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What’s in a name? Workiva poised to find out

Wordmark of The Beatles, originally painted di...

Wordmark of The Beatles, originally painted directly on drum by Erwin Ross, Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Names can be personal.

Names can be professional.

They can be semi-personal and semi-professional.

They can launch a movie into top box office (provided they have the star power accompanying them).

They can excite fans of the lowliest teams if the “big” name (LeBron anyone?) is coming to their team.

They can also confuse the heck out of everyone as in the case of Workiva, formerly WebFilings. Wdesk is the name of the company’s main product platform from which all things evolve going forward. But WebFilings, even though it’s not the main name of the company anymore, is the name of the company’s SEC compliance reporting product. Clear as day? I didn’t think so.

WebFilings, I mean, Workiva, I mean WebFilings, pretty much slammed RR Donnelley (RRD) and Merrill Corporation in the mouth with respect to compliance filing dominance. They became the biggest EDGAR and XBRL filer going in less than two years’ time. They acquired new customers faster than someone who can turn out the lights and be in bed before it gets dark. They were on top of the world. Until they weren’t.

Don’t get me wrong. They give no indication they have stopped growing entirely. But they have definitely slowed down. And in the process, they’ve given companies like RRD and Merrill new life, or at least time to regroup and offer self-filing provisional software of their own to compete with them.

Leadership at companies that become extremely successful lightning fast need to have vision that serves their product lines into the future. When sales of a certain product or offering lag, diversification can save the day. Renaming and/or rebranding can be part of the diversification process.

In the case of WebFilings and Workiva, as much as WebFilings hit a home run in an extremely short period of time, just prior to the name change, they had been losing momentum. While traditional financial printers have been in decline because of inroads WebFilings made into their compliance filing business, RRD, Merrill and other companies have retained their leads in staple, crucial registration work areas like initial public offerings. Sure, WebFilings has been an attractive alternative to some companies who have gone public and have wanted to do a good bulk of the work themselves to get there.

But capital markets have remained robust enough, and so much so, that companies going public can still afford to let traditional financial printers handle it all for them from soup to nuts. Going the route of WebFilings, I mean, Workiva, can be perceived as the solution companies look for when they need to cut corners (with respect to cost).

Is what Workiva offers good enough? For some it certainly is.

It says here that a traditional financial printer also has too much appeal and overall value for those companies looking for a do-it-all product and service offering solution.

Lack of control (what WebFilings drilled into prospective customers’ heads as a disadvantage to utilizing financial printers) may be overrated; especially if you’re a company that’s left to coordinate all aspects involved with going public such as the printing, distribution and shipping of books. Maybe that’s a headache you’d wish you had paid a printer to control for you by the time the whole deal is said and done.

Names like Merrill and Donnelley (and Bowne before RRD acquired them) are synonymous with the financial reporting industry. It took years for the names to become trusted brands. Part of their ability to withstand WebFilings stemmed from the fact they had been there so long. While droves of clients left them for the do-it-yourself service that is WebFilings, I can’t help but believe a name change for a company whose rise was so meteoric is beyond gutsy and more than a little risky.

I keep thinking back to rock stars that exploded on the scene like WebFilings and what would have happened if they had undergone yet another name change a scant two years after invading America:

The Silverfish (instead of The Beatles)–shinier insects with lots more legs, reflecting robust, more diverse pop music realms to discover going forward.

Don’t think even John, Paul, George and Ringo could have pulled that one off.

 

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