An Interview with ZeBrand Founder and CEO, Ryo Kikuchi

ZeBrand Founder and CEO, Ryo Kikuchi

In a series of interviews, we talk to different members of the ZeBrand team to discover what inspires them. In this interview, we talk to Ryo Kikuchi, the founder of ZeBrand about how he started ZeBrand and his plans for the future.

Why did you decide to start ZeBrand?

Create unique value

Growing up in Japan, having the opportunity to attend a prestigious university, then work for a major corporation, all seemed normal to me. When I was a student in a university in the US, I talked to a classmate about his goals. His educational background included an Ivy League university. I was really surprised to hear that his goal was to become a baker. This made me curious about his motivations to study in a great university, alongside some of the world's best talent. My friend told me that anyone could graduate from a good university, work in an investment bank or consulting firm, and make a lot of money, but he just wanted to be honest with himself and find a purpose in life that was unique to him.

In another conversation, my mentor, John Maeda told me that one person could change the world, and I could become one of them if I wanted to.

In my graphic design classes at university, we were often challenged to create work that utilized our own voice. I was amazed by how my classmates used their thinking and creative voice to submit projects that were fun and interesting. As I progressed in my studies, I tried to submit work that I felt reflected my own way of thinking too.

I was inspired by all of this - my baker friend, my mentor, and my classmates - to aspire to change the world by adding value to it in some form. When I was conceptualizing ZeBrand, I felt the need for a platform that would allow people to confidently express themselves.

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Facilitating the creation of other businesses

As I started researching brand design in the US, I noticed an overwhelming need for branding in the startup world. I also realized that many early-stage startups did not have the time, resources, or budget to hire a branding agency. As a former intrapreneur, having gone through similar challenges with building my own devices, I could empathize with how many business owners felt lost as to where to begin. When I created ZeBrand, I knew that one of our missions would be to support startups and small businesses.

ZeBrand uses a proprietary algorithm to generate results based on aggregated branding data inputs, including type of industry, mission(s) and vision(s), and the personality of the company. We assist not only by providing businesses with visual assets to brand themselves efficiently but also by training their mindset to define their brand strategy and vision.

What are the difficulties you have encountered so far?

Pushback against automation

We received feedback from designers, users, and design/branding professionals who objected to the idea of automating the branding process, saying it was impossible. However, as an innovator, such feedback was really valuable to me, and it made me feel that I could create something new by challenging the norm.

ZeBrand creates a new market for those who have not been able to brand themselves properly. It also provides us with a great opportunity to reach out to existing designers and design companies and collaborate with them on projects. We aspire to create an environment where we can work together with members of the design community. I believe that we can build a platform that can coexist with AI, complementing human skills and knowledge.

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What is your vision for ZeBrand?

Delivering branding to all kinds of people

ZeBrand is geared towards startups and SMBs with less than 25 people, so that's where we are focusing at present.

We are also considering an agency connect model that connects users who have received the service, increasing the chance for further collaboration. On many occasions, users who felt apprehensive about using automation tried our platform and then went on to become our allies and supported us, creating a virtuous cycle.

We also envision ZeBrand becoming a platform for teams to use collectively for collaborative brand development as well as maintaining internal alignment on their own mission, vision, and core values.

Ultimately, we want ZeBrand to contribute to a world in which people can express themselves and be recognized for who they are!

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The Founder and CEO of ZeBrand, Ryo Kikuchi, is sitting in the middle of the room.