I wish to chronicle some of the interesting challenges that Mark Nicholls and I have faced in setting up a new business. Rather than use this medium to directly promote Tectona, I plan over the next few months to periodically describe some of the generic issues that new business owners face when getting started.
We have all read the book or seen the video – and personally, both Mark and I have even given advice to new start-ups during our former lives as advisers at Business Link. However there is nothing like finding yourself in the role of the entrepreneur – in the firing line and for real! Suddenly, the support structures you had in corporate life have evaporated. Everything has to be created from scratch – you quickly learn how to use your network of contacts to ‘beg, borrow or steal’.
Invariably, the first thing that a new start-up needs to think about is the name of the company. In our case this turned out to be excruciatingly painful and the elapsed time between thinking about a name and finally agreeing one was at least a month. This may have been in part due to us having to agree something between us but in fact the bigger challenge was finding a name that would uniquely represent the brand and would be trademark able. Off course when you don’t have a name, the immediate difficulty is you can’t carry a business card, the ultimate in networking tools.
We are seeking to build a brand that is synonymous with some of the premier professional services companies such as Accountants or Lawyers – the name NichollsEpstein or vice versa did not naturally roll off the tongue.
So the process we followed (both intentionally and unintentionally) was as follows:
- We brainstormed several names taking input from friends and family
- We consulted an old colleague of ours, a design and branding expert – he ‘shot all our names down in flames’, reminding us that the rules of the game are as follows when you are seeking a trademark:
- The name should not be descriptive nor deceptive
- Ideally the name should be a metaphor for what you deliver or what the outcome is for the client
- Armed with this information, we started the brainstorming again and arrived at 2-3 names we really liked
- Registering a derivative of the name at Companies House was going to be the easy bit – the problems surfaced when we checked for available domain names and then the Trade Mark Register at the Intellectual Property Office. These names turned out to be far from innovative and it was apparent that lots of other companies had got there before us
- We took independent advice (free, I am pleased to say) from a couple of IP lawyers and we were advised to keep well away from the names we were keen on
- In desperation during a teleconference, we turned to Latin and Greek words – and hey presto, we struck ‘gold’
And so Tectona Partnership Limited was formed. Tectona is Latin for teak which has inherent qualities of strength, durability, direction and growth. Partnership is what we are about whether it be clients, intermediaries or our Financial Directors. Most importantly, trademarking the name appears to be relatively straightforward.
So to recap, the lessons we learned were:
- If you are seeking to build a sizable business, then the brand matters and getting the name right will be your first challenge
- Read and re-read the guidance notes on the topics of brand, trademarking and intellectual property
- Take advice – a first consultation will invariably be free
- However, be prepared to pay an expert if/when you reach an impasse
- Set a realistic timeline for reaching a conclusion
- People buy people in the first instance, especially when the brand has no currency, so you can go out and network with or without business cards or a company name
With a name in hand, we have now turned to addressing our graphic design needs (logo, strapline etc) and the development of the website.
I will now let you get back to your work. If you do have any thoughts regarding our experiences above, I would be delighted to hear from you.