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Rebranding to Wanderly
Plus making mistakes and a progress update
Note: In the spirit of being vulnerable, I’m sharing something that is challenging to talk about: making mistakes. It’s hard to talk about, but I think it’s better to talk about it and learn than to shy away.
TL;DR - I’m rebranding Anansi → Wanderly. Read this next section as to why, or skip to the progress update down below.
When you first start a project, you need a name. It’s almost always meant to be temporary, but you do need a name: You need something to call your code repository, your folders, or something better than “that thing I’m working on” when you are chatting at the dinner table with your family.
When I started Anansi, I probably spent an hour brainstorming temporary names. When Anansi came up, it just felt like it worked for a lot of reasons:
I like the mythology of Anansi, a trickster and storytelling deity (more on that later)
I liked the idea of incorporating representation; rather than the Greek / Norse gods that get a lot of play, I was hoping that highlighting an African god would encourage awareness of other mythologies.
And apparently, I like anthropomorphizing Arthropods (e.g., like the other project I founded: Grasshopper).
I named some folders, I made a mascot and moved on. I started to get positive feedback from early users that kids really loved the spider mascot. I was like, “Hey, maybe I’m onto something here. Maybe Anansi might actually work as a name.” Confirmation bias is tricky like that.
As a mixed-race woman in tech, I’ve been steeped in the conversation about diversity and equity for a while. Often I was the only woman in the room, and being mixed race is pretty rare in my generation. Grasshopper was built to close the access gap to coding education, and inclusivity was always a top priority. But while I’m not entirely ignorant, I’m not an expert. I know enough to get myself in trouble. As such, I have blindspots, and this time, I didn’t get it right.
What I failed to examine was the deeper meaning behind the Anansi myth. As I started to share Anansi more broadly, I got some negative comments on my social media ads. I could have brushed it off and ignored it (they were mostly accusatory and not educational), but I felt mortified that I might be doing something counter to my personal values of equity and inclusion. I decided to start asking questions. I should have asked sooner.
In my childhood, I was told myths about Greek, Roman, and Norse gods. These gods felt immutable and larger-than-life. Their names were emblazoned on brands like Nike, Ajax, and Hermes. The commodification of these gods wasn’t even a blip on my radar, since it’s so commonplace. When I first encountered Anansi in pop culture, he was alongside a cast of deities in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and I initially put him in the same group of gods I was already familiar with. But Anansi does not follow the same path, and if I would have been more curious, I would have known to dig deeper.
The god Anansi, of the Akan religion of West Africa (in an area that is modern-day Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire), is a creator, a trickster, and a storyteller. If you’re curious, you can read some Anansi stories here. The folklore of Anansi started in West Africa but came with enslaved Africans to the Americas.
During these years of enslavement, Anansi transformed. Instead of a spider, he appeared more in his human form, his trickster nature became linked to survival and resistance, and his behaviors (while usually quite physical) became more violent. If you’re curious, there are some awesome academic resources that detail this transformation: a book called Anansi’s Journey: A Story of Jamaican Cultural Resistance by Emily Zobel Marshall and a shorter senior project by Sage Swaby called “Radical Folk Heroes: Anansi & Br’er Rabbit’s West African Origins & Their Forced Pilgrimages”, infused with personal anecdotes.
As I read these texts, my stomach started to drop. I realized I couldn’t just pick the version of Anansi that was convenient (i.e., a named spider that tells stories). I worried that doing so would contribute to the erasure and commodification of the role Anansi played in resistance to slavery and his role for generations of enslaved people and their descendants. I couldn’t just raise awareness of Anansi’s mythology casually. If I wanted to use the name, it would have to be *all* of Anansi.
This responsibility is one I don’t feel equipped to carry. I’m not sure I have the expertise to keep explaining the deep meaning of Anansi to the casual internet user. I also don’t think my children’s story app is the right place to do this work. So I’m rebranding and apologizing. I’m sincerely hoping I didn’t cause harm, but if I did, I’m sorry for that.
As of today, I’ll be rebranding to Wanderly. The name tips its hat to the J.R.R. Tolkien quote “Not all those who wander are lost”, and speaks to the ethos of what I’m trying to build: A magical space for children to explore their imaginations, and that fosters curiosity and exploration through story. I also think it’ll be easier for word of mouth. I’ll also be keeping the spider character (since kids resonated with it), but renaming it to Webster (like a spider web and a nod to the dictionary).
It’s taken a lot of time and effort, but I feel much better about my branding. I also could have chosen only justify this rebrand with a more obvious and banal reason (e.g., many people struggle with the pronunciation and spelling because of the lack of awareness of Anansi, and my original URL isn’t great), but I wanted to honor the name that got me this far, be clear about the “why now” for this rebrand, and acknowledge the mistakes one can make when working by yourself.
Many thanks to a friend who answered many of my questions with patience, kindness, and honesty. And here’s an invitation to y’all that if you ever have feedback for me, I’d like to hear it. It's impossible to know everything, but it's always possible to grow, learn and change.
In addition to the rebranding, I’ve been learning a lot in the last month or so about customer acquisition. I started running some Facebook and Instagram ads (one video and one with images). I quickly realized that I was losing a lot of user signups with my waitlist strategy. I dropped it and revamped my onboarding flow, and went from 1 user creating a story → 50 users creating a story in the same period of time/money.
My eldest also started her first week of Kindergarten. I got the advice to create a custom story for her with her teacher’s name, and couldn’t help but make a new story type. I’ve gotten some sweet reactions from folks since launching. My favorite one:
Now that I have a predictable way to acquire new users, I’m going to turn my attention to retention, which includes improving and expanding Wanderly’s story engine (the fun stuff). Onwards and upwards. 🙂
Beyond the links shared above, here’re a couple more things:
The Hard Fork podcast interview with the Anthropic CEO, which I think is a really interesting primer into the ethics of LLM safety (plus a review of Deep Fake Love 👀)
Honestly, this is probably one of the benefits of building in public and launching early and often, even though it doesn't feel good.
It's just me right now; I'm doing the best I can by leveraging my network, but I can't afford to hire a diverse team yet. I will be increasing my feedback from diverse perspectives in the coming months.
After I changed "Join Waitlist" --> "Start reading" as the CTA on my homepage, I saw the performance between video and image-based ads flip. Previously, the video had been outperforming the image ads; presumably because the video did a better job of selling. However, after the change, the images started to perform better, probably because people were more willing to try something without any nonsense about a waitlist.
I had originally implemented it to prevent performance issues due to OpenAI's rate limiting. Now I have it behind a flag if needed.
Another fun milestone: I think I discovered the first person abusing my trial credit system 😆