By Gugu Siso- Founder of Thumeza
When you think of an IP, the kind of scenario that comes to mind is one where there is an innovative solution/product that you believe is guaranteed to get hijacked by “They who must not be named” the second you open your mouth to discuss it with anyone. Submitting an IP application to reserve a business name is definitely not on your to do list. You’re preoccupied with more glamorous thoughts such as, “I can’t wait for my business to take off and I start rolling in it. My village people will know me!” and once you get deep into it, less generous thoughts such as, “I should have just listened to my mother and signed up to be a teacher when the applications for Hillside Teachers College came out.”
What made me start my business was the frustration of not being able to get essential medicine delivered to my grandmother who lives in a village just over 150 kms away from Bulawayo because then current market solutions either did not deliver to that area at all or were not available on that particular day. Armed with righteous indignation, I did the relevant market research, ascertained that providing a solution to that problem was indeed feasible and marched off to the nearest Business Registration Office. After stumbling blindly from office to office I was finally led onto the online name reservation portal. Triumphantly, I keyed in my preferable names and was faced with the fact that none of them were available for use. Yes, not even that weird obscure one I was sure no one would have thought of! Dejected as I had started referring to the business with that name, I went back to the drawing board.
Coming up with my current trading and business registration names, (they are the same), I feel was even more intense than looking for a baby’s name (the thought of having kids at this point in my life makes me break out in hives. I said it, come fight me). I used random name generators, I tried trendy names with no meaning, consulted my ancestors, went to church, you name it, and I tried it. After about a month of active searching, I settled on a name that I felt would convey exactly what I wanted it to and promptly got it registered with the appropriate authorities. Armed with the document in hand, I then dove head first into the organized chaos that is Zimbabwe’s business world.
Reality sets in
Imagine my surprise later after actively trading for a couple of months, with branding in place albeit on a shoestring budget, to get a negative review on an online platform from a client bitterly complaining about our service. Confused, as I know all our clients on a first name basis and I definitely did not know this gentleman, I did a cursory search on Facebook and found a company here in Zimbabwe with the exact same name with a loosely similar business model. To rub the salt in the wound, the individual had a significant following on Facebook as compared to my own more modest numbers generated from organic follower growth methods!
Confused and a little bit scared even as I knew I had the relevant business documents in hand I tried to ignore the matter and pretend like it didn’t exist. Unfortunately, the law of attraction states that you attract what you think about the most. Let’s just say I was obsessed for a while which was exacerbated by concerned friends sending me alarmed messages with screenshots attached of the individual business’s activities on social media. At one point I had harvested the individual’s cellphone number from acquaintances with the intention to call them out to pistols at dawn for daring to use my precious name.
Finding a solution
The height of my anxiety culminated in me reaching out to one of the powers that be (shout out to the main man TK!) and in essence having a neurotic breakdown over all the perceived outcomes stemming from the situation. 1, I would call him and he would apologise and stop using the name (dreams are free guys!) or 2, he would in essence ignore my request and tell me to use a popular term, “come fight me”. After calling an IP lawyer I was faced with two options; submit an IP application at a high cost I could little afford as a boot strapping start upper or out brand them. By out branding I mean being more visible in each and every manner. From shouting your company name to the rooftops to being associated with every good thing coming out of the space you are in so as to later on have the name synonymous with just your business and thereby crowding your IP competitor. Guess which option I went with? I am currently utilizing each and every social capital at my disposal to grow the business brand as well as “staying in my lane”. This has lowered my stress and allowed me to focus on what prompted me to start the business. Which is ensuring no one else is grossly inconvenienced by a lack of affordable and accountable delivery solutions.