[Podcast] Branding for Start Ups & Founders

[Podcast] Branding for Start Ups & Founders

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Alex Naghavi is the ECD at Josephmark which is a global venture studio based out of Brisbane and Los Angeles.

In this episode, we learn how to design, validate, launch and sell a brand by deep diving into the process, exploring the benefits and nuances of working with a venture studio VS a traditional design shop.

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We discuss MVPs, MVBs, failures and successes and how purpose, beauty and simplicity can help create better brands that make an impact.

We even explore the future of brands through the lens of Web 3.0, VR, 3D Printing, DAOs and the Metaverse.

If you’re startup, founder or someone that works with them, this episode is not to be missed.


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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Today, we have Alex Naghavi joining us, who is the ECD or Executive Creative Director at Josephmark, which is a global venture studio based out of Brisbane, Australia and LA, Los Angeles. Josephmark specializes in helping entrepreneurs and enterprises define and redefine brands, products and entire businesses. So today, we’re going to be typing into Alex’s knowledge in this arena and learn about how to go about branding a startup.

So welcome to the show, Alex.

Hello. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

It is very early for all of us and very late for Matt. So if we’re like dragon faced and that’s the reason why.

If we’re grumpy, if we fall out, if we get really miserable, everybody knows what’s happening. So yeah, I’m glad we’ve qualified that, Jacob.

It’s all right. Matt always brings the energy no matter the time or day, so.

I’ve already interrupted him and he gets really grumpy in the morning. I’ve just warned everyone. So just keep an eye out for that throughout this podcast.

I’m just warning you right now. Carry on, Jacob.

Alex, so it would be great for our listeners to learn a little bit more about you, you know, who we’re speaking with. I had a little short intro, but can you just share us, you know, your backstory, who you are, and then also just share your role at Josephmark and what you do there as an ACD and like what is a global venture studio? So there’s a couple of questions there.

I think they’re all like intermingled into one. So hopefully you can just tick all those boxes in one answer.

Totally. How much time do we have? I was born in, no, I’m kidding.

So basically I have just always been on a path of creativity. It’s always, I’ve always known it from a young age. And so for me, it’s been a really natural path in terms of gravitating towards design and kind of building a career out of that.

So I studied design at the Queensland College of Art and I basically got snapped up by Josephmark when I was just a graduate out of school. And so I started there when I was a junior and I made my way up as a midway to senior, to lead, to creative director and now ECD and actually partner as well. So I actually head up the LA studio and I’ve been working at JM for many, many years now, but it hasn’t been just an ordinary path.

I’ve been embedded in massive teams like MySpace. I helped lead the redesign of that back in, gosh, I don’t even know, 2011. Also other teams like the Commonwealth Bank and also helping instigate, lead and shape many different startups in Australia and the US, whether they’re our own or with our partners.

So we’ve been working in this venture studio model for quite a while now. And if I cut back to when we were first doing this, we had some early successes, like We Are Hunted, which was a music platform and it got acquired by Twitter. We also raised millions of dollars for our ventures.

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But back then there was only a handful of different venture studios or what they call startup studios. There’s a few different names around the world. And today there’s actually a lot more, it’s much more emerging.

I think people are seeing the value of the venture studio model. And why it works or why I gravitate towards JM and that venture studio model is because my passion, although it has been design, I have also, I’m like a big technophile. I love technology, new technologies.

And JM’s always wanting to be kind of on the cusp of that, as well as at its center, at its core is entrepreneurship. And my dad was a business broker or is a business broker. And I grew up in the family business, learning about buying and selling businesses, understanding how they operated, how they work, what made them successful.

So for me, JM was actually kind of this beautiful triage of all of these things that I was really interested in. And it also allowed me to kind of find my own path, forge my own path and become a leader within those three sort of areas.

So a venture studio, just talk to us about what, I mean, I’ve heard of like incubators and stuff like that, but talk me through what is a venture studio? Like just what does that look like?

Yeah, yeah. So as I mentioned, it can be either a startup studio or a venture studio. They kind of are one in the same.

Basically the simplest way I can put it is a company that creates other companies. And by companies, I probably mean startups, high growth startups. For JM, it’s specifically digital products, mostly.

Not to say that we aren’t interested in exploring other things like physical products, but digital products is probably our main focus. And traditionally, I would say a startup studio operates or kind of has emerged typically from more of the VC side. So they have all of the fundraising and then they set up a team that can kind of spin out these ventures.

For us, maybe a little bit unique. Maybe there’s a couple more, a few more around the world that have this sort of pathway where we started as a design studio and morphed into a venture studio. And basically what we’re trying to create are these startups with really investible propositions.

And we’re really great at that sort of early stage ideation concepting of ventures, either by ourselves or with our partners. And then spinning those out as these high growth entities that kind of enter the market.

Yeah, that’s really smart. And what’s the plan? Do you sell those businesses on?

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Is that always the case or do you hang on to them for a bit or do you scale them up even more? Like what’s the sort of get off point, I guess?

Exactly. So we are looking at a variety of things really, and it kind of depends on the pathway of that venture. But ideally, and in most instances, what we want to do is as the startup or the venture studio, where we’re incubating these ideas, it’s like there are these babies that we want to kind of get out into the world.

And once we’ve done that part of it, then we’ll look to hire whole teams that sustain it and grow it. And so depending on the pathway of that venture, it can either be acquired, it can exit, it can go to IPO or you know what, it could fail. And that’s actually the design of a venture studio.

The whole intention is to be less wasteful in the startup space, because as we all know, what is it like? What’s the set? I don’t know if it’s higher or lower these days, but 95% of startups will fail in the first two years.

And so you’ve got a 5% chance of success. That’s insane. That’s insanity.

And look how many businesses there are that are attempting this. And then you have these startup teams that basically invest all of their soul and energy and money into these startups for a few years. They can succeed, which is amazing, but they can also fail miserably.

And then that whole team just descends. They go to different startups. And then all of that learning that those things that happened, they’re taken with individual people.

The difference with a venture studio is that we don’t disband. We actually stay together. We retain those learnings, whether they’re wins or losses or failures, and we incorporate them into the next set of ventures that we do.

So in a way, the way that we look at it is like this regenerative model where we’re constantly having these compounded learnings. And theoretically, we should have a tighter, like better chance of success with our venture portfolio as we continue on.

That’s amazing. The reason why I think that’s incredible is because I speak to a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of founders, as I know Jacob does, and rarely do the successful ones ever do it the first time. It’s rarely the first idea they’ve ever had where it’s been a roaring success.

Often they fail two, three, four times, and then they’ve learned from the failure before then they hit the success that they’re on. And so I love that as an idea. And I just think that’s just so super cool.

And the other thing that’s super cool is, the reason why, I don’t know what you guys have over there in Australia, but here in the UK, we call it a limited company, limited liability. I assume you’ve got something similar. And I think whoever, I don’t know who designed that, but somebody way back in the day designed this concept.

And it’s so incredible because what it says is, look, if you fail, it’s okay. You’re not gonna be wiped out, right? Your liability is limited.

Now it’s not a great thing, right? Because the business has to close and it’s shame on you in a little way, but you’re not completely wiped out. And so what that encourages, it seems to me, is the chance to try stuff, right?

And if it fails, it’s not great, but hey, you’re not dead, right? So you can carry, you can get up in a few years time and go again. But what you’re talking about there is taking that idea, it seems to me, and doing that on a much tighter time scale.

So the learnings become much more exciting and quicker as you say, compounded, and the team can remain in a safe environment for that to allow that to happen. So super smart, I get it, it’s great.

Exactly. And it’s, yeah, it’s just, like you said, it’s kind of a safer environment. The way I like to look at it, or sometimes the way I explain it, maybe particularly to designers, it’s like you kind of get the best of both worlds.

It’s like a startup, a design studio, and maybe a bit of an incubator. So for the people that are currently working in startups, all of their energies, like I said, are poured into this one thing, and often you’re working on that one product. In a design studio, you’re working on lots of things, but you’re not invested in what you’re creating.

You’re actually creating value for other people. And then with incubators, it’s like you’re generating all of these new ideas, but usually incubators, you’re working on your one thing, not several different things. And so it’s like the best of both worlds, because you get to have the variety and diversity of a design studio and the kind of the quality of the work of the design studio, but you also get to have a piece of everything that you’re working on within the venture portfolio.

And we’ve had some recent successes, like one of our ventures in our portfolio, Clipchamp, just recently got acquired by Microsoft. And that basically meant that all old and new employees and current employees all got a piece of that reward. And for some people, that’s more than $100,000.

That’s amazing.

That’s incredible. Yeah, that is incredible. One last question, and then I’ll shut up because I know Jacob’s got tons of stuff he wants to go through, but how many projects, well, A, how big is the team there?

And I guess it fluctuates, but just roughly, it would just be, give us a bit of an idea. And how many projects can you expect to work on at any one time? How many of these businesses generally do you work on at any one time?

Yeah, they’re fantastic questions. And it’s something that for that last part of the question is something that we’re always continually refining in terms of the venture methodology that we have. But I’ll answer your first question first, because it’s easy.

We have roughly 50 people globally. And I say globally because we actually have a lot of people in different parts around the world. We’ve been remote first for actually quite a while.

And so working with people in different time zones is probably like our MO at this stage. And we’ve had a tremendous growth, I think over the last year in particular. So we weren’t, I think we’re probably, we’ve almost doubled in size, which has been awesome.

But to your second point, it’s yeah, it’s definitely something that we’ve always had a hypothesis about in terms of how many things we work on at any one time in the venture studio. The one thing I didn’t mention is that it’s pretty, it’s pretty uncommon for a venture or design studio to not be funded before it kind of starts operating. We’ve almost designed this different model where it’s a dual model between a service side and a venture side.

So if you have a look at some of our work, you may see that not all of it is specifically ventures-based and that means that we have equity in what we’re creating. Like XPRIZE, for instance, we did the rebrand for that back in 2020 and that’s like a massive, you know, organization, global organization. So when we’re looking at how we balance the venture side and the studio side, that’s really tricky for us because it’s this thing that’s always constantly in flux.

Whereas if we were fully funded and we were just focusing on ventures, then I would be able to give you a clear answer on like how many we work on. But the hypothesis generally is that we can launch technically at least six startups a year. And if you kind of work backwards from that, they’re not all gonna necessarily be a success, but that’s kind of the odds that we’re working with.

And then if you work backwards from that, we’re doing about maybe like 10 or 20 different kind of recons, which is the phase in which we kind of dive deep and help validate different ideas. And then before that is probably like a hundred different opportunities or proposals or things like that. So I kind of explained that probably in the worst way possible because I went backwards.

But basically at each of those stages, you start really wide and you keep culling, you keep vetting, you keep validating. And then hopefully what you’re doing through this venture methodology is actually giving you a higher chance of success by putting in that sort of like vetting process throughout it.

It sounds so complicated. I’m just like piecing all the bits together, like who owns what and like, how do you even like give these rewards to the people and like, what’s the, like, if you find it or not find it, it sounds so tricky. So like how do you actually deal with like the ownership factor and rewards and all of that?

Oh, yeah. That, that is the topic of the moment right now, because we did just do a distribution to our team. It was something that we had been, you know, thinking about for a while in terms of the, I guess, the thesis behind how you would divide those distributions.

And one that we are currently working with at the moment is that the people that were here during the time that those projects were being created and worked on them, they definitely should be rewarded for their time, even if they’ve left JM. And then that was sort of the original hypothesis. And then once we kind of got to that distribution phase, we’re like, well, we really also want to invest in the team that we have right now, even though they weren’t here during it, it just makes sense for us.

But what I really love about that is that everyone gets, you know, a piece. So if it’s a personal assistant or if it’s the person that’s working on the project itself that got acquired or had some sort of liquidation event, everyone gets, you know, a little something.

What if someone’s worked on it longer or they’ve just arrived or, you know, someone’s more senior and like…

Exactly. Yeah. So, you know, there’s certain people like, that maybe weren’t even on the project, but had been here like 10 years.

We have actually really high rates of retention, which is amazing. We have people like, I would almost say generally, people are here like four, six years, like that’s not uncommon. But yeah, we have some people that have been here 10 years.

They weren’t on the project, but they get an amazing distribution because we also want to pay for that kind of loyalty and commitment. Having said all this, so this is what we’ve been going through right now. I don’t want to go too deep into this because it’s a bit of a blurry zone for me, but we are also thinking about easier mechanisms for us to do this that are more future-proofed or future-forward.

And so we’re looking at maybe like a JM DAO, where we can do a bit more of like a token distribution and have a system in which people can maybe even opt in and participate beyond being at JM.

I think our listeners, some may not be too familiar with like Web3 and NFTs and all of that. So if you want to just share a little bit about what DAO is all about, that may give some more context.

Oh, honestly, I am probably the worst person to be explaining this right now.

DAO is D-A-O. It’s like a decentralized something organization. I honestly can’t even remember what it stands for, but basically the whole Web3 movement is a way for us to interact with different projects, different virtual spaces, and basically the Web in a way that is decentralized.

So basically I can hop from one place to another with ease and using a wallet that allows me to kind of transact and earn and do these things with just a lot more ease basically. That’s my simplest way of putting it, but I need to do so much more reading to understand it as I think a lot of people do because it’s such a new kind of field and we’re all just like here learning, reading, trying to figure out like…

All these new words are coming out of nowhere.

It was crazy. So yeah, we could go deep on that, but I think what I was going to ask about, it is complicated, the ownership and rewards and everything, but that’s kind of like for the staff. I’d like to pivot this and maybe talk about someone on the other end, the entrepreneur.

You talked about some reasons why it’s good to go with a global venture studio. It’s safer, you’re more invested and you’re focused. And was there any other benefits you would kind of bring up to an entrepreneur listening if they’re looking for a venture studio?

What are the biggest benefits of going with someone like JM?

Totally. First and foremost, you’re basically getting a little SWAT team. You know how hard it is to, from ground zero, trying to hire a CTO, a CD, designers, product designers.

If you’re not really embedded in that community, it’s so hard to know the talent that you actually need and who’s gonna be right. So off the bat, we provide you this team that’s just world-class experts at what they’re doing. We’ve been working together for years for most of us, and we have these embedded methodologies that allow us to work really efficiently.

So in a way, it’s cost-effective, it minimizes risk, and you just get this world-class team just from the get-go. And so with all of that, it means that we can help you get to market more swiftly. And it also means that the idea that you launch in market has been vetted by not just the founder themselves, but from experts in all of the disciplines, whether it’s design, strategy, content, motion, marketing, tech, like all of those.

So it’s all under one roof. It’s less risky. I guess on the other side of that, like my brain’s like, well, what about the costs?

And there’s a big team and like, then I don’t have ownership and so forth. So how do you manage those questions that are sure to come up?

Totally. And it’s not necessarily the thing that I think a lot of founders anticipate in terms of when they start a startup and they want to kind of get going, they may be bootstrapping it. They may be investing their own money.

And so it can be scary to invest a big lump sum into the hands of other people instead of kind of controlling it yourself. But that’s the risk you take in terms of spending that money by finding your own resources, making your own decisions and not really having those experts around you. It just means that in the long run, you’re probably going to spend like minimum, you know, minimum 200, 300K within the first year by doing, finding your own people, doing your own things.

And to be honest, you’re probably not even going to be in market within that period. Like you’re just going to be stalling. And so for us, we will do that at a much more cost-effective rate because we’re able to use our processes, get to market quickly.

And then in a way we’ve helped lots of businesses validate whether it was a good idea or not. And for some, I don’t think they necessarily went anywhere because they realized there’s just no product market fit.

I saw on your LinkedIn, I was doing a little sneaky, sneaky, and you mentioned that your approach is grounding in purpose, beauty and simplicity. So why are those values important to you, and do you bring that to JD? I’m sorry, I don’t know what JD is, but.

No, all good, all good.

I think it’s between an ECD and JD.

I must have been in a zone when I was writing that. Yeah, so purpose, first and foremost, that’s always gonna be at the core of what I do, and that’s why I gravitate and I’m still with JM because there is a strong purpose behind who we are and what we do, whether it’s aligning with founders that share that same kind of value set, whether it’s creating something good in the world, that can have a positive impact. And I’m not trying to be earnest because I also think that there’s pop culture or entertainment products that can also serve a purpose and bring a lot of joy to people.

And so it’s not to say that everything that we should work on is gonna change the planet. We’re not there for that. But having said that, we’re constantly striving to be creating work that we, and ventures that generally are things that people need in the world and that they’re going to enjoy and that’s gonna serve a purpose.

And then beauty for me as a designer, like I know it almost sounds a bit, yeah, not vain, but like a bit obvious, but without beauty, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. Like I’m just attracted to things that are just so aesthetically pleasing. And if I can bring that into the digital products and brands that I create, there’s just something so, it just fills me, fills me up.

And it’s something that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without it. And it needs to just feel and look beautiful. And then simple definitely comes from the sort of the product side.

I want to make sure that anything that we do is not convoluted, isn’t distracting, isn’t complex or no, complex is probably not the right word. Complicated is the right word because we work on a lot of complex problems, but we want to create simple solutions. And so I think I have a way of drilling down from my problem solving and making things as, it’s like just constant edits.

It’s like a copywriter, right? You start with like this really clunky sentence and you keep editing it down until it’s like this short snappy sentence and it’s beautiful. And that’s the same thing that we do with digital products.

And yeah, so I would probably even add more values to that. But those, I think, are ones that have just remained evergreen for me.

I heard Matt, when you mentioned purpose, he wants to have a say about purpose.

Well, yeah, Jacob, you know me very well. I was just interested in that, because obviously you mentioned the purpose at the company that you’re at. And I also wondered how, well, A, could you articulate that?

Is that something that you just feel or is there a statement or something? And then also, I was wondering if we could segue that into the start-ups that you actually helped to take a berth to without a better phrase. Do you look for purpose in those or do you sort of, how do you sort of take that strategically forward?

And that’s something I’m interested in getting your thoughts on, Alex.

Yeah, totally. Yeah, we have a sort of tagline that we use in the company, which is, a better future happens by design, not chance. And that’s kind of held strong with us for a number of years because I think we do, yeah, like I said, I’m not trying to pretend like all the things that we work on are, you know, changing the world by no means.

But I’ve seen this company evolve and every year we get more and more aligned with the work that we really want to be producing and the areas of interest that we really care about. And for instance, like right now, we’re working with a company where it’s a joint venture called The People’s Grid. And it’s basically enabling communities and people to share their renewable energy between between each other.

So it’s like a way that we can start to go away from requiring or being reliant on energy corporations and being a more renewable way for us as communities to use and share energy. Another thing that we’re doing at the moment is called Dirt Lab, which is an agtech studio that we’re starting to operate at the moment. And that basically focuses on the future of food, regenerative farming practices and being just regenerative in general in terms of how do we make sure that the food that we’re consuming and using doesn’t go to waste.

And what are the technologies, whether it’s digital or physical, that we can be using in both our personal lives, but also maybe on like our farms in order to have better kind of practices around sustainable areas. And then when we work with founders, or that lens that we like to put everything through is really looking at our company values or our brand values, which are venturous, regenerative, heart, and one other one, gravitational. And basically, those really represent us, but I would say, heart and regenerative are the ones that when we’re looking at the people that we partner with, we often are looking at it through the lens of, is this something that’s going to do good in the world, or is this something that we’re genuinely excited about that’s, at the very least, not harming the world?

And that is something that we’re super conscious about. And we have lots of conversations about, especially last year, we had, we do it like a bit of a book club at work. And there’s a book called Ruined by Design by Mike Montero.

And it basically just talks about all of the consequences of the decisions that we make as designers. And it’s probably more related to the people in probably tech. But it’s quite the eye opener and it’s a good shake up for, I think, all designers to read, because it’s something that we don’t quite realize when we’re in it and we’re doing it, that we can be creating massive problems for the world.

If we’re not at least taking the time to pause, reflect and think, hey, hang on, is this actually going to create some sort of systemic issue if we created this debt service or this car ride service? You don’t actually think about all of those things when you’re in it because it’s exciting and that’s the space that we play in. But yeah, so purpose is really big to us and the lens that we bring to everything.

Awesome. I’m super excited. Well, super interested, I suppose.

I’m always super excited.

We’re always super excited. Every episode, we’re super excited.

We really are. But this episode, everyone, I am super interested because obviously, you’re giving birth. I keep using that phrase.

I hope that that’s acceptable to everyone. But in effect, you’re giving birth to lots of these startups, hopefully you are. And I’m interested in looking at that.

Obviously, you’re on JUST Branding, right? So, what I’m keen to kind of segue into is, okay, so we’ve got a new product. We’ve got a new idea here, which passes the values and the purpose test that you’ve outlined.

And we’re excited about it. The team are on board. Okay.

And it’s been selected as one of the ones that we’re now going to carry through in the next period. Is that like a 12 months or whatever you decide. Obviously, you start creating that.

How do you see the brand of that? What do you, what is, you know, how does that kind of come to bear, if at all? Even if you could take us through like from the early stages, right through to when, you know, you go to market on how you see that would be, I think that would be really interesting.

I love that you use the word seed because that’s actually how we describe the sort of the second phase of our brand. So we have kind of three types of brands. We have MVPs.

So if you’re familiar with the tech space, you have MVPs, minimum viable product. We have minimum viable brand. And it’s probably like the antichrist to brand designers because they’re like, ah, you know, it’s like, why are you doing like something like scrappy?

And then we have seed brand, which is basically the next stage where it’s like you’ve maybe validated it in market or you’re kind of getting momentum. And it’s like, yeah, now’s the time to invest a little, like we feel confident to invest a little more into the brand. And then we have probably what you would call a more typical kind of brand engagement, which is like the full fledged brand.

And that’s the ones that we do for, you know, things like XPRIZE or we’ve done it for, well, right now I probably can’t talk about it, but we’re doing it for a major record label. And so those are more like service offerings. And we do it for our ventures once they’re in that kind of growth phase.

But let me go back to the beginning and talk about MVBs. So basically when we’re…

But when you’re talking about brand, just so that we all understand what we’re talking about, how, what is that? Are you talking about the visual identity? Are you talking about the strategic, you know, vision mission values?

Like how do you see that? Just so that we all understand what we’re talking about? Or is it both?

Yeah, perfect. Both. But I will say that the deeper brand strategy does come in that sort of bigger engagement where you kind of have the time and the budgets to kind of really go deep.

In the earlier phases, you’re running on a lot of assumptions and hypotheses, and you’re needing to almost use a bit of your intuition to kind of run fast and and kind of go with things. And at JM, when we have a bunch of designers that are exposed to that venture methodology, the other lens that you bring to it is like, if this company were mine, what would I do? And so you kind of make smarter decisions that feel like you’re more invested in what you’re doing.

But an MVB, essentially, is really only ever created when we are creating in tandem a digital product. And so the digital product is the hero, and then the brand is kind of taking a bit of a backseat because the product at its core is what you’re really wanting to validate in market. So you want to spend the majority of your time on that.

But we also know the importance of good design and branding, and we want to at least get it to a level where people can, I was about to say, can be fooled. But we’re not. What is this?

The reason I say that is when we’re creating these very, very early stage concepts, they are just concepts. And so we’re not investing a heap of time in it. But because of our years of experience in doing this, we can whip things up really quickly that look quite professional.

And the people that I’m talking about, so I’m hoping no investors are listening to this, but we are basically at these early stages. Most of the time, what we’re actually creating are these investable propositions. And it’s like this future vision of what this could look like.

Yeah, you’re showing that you’re sort of giving them a feel for the product and therefore the brand identity that comes with that. What I find interesting, and I’m going to smash this into here if you don’t mind, because, hey, we’re here to smash ideas together, is for me, everything you’ve talked about there is the brand, in my view, because listeners will know my definition of the brand is the meaning that people attach to us. And I think the difference of approach that, and I’d maybe love to get your thoughts on this in a second, Alex, is, and I imagine it’s there, but we’ve not touched on it, so I think we should, is the customer, or in your case, if it’s tech, it’s like the user.

Because what I think the old way of doing business was, and you might contradict this, and that’s absolutely fine, but was to invent a product like the industrial revolution. We’ve got a factory, it creates dustbins. Great, bang.

And then what we do is we just churn as many dustbins out as possible and run around trying to say, buy my dustbin, buy my dustbin. And if we interrupt and annoy enough people, enough people will just say, shut up, Matt, I’ll buy your dustbin. And then if I do that enough times, then I’ll make a profit.

And that was the kind of the old model of old advertising, which we’ve moved away from generally in society because now what we do is, and the successful businesses, what they do is they create the customer. So they say, right, we see this problem for this type of customer. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to try and solve for that customer, their problem.

And then we’re going to continue to solve problems for that customer base. Or it’s been called a tribe by Seth Godin, Marty Neumeyer and others. So the point here is that that new approach in effect is what we’re doing there is we’re trying to become a brand.

We’re trying to have that type of customer associate meaning with us that basically says they’re going to solve my problem. They’re going to help me become a little bit better than I was yesterday. And if we get that trust and we keep innovating from there on in, it means that that type of customer will continue to look to us to help them.

As we go through, we get loyalty and so on and so forth. And rather than the old model, which is like, hey, I buy your dustbin, Matt, but then I don’t want to hear from you ever again because you’ve annoyed me so much. So I just wondered what you thought about that and how the customer plays it.

Because just final thing is, it seems to me that you are talking about brand, perhaps in a more focused way than we would usually talk about it from the perspective of the visual identity, but actually you’re still creating that meaning and you’re trying to evolve that, just hitting it all at one time as you go through the process. What are your thoughts?

Exactly. Yeah, no, I think that’s spot on. And the lens in which we probably are looking at brand is in conjunction with product and all of what you were just talking about comes into that product, especially in those early stages because the branding is almost like the visual element at that stage.

But a lot of that strategic thinking around what’s the problems we’re solving, what’s the solution, how are we really going to connect and retain our customers, like what are the things and the mechanisms that we’re going to do in order to draw in that loyalty and make sure that they’re feeling really like this is solving my problems. This is like amazing. So that definitely we wouldn’t be creating anything without that strategic kind of thinking.

So definitely. So yeah, that’s really important. And with the MVB side, it’s really about us working in tandem with that product.

And really, when we say MVB, it’s like the bare minimum. We’re talking about a logo, color, typography, just those things. And oftentimes we would lean more towards a logo type than a logo.

Anything that just allows us to kind of get to market a bit quicker, but we can make smart decisions around what’s going to work well. That’s kind of what we’re talking about with MVB, but we still make it elevated. I think people would be shocked at some of the stuff that we still are able to come up with in a really short time.

I totally think that that is fantastic. And I’ll tell you why, because for me, and Jacob’s going to really probably hit me now, and probably all the designers on the call, on the podcast will hit me. But you see, for me, I think, I don’t know what you think about this, Alex, but I’m going to say something very controversial.

Are we all ready? Are we all sat down and we all calm? I think that as designers, and I’m an ex-graphic designer, right?

And I see this all the time. We place way too much emphasis, right? In my view, sometimes on things like the visual identity, particularly early stage startup, right?

We, you know, we’re there. Well, I say we’re the designers. I’ll disassociate myself from that community for a minute, but while I punch them in the face.

The designers are there. They’re worrying about the typeface and the colors and the kerning and the little swoosh on the end of the E and all this stuff, right? And they obsess about it.

And frankly, we don’t even know at this stage whether customers are going to buy this or not. So we don’t, you know, do, why do we, you know, what I’m trying to say is that we can get so obsessed and so fixated about the wrong thing at the wrong time. And, but later, maybe that’s important to think about, particularly when you’re going to market, you’re trying to differentiate yourself, you’re trying to look different, gain attention.

But hey, let’s just check out first of all, whether someone wants to buy this first. So for me, I see logos and visual identities as signposts to meaning. Are they important?

Yes. But are they the be all and end all of the success of a business? Absolutely not.

Absolutely not. And I think we need to get that in focus. And that’s why I think the strategic side, which it’s interesting you’ve talked about kind of having that from a product perspective, which I would use in my sort of brand thinking around these sort of propositions and stuff.

It’s interesting to hear that you’re seeing that sort of fuse and merge into the identity thing, less emphasis on identity, more emphasis on route to market and product market fit. And then perhaps as time goes on, then yeah, hey, we’ll spend a bit more time on how the logo and the identity looks, because later it becomes more useful and more valuable to then have that attention on it. Once the actual thing that you’re doing out there in the world, the actual problem you’re solving, you know, is going to kind of do the job.

So yeah, I love it. And my mind is slightly blown, but yeah, great.

I wholeheartedly agree, but then I also disagree.


No, no, I totally agree with you because that is, we can’t afford to invest all of that energy and time when you’re creating a digital product into the brand when, to be completely frank, people aren’t really seeing the brand. Look at Wordle, for instance. It’s like a crappy like website that you go to.

It’s not even an app. It doesn’t really have any design. It’s the most basic thing that you can do.

It’s probably the most talked about and popular game today. And it’s because of the product. It’s a genius little game.

Is there a brand? Absolutely not. But are people obsessed with it and talking about it?

Having said that, if we’re working with a physical product, say in the wellness space, the beauty space or whatever, brand is king. Like I will buy anything that looks good and just has this adorable, cool brand associated with it. If the product isn’t good, I probably don’t even realize because I’m just infatuated with the brand.

So like I think there is both sides of it. And then I would also say that whilst you said like brand isn’t the be all and end all.

Let me just before you, the visual identity. So I’m just being fussy about wordage here. For me, the brand is the meaning people attach to us.

So the visual identity, I just wanted to segue into.

Yes, yes, yes. Well, so visual identity for CPG kind of goods, I think are, you know, they’re killer. They’re actually probably the advantage.

So if we were to go more into creating in because right now, our venture portfolio is probably 100%, no, 90% digital products. If we were to go more into physical products, you would put more emphasis on branding, on the visual identity, because that’s really what’s going to sell, because you’re not entirely sure if it’s going to work or not, if it’s going to be good. And then you actually want to influence their experience of that product.

It might be a kind of a crappy product, but the brand makes it so much more elevated. So, yeah, I kind of agree in one sense, and then it’s nuanced, I think.

It’s a valid argument. I’m just sitting here with my popcorn. I think the secret is just getting two tired folks and putting them in a room together and battling it out.

Bring it on!

We’re here to listen to your thoughts. I just sort of shared some thinking to kind of provoke you. But yeah, no, no, I think overall, I think what I would agree with you in your analysis, in sort of the broader spectrum, you’re dealing with these things all the time.

And I think to hear you say that the visual identity, and I think the designers need to take note of this, is important in certain circumstances for certain types of product. But in the way that you do it, the way that you sort of talked about it, it seems to me that there is still, the fact is that at the early stage, it’s not as valuable to the project, let’s say, to spend a huge amount of time worrying about the kerning on the ease. So we look at that if we need to later.

But the key thing is that thing, that problem that you’re solving, and does it do this? And is this gonna be of value to the marketplace? The visual identity comes for a number of reasons.

One is to differentiate, the other is to be the signpost to that product, to that meaning, and then to create the experience off the back of it. And so I guess taking a step back and having thinking about it, it is that weighting of what is the emphasis here and what is important and what is valuable to the business to make this fly. That’s the question I think all designers need to keep in the back of their heads, particularly when you’re presenting and doing your work, how valuable is this?

And how can you make it more valuable? That’s the other question.

And that’s why I think for any sort of design studio to hear this is probably like, oh my God, what are they talking about? Like not-

I know, they’re gonna hate me.

But this is something that we’ve honestly had to reconcile over the years as we’ve kind of transitioned more and more into this venture methodology. I think it’s kind of hard for designers to know that the things that are in their hands and their control, they have, they’re in the, almost like the founder seat. They can make these decisions around where we should be spending our time, what’s going to work.

And of course they’re gonna be advocates and champions for the design. And I wouldn’t let anything out the door that isn’t, you know, at least at a certain quality. But I think over the years, we’ve actually gotten better because our processes have become more efficient.

It enables us to do things quickly, but also at a high level. And it kind of probably sounds like they’re probably a bit at odds with people to create something good and quick. It’s like that old adage of like quick, cheap, fast, or whatever it is.

No, sorry, quality, cheap, fast, yeah. So I think over time, we’ve still been able to kind of appease both sides, but it’s definitely tricky to be able to reconcile the fact that you don’t get months and months and months to really meticulously craft type or things like that. It’s something that you have to kind of get used to the fact that you’re putting it out there.

And what that actually does to our team, now that I think about it, it makes us a little bit more resilient. Cause you know how when you’re designing something and you start to fall in love with it, you have your ego attached to it and all of that, like there are actually almost these toxic things that come with pouring all of your heart and soul into these brands and what we help train. And especially now with the advent of collaborative tools like Google Slides and Figma, we’re all watching each other work at the same time.

So there’s so much less ego, I think, in our process, in the industry and all of that. And you want to kind of just get things out the door. And because we’re taking a lot of our learnings and our culture from sort of that startup methodology lens, it also means that we have to kind of let our children fly before we feel like maybe they’re fully ready or grown.

And I think you kind of get used to that feeling. And so I think that’s actually a positive thing that we help our designers build within themselves.

That’s a great discussion. I think we’re kind of getting to the end of our chat, but it’s been brilliant. I think there was one thing I was going to bring up just to close this out shortly.

I saw on your LinkedIn again, that you create 3D printing sculptures in virtual reality. I couldn’t let this go. What does that mean?

Oh, wow.

Oh, well, actually, funnily enough, I have some here, because I printed some when I was in LA and I’m taking it back for some friends and family. But basically, like I said, at the beginning of the podcast, I’m a bit of a technophile and I love tech. And Uzi, who’s our tech director, he never sleeps.

And he’s a massive technophile as well. And I think we’d like to like riff on all the random, cool things that we’re working on. But basically, we also have a mixed reality lab called Haven.

And basically that is a way for you to experience virtual reality in an immersive physical experience. So we had a demo, sorry, this is a slight tangent, but we had a demo where you get to walk across a bridge, a physical bridge, and in the virtual space, you’re walking across the bridge above the ocean. It’s stormy and you’re walking towards a lighthouse.

And so it’s really cool because it’s like, it heightens your experience in that virtual space, but it kind of mimics it in the physical. Anyway, long story short, but we’re really, we dabble a lot in VR and I enjoy sculpting in VR. And so this is one of the little sculptures that I’ve made.

And basically what I do is I sculpt it in VR and then I process it so that it can then be 3D printed, because I have a 3D printer at home, of course, being a technophile. And so I create all of these gorgeous little ironically organic looking objects. These are just a series of little bowls.

So for people listening, it kind of looks like a coral kind of sculpture, like a hand even.

Yeah, I call this cactus fingers. It’s the cactus fingers bowl. But yeah, for me, all of that stuff’s really fascinating.

And one thing coming into this talk, I was thinking about some of the brands that we’re working on at the moment. And one of them is in volumetric tech, which is basically a way to capture someone’s 3D body, but the way that they do it, because usually years ago, you would go into a studio and there’d be cameras all around you. And that’s how you would get a volumetric imprint of yourself or of an object.

But now this company that we’re working with called Tetabee, we’re renaming them and rebranding them. Basically you hold up your phone and you take like a two second little video of someone pretty much just front on and then it processes and then it creates your own 3D model and using AI, it’s able to predict what the sides of you look like, what the back of you looks like. And it’s pretty damn accurate.

It’s really cool. And you can put it in anywhere that you like. And so as we’re going through this branding process, I’m starting to open up and think about all the ways in which branding is now going to be evolved and changed in these virtual spaces.

We started to ask ourselves questions like, how do you interact with a brand in a metaverse or in a virtual space? What does it mean or what does it feel like to step into a logo? What does the insides of a logo look like?

Like how might a variable identity play in a virtual space? Like if I walk closer up to it, what happens to it? So there are all of these new things that we’re thinking about in this virtual space.

And in this year, I was about to say the new year, we’re already in the new year, where we’re working on a metaverse at the moment. And it’s just like all of these things are kind of converging for me anyway. I just love dabbling in this space, creating things and just experimenting.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. We’re talking about Web3 and the metaverse and purpose.

I mean, it’s going to have a lie down. This has been intense. Yeah, this has been intense.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve disagreed, we’ve agreed. What haven’t we done is what I want to know, Alex. But from my side, thanks, I’m Jacob’s side.

So thanks so much for coming in. Final question, where do people get in touch with you? Or where do they find out about your work?

Can you drop some URLs so that we can all go and hunt you down?

Yeah, it’s ironic because I say I’m a technophile, but I kind of hate social media. But if you really want to follow me.

But if you want to follow me, here’s me.

Drop it.

It’s pretty simple. It’s just Alex Naghavi across any of those platforms. You can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram.

Don’t use Facebook, so don’t even try. Then with JM, it’s just who is Josephmark across all of the platforms, and our URL is Josephmark.studio.

So good. Thank you so much for coming in. What an exciting episode that’s been.

My mind has been blown multiple times. So thank you. You take care.

Have a great day and thank you to our listeners for tuning in too.

I appreciate it. Lot of fun. See you guys soon.


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