graphic designer that has sort of been part of our team in the past but isn't currently and I think it went really well. I love our new name. Love our new website. Both took a lot of work, but it really shows. I think they are terrific and they really represent who we are and who we are trying to be.

David: You also mentioned before, getting the twitter handles. I mean on the practical side, you know, you've not only got your site and the business cards et cetera but you've got the social media, search results, all sorts of stuff that makes up your offline and online brand footprint. What was the hardest thing to change across?

Noah: I think there are some issues with changing- so twitter is actually pretty easy to change across. It takes some work. I would say the hardest thing to do, it’s not that any individual site is that hard but I think with some of them, I'm not sure that you actually can even change Google+, I personally didn't do it. And I think we have our Google+ situation sorted now but it takes some time. LinkedIn takes a bit of time with just making sure that everybody on your team gets linked up to the appropriate companies. I think right now we look like a significantly smaller company than we are on LinkedIn. Like if you look on there we don't have that many team members that are correctly connected to our company but we're in the process of fixing that.
But the hardest part is just beating out lingering remnants of your company's old brand. It still works right, if you send an email to me I'll still get it. But it’s trying to make sure that your email system says it’s from me @kirasystems and making sure that when I send tweets it’s from the @kirasystems twitter handle. It’s also hard individually right like one of the big time pressures on us getting the rebrand done was I was speaking at South by Southwest in mid-March and we thought that was a really good opportunity to be in front of a lot of people and that we needed to get it done by then. And so I know for me, one of the tricky parts has just been remembering that we are Kira and not Diligence Engine anymore, so that's been tricky but a wonderful problem.

David: Well looking back on the exercise would you have done anything different? Do you have any lessons for others?

Noah: I do think that probably one of the most irritating parts of it has been getting all of the email accounts to change over. I don't know that I could give a good technical description of why that's been tricky but I would put a bunch of effort into that and we've put effort into that and actually have who are pretty good with systems. But its non-trivial to get everything to go over and I would make a big effort to do it as much as possible at once. Like we now have some situations where some of our systems are set up under our Diligence Engine emails and some of them are set up under our Kira emails. This is not so much the rebrand as it is an internal thing but I know we've had some troubles with people trying to log in under one system of the other. Nothing terrible, very, very manageable but I would try to put some focus on making sure that your actual domain emails- that people know which email they should be using on which site.

David: Yeah good lesson and really appreciate your time talking to us today. I've definitely learnt a few things myself and hopefully the listeners will as well if they are ever looking to embark on a brand refresh or rebrand, so thank you again Noah!

Noah: Thank you very much for having me on its always good to talk to you.

David: Cheers, thank you.