The Importance of Clarity


The Importance of Clarity

I still have "the napkin," that piece of paper on which I first jotted down the idea that would become FaxWatch, Inc. I was twenty-seven years old at the time, in the company of a good friend, having a old beer. I sketched out with broad strokes what I dreamed was possible in a company—what I knew was possible. I had been truly inspired, as was my friend, who would commit his time and energy to helping me get the company off the ground. Several years later, however, I found myself searching for that inspiration. I had lost the zeal, the sense of mission that once had moved me.

Those years had been successful, to be sure. After weathering some early challenges, FaxWatch started growing and didn't stop. We had to find larger and larger offices. The company consistently turned a profit and stayed out of debt, all without the help of outside investors. We were proud to be named twice to the Inc. 500 list of America's fastest-growing private companies.

But despite all this, I found myself missing the forest for the trees. I had thrown myself heart and soul into making FaxWatch a success, and indeed it was. But in working frenetically to grow the company, I lost sight of why I started it in the first place. I let myself become consumed, forgetting to take care of my relationships and my health, both mental and physical. It's a trap that many entrepreneurs fall into—instead of running the business, I was letting it run me. About that time I'd begun reading Michael Gerber's infamous manifesto on entrepreneurship, The E-Myth Revisited. His words hit home:

You're consumed by the business and the possibility of losing it. And so you put everything you have into it. And, for whatever reason, you manage to keep it going. Day after day, fighting the same battles, in exactly the same way you did before. You never change. Night after night, you go home to unwind, only to wind up tighter in anticipation of tomorrow. You're like a twelve-cylinder engine working on one cylinder, pumping away, trying with everything you've got to produce twelve cylinders' worth of results. But finally, and inevitably, there's nothing left. Something has to give, and that something is you.[1]

Realizing that something had to change, I took stock of my life. I did a lot of writing and reflecting; I read voraciously, enlisting the help of a wide variety of authors and thinkers; I attended seminars and workshops. Again and again, one word continued to surface: integrity—the alignment of beliefs and actions, anchored in what's right.

So I looked beyond the choices I was making and examined what it was I wanted to stand for. It was hard and often-times frustrating work. However, once I defined my core principles, I then had a meaningful measuring stick against which to compare my choices. From this position of understanding and ownership, I began to make amends for the relationships I'd damaged. I could become truly accountable and honor the trust of the important people in my life. I committed fully to a new way of doing things.

Perhaps it was coincidence, but this personal process happened to dovetail with a change at FaxWatch. As we entered a new century, I was faced with a dilemma: our archaic company name. When I started the company in 1994, e-mail as we know it was still in its infancy. We delivered our publications to readers' desktops by fax—hence the name, FaxWatch.

As our reputation for quality spread, "FaxWatch" became synonymous with our information services. Even though each of our publications has its own title, readers would talk about starting their workday with "my FaxWatch." Furthermore, we had developed name recognition among the corporations with whom we partnered. It's the kind of brand equity that advertising dollars can't buy. The problem was that the name FaxWatch in and of itself was in danger of becoming something of a liability as well.

The Internet had changed how people wanted to receive information. Despite the fact that customers recognized the FaxWatch name and associated it with timely, high-quality information, they also associated it with fax delivery. While we expanded our services to include content for corporate intranets and e-newsletters, customers didn't think to call us because these capabilities weren't part of our name.

So, in the fall of 2001, I hired a branding agency to help reposition FaxWatch. With the help of my employees, we ended up with hundreds of potential new names. I'll admit that the naming process became something of an obsession for me; I thought I could find that one perfect name, that one word or phrase that would encompass all the different aspects of our business. I finally narrowed the list down to ten, including such candidates as Triple Helix and Stratamedica. I wasn't satisfied. I was on a quest for the Holy Grail of corporate monikers, the be-all and end-all.

And then something interesting happened. I discovered that developing a new "image" for our company went beyond choosing the ultimate name or the coolest logo. Much like my own personal process, it meant going deeper and examining just what we wanted to stand for going forward. It meant achieving clarity. I looked around at my company and realized that we were at a critical juncture, just like I myself had been a short time before.

Like all companies, we had encountered tests of integrity since the day we opened our doors. In the early days, we faced these tests as the small, tight unit we were. But now, as I looked around and counted an ever-growing number of faces, I worried about how to pass along those principles, how to make them live in a company that was rapidly becoming not so small. Indeed, it was even a question of how well everyone in the company, even at our current size, truly understood what it was all about.

So the process of "rebranding" was truly an education, both for me and for my employees. Our branding agency interviewed people both inside the company and out: production staff, writers, salespeople, customers. No leading questions, just an honest analysis of how they perceived what we did, how we did it, and why. Armed with the results, we were able to identify areas of confusion among customers and make a clear statement about who we are.

And our name? Turns out the answer had been in front of me all along. Even though "FaxWatch, Inc." reflected our pre-Internet beginnings, that alone wasn't worth throwing away so much hard-won brand equity—or, on a more personal level, for losing the history behind the name. So we chose a new identity that built on that heritage while bringing our company into the twenty-first century. We introduced our new name—FWI—emblazoned on a fiery red logo, confident and clear about what stood behind it.

[1]Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 57.