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Startups have to protect their brand – don’t make the same mistake I did

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Things were going great. We’d just finalised our £500k seed round, moved into a new office and our team was growing by the week. After months spent fundraising, Tom (my cofounder) and I finally felt ready to take on the world and kick some ass.

And then calamity struck. Just after after our funding hit the bank, Techcrunch Disrupt came to Europe, and of course, Spacious was there.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t us – it was Spacious.hk, a Hong Kong based residential property platform, prompting confused enquiries from our friends about what the hell was going on.

How data can help bootstrapped startups create authentic brand experiences

Spacious under pressure

Two days later, we received a hostile letter from Spacious.hk’s lawyers about a “potential trademark infringement” if we continued to operate as Spacious in the UK.

We knew Spacious.hk existed, and we were also aware of another Spacious, a new hotel company in the US who, in contrast, had sent us a pleasant LinkedIn message a few months ago introducing themseves.

Don’t be complacent

Although Spacious.hk had registered trademarks in the UK, we weren’t immediately worried as they were a completely different business, operating in a different geography – and they had registered their brand long after our company had started trading.

However, the legal threat did make us realise that we’d neglected to register our brand name, and as a result there could be a future scenario where three companies with global ambitions might clash over the Spacious brand.

This had all the hallmarks of being a very expensive fight, in which the only winners would be the blood-sucking lawyers with their extortionate fees.

Fight or flight?

The competitive spirit in me wanted to fight on, claiming the global Spacious brand as our own. As a founder, I had a deep emotional attachment to the name – and what’s more, I felt that we were in the right.

However, after a lengthy heart-to-heart chat with my dad (a military strategy geek and Command and Conquer veteran), he sent me a quote from Sun Tzu’s classic ‘Art of War’ that made me think again:

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

In other words, I had to set aside any emotional attachments, and think rationally about the best course of action for my company.

Changing the name now would mean losing the brand we have poured blood, sweat and tears into over the past year. However, this will – hopefully – be short term pain relative to a potentially ruinous battle in the future.

And so…

That’s why, as of today, Spacious becomes Hubble.

Initially, we thought that the re-branding exercise would be a distraction from the core business, and indeed it has, to an extent. However, we have worked hard to see the silver lining (sometimes you have to really look for it!).

For example, changing our name has been a forcing mechanism to think about the seemingly fluffy (but really important) things like the culture and core beliefs of the company, and ditch anything that didn’t conform to these values.

As a result, the new Hubble site has been rebuilt from the ground up, focusing on the one thing that is most important to our customers – finding the perfect home for their startup.

Like many startups, we’ve been relentlessly following Mark Zuckerberg’s advice to “move fast and break things”. Unfortunately, we ended up moving so fast that we didn’t adequately protect our brand, and wound up having an unnecessary breakage.

Lesson learned. From now on, whenever we put our foot on the gas, we’ll remember to check our rear-view mirrors too.

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