My dad always used to tell me that the difference between the “you” now and the “you” 20 years from now will be the places you visit and the people you meet. I would also add baldness and gray hair to that, but they don’t sound as cool.
He was right. Whether you meet someone in person or read a book he or she authors, people are pivot points that enable learning and foster personal growth for others.
Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Global Expansion: We Met Our Doppelgänger
A short story of how a small tech company dealt with trademarks and developing a unique brand name in a global marketplace.
Back in September 2017, I joined a promising South African tech company called Honeybee in Stellenbosch, Cape Town’s winelands area, as part of the team to scale the business and take the company and brand global.
We have a great product (a Field Sales Management and Mobile Sales app), a name with strong brand equity and a large customer base in the South African market. However, as we entered the UK market, we discovered that our name was not unique. There was another technology company with the same name. And worst of all, although they were not a direct competitor, they operated in the same space – CRM or sales software. After a brief discussion with the other Honeybee company, we both agreed that as we had not trademarked our name and they had, we would be the ones to change our name.
While we were sad to say good-bye to our name and brand, one that employees and customers had grown to love, we saw this as a good opportunity to develop a brand that was more versatile and suited to a global market. I was tasked with finding the right name and developing the brand and making sure that this time we worked with trademark attorneys to guide us and ensure we never face this hurdle again.
“How hard can it be?”
I decided to work on making up a word, since all the existing suitable words would likely be taken. (Have you ever tried to register a domain name?). I naively thought it would be a matter of simply getting the creative juices flowing to make up new words that I could build a story around and then doing a Google search to see if any companies were already using that name.
You see, a made-up word is distinctive and, if you’re lucky, unique. However, in the land of trademarks nothing is this simple. Even though a word doesn’t exist in normal vocabulary, it could still potentially be confused with another made-up word that sounds similar. According to our trademark attorneys, we would run the risk of having our registration either rejected by the US Trademark Office or successfully opposed by a company in Europe with a similar sounding name registered in the classes we wanted to register in.
Our first potential name, which had an excellent back story and we could have loved as much as the name we’ve now chosen, was Xavi – pronounced “savvy.” Short and smart and with a great story. Perfect right? Apparently not. The legal team felt it was too similar to other four-letter brand names starting with X like Xavo or longer brand names that start with Xavi like Xaviant. This was the problem with coming up with a made-up word, it’s so distinct that it can easily be confused with another made-up word that sounds similar or is spelled similarly. Gutted cannot even begin to explain how we felt.
Google searching, it turned out, was only the very first step. The next step, was searching the publicly accessible databases of the various trademark offices across all the countries we wanted to register in.
Click here to read my “how to” guide on developing a unique brand name and how to conduct trademark searches
I focused those initial searches in the US, UK and Europe. If I didn’t come across any trademark registrations for that same word in our classifications, then I went to our attorneys to conduct a more thorough search using their local experts in those markets. Only once their contacts in those markets came back with no conflicts could we then proceed to register our trademark with minimal business or legal risks. If you ask any attorney, there is no such thing as zero risk.
“This is hard”
What I first thought would take perhaps a month, took over 5 months. I would dedicate some time during the week just to brainstorming a name and a lot of headspace thinking about it while commuting or walking the dogs.
Every time I would come up with a great sounding name I could build a story around, I found myself stumbling over one of the hurdles in the process: an initial Google search would result in me finding another technology company with the same name, or after clearing that first hurdle, I would find a registered trademark for that name in one of the national trademark office databases. Then, if I managed to clear that hurdle, I would approach the attorneys only to have them come back after a more thorough search and analysis with a similar sounding registered name that could pose a business or legal risk if we were to try and proceed with a trademark registration.
It got to a point at the pinnacle of our frustration when, exasperated, I just typed a bunch of random letters on my keyboard and came up with a ridiculous word that was over 20 characters that I half-jokingly, feeling defeated said, “maybe this is the only choice we’ve got: Schaneffenhoogenstorm.
I ran into our CEO’s office and shouted the name, “I could build a story around it! I could make up a character called Baron Schnaffenhoogenstorm – an historical character with a colourful past! He could be our mascot! The Baron of Sales-bury!”
My CEO looked at me with a combination of amusement and concern as he saw the desperation in my eyes to let us just settle on a freakin’ name that the attorneys would find posed minimal risk. “The .com is available!” I said in a last-ditch effort to convince him. He laughed. I laughed. We laughed and laughed. I pretended I was just kidding. And I went back to my desk to start over.
Inspiration can come from anywhere at anytime
Then one day, looking up at the sky and thinking, “I like the word sky, it would be nice to have a name with the word sky in it,” and then later on admiring my wife for the little dynamo that she is, I hit pay dirt: Skynamo! I quickly went through the previous mentioned steps and managed to get all the way to “green light” from the attorneys.
Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time. It cannot be forced. You just need to be open to it and in the right frame of mind to receive it. After months of trying, I finally had a great name that fulfilled all of the criteria of a great name to build into a global brand:
- it was easy to spell and pronounce in various languages
- it invoked positive connotations – Sky (upwards, limitless) and dynamo (converting mechanical energy to electricity)
- it was distinctive and hopefully memorable
- and above all – according to our trademark attorneys – it is unique in our desired trademark classifications.
How To Build A Community Around Your Brand
There’s a way to build your market without spending a fortune on advertising and marketing — and it’s called community building. Here’s why this should be the cornerstone of your growth strategy.
In their first three years of business, social media management tool Hootsuite grew from zero to three million users. It’s an impressive feat for any company, but what’s even more notable is that they did so with virtually no advertising or marketing budget.
Instead, they grew through community building. A team of 18 staff members and 100 influencers grew the company in a grassroots manner — all thanks to community engagement, according to their CEO Ryan Holmes.
Below are five steps that you can use to grow your brand or company using community building as a key strategic tactic.
1. Define what your brand is and what it stands for
Before you can build a community around your brand, you have to know what that brand is.
Related: How To Build A Billion-Dollar Brand
Do you have a mission statement? Do you know exactly who your target audience and community is? Do you have the content ready and armed to engage this community each and every day?
Here’s a classic example: The colour pink doesn’t try to make itself greener, hoping to appeal to everybody who loves both. Pink is pink, and you either like it or you don’t. There are no apologies and no justifications.
So, what’s your ‘pink’? What do you stand for that nobody else does? What type of people do you want in your community and, more importantly, who don’t you want to include?
Move on to the next step only after you’ve answered these questions.
Offer value and exclusivity
The best brands offer their communities:
- Emotional safety
- Personal investment
- Insider status.
2. Find the right way to connect to your community
Once you’ve identified what your brand stands for and who you are wanting to target, the next step is the ‘where’ and the ‘how’.
That means choosing the right platform based on the following:
- Size of your audience
- How your audience prefers to engage
- The features you need
- Your technical skill level
- Your budget.
When you’re first starting out, think small and simple. A basic forum might be enough for your website, or my favourite, utilising Facebook groups if your users access it via mobile devices. Remember, Facebook organic reach is dying at a rapid pace, so groups will be the ideal way to interact directly with your customers.
Use these test forums to see how your community members interact. As their numbers and engagement grow, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right platform down the road.
3. Make community membership valuable and exclusive
There are five factors that make joining a community valuable for customers:
- Emotional safety
- A sense of belonging and identification
- Personal investment
- A common symbol system.
Your community members need to feel safe sharing with others in your group. They need to feel that they’re accepted and that they’ve ‘earned’ their spot in the community. They also need to be able to understand the group’s social norms and how to communicate like an ‘insider’.
How can you build these factors into your community? Possible strategies include:
- Clearly defining and enforcing moderation standards
- Limiting membership to a select group who have achieved certain status (perhaps, by buying a product or opting into a challenge or course from you)
- Encouraging the development of inside jokes and memes
- Giving top users benefits — even if it’s just icons for use in their posts that denote their status, or free products, discounts, invites to secret events and so on. In other words, make it exclusive.
4. Get the community talking to each other
Every community will go through an ‘awkward phase’ where conversations feel a little forced and people aren’t initiating conversations on their own. It will pass. Keep building your community one person at a time, and it will eventually begin to flow naturally.
Don’t be discouraged by lack of engagement or feedback — If you have customers within the community, they are seeing your content and taking it in, they just need a little time to come out of their shell.
The key? Keep providing value.
5. Give more than you get
Lastly, why would your users remain part of your community if they aren’t getting any value out of it? Invest whatever resources you have into creating a stellar community experience. Provide helpful resources. Answer questions. Offer whatever support you have to in order to delight your community members.
Your efforts will come back to you in the form of engaged followers, future purchases, and possible referrals.
What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?
Three masters of scale unpack the reasons why you might be failing at growth – or in danger of doing so.
So, what’s stopping you from scaling? If you ask Rich Mullholland, founder of Missing Link, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don’t need to understand what it takes to scale. “Scaling speaks to exponential growth,” he says, “which for the vast majority of business owners simply shouldn’t be a consideration. Growth by itself is okay, and even then, it should be growth as and when it’s required.”
Rich’s key point is that growth for the sake of growth should never be a business owner’s primary goal. Growth should be strategic, and good for the company. Growth without a solid foundation can actually harm – or even kill – your company.
If your goal is growth though, here are three key points to keep top of mind.
1. Too many business owners don’t understand what it takes to scale a business
“Entrepreneurs are so focused on getting through the month with their cash flow intact that they often fail to lift their heads and look to the horizon,” says Allon Riaz, CEO and founder of Raizcorp. “Scale requires strategic thinking, while most entrepreneurs are in operational thinking mode.”
Howard Mann, president at Brickyard Partners and a US-based business turnaround specialist, advises business owners to stop focusing on revenue growth alone. “Scaling a business is about balance and too many entrepreneurs just focus on the speed of revenue growth. When revenue grows without the infrastructure to support that growth, clients leave as quickly as they come in.
“Instead of focusing on top-line growth, focus on maximum profit margins. This will completely change where you focus your efforts. I would rather have a $10 million business with 50% margins over the false glamour of a $50 million revenue business with razor thin profits.”
2. Without the right systems, process and people, you’ll never be able to scale
Allon believes the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make are:
- Not arranging sufficient cash reserves for a growth period
- Believing that the people who brought you to point A are the same people who will take you to point B
- Having insufficient systems to scale the business
Rich agrees, adding that you need to focus on the business you want to be, and not the business you currently are. “Businesses often commit legacide,” he says. “They allow the legacy systems, put in place for a business of a smaller stature, to hold them back. Not to get too cheesy here, but to quote the Great One, NHL hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, you need to skate to where the puck is going. The systems you put in your business should be systems appropriate for the business you want, not the business you have. Sure, you’ll possibly be paying more in the short term, but it will be a fraction of what you lose trying to play catch-up later.”
Howard believes that losing track of managing the expenses required to manage growth is one of the biggest stumbling blocks entrepreneurs face. “To intentionally over simplify it, you want to figure out the most efficient and effective way to rapidly attract and close new clients while being able to serve and delight them at the lowest possible cost,” he says.
“Another mistake is taking on too much debt in the name of growth. We are all mesmerized by VC backed start-ups that put out press about their massive growth. You do not see how much cash they are burning through and that most of these companies have net losses that are growing as fast (or faster) than their revenue growth. Again, protect your profit margins. That is your growth fuel and protection against shocks in the economy.”
3. Growth for the sake of growth can actually kill your business
Before you embark on your growth journey, understand that growth, without sufficient structural foundations, can often lead to a business collapsing. “Some scale has the opposite of economies of scale, and actually becomes more expensive as the business becomes more complex,” says Allon. “It’s important to restructure the model as the business grows to ensure the highest possibility of economies of scale.”
Howard warns that a business structured to lose money as it grows is a poorly structured business. “Making the switch back to strong profitability after a growth phase is difficult to pull off,” he says. “Yes, we all know Amazon.com eventually did it. You are not Amazon.com. Growing with a net loss is a straight road to the business graveyard.”
Rich disagrees with the notion that growth in and of itself will lead to death. He believes that growth is, generally speaking, healthy. “I’ve seen businesses grow too quickly and not know how to deal with it, and I’ve seen businesses that out-grow the maturity of their management teams and get strangled by the firm hold the management team try to keep,” he says, but for Rich, this is the product of a business ill-prepared for growth, rather than a product of the growth itself.
“This is why slow is often better, as opposed to scale,” he says. “I remember when my son was young, and I was still his hero. I couldn’t imagine him shouting at me the way I did to my folks as a teenager – I’d be destroyed. So, I asked my dad about it, he smiled and said, don’t worry kiddo, they ease you into it, it all happens over time. By the time they start screaming, you’re ready. That’s true too for business growth. Most entrepreneurs are running their businesses as a real-time business school. You can’t always rush that education.”
Allon: One top tip for business owners on scale is to remain strategic by knowing what you want to create and by ensuring a healthy balance of capital resources, sufficient people skills and the appropriate support systems.
Howard: Famed business owner Ricardo Semler said “Only two things grow for the sake of growth: Businesses and tumors.” Get crystal clear on why you want to grow. Once you do, find your balance between accelerating new business and the cost to manage that business.Scaling, like a scale, needs balance
Rich: Stop thinking about scale, and start thinking about solving an important problem that world has, even (especially) if they don’t know it yet. It the problem is real, and big enough, you will have a scale-able business.
See Allon Raiz, Rich Mulholland and Howard Mann live at the first Secrets of Scale event, which will be taking place at the MESH Club in Rosebank on Thursday, 24 May. Buy your tickets online here: www.qkt.io/secretsofscale
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