turned to the firm in 2013 before they’d fully developed their first mattress. Casper’s
modern typography, its soft and familiar one-word name, its focus on the consumer’s
lifestyle, and its conversational approach to service are now globally recognizable and
widely replicated. (Caspercore, as some have called it.)
There are less obvious manifestations of Red Antler’s work, such as Casper’s growing number of retail stores. Red Antler’s brand road maps often include big, ambitious
transitions that unfold over years—such as brick-and-mortar plans for e-commerce
companies whose websites haven’t even gone live. “For every business we’re working
with,” Osborne says, “we’re looking at, does this [brand] stretch? Is it going to work
as the business grows and scales?” And because Red Antler often takes equity in exchange for services, it is invested in its clients’ long-term success. The rewards can be
great: Red Antler won’t reveal its stake in Casper, but the mattress company was last
valued at $750 million.
“Sometimes you do projects, and later you look back and think, What the hell were
we thinking? But Casper has really held up,” says Ben Lerer, founder of Thrillist and
the venture-capital firm Lerer Hippeau, which backed Casper and a number of other
Red Antler companies, including Allbirds and Birchbox. In the world of venture capital,
discussions about brand identity are “ 100 times more important than ever before,”
Lerer says. “When we’re investing in consumer companies, we’re looking for founders
who understand just how absolutely critical brand is.”
What’s in a Name?
How Red Antler shaped the brands of three breakthrough companies
Problem: The former Obama staffers behind the activist podcasting collective (Pod Save America, Pod
Save the People) wanted to relaunch their website
last fall with a bolder brand.
Strategy: “We told them to drop ‘Media’ from their
logo and just go with ‘Crooked,’;” says Heyward.
“What they’re doing is bigger than media.”
Solution: Red Antler developed a refined logo, with a
nod to the American flag in yellow and white stripes,
and colorful icons (e.g., a White House flipped upside
down) that also stand out on Crooked’s “merch.”
Problem: Founder Joshua Wiesman had designed
baby products for other brands. He wanted his own to
stand out for their scientific advantages.
Strategy: Addressing new parents, Smilo needed to
project both warmth and authority, says Heyward.
“We wanted to illustrate the benefits without becoming overwhelming.”
Solution: On Smilo’s e-commerce site, the Red Antler
team paired sophisticated photography with a series
of simple, line-drawn icons indicating when a product
has, say, anti-colic qualities or is BPA-free.
Problem: Before the vertical-farm startup could really scale, it had to get press, chefs, and buyers excited about its new way of growing produce.
Strategy: “This is high-tech produce,” says Heyward,
“but it has to feel palatable and appealing.”
Solution: The lettuce-leaf logo and typography Red
Antler developed has an organic quality, but is still
clean and precise, says Heyward. The website includes a robust section on the science of vertical
farming—accompanied by hand-drawn, watercolor-style illustrations.
And so Red Antler has become
a kind of gatekeeper for entrepreneurs, who seek it out for pre-seed
consultations and introductions
to investors. The firm often finds
itself in the position of backing
one entrant over others in the same
category. Occasionally, Red Antler
even puts money into a brand itself, as it did with the new online
butcher Porter Road. But as direct-to-consumer startups scramble to
differentiate themselves, brand
development can sometimes outpace product innovation. Red Antler
worked on Maria Sharapova’s high-end candy company, Sugarpova,
in 2012. Sophisticated packaging
notwithstanding, the company’s
sweets haven’t taken off with the
same velocity as lux-gummy pioneer Sugarfina.
Sometimes the brand itself
is the innovation. Last year, Red
Antler helped launch Brandless, a
direct-to-consumer company that
sells high-quality goods (dish-
washing detergent, shampoo,
cereal, and more) for $3 an item.
For Brandless cofounder Tina
Sharkey, the dilemma was how to
craft a brand that is alluring and
stokes consumers’ appetites while
stripping it of predetermined asso-
ciations. “It’s not generic, it’s brand-
less, which stands for something
bigger,” says Sharkey, who devel-
oped the idea while she was CEO
of the startup consultancy Sherpa
Foundry. Early on, she connected
with Red Antler. “I’ve always set
out to meet the extraordinary pit
crews,” she says, “the people work-
ing with entrepreneurs and giving
them an unfair advantage.”
Red Antler responded with
something of a mission state-
ment—“Life, Liberty, and the
Pursuit of Fairly Priced Every-
thing”—and created the company’s
signature look. Each product is
dressed in a single color and given
a straightforward description.
From the front, the only indication
of the company is a simple trade-
mark symbol, refashioned—by
Endres’s light touch—into a logo.
“Simon and I laughed,” Sharkey
says. “This is like Zen and the art