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Renaming your startup to make your brand work as hard as your product

Published on
April 6, 2022
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When Sally Metelerkamp, Founder and CEO of Lived, was young, she spent a lot of time at school as a way of avoiding her home environment. There, she came across the writing of Marcus Aurelius, a stoic philosopher whose writing served as a guide on how to deal with the challenges she faced in her childhood. 

Years later, Sally’s intimate knowledge of Marcus Aurelius’ writing and who he was as a person served as inspiration when she started her company to shake up support for people living with an addiction. 

“Marcus Aurelius was somebody living with addiction. And as a B2B company selling to clinicians, researchers and insurers, Aurelius’ name stood out – they knew him and they were also familiar with the fact he had an addiction.”

And Aurelius Health was born. 

As Sally’s understanding of the space evolved, she shifted away from B2B to instead target consumers directly, triggering a pivot to the product and brand.  

But it wasn’t the last pivot. In this interview, Sally, alongside Lauren Sneddon, Lived’s Head of Marketing, talk through the process of rebranding – twice – and how the name has become a catalyst for impact, community and making the company vision a reality.  

A turning point 

For early-stage startups, the focus for branding is all about shaping identity. But as you evolve and iterate on the path to product-market fit, you may outgrow that identity and it could be time to shift course.

“Going from B2B to B2C was a turning point. When you’re a B2B company, there’s only a certain number of stakeholders you need to tell the brand story to. When you switch to B2C, everybody has to be able to say it, spell it and remember it,” says Sally. 

“We were a consumer app, and Aurelius Health wasn’t easy to say or spell. We knew we had to change the name.

“During that transition, we thought about how we make addiction – something that’s private and anonymous – also feel human because it’s a problem that 1 in 5 people face. We chose Arli as we wanted a name that felt and sounds human, but also like a brand.” 

Going from Aurelius Health to Arli wasn’t a rebrand for the sake of it. For Sally, it was about going back to first principles on the product, the segment and the name.

“You can’t pivot the company in such a grand way, without thinking about the impact on every single part of the business. If we still had the same name after pivoting the product and market opportunity, I'd be concerned!”

The seas parting

Putting the stress of the rebrand behind her, Sally and the team set out to focus on the product and working towards product-market fit. Lauren came on board as the company’s first full-time marketing resource, and Sally was quick to manage her expectations about the brand.

“Sally said to me, ‘Under no circumstance do I want you to come to me in the next 6 to 12 months, with any kind of rebrand’,” says Lauren. “It wasn’t my intention, but the more I understood the business and the product, the idea became too hard to ignore.”

The idea for the name was Lived. The vision went beyond just a symbol of the product to a movement designed to give people a way to describe their experience as something they’re living with, or have lived through. 

“Lauren came to me knowing it would be a hard sell, and she was fully equipped to deal with the tough conversations because she knew it would benefit the company,” says Sally.

“If someone smart, capable and talented comes to you with something that they think will impact the business positively AND they have to fight for it; get out of their way and listen. That’s why you hire people who are willing to challenge your thinking.

“I knew in my gut that it was the right decision as soon as Lauren told me the name.  But me having a knee-jerk reaction and deciding whether it was right on the spot could have been harmful to the company. Your team, community and investors want confidence that you think through irreversible decisions. 

“As we tested it amongst all these groups, it became very clear that the seas were parting, and this was the direction we should go in.

Narrative to fuel the journey

Taking a few steps back, Lived wasn’t a name Lauren plucked out of thin air. As the foundation for everything from the visual identity to how you talk to customers, picking the right name will drive everything else forward.   

“Our role is to reduce shame and stigma and make people feel proud to be part of our community. Brand has a huge role to play in this as well as ensuring we get large market adoption,” says Lauren.   

Lauren’s philosophy is that all elements of the brand should be working towards one of two things or both:

  • Breaking down the barriers to access your product
  • Adding significant value to the user’s experience

“We were thinking in the same vein as Headspace and Calm: what is the equivalent name when you’re launching a lived experience platform?” says Lauren. 

Lived is a name that says so many things for us. And that’s ultimately what an effective brand is – some kind of intangible entity that can sell your story and changes the way people feel not just about your product, but the problem you’re trying to solve.

“We can’t afford for our brand to not be working as hard as our products to deliver that impact for people.”

At the time, the team was focusing heavily on customer journeys, customer outcomes and finding product-market fit, so Sally and Lauren deliberated on timings. The brand wasn’t a problem for the business, so should they change it now or do it in two years?

“We decided to change it now as we’re about to ramp up into Series A, and we’re going to be doing lots of media and brand activity. If we stayed with our name and changed it later, we’d lose all the brand equity that we’d build up in the next 6 to 18 months,” says Lauren.

“I don’t want to downplay the impact of the pivot on the team; it’s taxing and something you need to be mindful of,” says Sally. 

“But it has completely re-energised me. When I speak to our guides, they’re like ‘Let’s get hoodies! How can we be part of the Lived Community?’. We can already feel the legs behind it and how impactful it will be on both our product today and our future product direction.”

Trust the process

There are two parts to every branding process, the internal and the external, and it’s important to put structure around how you approach both. By doing some planning upfront, you can balance the completely unpredictable nature of working at a startup with a thoughtful and tactical plan that sees you hit your deadlines. 

“The last thing you want to do is cause panic when you’re announcing a big change,” says Sally. “We started by having 1:1 conversations with the team to get individual feedback in a safe and private space to get their genuine reactions, rather than their responses to other team members.”

“As a team of 8, everyone needs to have full context and come on the journey. We needed their buy-in, so they would feel empowered by our why.”

The team did a full audit of everywhere the brand lived today, and where they wanted to see it in the future, to anticipate any hurdles or pushback they may encounter. 

“Overthinking was the order of the day,” says Lauren. “We created an enormous project management spreadsheet with over 200 actions items, each with a level of urgency, estimated time and estimated delivery date. And then we had tabs that would pull from there to create individual task lists.”

Make a copy of Lived's template for your rename project!

“Managing a rename goes far beyond just the aesthetic changes. There’s prep work like trademark applications and securing domains, before you can even begin. Then practical admin stuff, like making sure that your software isn’t going to be impacted with access once you get new emails. Then there’s important legacy brand real estate that has to be updated, from legal contracts, to mentions of the old brand anywhere in your product. We did a full sweep of every piece of audio content in the app to establish where Arli may have been mentioned, to remove and replace with Lived. It’s all in the detail.”

An ambitious project called for an ambitious timeline. And the rigorous, upfront planning saw them hit all their deadlines. 

“Hand on heart, we got it done in just over two weeks,” says Sally. “It’s incredible what a small bunch of highly-motivated and ambitious people can do in a short period of time.”

As seamless as the rebrand process was, a few small details were missed. But that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.

“We’re hiring at the moment, and a few people who applied had applied for the role under the name Arli. So I got caught in a couple of interviews where they were like, ‘What’s Lived?’. But that gave me an opportunity to go into the vision and the mission, which gets people more excited about the role,” says Sally. 

While it’s still early days for the name Lived, the team have some signals that the brand and product are working in lockstep to drive results.

“We’re doing month-on-month cohort analysis for new members coming in, and seeing if our retention numbers go up. In the last month, we’ve seen a significant increase in course completion, which means our creators and guides are advocating more, and their audiences are downloading the app,” says Sally. 

After two rebrands, Sally’s acutely aware of the time and energy channelled into the process, but it's worth it for the opportunity to tell your story in the most impactful way. 

“Sheer will and determination will get you there. If you believe something is the right decision, you go for it, and the whole team follows.”