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Performance & Growth

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.

Julian Diaz

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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.

Related: Expansion Insights From One Of SA’s Power Partnerships



“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.

Related: Thinking Of Cross-Border Expansion? Consider This First

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:

  1. it was easy to spell and pronounce in various languages
  2. it invoked positive connotations – Sky (upwards, limitless) and dynamo (converting mechanical energy to electricity)
  3. it was distinctive and hopefully memorable
  4. and above all – according to our trademark attorneys – it is unique in our desired trademark classifications.

Julian Diazis a Business-to-Business Marketer with over 20 years of marketing experience in the technology sector and helping small tech businesses scale into internationally recognised leaders in their niche. Originally from Atlanta, USA, Julian moved to South Africa in 1998 after launching his career at a global software house in Germany. Julian joined Skynamo in September 2017 to help scale the business, build a global brand and successfully take their Field Sales Management software and mobile sales app into overseas markets.

Performance & Growth

Proven Strategies To Grow Your Start-up On A Scale Following These Guidelines

The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.

Joseph Harisson

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Scalability and flexibility are important properties of any business. Let’s say you’ve managed to build a successful start-up. It’s profitable and promising, but you want it to become better. The scalability of a business involves its ability to adapt for bigger workloads without losing revenue.

Even if your business is currently small and doesn’t generate huge profits, scalability can help it turn into a large enterprise. The wrong approach to developing a start-up can deprive it of an opportunity to become better.

The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.

Scaling Vs Growth

Many companies make a mistake of thinking that scaling and growing a company is the same thing. In fact, growth involves increasing revenue or the size of the company (the number of employees, offices, clients).

Constant growth requires numerous resources and may not always lead to a proportional revenue increase. In many cases, the growing number of services or products needed to boost revenue involves high costs related to the growing number of employees and equipment.

On the other hand, scaling allows you to increase the revenue without the costs involved in growth. You can handle the extra load and boost your profits while keeping the costs to a minimum.

At some point, a successful start-up needs to make a choice between growing at a constant rate and switching to the scaling business model.

Even though a single clear method for scaling your business doesn’t exist, there are some guidelines you can follow.

Related: If You Want Scale, Fail Fast And Learn Quickly

1. Get Ready To Be Patient

Scaling is not a quick process so you have to be patient. The overnight success story is not about you. In fact, scaling too fast usually results in unfortunate failure.

Allow yourself to spend the time to understand who your ideal customers are and how you can solve their problems in a better manner. Make sure you understand how to be confident about the new volume of your work.

Do research to find out how you can find the right resources to achieve scaling rather than growth.

2. Choose The Right Software

The lack of time and team members is a common problem for a startup looking for scaling methods. That’s why they need to try and automate as many processes as possible. This can be done with the assistance of the right software.

  • Trello – to simplify in-office and remote teamwork
  • MailChimp – to improve marketing campaigns
  • Brand24 – to get insights about your business
  • Survicate – to collect customers’ feedback
  • Voiptime – to increase connectivity.

Enterprise SEO specialists at Miromind also recommend paying special attention to different programmes to help you with your marketing efforts. Many digital marketing tools available today are free.

3. Take Advantage of Outsourcing

Since you are hoping to limit the expenses while growing the revenue, you have to find ways to spend the revenue in the right manner. The biggest mistake made by business owners who think they are choosing scaling is hiring a big team. By doing so, they turn scaling into growing.

Your best bet to avoid hiring a large team and paying large salaries while achieving your plans is to outsource. Using your resources wisely involves finding freelancers and remote employees who are willing to work for a lower pay on a one-time (or several) contract bases.

For example, you don’t need a lawyer or a computer specialist sitting in the office all day long. Why should you pay them a monthly salary?

Related: What It Will Really Take For South Africa’s Businesses To Scale And Create Jobs

4. Don’t Do It Alone

Even though certain team minimisation is necessary to improve your scaling efforts, don’t try to handle everything on your own. It’s important to have at least one person you can rely on to manage the business-related problems.

Conclusion

Scaling your start-up is possible as soon as you understand what scaling is in detail. You need to be careful not to start growing your business instead of scaling it in the process. Once you have all the fundamentals figured, resources managed, and the right people in place, you are ready to start.

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Performance & Growth

Selling The Cape Town Lifestyle In China

GSB alumnus Grant Horsfield has built a rapidly expanding business in China that aims to provide a better lived environment – both at work and at play – and deliver a more balanced, sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

Entrepreneur

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When Grant Horsfield moved to Shanghai, shortly after completing his MBA at the GSB in 2004, he wanted to find a product to sell to China, when the rest of the world was focused on buying from China. “I had a clear purpose,” he says, “I wanted to import something from Africa and bring it to China – I just didn’t know what it was.”

Horsfield had completed the Doing Business in China elective on the MBA programme, taught by Professor Kobus Van der Wath, which led to him accepting a job in China with Van der Wath’s consulting firm – The Beijing Axis. He also completed an exchange programme at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. During this time, although he found China to be exciting and full of opportunity, Horsfield missed the Capetonian lifestyle – particularly the outdoor life and the interaction with nature.

He says, “that was when I realised that the product China needed was the lifestyle that we have in South Africa. I was sure that if the Chinese knew what they didn’t know, they would be living a more balanced life and be able to appreciate and relax in nature – so that was what I really wanted to import to China, the Cape Town lifestyle.

“At that point there was no concept of a weekend getaway spent relaxing in nature that we are so used to in South Africa,” Horsfield explains. This realisation kickstarted his vision for Naked – a chain of boutique eco-resorts set in natural landscapes across China.

Related: Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

The naked Group, which Horsfield founded in 2007, has built and now operates four luxury resorts with a further six under development. The first boutique resort, naked Home opened in Zhejiang Province in 2007, followed by naked Stables – an award-winning resort in Moganshan which offers horse riding to guests. Naked Stables is an industry pioneer in that it was the first resort in China to receive the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification – an American certification system encouraging the design of energy and resource-efficient buildings that are healthy to live in. Horsfield extended the concept of a luxurious retreat with the addition of naked Castle, a 95-room castle with two restaurants and a spa surrounded by lush forest, and naked Sail which offers a unique travel experience on a 70-foot catamaran in the Andaman Sea.

In 2015, the naked Group expanded into the co-working office space industry through naked Hub. Horsfield sees the move into office space as a natural extension of the naked brand.

“Essentially we had been inviting people to have a better lifestyle outside of work and we realised that we could do that in the work experience too,” he says. “When you build a resort, you build a space that allows people to experience a certain level of comfort and enjoy themselves, so why not do that in an office?” The naked team’s skillset in designing and building sustainable comfy resorts was easily transferred to building office spaces that people enjoy working in.

Naked Hub has seen rapid expansion, opening 50 hubs across China, Vietnam, Australia and the UK in just two and a half years. Initially based on smaller start-ups or freelancers in the gig economy, Naked Hub now caters to larger firms. “The idea of co-working space was born out of trying to make a more efficient smarter space for smaller companies but today more that 50% of our companies are multinationals,” says Horsfield.

The principles of a more balanced lifestyle and a cleaner more sustainable environment are present in all naked projects. For Horsfield, it’s all about trying to make the world a better place.

“No matter what kind of entrepreneur you are, you have to have some values that are important to you. For me, trying to change things for the better has been paramount in everything we’ve designed, and we probably have more sustainability experts on our payroll than most companies. What we do is not just about building, it’s about people, communities and how people interact in their environment.”

Commenting on what it takes to start a successful business in China, and then follow through with rapid global expansion, Horsfield says perseverance, a belief in what you want to achieve, and above all – courage – all play a role.

“You’ve got to have courage to do what looks very scary. If you don’t have a sound belief that it will work, then you just can’t do it.” He adds, laughing, “or as my mom says – I’m just too stupid to see the potential problems! But seriously, courage is what separates businesspeople from entrepreneurs – and that’s something that can’t be taught.”

Horsfield also believes strongly in what he terms AQ, or adversity quotient. “This is the mentality that allows me to overcome obstacles, the ability to hit a wall 20 times but pick myself up and keep on trying.”

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

Looking back on his experience of the MBA, he believes the programme’s value lies in promoting self-knowledge and reflection. He says, “each project I did allowed me to examine what I had done before and to consider how I could have done things differently. Examining my strengths and weaknesses was a huge benefit. Today I don’t hire people who have low self-awareness.”

“The other wonderful thing about the MBA was the diversity of students. We had a mixed group internationally, with people from many different cultural and work backgrounds, that was really enlightening. It also gave me a strong network of likeminded people.”

Horsfield believes his South African upbringing and his education at the GSB certainly helped him on his entrepreneurial path. He says, “wanting to do some good in the world, wanting to change things for the better, is a uniquely South African strength.”

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Performance & Growth

What Are You Prepared To Lose?

While business growth tends to be a major goal for most business owners, with growth comes pain. Here’s how you navigate those challenges.

Ed Hatton

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Many, perhaps most entrepreneurs would like their businesses to grow — whether from ambition to create an empire or just to reduce the risks inherent in being a little business. To do so the entrepreneur has to change roles. They must move from where they can control everything, and change from working as they always have. Being human, we fear moving away from familiar routines, we find it hard to give up authority and we lie awake at night worrying if we can afford all those extra people.

When you run a small business you make all the decisions, you monitor performance of your employees, have direct contact with customers and have a small nest egg so you can still pay your people in bad months. A bigger business means higher overheads, more debtors, and additional inventory, all of which will put a strain on cash flow. You are likely to need more working capital to finance growth and may have to take a loan, which only adds to the risk.

You are also likely to have less day-to-day control over operations and will worry about whether your managers are about to commit an appalling blunder. A more insidious risk is the growing distance between you and customers as the business adds layers of sales managers, sales people, project managers, and branches.

Finding the opportunities

It’s difficult enough just to stand still in tough times, let alone grow strongly. The more difficult the competitive and economic situation becomes, the more we want to control every aspect of the business. We hesitate to fill vacancies, clamp down on expenses, get enraged when people make mistakes and push the sales team until they get nervous.

We develop a hang-in-there mentality and hope for better times. Paradoxically, tough times offer great growth opportunities. While others cut down on training and marketing, you have the opportunity to lure customers away from them with aggressive marketing and pricing. You can build a work environment that will attract the best people by offering strong customer support and good development opportunities. If you are bold, you have the opportunity to lock in the best suppliers by paying on time and signing long-term contracts while others delay payments and seek cheaper suppliers. It takes courage to do this, and you will feel the loss of security and comfort zones.

Related: 3 Ways To Promote Business Growth In A Troubled Economy

In this rapidly changing world, it may be easier to grow a business now than it has ever been. Businesses that embrace change and look for opportunities in uncertainty can scale rapidly. Disruptive technologies have changed the rules and allowed new businesses to grow to international giants. Waste — especially packaging waste — green energy, medical technology and urbanisation have all presented global opportunities for smart entrepreneurs.

Change is difficult to manage; we prefer our comfort zones, but treating change as a friend rather than a fear could give your business the growth spurt you desire.

Letting go to move forward

One of the hardest things to do as a business grows is to discard products, people and processes that have built your business to where it is today, but will be a hindrance to you as you grow. You may have a favourite product that was the essence of your start-up, but is now out of date and uncompetitive. Kill it.

There is pain in dealing with staff and suppliers who will not be able to keep up with your growth, especially those who stood by you when you needed them. I am all for loyalty, but if loyalty becomes a hindrance you must act. Be kind to them, give them their dignity rather than carrying them as a charitable favour. Change their roles, or find alternate work for them. Getting rid of encumbrances, products, people, suppliers, customers and processes is all part of what you need to do to take your business into a growth phase.

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