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Super effective business moves from fake Pokémon startups

AP Photo/Richard Drew
Pokémon Branding is a way to keep the fun in design for Sebastiaan de With.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Pikachu as a music synthesizer manufacturer? Oddish as an organic seed company?

The premise may be fake, but the numbers are real. Within a month of its launch, Pokémon Branding has garnered over 400,000 unique visits, according to its creator, Dutch interface designer Sebastiaan de With. “I woke up one morning and was surprised to find so many people had visited my website. I really had no idea this would get shared so much around the web,” de With tells Quartz.

Based on the made-up thesis he calls the “Pokémon Corporate Personhood Act of 2015,” the project recasts characters from the popular Japanese video game series as individual companies, based on each character’s persona.

De With, who lives in San Francisco, California, conceived of the project primarily as graphic play—a way to indulge his Pokémon proclivity and free his hand when not working on design commissions for companies such as Apple, Sony, HP, and Mozilla. ”I’ve found design work is just a lot more enjoyable if you keep doing things for fun,” says de With.

Sebastiaan de With / Pictogram

One need not be well-versed in the parlance of Pokémon to appreciate de With’s doodling. And although his work has been admired by the gaming and design communities, it’s not just the graphics that delight.

For entrepreneurs, de With’s Pokémon project can serve as a spot-on distillation of some business essentials. Here are four super effective moves to boost any emerging operation:

Launch your company with robust visual branding

Even before the office lease has been signed, having assets like a well-designed logo and a website establishes your credibility for customers and investors. Inspired by the peppy tuber-shaped Pokémon, de Witt presents Oddish with a memorable brand mark and an e-commerce site to immediately establish the organic farmer collective’s online presence.

“Oddish has always been a fun favorite of mine—cheerful, young, green,” de With says. “It was great to explore various directions and try to get my own feelings of these Pokémon nailed, in a very simple set of shapes.”

Leverage your core competency

The most resilient operations capitalize on the talents, networks, and super-powers of their founders. For Ditto, a shady Pokémon who can morph into its opponent’s shape, de With matches the character’s nefariousness with the operation’s placement as an “enigmatic company said to be powering a manufacturing and smuggling network of foreign counterfeit products.”

“I thought it would be funny to tie it to real-life crime,” he explains. “Counterfeiting is a big issue nowadays with shipments being intercepted from China and other countries full of counterfeit goods, so I wrote that into its (totally fictitious) company synopsis.”

Clarify your differentiated offering

State what your business offers in clear, vivid language, and keep the customer in mind. Electrabuzz’s positioning statement succinctly describes itself as ”a power company that provides energy and power services in the greater Kanto region”—and the electric plug cleverly hidden in the logo provides a memorable symbol of those services.

“I put the most time into this one,” de With says. “I sketched out at least 20 different concepts and eventually landed with this design where the ‘E’ was a plug. It’s actually ‘Electabuzz’ in Pokémon but ‘Electrabuzz’ has a nice ring to it.”

Eliminate what’s not working

Ditch any half-baked ideas that may undermine the quality of your entire operation. A concept de With started sketching for Squirtle’s logo didn’t make the cut, so he moved on, saving his work in a sketchbook to inform future projects.

“I didn’t really explore this beyond a few quick sketches,” says de With. “At some point you gotta call it quits and move on to other fun new side projects.”

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