One of the biggest fails of my business career was choosing a name for our application, throwing all kinds of time and money into building a brand around that name and then operating long enough to acquire some good clients only to be told by a trademark attorney that we’d be in all kinds of doo doo if we ever got really big.
We are only “Yalla” today because the application that we initially built called “Gameplan” had a “much too crowded name space” when it came to trademarking. When I look back on it, I ran into the name “Gameplan” and jumped head first into using that name without a single thought about legalities. I don’t know whether it was because we didn’t expect the app to ever get popular or what, but we never thought twice about it. We just got excited, put our blinders on and started plowing ahead.
If I was being smart, I would have thought all of that through in advance in order to save ourselves a lot of time, stress, and money. At the time, we built Gameplan to scratch our own itch. We weren’t really building it for the public. We built it because we were jury rigging Basecamp to make it work for our business. We built it so that nothing would slip through the cracks in our internet marketing agency. We built it so that our clients could have maximum transparency on the projects we were working on for them. We built it as a side project. And that’s the whole point. You never know when something is going to stick. You never know when someone is going to ask you if they can use your application too. You just never know.
So I learned a huge lesson. Use my freaking brain before we build an application that might be used by the public. It’s a lot easier to get things right from the beginning. It’s a lot of work to change everything once you’ve already built it out and people are using the app. Plus, we wasted a bunch of precious brand awareness time. All of the retargeting ads, social media, blogs, millions of impressions, and other IP sort of goes down the drain and now people are required to get familiar with another brand.
I’m really happy that we landed on Yalla as our permanent name. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of sentimental value associated with Gameplan. But we’re Yalla now and we couldn’t be happier. But I’d never recommend anyone doing it the way we did. It wasn’t fun.
The first thing you’ll want to do is run a quick trademark search to see if there are any other companies performing a similar service under the same name. You can do all of this without the help of an attorney. Just click here on the USPTO search page to see who’s using the same name as you are.
You’ll see the results for the name you’re considering or already using. You want to look for all of the active listings, click on them, and then determine whether or not they are performing a similar service. If there are a ton of active search results, and any of them perform similar services, you may want to look for a different name for your business…and do it quickly. You don’t want to continue down that path and receive a cease and desist letter from an attorney right when you’re about to pick up steam with your business. Even worse, if you got really big, someone might try to sue your business for a big chunk of cash claiming “damages.”
You can file a trademark yourself, hire a Legalzoom type company, or hire an attorney who specializes in trademarks. I decided to go with the specialized attorney. They charge between $1k -$3k depending on what industry you’re in.
Everyone hates to deal with all that legal garbage, and there’s really nothing you can do to insulate yourself completely against the losers out there trying to get something for nothing from you, but you can take steps to make it more difficult for those bottom-feeders.
Truly the best thing you can do is find an attorney that you trust, help him itemize the things that will help protect your business and then list them in order of importance with their associated costs. Then find a way to chip away at the legalities over time so that if you do hit the big time…you’ll be ahead of the game.