A few months ago, I interviewed Sean Harper. His company was called TransFS. I remember telling him that it was a hard company to remember. Since then, he changed it to FeeFighters and business is booming.
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Andrew: Hi everyone. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How do you change your company’s brand? A few months ago I interviewed Sean Harper. His company was called TransFS. I remember telling him in the interview how hard it was to remember and say his company’s name. Since then, he’s changed it. The company is now called FeeFighters, I love that name and business is booming. Fee Fighters is a comparison shopping website for credit card processing. I want to find out how he rebranded. Sean, welcome and thank you for being so open about what happened with the business.
Sean: Yeah, no, thanks for having me and hopefully we can keep someone else from making some of the mistakes we’ve made, cause they’re pretty [inaudible].
Andrew: Really? OK. Let’s first let people know how business is going today. So you know I love metrics. I love numbers. Give me a number that let’s me understand how big Fee Fighters is.
Sean: Since we’ve changed the name, we’ve raised a million and a half of additional capital. We have added five people to the team. We’ve grown our customer base 25X. And we’re growing like 30 percent over month to month. So it’s been a really, really good year. We’re also on the verge of launching a new product which we’re really excited about.
Andrew: We talked privately about how many users, or how many people are running comparisons on your site. Can you give me the number now that we’re recording?
Sean: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve run down negative 25,000.
Sean: And we’re running like a few thousand every month now, which is really cool.
Andrew: So twenty five thousand. Here’s the thing that I didn’t understand the first time we did the interview but I understood afterwards because you’re competitors emailed me to say do you how big a freakin’ business this is? And I said no I don’t. And then they explained it to me. Tell me if my understanding is wrong here now.
If someone like me, a merchant, who’s selling to his customers goes to you to look for a new merchant processing account, you know, a new way to charge my credit cards. You find a company that will lower my processing fees so I don’t have to pay as much every time I collect money on Visa, American Express, etcetera. So you save me money. You also get a commission on the orders that I put through so essentially you’re helping me save money, but you’re making money on every sale that I get. Essentially. Do I have that right?
Sean: Yeah. More or less.
Andrew: OK. Do you feel a little uncomfortable saying that publicly because I’m impressed as hell now that I understand it?
Sean: Well, not at all. What we’re doing is it sounds like we’re getting in overly good shape which is great. We’re proud of our business, but really what we’re doing is that the way that credit card processing has always worked, is that there were just so many middle men in the middle. And it was a lot like buying auto insurance ten years ago or booking a plane ticket 15 years ago. We just don’t need that.
One credit card processor is pretty similar to the next, and if we can help you compare their rates and get a really, really good rate and our customers save, on average, 40% in just a few minutes of their time, we can just cut out all those middle men. When you cut out middle men, there’s a huge amount of waste that’s unlocked, and our customers get most of that waste. It goes into their pockets and we take a little bit for ourselves, and that’s how we make money. Everything we do is free to the customer.
Andrew: All right. I want to find out how you rebranded and called yourself FeeFighters and why you did it and all that, but first I’ve got to stick with this line of questioning for a little bit further because I’ve got to tell you, people, even non-competitors who just understood your business and I didn’t, as I said before we did the interview, they’re salivating when they’re telling me about it.
And the reason I didn’t was because you had another business. You ran something called TSS-Radio, another name that probably, in my opinion, might have needed to be changed. So, we talked about the previous company, and the reason I spent so much time on the previous company was it was a profitable business.
FeeFighters and its original incarnation, as I understood it, was a strong business. Why would you need any outside funding in order to grow it?
Sean: It’s just about speed of growth. TSS-Radio is a profitable business, and it’s pretty big, but it’s been in business for six years, and we wanted Fee Fighters to have a better growth trajectory than that. It’s not like we raised a huge amount of money. I think if you have a business model that is easy to scale or that can be scaled, it’s really, really fun to put more resources on it, and that was what we were after here.
Andrew: I see. Were you guys profitable before, with FeeFighters?
Sean: We would have been soon on that team, but since we raised the money we’ve more than tripled our team. Adding all that expense means that we’re not profitable any more.
Sean: That’s the whole point of raising money is that you can actually hire out of your growth instead of [??] it.
Andrew: What’s a customer worth to you? In other words, if I say that you’ve got 25,000 people running comparisons, I think in most people’s minds that seems like hits on a website or searches on a kayak.com type of website. Is that what it means, or are these real customers?
Sean: Yeah, they’re real for us. When we get a customer that goes all the way through the process, and not everyone does, right? Some people come to the site, they run a comparison, and they say, oh, that’s cool. Then, they go golfing or do something else. But for the guys who go all the way through and they choose a new credit card processor and they get switched over and they start saving money, those are worth. . . It’s widely divergent on the size of the business, but on average in our customer base, our customers are worth $1,000 over their lifetime to us.
Andrew: OK. How many customers do you have so far?
Sean: We have around 1,000 right now.
Andrew: OK. As I’m asking you these questions, part of me says, Andrew, you know you’re pushing it. You know you’re holding a straight face, but you really are asking the question that feels a little in appropriate. Ask and see if he answers, and you answered. Why are you telling my audience your numbers this openly?
Sean: I’m just a pretty open person. Our whole business is about transparency, and I think we owe being transparent about ourselves to our customers and to the public.
Andrew: You owe the public transparency? Why do you owe the public to know how many customers you have? Isn’t it enough to just say, look, I’ll deliver you a discount on your current processing fees? Now, leave me alone. You don’t have to know how big we are and how many customers we have and everything else?
Sean: I think, maybe, I don’t owe them how big we are. I don’t see any good reason to hide that, but I do think we need to be honest with customers on how much we’re making because that’s the problem with all these financial services and these complicated products where-it’s one of the problems-it’s so obfuscated who’s getting paid what and what brokers and what middle men and what extra fees. I don’t want to be part of that problem. I want to be transparent about where all the money is going because credit card processing is expensive.
Andrew: All right. Here’s my agenda for the conversation. I walked in here with an agenda. The first thing I wanted to know was how much can I push to find out how big Sean’s business is. We did that. The second agenda item is to understand why you even decided to change the name. That’s a pretty big thing to do. Here you are, you’re telling my business audience with one company, and then you come up with a different company name. There’s some confusion. You knew that, going in. Why did you decide that that was an important risk to take?
The next item is, after you figured out that this was an important step, what did you do? I might want to, at one point, change Mixergy’s name, God forbid, or someone in my audience might want to change their name. I want to learn from your experience.
Then, finally, if I have time, I want to talk about Stella, who’s one of the first three people at the company, because Stella did something brilliant. She asked me to interview you. I’ll be honest with you. I said, “No, I already interviewed Sean. What do I need a second interview for?”
Most people, at that point, would either go away, or they’d get obnoxious. Stella was freakin’ smart. I want to come back. I’m going to write “Stella smart” on a piece of paper. If I have time, I’ve got talk about that here with you.
Sean: I love talking about how smart Stella is. Let’s make sure we get to that one.
Andrew: I got that. Help me stay accountable and talk about that. We’ll find a way to make time.
Let’s talk about the decision. I asked you before the interview started, “What’s the process?” You said, “The first part of the process was even understanding we had a problem.” What made you decide, “We’ve got a problem?”
Sean: Ever since we came up with the TransFS name–Transparent Financial Services where what we were called–we heard, anecdotally, that you made fun of our name in our last interview.
Andrew: Did I really?
Sean: Or maybe it was in subsequent interview, or something.
Andrew: Yes, it was.
Sean: You were talking to someone else.
Andrew: You guys knew that? You saw it?
Sean: We saw it, it embarrassed us. It was good for us, though. You weren’t the only one, by any stretch.
We kept hearing this anecdotally. I was living in denial; Josh was living in denial. We’re not branding guys; we’re engineers. We like solving problems. It took a certain amount of anecdotal evidence before we said, “All right. How do we approach this in an engineering way? We’ll gather some data.”
The first way we started gathering data was, we kept talking to customers on the phone, or in email, and they would say things like “How do you spell your name again? What’s your domain name?” Or, “I mentioned you to one of my friends.” We’re like, “Well, why didn’t they ever come back? We never actually heard from your friend.” It turned out that they had forgotten our name, because it wasn’t memorable enough.
So we said, “All right. Every time we get one of those, let’s just mark it down. Then at least we’ll know: is this a big problem, is it a small problem? Is it something we can live with? Because we know that re-branding is going to be painful, we have to do the cost-benefit on it.”
We started marking down every time we got a piece of evidence that made us think we wanted to change it. We were amazed. We had a suspicion that it was a big problem, but it was bigger than we thought. A huge number of our customers were having confusion about our name, even ones that you wouldn’t think.
This isn’t as quantitative, but we had just decided to change it, and then I heard my father mispronounce the name, our old name. Then I was like, “All right. Now I really feel justified in this decision, because you’re my dad. You should know this shit.”
It was more than a quarter of our customers that were having confusion with our name, when we looked at the data. We could proceed with confidence, knowing that it was a big enough problem that could put some resources against changing the name.
We’ll talk a little bit more about how intensive a process that was, because it was not easy at all. It was expensive and difficult.
Andrew: What about this. I remember asking Kevin Hale, one of the founders of Wufoo, about any confusion with his company name. We use Wufoo all the time here, and the people in Mixergy who use it often will misspell Wufoo, their good friend, past interviewee, past sponsor, and key element in our business. They still misspell it.
I asked him about it. He said, “Today, when people type something in, chances are they’re typing it into Google, and if they get it misspelled, Google’s going to fix it and lead them over.” Basically, they were saying, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Tell me about the part of you that was saying, “It’s not that big of a deal.” What was it like, and why did you say, “No, it is that big a deal.” Why did you dismiss that?
Sean: I had the same opinion as he did, especially because, as you mentioned, my previous company also had an unmemorable name: it was called TSS Radio, and it sold satellite radio gear. We did make that argument a lot, that “If they really want to find us, they’ll type it into Google, and they’ll find it.” Or, “If they really want to find us, X”, or “If they really want to find us, Y.”
What we were missing is that to do all that stuff, they have to really want to find you. We’re trying to get people that aren’t just super determined to find us but, maybe just heard about us once. Or, maybe they heard about us six months ago, and now they’re trying to find us again, or they used us and hey thought it was cool. But they didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the website, and they wanted to tell their friend about it.
A lot of those people who weren’t super, super engaged but were pretty engaged, I think we were just losing those guys because doing Google Search was too much work for them. They just wanted to tell somebody about it.
Andrew: OK. In the past company-I shouldn’t say the past company because it’s still around-but the previous company that you launched, TSS-Radio, you guys knew how to work search engines. You knew how to buy ads. You knew about SEO, and even with FeeFighters I see you guys with the info graphics all the time. You guys are clever, clever marketers, and mostly I’m not typing in FeeFighters, I’m just clicking over from some other mention.
I can see that you guys are really strong at it, and you’re still saying, hey, even if we get someone to our website, we don’t want to count on them going back to a search engine and knowing how to go in their history and figuring out how to get back to us on their browsers. All right.
Sean: The other thing we were looking for, Andrew, was a level of engagement, like emotional appeal, that I think our new name has that our old one just didn’t. I think you can make the same case for Wufoo, I think, on that one or TSS-Radio. Yeah, it is a name that is distinct, and you can find it if you looked really hard, but what does it mean to the customer? What do they feel when they think about it? With TransFS, they didn’t feel anything because it was a random combination of letters, basically.
With FeeFighters I think they feel like there’s certain feelings that come along with that. They think it’s cool, first of all. Second of all, they like the idea of fighting because we’re really on their side, and I think you remember things better when you have an emotion attached to it.
Andrew: All right. You saw me write down another note here. I want to ask you about how you created a brand, not just how you rebranded but how you made that second brand, FeeFighters, have that emotional appeal. I know you guys do a great job with that because in my mind as we’re talking, I imagine that little-it’s a Ninja guy, right?
Sean: Yeah. We call him Joe.
Andrew: Joe; Joe stuck in my head now so much. I want to know how you did that. You’re marking down how many people are misspelling your name. You’re seeing, I think you told me in the pre-interview, instead of TransFS, people were saying TransSF. You were specifically spelling it out for them, and then they would repeat it back to you after you spelled it out for them and get it wrong. It’s time to rebrand. What’s the next step that you take?
Sean: There were a lot of wrinkles in this, but basically the methodology we followed was one of coming up with lots and lots of ideas and then filtering those ideas according to a methodology. The one we used the most is this methodology called The Igor or Igor, I-G-O-R, which is a methodology for branding and scoring each name and then keeping a list of the ones that scored the highest.
It allowed us to go from-we surfaced thousands of ideas for the names, and we filtered them down to around a dozen. Once we had a dozen that we were happy with, that scored high that we really liked, we could have lived with any of them, we had to figure out well, could we get the domain name and how expensive would it be to do it. And then, also, sanity check ourselves and say, “Well, are these names that we just think are cool, or does everyone think these names are cool?” We did a lot more surveying once we had the list down to about a dozen.
Andrew: When you had that big pool of names, where did that come from?
Sean: It came from all over. We basically said, “All right, we know this is going to be painful, so we’re not going to stop doing everything. But we’re going to take about half of our time for me and Josh and Stella, that was the whole team at the time, and we’re going to spend half of our time doing this, half of every day for a week or however long it takes. We’re going to be actively working to come up with new ideas for a name.
We did a bunch of different-I call them vectors. We’d have vectors for naming. One that worked well for us was if we had a two word name because if you think of it, most names on the web are two words. One would be something that describes us, and then the other is something that’s more emotional. It could be something like a color or an animal or in our cases we ended up with a fighter which is this Ninja persona.
We actually spent a lot of time with the dictionary. We spent a lot of time with it. We’d get our friends . . . The summer that we were doing this, we were in one of these accelerator programs. We were in Accelerate Labs here in Chicago. We were always bugging people. Come have lunch with us and just help us brainstorm names. Even VCs will be visiting, people will be visiting, we’re like, come do a name brainstorm with us for 30 minutes. Fortunately, that’s the kind of thing that people like to do. We just gathered them everywhere we could.
I had this dictionary that was a crossword puzzle dictionary which is really good for this, and it’s a mess now because we spent so much time paging through it. There’s food spilled all over it.
Andrew: What is a crossword puzzle dictionary so good?
Sean: Because it’s a dictionary of synonyms, and it also is organized by length as well. And so, you don’t want any really short words or really long words. It’s better. Some branding person told us that. We were like, all right, we’ll get it.
Andrew: You were thinking . . .
Sean: It’s also nice to have a physical book.
Andrew: Two words combined, one of them would be descriptive and the other would be emotional. So, it might be something like DiscountBusters or PriceBusters or BluePrice or GreenPrice. That’s the format that you used, and you just collected, I think you said, a thousand of them.
Sean: Yeah. I didn’t keep a good count. It was, at least, a thousand. We spent days on this exercise. We had walls filled. We put paper up all on the walls, and we were just writing on the walls. We had lots and lots of options.
Andrew: OK. So, you end up with a thousand, let’s say. You end up with hundreds of names, who knows how many. How do you then go from that to, I think you said, a dozen? How did you narrow it down?
Sean: We actually narrowed them in batches. We’d spend a few hours thinking up names, and then we’d say, “All right. Well, let’s rank each of these names.” We’d come up with different criteria. I told you about this Igor framework that we used, and I’m not actually sure if it’s pronounced Igor or I-gor. I probably should have looked it up before this.
Andrew: Let’s stick with Igor for now, and the audience will know that we might be mispronouncing it. That’s cool.
Sean: We use Igor. Basically, you can rank a name based upon different criteria, like is it memorable? Is it easy to spell? Is it emotional? How close is it to your value proposition? How well does it represent what you actually do? How descriptive is it? You can look this up on the web, but there were, I think, eight variables that we were ranking on.
And so, we’re write on the board on the [??] access, all of the names that we had thought of over the past hour or so. And then along the [??] access we would write all the criteria, and then we would independently rank them in a Google spreadsheet that had the same layout. We’d rank them independently because we didn’t want to influence each other, and then we would aggregate our scores on the board. We’d kill all of the ones that were losers. In any session we’d try to find a few names that were good. Then, we’d put them into the bigger holding pen of names.
Andrew: I see. Rows with names, columns with criteria for the names in where the rows and columns met. In those cells you would have a ranking, and then you’d add it up and see what had the highest rankings and which had the lowest. Most people, myself included, if we wanted to sort through all these names, we might just put them in a list and give them each a number, based on how we felt about them.
You were more methodical. Instead of saying, “How do we feel about them” or “How appropriate does it seem to us” we want to understand on these different criteria how it matches up, how they compare. What are some of those criteria? I know that you’re not going to remember all eight, and people, of course, can look it up, but I want to get a sense of them.
Sean: One was how descriptive is it. How memorable is it? How emotional is it? How easy is it to spell? Those are four that I remember. There were a few more, too.
Andrew: When it comes to memorable, you just came up with the name. It’s fresh in your mind, and you’re looking at it on a spreadsheet or on a board. How do you know whether it’s really memorable or not?
Sean: It’s really hard. All of those four things, none of those are truly objective. They’re all subjective. We’re trying to add the subjective framework on top of something that fundamentally is subjective. It’s your opinion whether you like a name or whether you think it’s memorable. There’s this bias, right? Of course, you remember it because you just thought of it.
By filtering them into groups and then going back and looking at them later, we’re able to get rid of that bias or, at least, reduce it a little bit because if you’re looking at the same name two days later with a whole bunch of other names it’s like, well, maybe, it’s not as memorable as I thought it was.
Andrew: I see.
Sean: We had to keep each other honest because I had a few that were so. . . I just loved them. One that I loved was CostHammer. I wanted us to be the CostHammer, be swinging this hammer around. We’re lowering your costs. We’re breaking them apart with a hammer. I just thought it was so. . . It meant a lot to me, and I remembered it. The rest of the team called it BS on that because it didn’t have the same meaning to them as it did to me.
Andrew: OK. I can understand that. If you come up with a name and you might score it high because you’re biased in favor of the name that you just came up with, Josh and Stella might not be. Actually, they definitely aren’t as biased because they didn’t create it themselves. They rank it a little bit differently, and then that gives you another perspective on it. All right. I understand the next step. What do you after that?
Sean: We have spent the last week completely exhausting ourselves, and you get fatigued at this very quickly, or at least, we did because you have all of these names and you’re trying to rank them on the subjective criteria, and they all start to look the same. They all sound the same, and it just becomes exhausting and frustrating, and then we get pissed at each other. So, we’re exhausted after a week of this. We’ve surfaced a dozen names that we liked, and now we wanted to see what other people thought about it.
We started by just doing a survey of our friends. We used Survey Monkey for it, and we thought of as many people as we could, either friends of ours who we like their opinion or people that were somehow involved with the company, advisors, investors, other start-ups, et cetera. We just sent out the survey to them. We asked them, “Can you take five minutes and fill it out?” We asked them to fill it out with the same criteria that we had done, the same framework.
We asked them to rank them, not just what one do you like the best. We wanted to know that, but we want to know why you like it the best, so we can have some rationale behind it.
Andrew: By why, you don’t mean that you want them to write a couple of words about it, you want them to just rate it the same way that you rated it. It all goes back to numbers.
Sean: It all goes back to numbers for us. We’re very quantitative in everything that we do.
Sean: For better or for worse, that’s just how we are. Then, we tabulated the results, and we had another bit of data that we could use to make our decision.
Andrew: Sean, I’m wondering what the success rate or the fill rate is on those surveys because I get those surveys all the time from entrepreneurs, from investors who are backing entrepreneurs, who are trying to figure out the right name or the right direction for their company. And there is no incentive for me to fill it out. I sometimes do it because I want other people to do the same thing for me, but I don’t even get credit for doing it because they want to keep it anonymous.
What kind of completion rate were you getting when you were sending this stuff out?
Sean: We got pretty high. It was well above 50%, I think. You’re famous. You’re like a celebrity, right? I’m sure a lot of people ask you, but we were asking our friends from college and other start-ups that we have launched with. I think, first of all, they felt pretty vested in it, and second of all it’s not like they get a ton of these. I don’t think everyone is getting a ton of naming surface.
Andrew: I see.
Sean: They’re kind of fun. The one thing that we did that helped a lot was we were brutal about making sure that it was short. First of all, we weren’t going to ask these people to sort through 100 names for us because that’s ridiculous. It’s not their job. And second, we didn’t want to ask them too many questions about the names because I think, at least, for me if it takes more than three minutes and it’s a survey, I’m not going to finish it. I’m going to get distracted. Someone is going to call me. I’m going to get thirsty. I’m going to have to go to the bathroom, or the dog’s going to bark. Something is going to happen. It just won’t get done.
Andrew: How many names would you put in a survey?
Sean: We really only started surveying when it was down to around a dozen.
Andrew: I see.
Sean: I think it was 15 or something like that, names that we were surveying on.
Andrew: A dozen, 15 names. They had to come up with numbers for each one. That’s still fairly long, but it’s not as long as some of the ones that I’ve gotten. As long as I don’t have to write, it’s a lot easier for me to respond.
Sean: Exactly. We had one free text optional section at the end where they could write whatever they wanted. Some of those responses were really, really funny.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Sean: Well, people felt very strongly one way or the other. People would write. . . We had a lot of people saying, no, you can’t, you absolutely can’t pick this name. It means something in German, or you can’t do this. This name makes me sick, or. . .
Sean: Like idiosyncrasies would come out. We’d look at who it was, oh, that’s really weird.
Andrew: That’s helpful to know actually, to have that free form box where people could say, you don’t understand, this name means, ‘I’m an idiot.’ in German”. That’s useful. That’s useful information to have. All right. What’s the next step after that?
Sean: All right. So, now we have a filtered list. And we have some scores along each of those names. The scores made it clear that some of those names were absolute losers. And some were, sort of, in the top tier. And then some were in the middle tier, where we could live with them if we needed to. But, they weren’t quite as good as the top ones. So, next up was we had to figure out availability. Because one of the biggest problems of all of this is there were no domain names left, at all. So, you know, we really, really wanted to have a dot-com and with no hyphens, or plurals, or anything weird like that. So, that was a strict criteria for us. So, a number of the names just fell out because they were either someone was using it for something real. Or, they were being squatted on and we couldn’t get a hold of the person who was squatting on it. Or, they were being squatted on and they had too high a price that they wanted. We weren’t going to pay more than, we weren’t going to pay more than $10,000 to get the domain name. Which . . .
Andrew: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Sean: I don’t know what I was going to say. Go for it.
Andrew: I shouldn’t have interrupted. But, the reason I interrupted is to find out why you didn’t weed out the names that you couldn’t buy the dot-coms of before you sent it out and before you sent those names out in a survey.
Sean: Because it’s actually really timing-sensitive to do it. So, if, like, Apple.com . . . obviously, we’re not going to get Apple.com. Someone is using it for a real legitimate purpose where they couldn’t change their name. So, we didn’t survey anyone about names that were obviously unattainable. But a lot of the domain names we were considering, they were products. And, so, it actually takes some research. Like, if you’re interested in it, you have to find the owner. You have to contact them. You have to make an offer. You have to do all this stuff. I mean, it took a few days of back-and-forth with each of the options. We didn’t want to do that for, like, 20 different options. We wanted to filter the list a little bit smaller. So, we wouldn’t waste too much time doing that.
Andrew: OK. I see. Right. Just because a name is used doesn’t mean that it’s not available to you. And just because a name’s available doesn’t mean that the person who has it is going to respond when you’re ready to buy it. OK.
Sean: Exactly. So, like, just as an example, the name we ended up with was “Fee Fighters”. Which meant we needed to buy two domains. We needed to buy “Fee Fighter” and “Fee Fighters”. So it’s two people we need to find and negotiate with. It took us, I think it took us three days to get a hold of the first guy and four days to get a hold of the second guy. And then it took us a couple days with each to negotiate.
Andrew: So then what did it cost?
Sean: We ended up paying about $10,000 for both of those domain names together.
Sean: I don’t remember which one was which. But one was like $4,500 and one was like $3,500. It ended up being $7,000 or $8,000.
Andrew: That’s a pretty good price considering how good the name is.
Sean: We were really happy with it. I thought it would be a little bit more expensive. But I think we just got lucky.
Andrew: Did it just come down to the numbers at the end of the surveys and “Fee Fighters” was the clear winner? Or was there something else going on?
Sean: Let’s see. We had a few names that we could’ve lived with if “Fee Fighters” had turned out to be difficult to get. But I think going into it, Josh, [??] and I all had this idea that Fee Fighters was the winner. I mean, it had come out in the data that it was better. We all felt better about it, beforehand. The other thing that we did, actually, that I should mention was for a few of the names we actually thought through how we were going to brand it. Because there’s actually, a pretty big gap between, “OK. Here’s the name.” and then “Here’s what the logo is going to look like. And here’s what our colors are going to be. And this is how the name actually maps to how we perceive ourselves.”
And so, we went through that exercise for the top few names, once we figured out if they were attainable. Because it could have been that we liked the name “Fee Fighters” but, then when we got down to figuring out what the logo was going to be or the character was going to be, that we just . . . they were all shitty and we couldn’t have liked it.
Andrew: I see.
Sean: So, we did that for a few of the names. I think we did that for two or three of them.
Andrew: All right. Bottom line, you ended up with a name that you guys all like. You approached the owners of both variations of the name. They both say, “yes”. You buy the name. That’s just half-way there. Now you’ve got a brand new name that you need the world to understand, including people who heard about you with a different name.
What’s the first step that you take to re-brand in their minds?
Sean: Yeah. So we were coming up on a launch. So we only had like a week to do this. Because we were doing demo day for the accelerator that we were in. The name process took a little bit longer than I thought. We had a week between when we bought the name, to when we had to have everything done. We really compressed it.
What we did was, we actually hired someone. We had an advisor who was involved in the accelerator that we were doing, helping us and leading us through the process. She was branding consultant. She had a friend who created these brand personas for people.
We had him take a few takes at creating, “What’s the branding of FeeFighters?” He did one that was the ninja assassin kind of thing, which is what we ended up with. He did one that were these honorable superheros. They were all big, bright, bold colors. They were very noble, like Superman and Batman. He did one that was more like A-Team, that was quirky; they’re quirky, but they get the job done. They’re no-BS alternative people.
We did that. That took a couple of days, for him to do the turn. We liked the ninja one the best. Then what did we do?
Andrew: Let me pause the story right there, before we go on with the next step. The adviser, who was she?
Sean: Her name is Tracy Thirion. She lives here in Chicago. She does a bunch of branding stuff for big companies.
Andrew: How do you get her as an advisor?
Sean: We just got lucky. I’m sure there are lots of people out there that can help in the same way that she helped us, but she was great for us. She was perfect. She was good friends with one of the investors that was considering investing in us, and they hooked us up. She agreed to help us for free, which was cool.
Andrew: Because she was helping set up a company, potentially, for her friend to invest in and own a piece of?
Sean: Exactly. Basically, out of the goodness of her heart, is what it comes down to. She was just being nice to us. We got the scraps of her attention. We said, “We’ll work totally within your flow.”
I’m not sure if she proposed this, or we did, but what we ended up with was, we went to her office, which is a cool space. It was creative. They had toys, and you could draw on the walls, and all of that.
We just sat in their lounge, and we did this exercise by ourselves. We said, “Between your phone calls, when you have a minute, just come in and tell us if what we’re doing is stupid, or give us some advice, or help us a little bit.” We were feeding off of the scraps of her attention that she was giving us between her real work.
I think a big part of us getting her skill was just being easy to work with, and desperate for her help. That helped a lot. Basically that, plus the personal connection with our investor, was what we did to get her to help us.
Andrew: You got the investor – at the time he was a potential investor – because you were part of this accelerator program?
Sean: We had actually known them beforehand. They had been watching our company for a while, and thought it was cool. It was good from that perspective, too, to work with one of their friends, and have a good experience, and that way they got to know us a little bit better before putting in a term sheet.
Andrew: Before we get into the designs that you got back, you’re wearing a headset because I asked you to get a clear mike, because I wanted to make sure that people heard you.
I’m looking now at the headset, and there’s a knot on one of the sides. You don’t even have to adjust it, but you see it, right? On the right earpiece. It’s cool.
You also are wearing a FeeFighters T-shirt. I love the logo, but you’re not positioning the camera down to look at the FeeFighter. There it is. It just occurred to me; let’s lower it and push it back. I want people to be able to see.
Sean: There you go. There’s the FeeFighters shirt. You know what else we have? We just got these today. You want to see what this is?
Andrew: What is that?
Sean: What do you think that is?
This is a FeeFighters urinal mat. It’s hard to see, but it says “You are pissing away your money on credit card processing.” We just got these today, but when we go to a conference, or something, we’re just going to throw these into the urinals, so people can see our value proposition right there, while they’re a captive audience.
Andrew: I can’t wait to see that at a conference and tell people that I understand where that came from.
Here’s why I didn’t notice it. I didn’t notice that the T-shirt was invisible, I didn’t notice the knot in the ear, because I just don’t have an eye for design. I’ve brought this up in past interviews.
The fact that you had the knot in your headset, wearing the T-shirt and didn’t show it, shows me that you also aren’t huge on design and branding. You’re a developer; you’re someone who cares more about metrics and analysis than design.
What I’m trying to say is, with that in mind, how can you give feedback to designers? How can you give designers a clear direction on where you think they should go, and how could you give them feedback?
I ask that because I have the same challenge you do. I don’t even know their language. I don’t know how to express what’s wrong. I don’t even, often, have the awareness of what’s wrong, or what I’m looking for. How are you able to do that?
Sean: I totally am not. I can’t be helpful here. My co-founder, Josh, has a fine arts degree. As an undergrad he did computer science and fine arts when he was in college. He does all of that. He actually does speak the designers’ language; he has a good sense for design.
I guess that’s the answer: I have a business partner who knows how to do all that stuff.
Andrew: Was he able to communicate well what you guys were looking for? Was he able to give feedback properly about what you were looking for?
Sean: He was.
After we got the few designs from the outside guy, we brought it in-house. You’ve seen our website; we really proud of the way it looks. One of the main reasons is that one of our employees, Tisho, was just amazing at UI and design.
We had started working with Tisho not as a full-time guy, but just part-time. Josh and Tisho, between the two of them, they had enough design knowledge to come up with the ninja, different versions of the ninja, all on their own.
Andrew: What kind of feedback did you give?
Sean: I like to make myself like anybody else. Obviously, when they were coming up with the design, Josh and Tisho solicited a lot of feedback from a lot of people. They asked me and Stella, and they asked some of our customers.
We asked our friends, and we went through the whole survey process, again not quite as systematically, but we probably asked at least 100 people about various aspects of the design.
I wanted to be careful that I didn’t overweight my own opinion, just because I was the founder of the company. Because, the truth is, I don’t know anything more about that than any other outside observer. I know that I want it to look good; that’s basically it. As to what goes into making it look good, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dominating that process.
Andrew: I want to pay a compliment to you guys for the design, but I’m also hesitant, because people are going to think that I’m some kind of a kiss-ass for saying this, but the design on your site is beautiful.
I think the way I maintain my credibility with my audience is, if they just go to FeeFighters.com, and take a look. You guys have calculators that look stunningly beautiful. The design is unreal. I want to understand how you got to it, a little bit, but still stay focused on the branding.
When you got a series of designs back, you said that you sent them out to friends, and you got feedback on them. What, specifically, did you send, and what questions did you ask to help drive the branding forward?
Sean: We tried to be really specific about it. A good example is, we wanted to figure out what the logo character was going to be, because a fighter can be anything. We decided, initially, that we wanted to go with the ninja assassin thing, because we like that.
Then Tisho generated 30 different versions of the ninja. He was very systematic about it, too. One of the permutations was, does he have a sword, or does he not have a sword? Does he have a cape, does he not have a cape? Are his eyes round, are his eyes thin? Is he kicking, or is he standing still, or is he punching? He came up with all these different permutations.
We arranged the top however many, ten or 20, on one sheet of paper, that would be easy to view, and we asked people, “Which of these do you like the best, and why?” Some people would just say, “Oh, this one.” But then other people would say things like, “I like this one because I think the round eyes look more friendly than the thin eyes,” or “I don’t like this one because I don’t understand what that thing is. The thing was a sword, but a lot of people didn’t realize the sword was a sword. They were like, what the hell is that.
We tried to be very specific about what we were asking people for and not, I think people do poorly when they’re asked for something that’s too general. Like, which design do you like? If we can ask them, which of these designs looks the most friendly or which of these designs is the most memorable or something like that, the specific, I think they respond better to it and the smaller parts of the design as well.
Andrew: What do you mean the smaller parts of the design?
Sean: Well, ask them to comment, not just on the website design or not on the logo, but on the specific character that goes into the logo. Then they can focus on that without being distracted by the whole, by the rest of it.
Andrew: Can we see what it looks like again, now that I’ve gotten some background on how you put it together. Can you hold up the . . .
Sean: You want to see the shirt?
Andrew: I see. So, it’s ‘Fee’ and I see the guy in the center, between the words ‘Fee’ and ‘Fighters.’ What’s he holding up, I can’t see it here?
Sean: He’s not holding anything. He has a cape and he’s sort of punching and kicking at the same time. Like a leaping kick. We tried a bunch of different, we tried him over on the side, we tried him over on this side and we basically tried every permeation of it, cause we’re sort of thorough like that, that’s how we roll.
Andrew: I understand the naming part. I understand that you want a name that people can remember and that they can spell and you can test that kind of stuff. How do you know you’ve done the right thing with the logo by putting Joe, the character in the center, between the two words, or on the right or somewhere else?
Sean: We can’t know for sure. I don’t think there’s any way to know. We can ask. We can think thoroughly about what we think, especially those who have design expertise like Josh [??]. We can ask people who we think might know something about it. Then we need to take our best guess and move on. I think it’s really easy to get sucked into these things because there is no exact answer. It’s not like 2 + 2 is 4, I know that. I don’t really know, it could be that putting him over here is actually better. There are some things that you can A-B test, but I don’t think the logo is very easy to A-B test. A name is impossible to A-B test.
Andrew: I now see how you came up with the name and the branding, now you’ve got to take it out to the world. What do you do about that?
Sean: We had the advantage of, we had this event that was coming up where we were going to announce funding. We were going to announce our graduation from this accelerated program so, that was good at least we had some amount of audience. It’s like there was a few hundred people in the audience, the press was there so, that was a start because we picked our target. One where there would d be a lot of people listening.
We had to email all of our customers. We had to change the design of the website. There are a lot of technical things you need to do when you’re forwarding one domain to the other. To make sure you, I mean none of them are rocket science, but you need to have a checklist of, you know, are the url’s forwarding correctly, and have are ssl certificates been renewed for, do we have a new ssl certificate for the new site or else people are going to get ssl errors when they go into the checkout process. We had to do all of that.
We sent an email out to all of our customers. We had a press release,, for whatever that’s worth I don’t know that anyone really reads press releases. We had to switch over our Twitter account. We had to switch over our Facebook account. We’re doing all this social media stuff and we just sort of did it and there were things we missed, to be honest. Like it was months before we had eliminated every mention of [Trans-a-Vest] from our website. We’d have a customer notice it or be reading a blog post that’s like six months old, and be like, ‘Oh shit, they still have Trans-a-Vest in there we got to get rid of that.’
Andrew: Even in the history of the company as you recorded it, you said on the website I believe, we launched Fee Fighters in 2008, oh, I’m sorry, Fee Fighters officially launched in 2009 and so on, even there you said let’s be clear that the name is the name. It’s Fee Fighters. We’re not saying, we’re not adding to the chronology, the date that we switched names. We’re not calling it by one name before. Got it. The reason I point that out is because I’m looking at my research and I don’t think I see a reference, in my research, to the previous name. I knew where I wanted this interview to go and I probably should my researchers about that, but they didn’t know and they just took off. They just used the name that you guys had. All right you’re emailing customers. You’re redirecting the site. You’re sending out a press release. You’re telling people about it. What happens when someone goes to the old name, I’m not even going to keep mentioning it, goes to the old URL and ends up being redirected to the new one and goes, ‘What the hell just happened here?’
Sean: One thing I think we had going in our favor there, was that no one remembers the old name anyway. It was such an awful name. We did have, for a period of time, on certain pages, I think the Home page was one of them, probably the most important one, we maintained, there was some link to the old brand name. We had a, like, hey look, we changed our name. I don’t know how many customers actually saw that because it wasn’t like, top center of the page, it was more like bottom left or bottom right. It was definitely above the folds to try and alleviate that concern, but I’m sure we lost people. I guarantee you that we had people that thought they were going to [Trans-a-Vest] and they went and they were like, ‘Oh, this company must of gone out of business.’ We definitely had some people ask, ‘Are you guys still in business?’ ‘Yeah, we are, we just have a great new name.’
That’s part of the pain. I mentioned earlier that it was painful, it took us a long time to come up with it, it was expensive to buy the domain names. It took us a long time to come up with the branding. We had this whole customer continuity thing where some of the customers didn’t recognize us when they came back and that hurt. There’s a search engine penalty for switching your domain and they’re all these reasons not to do it. Ultimately I think it was the right thing to do, but maybe one of the reasons why we dragged our feet, first of all [??], switching it was we knew it was going to be a really painful experience and it totally was.
Andrew: Was it worth it?
Sean: I think it was. It’s hard to measure it exactly and that frustrates us, because we like metrics.
Andrew: Yeah, I asked you before the interview started do you have a metric, do you have a metric to show how much better you’re off because of the name.
Sean: Yeah, one of the things is that we’ve been growing really, really well since then, but there are all these confounding variables. We’ve added to the team. We’ve raised money. We’ve done stuff to the product. We’ve just been working really, really hard so, is it possible that we would have had the same growth trajectory with the old name? It is, but I think we did enough evidence that we never have anyone ask how we spell our name anymore.
We get a lot more mentions on Twitter. We get a lot more people saying, ‘Oh, my friend told me about your name.’ Some of that might be because we’re older and we have [??] solved this, but let’s put it this way, we get a lot of positive feedback about our name now and we only got negative feedback about our name before. At least that points in the right direction, it’s impossible to tell for sure, you could maybe look at it and say we did the wrong thing, I don’t think many people would.
Andrew: Let’s let our listener decides for himself or herself. I won’t say the name for awhile in the interview, think in your head what’s the current name and ask yourself what’s the previous name and see if you can remember one or the other or both and that will be an indication of how well the name change has gone. How much more memorable the new name is. You said in the beginning, Sean, in the beginning of this interview, that you made a bunch of mistakes. I was looking for them as you told the story, I didn’t catch any. What are the mistakes you made as you re-branded?
Sean: We held on too long to the old name, was the first. The second was we didn’t get Tracey’s help early enough. We brought her in like half-way through. I think it would of really helped if we had her since the beginning. We made a lot of little tactical mistakes just in, here hold on just a second.
Andrew: Looks like someone’s coming in the background there. I know sometimes I wish we could flip the camera around and see what’s going on. What was going on there?
Sean: Sorry, I’m in a really small conference room here, and the Fee Fighters dog was scratching at the door trying to get in.
Andrew: There’s a dog in there right now.
Sean: Now she’s in and she’s happy and she won’t make anymore noise.
Andrew: Good girl.
Sean: Yeah, she doesn’t like to be left out. There were lots of little things like I said, we were still finding mentions of the old name on the site later that we hadn’t caught. There were definitely some things with SSL certificates that weren’t done on time and just more, and that’s not huge, but they all add up and they just add to the pain of it all. I don’t think we did a terrible job of it. I think we planned it out. We put a lot of effort into planning it out and being systematic about it, and probably did a B+ job on it, but one of the problems with rebranding is it’s not the kind of thing that you do over and over again in your life. Any one person only starts a number of companies, and only a certain number of those are you ever going to need to do something as dramatic as a full rebranding. We had no practice at it so, of course, we screwed stuff up.
Andrew: I walked in this interview very methodically with you through the process you took to help give our listeners, our readers, the entrepreneurs and other business people who are paying attention to this to give them a path to walk down, if they need to do this themselves. Let me ask you this? Is there one in addition to that, one piece of advice that you can give other people who might need to rebrand?
Sean: I think the biggest thing about it, and I kept alluding to these different processes that we had, this is the kind of thing that you need a process. I won’t tell you what framework to use or what process to use, but when you’re trying to sort through something that’s as nebulous as a name, come up with some framework or methodology first and then stick to it. Otherwise, I think you’ll become very frustrated and probably too subjective in your outcome if you don’t stick to a framework.
Andrew: I see. That makes sense. And the framework as you described it here, if someone just wrote it down and walked through it as their path, would that get them through this whole process do you think, or did I leave anything out as I asked you questions here?
Sean: Yeah. I think if you follow what we did, more or less. You keep asking lots of people. You keep filtering the names. You keep generating new ideas. I would Google this one, the Igor framework. It worked really well for us. It’s I-G-O-R. Just go and follow that methodology. It worked for us. It probably would work for other people, too.
Andrew: OK. All right. Then, let’s talk about Stella. Here’s what Stella did that I really like. She asked me to have you back on to do an interview. She said, “You should do another FeeFighters interview.” As I told you, I said, “I already had Sean on. We already talked about FeeFighters. I think it’s time to move on to other entrepreneurs.” Most people at that point would argue with me, or they’d disappear.
She said, “Let’s talk about it. What would you need to do in order to make this work?” I said, “Well, we need to teach something.” So, she came up with a list of ideas of what we can teach my audience. She knows the kind of audience I have. She knows the kind of things I want to teach, and here’s the brilliant part. She kept them all short to one sentence each.
They were all headlines, essentially written for me so that I can picture what it would be like if I promoted the interview to my audience. Would my audience care that you went through-what’s one of the ideas that she said-the accelerator program, and she wrote down a headline that I could say, “I don’t think people would click on that. I don’t think that that’s something that I would want necessarily to teach people how to go through. They can figure that out somewhere else.” Now that I’m saying it out loud, I’m realizing that, maybe, I should do something like that.
But she gave me a list of others that weren’t as memorable for me, and this one, as she wrote it out, I said, “You know what? This actually makes sense.” I said, “Could we teach it in an hour?” And she said, “Yeah.” I knew at that point she was going to say yes to a question like that, but I asked her because I felt like, would you help me take on this burden because I don’t want to be in here alone trying to work out an hour long conservation with someone who sits there thinking, dude, this is so easy. It takes five minutes to explain it. I’ll explain it and let’s move on to how great I am.
I said, would you? And she said, yes. That is the way to do it. Frankly, anyone who wants to do an interview here or wants to get articles written about them has got to talk to Stella. What’s Stella’s last name?
Sean: It’s Fayman, F-A-Y-M-A-N.
Andrew: What’s Stella’s email address? Can we give that out?
Sean: Yeah sure. It’s [email protected]
Andrew: [email protected] Even if you don’t want to be here, you want to be on Unmashable, TechCrunch, just reach out to Stella and get her advice. Find a way to meet her in person and ask her because there’s a way to do this. It’s not that complicated, but what happens is people make it complicated and then they make it get tough for me, too.
I say, what will we do the interview on. I even have this whole thing that I write them, and they send me paragraph after paragraph, and I have to figure out how to make this work. No, she was right on it. This is the way to do it. One sentence headline, put it in my imagination the way that I would have to present it to my audience, and it’s beautiful; it’s perfect.
What do you see on your side from the way that she pitched me, or the way that she pitches in general? What can we learn from the way that she does it?
Sean: Yeah, I think you got it. People hate to read stuff. Our attention spans are so short. We’re bombarded with so much stuff, especially in writing. Just keep everything short. She practices that and everything that she does. She practices it with internal stuff when she is presenting information to me and to Josh. Works really, really well. Like it’s a good tactic. The other is here just find out what people want and give to it to them, right? She found out what you wanted. She scopes you out and she got some information from you about what you’re looking for and she was able to provide it and she didn’t try fit the square peg into the round hole. She didn’t try to force feed you something like, you know me sitting here and talking about how great Fee Fighters is how good she is. She was honest about her capabilities and just sort of try to figure out if they matched up with what you’re looking for and I think that’s important that kind of honesty. She is really good at that.
Andrew: I agree. I think what a lot of people do is they tell me why I should be doing different kinds of interviews. Like they’ll try to change the whole site just to accommodate them and that’s not the time to do it. All right, the website www.feefighters.com. You guys can go check out. Where I can I see one of the calculators? I mentioned the calculators and I want people to know that I’m not just kissing ass here. I’m feeling a little guilty that apparently I made fun of your name before, but I’m not compensating for that by saying these calculators are beautiful. But what’s one calculator that we can send people to that will give them an understanding of how right I am when I complement your design and brand?
Sean: There is the newest calculator is a www.feefighters.com/durbin.
Sean: It’s a calculator about this new credit card legislation that came through which goes into effect in September. And then the other one that people really like a lot is www.feefighters.com/square-calcualtor and it compares square to other payment options.
Andrew: What about the one about whether people should even get credit card processors or stick with PayPal or do know that one?
Sean: Yeah, I think that one is /paypal-calculator
Andrew: That’s one of the ones that I saw on Hacker News, it was voted up to one of the topper all time Hacker News and it just shows that it’s basically ad for you guys, right? You’re sending people in, you’re making interactive, you’re letting them get to know who you are, but it’s something that we’re passing around because it’s incredible useful tool. All right. So guys, check that out, let me just read an email here before I say goodbye, from a reader. I got this emails and I’m going to read emails that I get from people here in the interviews. It says, Andrew, just emailing you to say that Mixergy has been greatly changing my life in recent years, by the way, how Sean how cool is that right? Like I’m doing these interviews right.
Sean: It’s amazing.
Andrew: Sometimes, I feel like a dork. You’re building this incredible company, right? Getting funding. You’re soon going to come back on here to do an interview about your great exit. Sometimes I feel like all you do is just talking on videos, Skype. You’re doing the stuff that anyone with a YouTube account I doing. What are you doing? But then, I see an email like this, so the guy says, changing his life, pretty cool right?
Sean: I can’t tell you how many people gave me props that I was going to be today. I have to do this meeting and be on Mixergy. It’s amazing. People love what you’re doing. And that’s just kiss in your ass. I mean people actually said that.
Andrew: I appreciate that. This guy actually says, right after that sentence, he says, ‘seriously’ two exclamation points and he’s the next sentence. It goes, ‘yet I haven’t spent a dime with you.’ Which believe it or not, I don’t mind so much. I’d like if you spend a dime, but I don’t mind, as long as his life is changing. I need some meaning in my life and the only way that I will have meaning in my life is if I influence a lot of people here to do these interviews. That’s why I spent so much time before the interview starts. Talking to Stella, then before we officially hit record, talking to Sean. Sean was very good. He and I spent I don’t know how long, just going through a story, making sure that it comes well. But guess what? That’s about to change all because of the value I received. One regard, Sean Sinclair of www.stayfitbug.com and then you how Google Now that Gmail has a little picture of the person who’s sending you an e-mail. This dude has like the most ripped freaking apps. I don’t know if he’s aware that he is shortlist now in my inbox because of that Gmail picture.
So I’m glad. Sean, if you want to go sign up, you just go to mixergy.com/premium. You see all kinds of courses where we go deep into what we are learning. Here we do interviews where we talk about the ideas. In the courses we show computer screens. We walk through the process of creating landing page step-by-step. We walk through the process of, what else did we do recently? I’ve had a pitch investors step-by-step on [??] so hope you sign up for that if it’s the right fit for you. Sean, that sounds a little bit like an Adam, I’m trying to figure out how to promote properly the next step if people want to take it. Hopefully that worked out okay. And if not Sean will email me or someone like Sean will email to criticize, which I want. I want your feedback guys. Sean Harper, thank you again for doing this interview. Guys check out feefighters.com and when you see Sean, tell him you see on here Mixergy.
Thanks, Edward. Thanks, Sean.
Sean: See you later.
Andrew: Thanks. And thanks Stella. Bye.