So why report yesterday’s news? Yes, it was an unusually mild October day but even then, who cares about yesterday weather, right? However, sharing “business in practice” by the people running them is never wasted.
The most important way to start your day…
Is with a bang! I was full of child-like glee to get a media-rich rundown of what has to be one of the best of British entertainment brands Aardman – the makers of beloved Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. The Wallace movie A Matter of Loaf and Death is one of my all-time favourites but I have been a bit out of the loop – Shaun the Sheep seems to be a much bigger deal – within its illustrious portfolio, this asset alone has 17 licenses in 35 countries and brings in $50M in merchandise sales alone. Aardman's investment and innovation is very impressive – TV programmes, movies, apps, diverse licensing partnerships and more. What’s more interesting is that they are testing new ways to fund its program including crowdfunding and continue to extend into new spheres like live theatre and outdoor entertainment. An important point made by Sean Clarke, the Head of Aardman rights is that they integrate their IP throughout their business model and this continues to pay dividends as they expand and enter new markets.
It was also great to hear from the diverse set of business founders – Claire Mitchell of Chillipeeps, Laban Roomes of Goldgenie, Roger Ashby of Sugru and Nick Rutter of FireAngel.
Conveyor belt – round and round it goes
Claire was literally an overnight entrepreneur, having experienced a problem first-hand and set to work the next day to bring a new solution to the market. Reflecting back, she says that business owners need to be aware of the “conveyor belt” they are getting on, in terms of time-scales and cost, not just of production but of protecting their IP. It is important that businesses plan better so that they put the right investments in place early on saving them from expensive mistakes and delays. IP management, just like product development and marketing is something that needs to happen continuously to help businesses stay a step ahead of the competition.
Eyes of the prize
Laban Roomes must be a man laughing all the way to the bank. And so he should be. He started out with a vision to build a brand before he even had a product. He set out to carve out his space properly from the very beginning by taking relatively inexpensive steps such as obtaining trademark registrations and domain names. Working with his market positioning in mind, his clients now include pop, sport and Hollywood royalty. The famous Justins - Timberlake and Bieber are among those who are soon to be privileged owners of goldgenie-plated iPhone 6s. That's just how some people roll - I'm about two decades too old to be a Belieber but who dares sneer at the pulling power that is the brand equivalent of getting six numbers on the lotto.
Roomes maintains that getting your IP right demonstrates your intent in your brand investment and is also a helpful deterrent against those attempting to take advantage of your success as inevitably will be the case when you are on to a good thing.
Frugality or fallacy
How do you protect valuable IP like patents when you’re trying to be lean? Roger Ashby of Sugru would say just try very hard to find the money. He discourages inventors from economising on their patent protection, to get the best attorney they can and protect as much as possible. Simply put – your competitors, especially if they are big players are merciless. If a patent is not worth the paper it is written on, chances of survival are even more perilous. This takes us back to the question of business strategy – is pursuing patents the right thing for your business in the first place? Is it possible that another option such as keeping the invention a trade secret and using trademark protection as well an option? It all depends with the nature of the competitive environment and thinking about this in the early stages helps.
Nick Rutter of FireAngel encourages businesses to layer their IP to extend the protection they can rely on – patents, trademarks and design rights. In the early days when money is especially tight, it is also important to invest time in the relevant IP research so that you are using your attorney’s time well.
And what about Digital Marketing?
Across the board, the entrepreneurs have found that the web, particularly social media vital. Something going viral can propel a business. An instance when this happened for Sugru was when a US commentator told people that their product was the “new sellotape”. The company was flooded with online orders far outstripping their handling abilities at the time. They are now shipping to over 100 companies worldwide. Goldgenie has had huge success too via social media and now invests heavily in other aspects such as search marketing. FireAngel has recently brought their digital marketing work in-house and is capitalising on the brand recognition of its products.
The best time
On the train journey home and reflecting on the day’s events, the take home message from the entrepreneurs was - the sooner that businesses plug in IP into their strategy the better. Not to say it has been a smooth journey for them, business never is, but it certainly should not be an afterthought in the business plan.
Oh – it so happens that today is the last day for early bird tickets for our next Strategy course. Nothing scary about that for Halloween!