Devil’s in the details? Good news!

Devil’s in the details? Good news!

The Devil is in the details. Good news! This means picking a trade name for your new business venture will involve a great deal of planning and detail oriented thinking about your launch plan, and the market you serve. This will only serve you in good stead down the line.

Take, for example, a company called “Designbook.” According to a recent article, Established Firms Fight Startups on Names, they are a fledging upstart who is seeking entry into the now crowded social networking market. In attempt to gain a nationwide monopoly on their name, Designbook filed an application to register it’s name with the federal government’s Patent and Trademark office.

Guess who opposed the application? Facebook. According to the networking giant, Designbook’s use of “book” in it’s name is confusingly similar to the “book” used in “Facebook.” Of course, if Designbook was a pen manufacturer, Facebook’s claim wouldn’t likely have merit.

However, as applied to the social networking market, “book” has gained a worldwide reputation as being associated with “Facebook.” So the mammoth’s argument about confusingly similar use has merit — in this instance. Imagine if the market became saturated with “Desginbook,” “Loobook,” “Cokebook,” “Gangabook,” “Pornbook,” and so on? Such uses give the impression that the companies are affiliated with Facebook (as in the case of “Designbook” or “Lookbook”). Otherwise, the tradenames dilute the “Facebook” name (as in the case of “Cokebook,” “Gangabook,” and “Pornbook.”). Unlike confusion, dilution doesn’t require that folks think one brand is affiliated with the other, but merely that that the new brand — i.e. “Cokebook” — makes the famous brand — “Facebook” — less unique.

That being said, assume “Pornbook” launched a website, not in the social networking realm, but as a new humorous online publication by evolutionary biologists like E.O. Wilson for the study of sexual practices among Rhesus monkeys, in addition to other non-human mammals, throughout history. In that case, Facebook would be hard pressed to bring a claim. “Book” is a generic word. Facebook doesn’t own it. So the question becomes, how do you, as a new venture backed company, pick a good name to enter into an otherwise crowded market?

Be original. While “Designbook” describes, in some ways, what the company does, the trade name “Nike” does not. If you didn’t know that “Nike” referred to the shoe company, you’d otherwise think it may apply to a Greek God for victory — it does. All this means is that a company like “Designbook” needs to pick a more original — “fanciful” — name that doesn’t describe, in anyway, what they do. They then can make a splash in the market — like Nike did after Mr. Jordan helped revamp the brand. (Remember those Spike Lee/Michael Jordan commercials?) In the end, an original name can actually help “Designbook” gain more market share instead of merely being a “me too” Facebook.

Only by respecting the Devil and his details will you arrive at a sustainable, attention grabbing, name.

An offer you can’t refuse.

An offer you can’t refuse.

The WSJ recently reported in Zynga Leans on Some Workers to Surrender Pre-IPO Shares that the technology company is making certain employees an offer they can’t refuse: cough up your pre-IPO stock options or your first born is dead. ¬†Well, not really. The threat is that the employee will lose his or her job. While it is understandable that the company doesn’t want to have another Google cook who makes out like a bandit when Zynga goes IPO, it is also unclear whether Zynga’s approach is either legal or wise.

Under New York’s Limited Liability Company Act, for example, an employee’s sweat equity is valued like a cash contribution. So if you offer $50,000.00 of your cooking services to a cash starved start-up in exchange for 2% of the company and a measly $25,000.00 salary, you are in the same position as another investor who put in $50,000.00 cash for 2%. Of course, you could end up getting a windfall if the company eventually goes public and is worth $2 billion.

That is the position Zynga is about to find itself when it goes public. To rectify the problem of attracting new talent with not enough shares to dole out, the company is apparently going to certain employees and demanding that they return some or all of their stock options, or else. If this is merely a case buyer’s remorse, then Zynga will be asking for a great deal of breach of contract and wrongful termination litigation from terminated employees. Of course, if the employees have not lived up to their part of the bargain, then the law in New York at least allows companies like Zynga to ask for interests back under threat of breach of contract litigation against the employee.

In either case, it doesn’t seem like good business. People will be more reticent to work with start-ups if they expect that, down the line, the company will finagle them out of their not yet vested stock options so that they can go to more efficient resources — i.e. more valuable people. If a company is worried about getting itself into a tight bind like this, it seems better to hybrid the transaction with some cash so that the company doesn’t find itself later on with not enough stock to go around, or, worse, embroiled in class action litigation. Otherwise, the company shouldn’t make the deal in the first place.