August, 2023 Mitchell Kirkham-Cooper

Creating a start-up brand for stand-out growth and differentiation

Mitchell Kirkham-Cooper sat down with tech start-up Oleria’s co-founders Jim Alkove and Jagadeesh Kunda, plus Northbound Founder and CEO Sam Temple Neukom to discuss the journey to launch Oleria and the pivotal role of brand.

Mitch: Oleria doesn't really look or seem like any other enterprise tech brand. Is that intentional?

Jim: You have to remember that your brand and your company aren't two separate things. The journey to define your brand is also to define your company. You know your company, your values, the culture that you want to have and then your name, logo, visual identity, verbal identity are all aspects of who you are as a business. They're rooted in what you ought to be as a company and what change you want to bring about in the world.

Jagadeesh: We build for operators who seek outcomes, not just features. Our technology addresses the conflict between maintaining security and data protection while keeping up with business demands. Unlike technologies that slow you down, we aim to remove that conflict and achieve both goals. Our brand expresses this. A sense of calm, confidence, trust, and credibility for our end users and employees alike. 

Mitch: Sam, Is it common for Tech brands to show up in a way that is Purpose-ful and values-driven? 

Sam: There have been three ages of tech. The first age, represented by the birth of Silicone Valley and IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and others, focused on proving reliability and mission-critical enterprise features. The second age featured iconic brands like Google and Apple, emphasizing disruption and differentiation with a tech-first lens. Now, we are seeing ourselves in a  “Third Age of Tech”. Successful brands in this age are purpose-led, intentional, and centered around values, solving real-world problems. Oleria, led by Jim and Jagadeesh, exemplifies this approach by resolving the tension between security and openness in the marketplace. They prioritize freedom and adaptability, which are vital for a company's success. This encapsulates the essence of the Third Age of Tech.

Mitch: Jim, what is the unique, differentiating purpose of Oleria?

Jim: The core focus is addressing the tension between security and business agility. Oleria aims to bring innovative solutions that allow companies to break free from restrictive measures and foster adaptive autonomy. Oleria's mission is to provide businesses with this fundamental freedom, which is reflected in our brand expression.

Mitch: Sam, how is freedom expressed in the world of Oleria?

Sam: One of the most powerful things about this brand expression is that it focuses on a core idea with simplicity and precision. The name, Oleria, inspired by a genus of butterfly with translucent wings, conveys openness and movement. The logo and visual design feature a gradient color palette that represents dynamic motion, reflecting the desired experience for business partners and clients. The brand captures the movement of a butterfly through motion graphics. Freedom remains at the heart of the messaging and core components. Jim and Jagadeesh played a vital role in maintaining a cohesive vision of freedom by connecting it to the promise of the product experience.

Mitch: Jagadeesh, you mentioned customer outcomes earlier.How has this brand been received by your audiences? What has the feedback been like from your customers? 

Jagadeesh: The brand has been well-received, and definitely sets us apart from other security and B2B brands in the industry. Specifically during RSA (one of our industry’s largest conferences) I remember a prospect telling me “Every time I meet you, I feel like I'm in the world of Oleria. You are talking about your company or your culture, your website, or the product UI, it feels new and it's core to the purpose of what you're trying to do.” Investors are expressing excitement about the product UI. These interactions demonstrate the positive impact of the brand in conveying purpose and value. 

Mitch: Jim, how has a brand-first approach affected things like operations, product development, hiring, and audiences other than your customers? 

Jim: We aimed for alignment between our internal and external narratives, streamlining the story into one cohesive message. This approach facilitated employee selection, allowing us to share the company's identity during the hiring process. This early investment in defining our core values accelerated the onboarding and cohesion of our team. 
Our visual identity and user experience frameworks proved beneficial, both in exciting customers and aiding the engineering organization. The ability to visually convey the desired customer experience allowed for quicker development of the underlying infrastructure and platform. These upfront investments generated alignment and excitement among customers, employees, and investors, fostering a multi-stakeholder framework for our brand.

Mitch: Sam, Jim and Jagadeesh are talking about the internal and external alignment around a core idea providing benefits. Are there other functional or operational benefits to brand integrity?

Sam: It's fantastic to hear Jim and Jagadeesh discuss the acceleration that comes with a clear understanding of your purpose and effective communication of your attributes. This clarity leads to faster decision-making, aligned product roadmaps, customer-centric support, and impactful sales conversations. By empowering each team member with the brand's intentionality, the funnel becomes shorter, more direct, and sticky, enabling greater cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

Mitch: And Sam, do you have any advice for startups who might be looking to launch a brand in 2023-2024? 

Sam: Startups often perceive strategy as slow and incompatible with their fast-paced environment. However, it's crucial to define your market, solve customer problems, and establish core values early on. This clarity accelerates time to market, customer acquisition, and decision-making. Developing a strong brand upfront serves as a shortcut rather than a time-consuming exercise, allowing startups to maintain momentum while building a foundation for success.

Mitch: Jim, Jagadish were there any learnings that you took away from this process?

Jim: The benefits of early brand development exceeded my expectations. We initially aimed to build the company's brand, but the process delved much deeper, shaping the core identity of the organization. This exploration continues to guide our growth as a young company. We now possess a sophisticated understanding of our mission, values, and desired impact on the world, driving us to live those values daily and create meaningful change.

Jagadeesh: The key learnings for me are twofold. First, the importance of writing things down and discussing them. This practice enabled us to prioritize values over feature lists and laid the foundation for our brand's purpose and messaging. Second, we took a unique approach by implementing and testing our brand concepts early on. Through small, cost-effective experiments, we were able to quickly validate and accelerate the development of our brand fundamentals.

Mitch: Thank you, Jim and Jagadeesh, for your valuable insights and collaboration. We thoroughly enjoyed working with you on this remarkable brand. The positive customer feedback and the impact it has on propelling Oleria forward are truly inspiring. 

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