Starting a business is hard enough, but imagine having to rebrand after being in business for less than 6 months! The first cease and desist letter came in a certified mail envelope around September 15, 2014, just prior to our official Kickstarter launch. We saw an attorney’s name in the upper left corner and instantly knew that this was either good or bad since the response to the bar bag had been really good so far. After launching, we decided to open the letter and it stated we had “infringed upon another trademark that was confusingly and deceptively similar.”
We didn’t know what to do because this had never happened to us before. We contacted one of our mentors that had 5 years in the bag industry and he shared with us his contact of the number one patent and trademark attorney in Seattle, Washington. We spoke with him and he advised us of our options: fight or rebrand. There was no clear answer of what to do. The lawyer advised us to not respond to see if they were serious and gave us a backup plan to use on an as-needed basis. We were still in awe at the fact of how much work we had put into this business – and now this was happening to us?!
We continued our launch on Kickstarter and lo and behold, right after we funded, we got another letter. We sought out our legal counsel and decided to write a letter back. The letter essentially stated that “Barkeeper” is merely a descriptive or generic term not protectable for the goods and services either of us deals in. It’s like saying you want to trademark “Seattle’s Best Coffee”. The only thing trademarkable here is the design mark. In any case, Barkeeper & Co. is a company, not a trademark. We asked that they consider this matter resolved, as they were acting in bad faith in trying to enforce the rights to a phrase they had exclusively disclaimed. One note – should you find yourself in a similar position, please don’t take any of this as legal advice for your own matters, but seek a qualified attorney.
Time had passed and we got another letter a few months later that asked us to respond by a certain date. We were in the thick of things at this point, and our legal counsel strongly recommended against fighting since we were so new and, therefore, vulnerable to the potentially exponential, unknown fees involved in a rebrand. We thought about all the factors we’d worked towards that would be gone: our brand, our image, our SEO, everything.
It’s now 2015 and we‘ve done quite well selling a substantial number of bar bags. It dawned on me to start researching what exactly a rebrand would mean for us. This ended up being quite an emotional undertaking. I got quotes ranging from $1000 to $10,000+, with lead times averaging 1- 2 months. I was like, WHAT? We had a new product to launch, buying calendars were just around the corner, and also a potential co-brand opportunity. Then I thought, I could do this myself, like any entrepreneur, right? I worked on trying to come up with a name and obsessed over it for more than a week. In a somewhat fortuitous turn of events, however, a good friend had been just written up on Forbes for being one of the “Top 10 online marketing influencers.” She gave me a few pointers on how to create an original brand and some tools on how to see if the names you were coming up with were available. I’d like to share those with you.
- Never type the website domain you want into godaddy.com, whois.com, or any other hosting platform, because there are domainers out there that will pick up on this and seize the opportunity to purchase it before you can. Type it in the address bar of any browser just like you would any other domain to see if it’s available.
- Branding requires a good brainstorming session. Create 3 columns: nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Then ideate terms for each that relate to your audience, product, and context. Use a tool called checkusernames.com to make sure all social media handles are available for the taking.
- Watch the TED video talk by Simon Sinek – Start with “WHY”… Appealing to everyone, appeals to no one.
- Make sure to do a United States Patent and Trademark (USPTO) search.
Back to the Drawing Board
Ultimately, I decided to go back to the drawing board and hire a professional. After months of contemplation, I only wanted to do it one more time. I digested the fact that it was going to take some time to be done right and decided to be as involved as I could. After interviewing quite a few options and checking out sites like 99designs, Dribble, and some local boutique and large firms, we decided to go with a local referral and contractor from TCG who had previously done some work for Starbucks, Eric Wyttenbach. We went through 2 weeks of copyright and finally came up with the name Mavenhal. Maven means expert or connoisseur, and haul without a “U” means to carry. We wanted a name that would open the door to more opportunities as we knew we’d continue creating new products, not just the bar bag. Now, it was off to imaging, which the designer told us could take more time than naming. At this point, the maximum of how much we wanted to spend on a rebrand was nearing our threshold. At the eleventh hour, our designer said, “I have it, I think you’ll really like this…” and he was right.
Ultimately, the takeaway points that we learned from this journey were:
- Every good brand takes time to evolve.
- Hire a professional so you can concentrate on keeping the company moving forward. Remember that they have a way of doing things, so follow their format and you’ll be surprised.
- Your brand is your brand and you get this incredible feeling when things just “POP” off the paper. No one can feel this besides you.
We’ve been able to stay in contact with your designer and he has also helped us stay consistent while developing our new website as well. We’re glad we went through this process because were reminded on May 1, 2015, with another letter to cease and desist and had a resolution in place.