Three Startup Branding Failures And The Lessons Learned

One of the most difficult branding exercises and the one that requires the most help from a branding and design agency is a startup.

Startup businesses begin with a brave new idea, potentially some starting capital and not a lot else. It is not surprising, therefore, that one in five new businesses fail within their first year.

Because startups often have very little time to hit the ground running and make a first impression, it makes clear, effective and eye-catching branding exceptionally important.

However, the positive aspect of startup culture is that every failure has a lesson to teach, and here are three of the most important lessons to learn.


The downfall of the ‘quick bites’ content distributor Quibi is a fascinating story, albeit one that is often ascribed simply to timing.

Founded by former Disney and Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and having as much as $1.8bn in the bank, Quibi’s aim to bring high-quality short-form content to young professionals on the move should have, on paper at least, been a slam dunk.

Whilst its launch window of April 2020 was not exactly ideal given that most of their audience was not commuting very much at the time, the service has far more brand issues than timing.

Its initial mobile-only approach limited its accessibility, especially since an app for some smart TVs did not emerge until days before the company announced it was shutting down.

This was far from the only problem, however; they misjudged the types of programming that would appeal to their younger target audience, spent far too much on advertising and the focus was not on their content but their means of distribution.

The lesson here is to know your target market and market accordingly.


Much like Quibi, whilst Juicero’s ultimate end was predicated on one PR disaster, the luxury cold-press juicer company was already on shaky ground.

The Juicero press cost $700 initially and required a Wi-Fi connection, which whilst allegedly fitted for liability reasons, led to early press questions about the need for a cold press to connect to the internet and thus the machine could only press specially prepared packets.

However, it turned out that the packets could be squeezed by hand and the expensive, overdesigned press was useless.

The lesson here is to avoid the perils of overdesign and overcharging, as this creates particular expectations in the mind of the customer.


Whilst there have been rumours of a comeback, the cinema ticket subscription service MoviePass highlights in one story just how many branding issues you can have.

The first problem was that cinema chains did not want to take part, which meant that subsidised tickets, the only way MoviePass could have made money, simply were not an option.

The system initially cost $50 per month in many markets, which did mean that the sustainability issue was masked by the sheer cost of the service, with users who only occasionally used the service paying for people who watched films regularly.

However, in 2017, the model changed dramatically from $50 per month to just $10, cheaper than the price of two tickets at the time.

The aim was to get leverage and essentially force cinema chains to support them, but this backfired tremendously and led to the company losing money because they were more popular.

Their way to fix this was to lie, deceive and restrict access to their most loyal supporters, through ‘audit’ processes that affected the most active users, resetting the passwords of others and simply breaking the service for people who saw more than three films in a month.

This led to a legal complaint by the Federal Trade Commission and the company closed in 2019.