Run Client Run: Stories from a 17-year relationship

There's nothing wrong with a one-time fling. It can be fun and fulfilling -- up to a point.

But in my experience, there's no substitute for the deeply satisfying connection when two people are committed to each other for the long run.

I'm talking, of course, about client relationships.

I've been lucky enough to have a relationship with one particular client for over 17 years. Last week, this client -- who has also become a good friend -- launched another business that I named.

I wanted to honor and thank my client by sharing our stories -- and the 11 brand names we've created. I'll also describe my thinking at the moment I named his latest venture, Run Brain Run.

In 1992, I applied for the position of Creative Services Manager at Aladdin Systems, a small software company that specialized in utilities for the Mac. David Schargel was Aladdin's  president and in charge of marketing  -- as all company presidents should be.

Working for a Macintosh software company would be dreamy. I had been an Apple fanboy ever since my Dad got an Apple II+ when I was 12. Aladdin Systems was known for StuffIt, the Mac's de facto compression standard; working for a standard-bearer like Aladdin would almost be like working for Apple. Kinda. Sorta. OK not really. But still....

After David hired me, he said my effusive cover letter got his attention. As I recall, I gushed "I eat, sleep, dream, and drool Macintosh". It sure ain't "bleed six colors" but seemed to do the trick.

And just this week -- 17 years after he first interviewed me -- David revealed the exchange that actually got me hired:
By far, my most memorable moment during your hiring was when I asked you, "Do you drink so much coffee that you sometimes start to shake?"

You did not hesitate for a split-second and said, "Is that going to be a problem?"
Not my clever cover letter. Not my creative chops. Not my enthusiasm. It was my predilection for caffeine that really won him over. And just maybe, he had a hunch that I was -- thanks to my beverage of choice -- quick on my feet. Jittery, but quick.

David and I shared an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny polka dot of an office. During the months we worked in close quarters, I learned a hell of a lot about real-world sales, marketing and customer service. He was a true mentor who also showed me how perfect a boss could be. To this day, I envy his ability to manage people, keep them happy, and help them perform at their best.

The first name I created at Aladdin was SITcomm, easy-to-use telecommunications terminal software that incorporated StuffIt compression.

SITcomm ostensibly stood for Simply Intuitive Telecommunications, but savvy users would spot the StuffIt file extension -- .sit -- built into the moniker. Like the company behind it, the SITcomm name was fun and breezy. Easy for online newbies, but with enough insider-appeal to appease the early-adopter, unduly-influencing, geekier-than-thou critics at BMUG.

As Aladdin Systems' Creative Services Manager, I wore a lot of hats during my three-and-a-half years: copywriter, production artist, designer, ad agency liaison, product marketing lead, product manager, spokesman, product demo guy. I had been there a year or two when David asked me to design a new corporate identity for Aladdin Systems. It would be my first-ever CI project.

The inherent difficulty of designing a logo was made more difficult by the parameters set by the company's senior management team:
  • It had to be an A
  • It had to include a lamp

This is the logo I designed for Aladdin:

To all the brilliant Landor designers I've worked with: Go ahead. Laugh away. Get it out of your system. Hopefully someday -- maaaybe -- I can recoup some of your respect.

David has always been an entrepreneur. He left Aladdin (which he co-founded with Jonathan Kahn, another longstanding client who deserves his own future post) and went into the mobile software business. This was back when Palm Pilot was the name in the PDA category and hadn't yet been shot down by Pilot Pen Corporation.

David wanted his new company name to unequivocally suggest "portable". I came up with Aportis. Probably not my best work.

Aportis' flagship app would be a hierarchical to-do manager and idea organizer. It, too, needed a name.

I remember the moment I came up with Brainforest: I was riffing on the word "brain". I liked its sound, brevity, and evocativeness. "Brain" was relevant and productive -- a good working part. I thought of compound words that included the word (like Brainstem), but also compounds that included a rhyme of "brain".

My thought stream in schematic:

Brainforest would serve as more than a name. It became the organizing principle -- the frame -- for the product. Brainforest stores users' content in hierarchical trees composed of branches and leaves. Neat.

David eventually got out of the software biz and sold Brainforest to Ultrasoft. Lo these years later -- at least a decade -- Brainforest is still available for download.

Our next collaboration would be for something completely different: A Portland walking tour company. After a lifetime of working in the digital realm, David was ready to go analog.

He adopted Portland Walking Tours as the DBA. That name's David's creation and to my surprise it's served him well. Standing out is a tall order for a name so descriptive. But it goes to show that there's more to a company's success than just its name. With an affable, business-savvy founder, even names like Portland Walking Tours -- or Microsoft -- can thrive.

David adopted these names I developed for specific Portland Walking Tours:
  • Epicurean Excursion - An upscale tour for foodies
  • Beyond Bizarre - Explore spooky, dark and paranormal locales (mostly for adults but also for families with kids)
  • Wokabout - A tour of Portland's Chinatown
Walking tours of Portland were just part of David's bigger vision: To create a company where "resident experts" could share their love of a place with travelers and citizens. I was asked to help name that company, too.

The new enterprise would include, but not be limited to, Portland Walking Tours. As a holding company it needed a flexible name. David asked for something business-like, since this would be a business-to-business business.

David liked Hometown Advantage when I presented it. Then, upon hearing that I registered, he positively loved it. As names go, it's a straight shooter. No one's getting fired for hiring a company with that name.

A year later, David approached me with a new challenge: Name an urban "game" company that would be hired for team-building "or just plain fun".

Several name objectives emerged from our early discussions:
  • It should support the key brand idea of "fun with a purpose"
  • It should not include words like "go", "adventure" or "scavenger"
  • It should appeal to corporate team leaders
  • It should appeal to residents
  • It shouldn't sound too athletic
  • It should accommodate many different types of team games and hunts in many different places
I had a blast brainstorming. These themes surfaced organically during the creative process:
  • Hunt/search
  • Games/puzzles/clues
  • Mind/brain/head
  • Groups/teams
  • Out and about
  • Race/quick
When I create names, I go deep then move laterally. Each direction is individually explored as a foundational list of relevant words, word parts and phrases accumulate. After reaching a critical mass of ideas for each theme, I cross-pollinate by combining words from the different categories.

Overlaid on that creative technique, I'll visualize myself using -- and loving -- my client's product. I put myself in an imagined moment where I'm totally absorbed and excited by the sheer awesomeness of what I'm naming. During that time, I believe the make-believe. The feelings, images, and words inspired by my fleeting zeal are fuel for names.

As I thought about David's new game company, I pictured myself in a team on a hunt. We're huddled around a notepad and puzzling through a clue. People are shouting out ideas. I feel the pressure to solve the problem before our opponents. The urgency is palpable, even though it's imagined: "Hurry! Hurry!" "Think faster!"

"Run, brain, run!"


I knew Run Brain Run was a keeper. Just three words capture the quintessential customer scenario, a snapshot of reality. Run Brain Run gives people the feeling they are listening in to a heated contest that's always in progress. A moment of visceral excitement is frozen in time, like a blink that never ends.

Run Brain Run has a distinctive yet natural structure. Very few names repeat its beginning at its end, a rhetorical device called epanalepsis. The only two examples I've found are a boy's sportswear label called No Billy No and the 1960's BBC satire, That Was the Week That Was. If you know of other epanaleptic brands, please do share.

David shared my enthusiasm for Run Brain Run. I'm so glad he ran with it.

Hat tip to Jon Supnick who designed the logo with a wit befitting the name:

Two of the games offered by Run Brain Run I also named:

David, congratulations on your new company.

Thank you for being such a great client.

Long may you run.

- Anth