Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in branding and marketing but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jason Hall, Founder of Vespertine Agency, located in San Francisco, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Hello! I run a naming agency called Vespertine. We develop brand names for companies, products, services, etc. I've been running large naming programs for 15+ years and have seen what works and what doesn't. I thought I could make the experience more enjoyable and effortless, so I started an agency in 2021. We specialize in making a name that is ownable, memorable, and elegant. The best part of naming is discovering worlds you had no idea existed. I've learned about driverless cars, geothermal energy, genomic mapping, dog food, seasonal onions, chocolate bars, aerial wind turbines, molecular beverage printers, the Grammys, etc.
Our latest names are:
- Humor Me – Comedy brand for HBO
- Stellar Elements – Eight agencies falling under one brand for Amdocs
- This Fool – Original comedy series for Hulu/Disney
- Contexa – Security brand for VMware
I've worked with pretty much every major client (Fortune 100, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Visa, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, Levi's, P&G, Samsung, Verizon, etc.) across every industry (technology, healthcare, financial services, entertainment, etc.). The specific clients range from product and marketing people all the way up to the CEO.
Tell us about yourself
I have a somewhat unusual trajectory in this profession, but it oddly suits my personality. I worked in the music industry for 11 years at a notable independent record label. When people leave the music industry, they often end up at advertising or branding agencies. I happened to land at the most well-known naming agency because they took chances on people with unorthodox backgrounds. I didn't even know that naming existed or was a profession. To this day, people do not know this is a job, and I have to constantly explain. People assume it's just coming up with words, but it's actually navigating huge branding programs that have significant financial implications and solving problems with language. I went on to work at Goodby Silverstein and then helped establish the naming department at a major branding agency as the global creative lead of naming. I developed the philosophy on how to make names and trained the entire company.
What first got me started was simply the idea of doing naming in a different way, from the actual making of the names to how the projects are run. I make names in a very counter-intuitive way. Your agency shouldn't be a synonym finder. The client needs new ideas, and they need them fast. I was always very concerned with the secret methods of making a new idea, but there's nothing really proprietary about that. What is proprietary is actually sitting down and doing it for hours and hours and recognizing what will work in the real world. I make thousands and thousands of names for every project.
What makes me get up every day is that the "motivation" for "why you work" completely changes when running your own business. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. When you work for someone else, you have a different motivation, whether that's prestige, making money, internal politics, etc. When you work for yourself, every moment counts, and it becomes a little daily challenge to make it happen. I'm more of a "maker," and this agency has forced me to learn how to run a business. At past jobs, I would get burned out working too much. That feeling doesn't exist anymore. Yes, I get tired, but I work WAY more now because it matters, and I like it.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I would say the confidence to be completely on my own and make this work for two years straight. It's very daunting to have this constant pressure of keeping the agency healthy and vibrant, but I would never go back to the old way unless it was absolutely necessary.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Networking and finding new business. There is so much work out there, but connecting to that work is difficult. I wish I had networked earlier in my career, but again, the motivation was completely different at that time. I'm a naturally introverted person, but now I enjoy trying to meet as many people as possible. There are so many talented individuals out there in the same boat. I'm always referring colleagues to opportunities. Educating people on naming and the importance of a strong, unique brand is also a perpetual challenge, but that is more specific to my industry. Helping clients understand the value of the most visible, lasting piece of IP (the name) is very important.
I'm really trying to find a way to work with more startups. I see these companies launch every day through different incubators/VCs, and I would say that well over half the names are either not available from a trademark standpoint or not distinct enough. It's very surprising when I see massive dollars dedicated to a company with an underwhelming name that happens to be the name of 20 other companies in their space. Understanding trademark law is very difficult for clients, but that's expected. I always tell people, "Yes, you can USE that word, but owning it and standing out is different, so let's try something new."
I work in the hotbed of technology, and the focus is on innovation and disruption, so it stands to reason that you would want a name that clearly signals your dedication, intention, professionalism, and how you are unique. I try to help clients understand how they can be different and how that's more effective. We don't name trends because trends go away. I also realize that startups aren't necessarily focused on brand at this time because they are simply trying to make their big idea pop. However, it will be far more expensive, time-consuming, and painful if they put this off.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Network and meet people – I can't stress this enough. It's simply a law of averages. The more people you meet, the more beneficial collisions. You don't have to be an extrovert. You just have to play the role of the extrovert during this process.
- Be authentically yourself – I used to suppress aspects of my personality at previous companies in order to fit in. I've found that what you were suppressing was actually what people like the most because they can feel your authenticity. I also play in an active band, and I always tried to hide it from my professional life. People eventually found out, and they always ask about it. I finally gave in and realized it's ok to share because it's authentic.
- Everything should be incredibly simple and easy – Simple contracts (one page), simple decks, simple language, etc. The sophistication is in the simplicity, but you actually have to do it.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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