Design experts agree that a great brand cannot be automated. Good design requires an aesthetic eye and a discerning sensibility. It’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.
But, what technology can do is allow us to speed up and automate the parts of the design and branding process that are more tedious — replicating brand assets for marketing campaigns, social media posts, landing pages and all the other parts of a brand’s digital presence. That’s what took up so much of former non-profit communications manager Francis Tao‘s time.
“I couldn’t even fit all the needs I had into the staffing hours I could elicit,” explains Tao. His supervisor encouraged him to talk to people in similar roles at large for-profit enterprises, hoping they had the answer figured out. They didn’t.
“These people at billion-dollar companies were asking me how we did it,” says Tao. “That’s when I knew this was really a problem.”
That pain point is the genesis of SAWA, Tao’s three-year-old startup currently in the Techstars Atlanta accelerator cohort. SAWA, which means “No worries” in Swahili, is an intelligent graphic design platform that learns your brand from assets you upload, such as fonts, logos and color palette, and “brand personality” questions — how well descriptors like “formal”, “funny” or “modern” encapsulate your brand.
Once you create your brand profile, the platform can automatically generate any number of marketing assets including social media posts, landing page and website visuals, digital ads, email campaigns, even images specifically sized for crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo or GoFundMe.
“What really sets us apart is the ability to understand your brand better than anyone else,” explains Tao, who now serves as CEO of the mostly-bootstrapped startup. He acquired SAWA’s first customers in the years after his time at the non-profit, while also working as a for-hire marketing consultant. He would put his clients’ work through the platform as test subjects — and they began to offer to pay for it.
In 2017 Tao went all-in on the startup, entering the Cincinnati-based Ocean Accelerator and bringing in his first technical hires, whom he found on an on-demand work website. They projected that the intelligent automation platform would take about nine months to build. It took three, and those developers are now full-time SAWA employees.
Following Ocean, Tao applied for and was accepted into the Techstars Atlanta program, which comes with three months of education, connections to investors and $120,000. They’re raising an additional pre-seed funding round of $100,000, but already are post-revenue with 35 paying company clients on the platform.
Tao says in its current iteration, one marketing manager at a client company created 36 new marketing campaigns in 30 days, for the cost of about an hour’s worth of a graphic designer’s time. And the platform will be even more robust and intelligent upon the release of what the team calls the SAWA intelligent engine, projected to be finished in Q3.
“The goal is to keep your brand as a living, organic organism,” shares Tao. He says that, though most users of the platform will be marketers and communications people, the real heart of the startup is helping the overworked designer “protect the beautiful brands they have created.”
“They want to be dress designers, not dress makers,” says Tao.
To grow their client base, Tao is also focused on hiring — current needs are a growth marketer and revenue lead, along with additional technical employees.
SAWA, along with nine other Techstars Atlanta startups, will pitch at Demo Day on October 15.