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Nice Brands Finish First

Launching a new brand in a pandemic might sound like a recipe for disaster. This is the story of how thoughtful brand strategy and precise positioning helped one tiny start-up defy the odds in a major way.

In late 2020, AtticSalt had the pleasure of helping a tiny ed-tech startup launch into the fastest-growing company in their category, surpassing a number of well-known industry giants. Even more impressive, they exclusively serve K12 school districts – an industry among the hardest hit by the global pandemic.

Now let’s rewind. This story begins with startup founders Larry Foxx and Mike Sheldon, two veterans of the education software industry. 

Any education professional can attest that the industry’s technology standards and marketing practices leave a lot to be desired. Red tape and corporate politics are commonplace, an unfortunate death sentence for creativity and innovation. 

But Larry and Mike wouldn’t let anything smother their spark. They were on a mission to simplify the lives of education professionals. That meant breaking free from the establishment to build something of true value, finally giving their audience what they’ve been longing for. 


The CCO stands for Chief Customer Officer, a humble title for the co-founder of a successful organization. This title is one of many ways Red Rover lives out its Customer First and Servant Leadership values, two of the four founding values uncovered in our time together. Combined with Integrity, and Stewardship, these four principles would soon become the brand’s guiding light.

After a year of perfecting their product, it was finally ready to go to market. Only one question remained. How are we going to show the education community we are completely different from the status quo they’ve come to know, that we’re genuinely invested in making their lives easier?  

A few in-house branding attempts had left them with an incomplete picture of their future brand. Larry and Mike knew they were outside their realm of expertise – they needed a branding partner. Their search led them all the way from Philadephia, right to our doorstep.

The click between our teams was instant. We were compelled by their extraordinary vision and resonated with their desire to create a brand that cuts through the mediocrity of their vertical. Just like that, the startup (formerly Edlumin) became our partner.

Educators Welcome

We began with our discovery phase, a signature workshop series we call Brand Seasoning. During our 3-day immersion, we distilled a variety of critical insights about the brand’s essence – aka, the heartbeat, or higher purpose, of the brand. 

It didn’t take long to uncover Red Rover’s purpose – to serve educators with the same passionate selflessness educators pour into their communities. Their humility and servitude were abundantly clear in every interaction with the team, clearly woven into the fabric of the brand. After all, how many companies can say they have a Chief Customer Officer?

We quickly realized how much this approach differed from their industry’s current standard. Widespread acceptance of “good enough” and a deep-seated fear of change kept anyone from venturing outside the box, even if it was for the better. Having spent decades immersed in the industry themselves, Larry and Mike were not entirely immune to this fear. It was outshined, however, by their conviction that educators deserved a system built around them. From conviction came courage.

Say Hello to Red Rover.

Red Rover is an absence management platform that makes it easier than ever for schools to identify teacher absences and place substitutes through a single platform. Red Rover built their entire software experience around delighting the consumer and challenged us to create a brand that did the same. 

A Human Approach to HR

Step one in the journey toward consumer delight? Treating the user as a person. After all, shouldn’t a human resources platform feel human? Contrary to what their industry believed, Red Rover had a hunch that professionalism didn’t have to come at the cost of personality. They couldn’t have been more right. As years of building disruptive brands have taught us, people enjoy doing business with real people, especially people they like! After three days of soaking up the bold spirit and “nice guy” attitude that defined Red Rover, the foundation for their brand personality couldn’t have been clearer. And boy, were we excited.

Playfulness in Practice

A further deviation from the corporate norm (and a testament to their boldness), Larry and Mike trusted us to facilitate an exploration that led to an evocative name that spoke to their values of connection and support. Their former name, Edlumin, was on par with the more literal naming styles of their competitors, but they weren’t going for on par. Red Rover broke the mold. Similar to the premise of the game, Red Rover software connects districts with a supportive team, allowing them to “invite qualified substitutes on over” to fill an absence. Beyond its functional symbolism, the name speaks to the brand’s K12 roots, playfulness, and innocence – a vehicle for a greater story.

This good-natured spirit carries through in every aspect of their brand’s verbal identity, giving a distinctive warmth to their brand’s voice and tone that their category hadn’t seen before. We channeled the same boldness and vibrance in the brand’s visual identity for a visual system that leaned more neighborly than corporate. A cohesive, modern brand system helped to position them as the industry experts, a friendly nudge to their competitors to rethink what professionalism really looks like.

As a result, the brand launched with a couple of districts and grew to 260 partners in 30 days flat, a speed of growth that crushed the category record. Over a year later Red Rover is still steadily gaining market share, a welcome new friend for districts that were tired of being bullied by the big guys. 

With a little nudge in the disruptive direction from the folks at AtticSalt, Red Rover was able to build an authentic brand that exemplified their original mission and feel-good fundamental values. We’re proud to have taken part in such a meaningful project with an incredible, audacious team. Disrupting another industry’s status quo was the cherry on top.

Want to see Red Rover come to life? Check out the case study here.

By Lauren Carr-Gasso Aug 26, 2021
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