Fluz founder and CEO Maurice Harary tells us how a finance entrepreneur invests in branding – and why blowing your budget isn’t always a bad thing
Cashback app Fluz began as a side project for Harary who, after ten years working in the ecommerce world, had an idea for a new and improved loyalty programme. Unlike traditional cashback initiatives, which tend to be restricted to a single brand, Harary built Fluz to reward people for shopping at a huge array of stores. Come 2019, retailers were joining in their droves and Harary realised Fluz was rapidly becoming his main focus. More than that, it was growing exponentially, supporting more and more features and evolving into something more than a cashback app. Harary’s logical next step? Investing heavily in Fluz’s branding.
Read on for his thoughts on when it’s ok to overspend, and how to keep your rebrand on track once your agency has handed over the guidelines.
- Emma TuckerWhy is branding such a good investment, in your opinion?
Maurice HararyAs operators you’re really busy running, but forcing yourself to take a step back and differentiate yourself is imperative. That’s when you can bring a product to market that’s truly unique. And in order to be successful you have to be different; if you’re going to do exactly the same thing that’s already out there, it’s not going to work.
- ETWhat are your tips for other founders who are keen to get it right the first time round?
MHOne of the things I’ve learned during my experience of branding is that it’s not just the visuals; while that’s tremendously important, the strategy behind it is as important. I would like to say that Fluz has spent more energy on the strategy than the actual creative work. The strategy is fun even if it’s not gratifying, because you don’t get materials out of it, but doing that part well is critical to everything. There’s great stuff that can be done without strategy in terms of cleaning up visuals, and logos and fonts – and there’s a million different directions Fluz could have gone in – but the reason the direction we took makes so much sense is by virtue of great strategy.
“We had graphic designers and product designers on staff, but we knew we had to go and get the best: someone who could elevate Fluz to where it could be more meaningful.”
- ETHow did you know the time had come to really invest in Fluz’s branding, and change things up?
MHIt was an interesting point for us. To give you a little bit of background, our core business started as: you buy a gift card, you get cashback. Then, instead of trying to chase down every small retailer, we realised the obvious next step was to issue our own Cashback Debit Card so you can get cashback when you swipe anywhere. It was a monumental shift in our product. That project ballooned into a whole lot more, because we started supporting social flash sales, holding funds for members and so on, so it became a true shift away from the core gift card and cashback business.
We had graphic designers and product designers on staff, but we knew we had to go and get the best: someone who could elevate Fluz to where it could be more meaningful. I knew that, in the cashback world, the players weren’t amazing looking, but there was this world of elevated visuals outside of that – for example Cleo and Klarna are fabulous, Venmo is interesting, and Robinhood was also obviously a major inspiration. We felt that Fluz was on par, or better than, our competitors, but these other fintech brands were in a different tier. We knew if we wanted to do something tremendous and unique we had to take a big shot at it, invest in our product, and try and step into a league outside of the players we were sitting next to. Now, when I look at some of the other players in our space, I feel there’s night and day difference between us.
- ETHow did you start thinking about the rebrand as a project, and how you would get the most out of it for the business?
MHOne of the things you have to consider in fintech specifically – and I come from a background in the fashion business, which is all about this month’s collection – is that it’s a little different. When I started Fluz in 2016, Apple Card had just come out and I screenshotted all of the visuals because it was so inspirational. Years later I took a second look at the Apple Card, and to my surprise 95% of the branding was the exact same screenshots I took four years ago.
Apple has infinite money; they can buy any branding agency in the world and who wouldn’t want to be the brand agency for Apple? And they still chose not to update the Apple Card. And not just the visuals, the copy and the value proposition were the same as four years ago, to a T. So I decided that we were going to build our branding to last. I took the budget we’d allocated for creative work to be done over the next few years and I decided to allocate a majority up front to the branding agency, Koto, and let them do it for me once, to last the next five years. We got them to do the master brand and then look at each product line and its benefits and value props, and understand how we speak to them in long form, short form, video, social media and email. Once that was done, we were ready to rock and roll for the next few years.
“We ended up spending five times the budget. It was a tremendous amount of money, and well over what I initially thought the whole project would cost, but I don’t regret it at all.”
- ETWhat did the budgets look like for such a transformational piece of branding?
MHWe ended up spending five times the budget. It was a tremendous amount of money, and well over what I initially thought the whole project would cost, but I don’t regret it at all. In fact I genuinely feel I got better value from the creative work done by Koto than some vendors I’ve spent significantly less with. At any given time, if we’re paying for something and we feel we’re not getting value, we try to terminate the relationship. In this case I wanted to do more, because I feel it’s a very good investment in the long term viability of the company and the different initiatives we’re doing.
- ETAnd how did you keep the project on track, particularly under the pressure of such a significant investment?
MHMeetings, tonnes of check-ins and direct contact. Koto are amazing, I love them, and I’ve even had them come over to my house for dinner. I tell people it was like a dream come true. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better relationship, or a more fun and exciting thing to do. But I want to put in a big caveat: if you want to be successful in this, it’s not about paying them, sitting down with them for a few hours and coming back in three months. That would be a waste of money. Every week, on Sundays, I’d sit there and review the materials in extreme detail and spend a lot of time working with them to get it right. It’s tremendously important and if you don’t do that you’re wasting everyone’s time.
“The style guide is great, but part of the cost of doing branding is that guardianship, and a handover to make sure the execution is flawless.”
- ETDid everything go smoothly post-rebrand, or were there things you might have done differently with hindsight?
MHThe answer is that it was not just the flip of a switch. It’s great to have the brand playbooks, and you walk away thinking it’ll all be great. We retained Koto to do some guardianship work to help us through the implementation, and I’m working with them now to figure out what that looks like on an ongoing basis as we shape our team. I’m very lucky to have had a great relationship with the creative team, where they felt comfortable enough to say to me, ‘what the hell is this?’ or ‘this looks bad, why are they using this font? Why are they putting the header in the centre and not the left? The buttons should look like this.’ The style guide is great, but part of the cost of doing branding is that guardianship, and a handover to make sure the execution is flawless.