319 Days to Building a New Brand
Pivoting a global brand is as challenging as you would think! CEO Matt Derrick talks about the journey to Kodeco.com — and the pitfalls (narrowly) avoided.
-By Matt Derrick, CEO
This post is one in a series about our rebrand; read them all here:
47 minutes after sending an email to our 300-member raywenderlich.com content contributors, the following message, succinct and brutally direct, was posted in the company-wide Discord channel:
“Just got the email about the brand name shortlist. I’m quite speechless at how bad these names are.”
Months of working with a branding agency, mood-boarding brand attributes, endlessly debating the merits of literal vs. abstract branding, long conversations with committees of internal and contracting team members and conducting the legally required due diligence and domain availability searches, had all led down to five final brand name candidates that we were quite excited about. Until the Discord message above… and the ones that followed with similar sentiments.
Change is hard, and while we would get past this small blip — and that’s ultimately what it turned out to be — the journey from start to launch day was neither short nor linear.
In fact, it goes back almost a year…
Dec 9, 2021 — Where It All Began
As we began the second day of our two-day Senior Leadership offsite, everyone knew the big topic on the agenda: rebranding. We had covered a lot of ground on the first day, but we all knew the decisions made today would potentially be the most far-reaching. The topic alone was hard to fathom — could we really change the name of an eponymous website so widely associated with mobile development?
The reasons not to do so were numerous. Over the last decade, Ray & Vicki Wenderlich had created a brand that was beloved in the industry. There were thousands of pieces of content and hundreds of team members that had, quite literally, grown up with raywenderlich.com. And the most fundamental question: With an ambitious year of growth for 2022 already planned, would there be enough time to create an entirely new brand without burning everyone out? Shouldn’t we wait until we were larger and more established?
But as we talked through the many considerations, we all began to realize the same thing — this was the time to finally take it on. Ray had bought other potential domains years earlier, when he realized that the site was rapidly growing beyond a simple blog, and there were dozens, and then hundreds, of people contributing to the site. It bothered him that people on the outside thought he was responsible for it all. Yet there were always more pressing things to work on — more books and videos, a growing business model.
Inevitably, the conversation paused while we waited for Sam Davies, our wry CTO from the UK, to explain why he couldn’t simply click “find & replace” with a new logo on the website. However, Sam surprised us when he pointed out that, as challenging as it would be to update a website that has thousands of pages of content, it would only get more challenging the longer we waited. We all knew this was the right decision long-term, but we slowly came to the realization that we couldn’t keep putting it off for a future date.
The optics were tricky, of course. Human nature is that people don’t like change, and this was a big change. Ray emphasized that if we were going to do this, the content contributors especially had to understand that this was his idea, and the culmination of years of Ray trying to reflect the contribution of the broader team more accurately. Without the content contributors, we wouldn’t have a company, and they were a key stakeholder group in our eyes. It would be a big project that we could rally everyone around in the coming year, and that kindled our excitement.
One final question remained — we needed someone to quarterback the process. Chris Belanger, our CMO who hails from Canada, volunteered to lead the various teams required.
With the traditional company winter break, it would be over a month until we would inform the Razeware team, and another month still until we had a plan together to share with the content team, but the race to the rebranding finish line began that December morning.
Except we thought this race would be a five-miler. Little did we know that we were in for an ultramarathon event.
February 9, 2022 — The Public Reveal
Exactly two months later, to the day, we convened our first Town Hall meeting with our 300-person content contributors. These people are the soul of our company — talented mobile developers who might have day jobs at Uber or Amazon, but on the side, create articles, videos and books for raywenderlich.com. Because team members are distributed throughout the world, we held an early-morning meeting, one mid-day, and one in the evening, ostensibly to unveil our organizational objectives for 2022. As CEO, I unveiled the first four objectives, and then turned it over to Ray for the pièce de resistance.
People were understandably surprised as Ray laid out why he felt we needed to come up with a new company name, why this was the time to do it, and went over a plan that would involve them in the rebranding. Reassuringly, the questions that came during and after the call showed that the team was incredibly supportive and, in fact, excited about the change. Some shared how they had been waiting for years for this. There was a long way to go, but it seemed that maybe people weren’t as change-averse as we had thought.
Or… so we had thought.
February 16, 2022 — The Search for a Name
Every month, I send an ‘All-Hands’ email out to the entire team, and this time, it was chock full of rebranding news. After all, we had just broken the news about the rebrand the previous week, and we knew we needed to move fast. The first domino that would tip off this marathon sprint would be a naming contest. We hoped it would be a great way to get the team excited about the process, as well as come up with some name possibilities. With all possible speed and an 8th-grade-level command of graphic design, “The Great Renaming Contest” was born:
While not taking ourselves too seriously, this contest had a serious intent — to crowdsource some intriguing names, while starting to acclimate the team to the concept that there would soon be a new place for everyone to call ‘home’. We gave people a month to send in ideas and set aside over $3,000 in prizes for entrants who came up with the “best” and “funniest” names.
Things were going well. The team was on board, we had cash prizes, and choosing a name couldn’t be that hard. Could it?
February 24, 2022 – A Committee is Born
With over 300 people on our content contributor team, there was no easy way to get actionable feedback from a group that large. However, 20 team members volunteered to participate on the campaign and represent the broader team. Two weeks later, we held our first call. We would go on to have monthly calls with this committee, but the first step was to administer the contest that would hopefully uncover some intriguing name possibilities so we could begin to work through the long process of coming to grips with a new brand.
And slowly, February turned into March. Ah, the season of spring, the rebirth of nature, and… branding agencies?
March 28, 2022 — Enter Vasava
Nearing the end of March, we had an introductory call with our creative agency, concluding more than a month’s search. We had evaluated nearly a dozen agencies in total before selecting Vasava, based out of Madrid. We provided them hundreds of pages of research that we had conducted with Honan Strategy Group, as well as website analytics and branding exercises our internal designers had conducted.
Here’s one example of an exercise we did to determine how we felt about our brand attributes:
On the call, it was clear to everyone that it was very ambitious to launch a new brand in the fall. We knew that, if we didn’t launch by early November at the latest, when the crush of Thanksgiving/Black Friday hit, we wouldn’t be able to do so in 2022. Yet the timeline working back from a late October launch date necessitated starting the website development by no later than August, which meant we needed to start working on designs by mid-June, logo by mid-May and a name by the end of April.
The clock was ticking! Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart’ had nothing on us.
March 31, 2022 — What’s in a Name?
A little over a month had passed since we announced the naming contest, and the results were impressive. We received well over 100 different submissions, some with dozens of naming ideas. Our winners were:
- First Place Best Name: DevHaven
- Second Place Best Name: TechTogether
- First Place Funniest Name: CompileandPray
- Second Place Funniest Name: worldclasseducationalplatformandcommunityfordevelopers.com
It was clear that the team favored literal/descriptive names. Yet we realized that the more literally our new name described what we do, the more that could limit us if we wanted to grow in new directions in the future. It was also a sign, yet again, that people were most comfortable with minor, iterative changes, as opposed to more substantive leaps.
Yet, rebranding was all about leaps — and we were facing a big one in the very near future.
April 27, 2022 — The Great Naming Showdown
Nearly a month had passed since our initial call with Vasava, and in that time we had many meetings talking about literal names, and more abstract names or word combinations. We went through dozens of permutations that were interesting, but were either not available or out of scope from a budget standpoint. One such example was Fearless.com, which while somewhat abstract, was easy to say and remember. Unfortunately, it was for sale for $2 million USD.
On this day, Vasava presented their shortlist recommendations, along with pros & cons of each, to our internal team, plotted on a grid of literal vs abstract, and complex vs simple. Their overall recommendations were versions of Geckoder or Kodecko.
Oddly, the narrowing of our choices made it harder to choose, in some ways: we were coming to the point where we had to choose the right name.
Or what we thought would be the right name.
May 11, 2022 — You Can’t Please ‘Em All
Time was running out. We had hoped to have a final name by the end of April, and we were now well past that. Even though we liked the two names that Vasava recommended, there were internal team members and those on the Branding Committee that liked others. In fact, almost everyone had a favorite. None of which helped to narrow down the process.
We decided to take our top five names and send out an email and survey to the entire team, in the hopes that if there was strong consensus around one name, it could be a good strong data point.
There were obvious drawbacks to soliciting feedback from a large group of people at the proverbial 5-yard line of choosing a name, especially when you have a Branding Committee whose job is to represent the larger team. We knew that people reflexively don’t like change, and so it was unlikely to generate an overwhelming amount of sentiment along the lines of “I love all these names!” In fact, it was much more likely to generate the opposite.
Nevertheless, we decided to forge ahead and solicit input from the team. I sent out an email with a survey asking everyone to rank the names, along with why they chose their first choice. We didn’t have to wait even an hour before a team member posted on the company-wide Discord channel.
There were others echoing in quick succession. Only 12 people weighed in, which is a small fragment of our entire content contributor team, but because of the echo chamber of chat, it was alarming. There was even some discussion about whether we should just scrap the whole name process and start over.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed — even though it took some time for everyone involved to find those cooler heads. We reminded ourselves that, regardless of the names, people don’t like change. It’s in our DNA. It was inevitable that without any narrative around the names, the ones we chose wouldn’t resonate; without the story behind the name, they were just words. Still, once the door had been opened to solicit input, we couldn’t ignore it. Therefore, we decided to set up a series of meetings with team members to get more input on the names. However, with the timelines already getting compressed, we knew we couldn’t take long. We gave ourselves one week — until Friday, May 20th — to make a determination on the name.
Yet, funny things happen when you think you’ve just about reached the finish line.
May 12, 2022 — Cue the Domain Pirates
If that wasn’t enough drama, the very next day, Ray & I received a cryptic message:
Since we were only at the idea stage, we hadn’t actually purchased the domains we were considering. That seemed like overkill, especially with some of them only available after-market. But it appeared that someone had purchased the Kodecko.com domain three hours after our email was sent out.
OK… first off, I’m sure it was a timing coincidence. <insert full eyeball roll here>. There were also quite a few things going on, so we weren’t prepared to drop everything to fight a troll or a domain pirate. And because there were several spellings of Kodecko that we were looking into, it was a minor blip. But it was just another reminder (as if we needed any more) that this was not going to be an easy process.
I was beginning to wonder if, in fact, rebranding was worth the aggravation.
May 20, 2022 — We Have a Name!
One week had passed, and there had been nearly 30 conversations with various team members and groups, trying to solicit feedback on the possible names. But in the process, we discovered two things. First, when people learned more about the narratives we could potentially use for the names, they consistently warmed up to them in a signifiant fashion. Simply seeing a name in an email wouldn’t cut it. And second, by a significant margin, people liked the name Kodecko.
Internally, Kodecko was at the top of most lists as well. It had ‘code’ in the pronunciation without being too on the nose. It also had the sound ‘echo’, which resonated with many, because a core component of our tutorials is essentially echoing back a concept step-by-step. The final layer was that many of the team had started out in mobile development as readers of raywenderlich.com, and had progressed over time to teaching, and in turn, creating a community of educators that was at the core of everything we did.
We met as a leadership team on May 20th to review the feedback and make a decision. The favorite was Kodecko, but because of the apparent unavailability of that spelling, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Another possibility that had emerged was the name Razeware, which was already the name of the company behind raywenderlich.com. I mean, it was very ’90s, but everything old is new again, right?
Ultimately though, we decided ‘Razeware’ was too limiting with its software connotation, as well as some negative connotation to ‘raze’, i.e. destroy. We also found a spelling variant, Kodeco, that was shorter and worked just as well.
In the end, on a Friday afternoon three weeks after our original goal, the unanimous choice for our next company name was Kodeco.com!
So five months later, and we had a name. The rest had to be easy, right?
May 30, 2022 — Six Months Into It
We were now a month behind schedule. The original plan by Vasava called for six weeks of design to create mood boards: visual identities that would lead to a logo and new design style. That would then lead into designing the web pages themselves.
On a call with Vasava, they felt that they could shave two weeks off of their end, which would give them four weeks for design and put us only two weeks behind overall. The next big step would be the logo, but with the tumultuous last few weeks of back-and-forth feedback, we knew that we couldn’t repeat the myriad feedback rounds if we had any hopes of sticking to an October launch. We had to find some way to move faster, but it seemed like with each step we took, we were slowing down.
And that was not what we needed. Speed was of the essence. But how were we going to recover our schedule, when we’d already taken five months just to find a name?
In retrospect, the inflection point was right around the corner, and came staggeringly fast.
June 10, 2022 — Was a Branding Agency the Right Move?
We were a bit apprehensive as we logged on to a video call with Vasava Friday morning. We hadn’t heard much from them for the last week, and we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to provide feedback on the mood boards, or talk strategy instead. But time was ticking, and if we weren’t making progress towards a logo at the minimum, the likelihood of launching on time would shrink.
Vasava started the meeting and proceeded to blow us away — it seemed like they had packed a month of work into a week. They walked us through a 53-slide presentation, starting with a simple encapsulation of the brand values.
Then they showed us this:
The vibrant orange. The movement. The eye-catching ‘K’. We. Were. Hooked!
Vasava didn’t stop there; they went on to show us 3D renderings of the modular ‘K’ elements, which we would learn was a clever visual interpretation of the ‘echo’ concept. They showed us mock book covers, social media, ad campaigns and more.
When the call wrapped up, the question for me wasn’t whether we had found our logo. I knew that we had. The question was, “what do we have to do to get this into production?”
June 13, 2022 — Rubber Meets the Road of Reality
Of course, even when an esteemed branding agency comes forward with an amazing piece of work, it’s inevitable that people are going to have a few comments. Because not everyone’s a designer, right?
Nothing, I’d come to learn, is ever quite that simple. The following Monday, when we shared the presentation at a company All-Hands meeting, there was a lot of very good feedback on typography, accessibility, design system extensibility and more. And then our Branding Committee, from our content contributors, also weighed in with other feedback. But once the dust settled, we realized that it was extremely constructive and helpful feedback that allowed us to refine the models further.
We now had the core elements of our new brand. We also had feedback from the team: the engine that makes everything possible at raywenderlich.com. But still, could we get all of this feedback massaged into, you know, an actual concrete site design?
July 15, 2022 — Maybe You *Can* Please ‘Em All
In my July All-Hands email, we officially showed the broader team the logo and the design elements that Vasava had created:
The feedback — this time — was incredibly positive! Luke Freeman, our Design Team Lead, was already working on taking the components Vasava had designed and beginning to build out the design system. We had to take a break near the end of July, though, for a well-deserved team retreat in the Bahamas. The really hard work of design was just beginning.
It was just about this time in the process when I learned that a good design and development team is worth its weight in gold. No, what’s more valuable than gold? Platinum? Uranium? Unobtanium? Something like that.
August 26, 2022 – The Grand Reveal
The core internal rebrand team, consisting of Chris Belanger, CMO; Sam Davies, CTO; Luke Freeman, Lead Designer; Abby Nanquil, UX Designer; Katie Collins, Video Team Lead; Sandra Grauschopf, Book Team Lead; Lauren Pescarus, Member Experience Manager; Doug Marcoux, Marketing Manager; and myself, met weekly throughout the year. This day was out of the ordinary though. And that’s because Luke unveiled the very first design of our new Kodeco.com homepage.
[Ed: Chris here. I wish I had a video of this moment. I’ve never seen such broad smiles on everyone’s faces, including mine. It was one of those moments you remember forever.]
We had only seen glimpses of Luke’s design elements previously, such as the new logo, so a lot of things had left to our imagination. Luke’s design, though, was a massive departure from our old raywenderlich.com design, incorporating substantial white space, minimal colors, and many of the elements that Vasava had built for us.
So we had a stunning design. But to take a brand as venerated as raywenderlich.com, and completely redesign the site that people have loved for years — would everyone else like it?
September 15, 2022 — Can You *Really* Please ‘Em All?
I was so excited that I had trouble sleeping the night before. We were scheduled to have our Q3 Town Halls, and the plan was to demo the new site design to the content contributor team. Everyone had already seen the logo — but that was two months earlier. Now, they were going to see the site coming together. I held my breath as Luke worked a masterful presentation, showing not just the homepage, but examples of the article pages, the video pages, the ‘triad’ iconography that would help define the content for learners, and more.
I allowed myself to exhale as the feedback came in as overwhelmingly positive — and this time it was live feedback, which made it even more satisfying. People loved the orange, the 3D visual effects, and the way Luke had incorporated the rounded elements of the ‘K’ throughout the site.
As always, we had three town halls at different times, to accommodate as many time zones as we could, and Luke presented live at each one of them — even the one that started at 1 AM in his local time zone!
The team loved the designs, and the hard work so far was paying off, but now the hardest work would shift to the engineering team. Could they actually deliver on these elaborate designs that Luke had created?
October 13, 2022 — Reality, Part Deux
“We’re not as far along in the site development as I wanted to be at this point,” Sam Davies, our CTO, remarked, as he gave his update on the engineering team’s status. “I wanted to have two weeks of bug fixes, testing, and have written a well thought-out transition plan in advance of the launch.”
“Okay,” I said. “So where are you with those plans?”
“Right — we’re not going to have any of those things,” Sam breathed, a little uncertainly. “I’m still, uh, reasonably confident that we’ll get everything done.”
“Reasonably confident” was yet another example of the understated leadership I’ve seen over the years that Sam brought to the engineering team. Sam was a veteran of multiple large-scale launches over the span career, so I was very confident – well, at least mostly confident — that his team would manage to get everything done.
Still, with less than two weeks to launch, there was precious little margin for error.
[Ed: Hi, Chris here again. Sam and I have been working together for many, many years now. And the fact that we haven’t strangled each other is a testament to the fact that Sam and his team are experts at spinning-straw-into-gold engineering miracles. I’ve learned that the best way to get results out of Sam is to let him moan about how much work there is to do, commiserate with him, and then let him rally his team to perform said miracles.]
October 17, 2022 — Marketing Madness
I smiled as Chris Belanger, our CMO and email marketing guru, showed me the drafts of emails and social media he had prepared to tease the launch out to subscribers and followers — it was guerrilla marketing at it finest. He had embedded Easter eggs in the teaser emails that led to free swag giveaways, even teasing our new name, Kodeco, in clear print for anyone clever enough to notice and decode it. Whether anyone actually would notice it was an unanswerable question, but the creative thought behind it was another example of the thought that went into every step of this marathon project.
[Ed: Yeah, hi, Chris again. I was actually worried that no one would solve the puzzle, but y’all came through and I had a lot of people who wrote in with the solution. Kudos.]
Beyond the promotional teases to our broader community, though, the marketing team had taken care of a ton of other things, from reworking social media accounts, to updating all of our marketing materials, to brokering new Kodeco swag on a shoestring budget, scrambling to find motion designers to bring our new brand to life, and on top of that, a social media activation kit for the 300+ strong team of content contributors so that our entire community could take part in promoting the launch next week.
While the engineering team was still pulling all-nighters, on the marketing side, things were finally ready to start the fanfare that would lead up to launch on the following Monday.
But as the days ticked down, the question was still there — would the engineering team pull through? Would we be able to actually make Kodeco.com live on our target date?
October 23, 2022 — Ignoring Developers Is a Valid Motivational Technique
If you’ve ever worked with a team of developers leading up to launch, you know that the best approach is to basically leave them alone and just leave a stack of pizzas and a 24-pack of Jolt Cola at the door. Now, being a 100% remote company meant we couldn’t comply with the pizza and soda requirements, but we do know enough to leave the engineering team alone while they are working miracles.
At 1:15 PM Greenwich Mean Time, Sam Davies muttered the ancient incantations that took Kodeco.com live, and began the process to redirect raywenderlich.com to Kodeco.com. We chose a Sunday deployment, as this allowed the engineering team to continue to find and resolve any bugs a day in advance of the official launch, while ensuring that most people wouldn’t notice until it was announced the next morning. Besides, the team was threatened with various unspeakable punishments if they attempted a Friday afternoon deploy ever again, so it worked out for the best.
The core rebranding team spent most of the afternoon and evening looking through the site, logging Jiras, fixing bugs and logging more Jiras to fix what they broke while fixing other bugs. While there were some interior pages that still needed some refining (as per our pragmatic upgrade plan known informally as “Who Would Ever Notice This?”), the site was finally ready for its big unveiling the next day!
October 24, 2022 — The Finish Line
At 11 AM EDT, Kodeco Inc announced its presence to the world: we had rebranded to Kodeco.com from raywenderlich.com!
It had been exactly 319 days since the decision was made – not that I was counting or anything. :] What an incredible journey, but moreso, what an incredible end result from our entire team!
As I reflect upon this 319-day journey (my word, that’s nearly a whole year), I can identify many, many things that could have possibly derailed our rebranding approach. I haven’t even spoken of the patent or trademark tussles we went through, the emotional realities of trying to pivot an entire brand with a small team, and the many ideas or initiatives that we jettisoned along the way — but I wouldn’t change a thing. The Kodeco brand that we all proudly stand behind is the result of a massive effort from everyone involved.
In a way, this rebranding effort has been a reflection of who we are as a company — hundreds of people, with different backgrounds and different opinions, but all united as one community with the goal of growing the next generation of mobile developers.
Welcome to Kodeco.
— Matt Derrick