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Dieter Reuther of Cast Collective, a Solve Member, was matched with Ram Katamaraja of Refactored.ai, a Work of the Future Solver, in Solve’s mentorship program. Together with the Refactored.ai team, they strategized and refreshed Refactored.ai’s brand identity. Learn about their partnership in this Q&A.
When did you realize you were the right fit for each other?
Dieter Reuther: Ram and I first met at Solve Challenge Finals 2018, where we started a conversation before we were even matched as mentorship partners. Refactored.ai’s mission, providing resource-limited populations with education, training, and career advancement opportunities, was appealing and inspiring to me. What a great purpose!
Ram Katamaraja: As part of the MIT Solver program, we had put together a list of business needs and goals. Given our small but mighty team, one focus area was branding and marketing. Our MIT Solve guiding light, Fernando Montejo, reconnected us with Dieter, and after an initial lunch meeting, we knew that his branding expertise was just what we needed.
DR: During this lunch meeting, I saw that refining and evolving Refactored.ai’s brand was an important next step to scale the business and lead the company into the future. This combination of mission and business needs made us a perfect mentorship match.
What guidance were you seeking?
RK: When we applied to MIT Solve, we knew our data and career training platform was transforming lives. Our user outcome data showed this success, and a number of program participants came through referrals from the close-knit community of Plano, Texas.
After receiving recognition from MIT Solve and prizes from General Motors and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, we realized there was a huge need for our platform beyond Texas, and we wanted to scale our impact to ensure that all people—regardless of age, race, income, zip code or education—can succeed in the work of the future and beyond.
As we thought about scaling nationally, we realized we needed to clearly define our service offerings, create a more cohesive brand, and align across the company. We needed someone who could lead these branding efforts and allocate time to thinking about “why.” Why do we do what we do? Why has our brand been successful? What is our mission? Who are we trying to serve?
How did you work together?
DR: Broadly speaking, I worked as a brand consultant and acted as a sounding board for new ideas. The Refactored.ai team and I met weekly, which kept the energy flowing. We learned that just listening, asking questions, and talking through issues—sometimes over and over—brought new insight into concepts that previously were accepted as a given.
I introduced the team to concepts around vision, mission, values, brand promise, and brand personality. Workshops featured the Hedgehog principle from Good to Great by Jim Collins, brand positioning, and brand archetypes based on The Hero and the Outlaw by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson. Combined with homework, these workshops gradually refined Rafactored.ai’s understanding of their brand. In an ongoing, iterative approach, we revisited our findings and evolved the brand step by step.
What was this process like?
RK: Dieter made what could have been a turbulent and intimidating process gratifying and extremely productive. He ensured we took the time to step back, discover, and clearly articulate our mission, vision, and core values. The exercises we went through allowed us to incorporate everyone’s thoughts to collectively come up with a strong brand foundation as a team—true to its original mission.
It was eye-opening and reassuring to see alignment across all colleagues and teams. Dieter held us accountable to turn these revelations into action items. He skillfully facilitated some difficult conversations that led to our current evolution and progress. We are grateful for our time spent together and his unwavering mentorship, and we look forward to continuing our work together.
Can you tell us about an “aha!” moment you experienced while working together?
DR: The ongoing questioning in this process included some brief moments of frustration. But in the end, these moments led us to major breakthroughs: in one of the last meetings before Solve at MIT, we questioned some of our foundational understandings, and everything seemed to go down the drain, and then … clarity. We truly had an “aha!” moment and all the puzzle pieces fell into place.
What’s next on your partnership and rebrand plans?
RK: We have taken the last few months to focus on finalizing our business and product roadmaps, and on incorporating Dieter’s invaluable feedback into our plans. We now begin a new phase of our partnership: continuing to build on our brand foundation as we gain traction with impact investors, enterprises, and workforce organizations in need of our platform. This will include developing segmented brand communications, updating our logo, and refreshing visual branding elements.
In all, our work with Dieter has enabled us to clearly define our vision and understand how we want to scale our impact.
Interested in mentoring a Solver team like Refactored.ai? Learn how you can join the Solve community.