When Australia got yet another new prime minister last week, longtime LegalVision client Gwen Blake had an idea. She shared a meme on Twitter of a canvas bag reading “Ban the Single Use Prime Minister”. From there, it snowballed.
Gwen and her business partner Mark Haygarth run Boxer & Co, a packaging design agency. So Gwen had the design skills to turn her meme into a real product. But, due to the speed at which the news cycle (and demand) was moving, she faced a number of big intellectual property (IP) issues.
We spoke to Gwen about what setting up a business over the course of a weekend looks like, how to protect your creation as part of a fast paced launch and how she dealt with copycats.
You made a meme of a bag that read “Ban the Single Use Prime Minister” in the wake of last week’s spill and people loved it. So you set up Sans Sheriff over the weekend, and turned over $8,000 within the first day and a half of sale. What was it like to get an idea off the ground that quickly?
At 5pm Saturday I decided to start the business and by midnight, I had created the artwork, ordered 100 bags, started an Etsy store, created the business name Sans Sheriff, a logo, a Facebook page, an Instagram account and set up payment facilities.
I was cooking and hosting dinner for eight people when I set up the business. My guests didn’t seem to mind the distraction, they’re all good friends and were egging me on. I stayed up after the guests had left and got it all set up and running by 12.30am Sunday morning.
Orders started to trickle in slowly after that. By breakfast I’d sold 15, mostly to friends. I started to panic that it wouldn’t sell and I’d be left with a load of the 100 bags. But as the day went on, they sold out and I placed a second order for 500. By the end of Monday, I’d applied for the trade mark for the phrase “Ban The Single Use Prime Minister”, registered my new business name, ordered 2,000 bags and by close of business Wednesday I’d sold them all, taking $40,000. And sales are still coming in. You can achieve a lot in five or six days if you put your mind to it!
There was huge demand when you posted the meme. People were saying they’d make the bags themselves if they weren’t available for sale. How important is protecting your IP in a situation that fast-paced and time sensitive?
I just knew that I’d regret it deeply if I saw someone else make my bag and I missed out on the opportunity. So I just did everything in my power to get to market super fast and then called LegalVision on Monday morning with a “Quick! Help me register my trade mark” plea!
What did you actually do to protect your IP and have you faced any copycats?
This has been one of the biggest lessons of the whole thing. I cannot stress how important it’s been to know that the law was on my side. The first thing was that someone ripped off my concept exactly, the words, the font and the bag style, and they were selling it on Etsy within a day.
With the help of LegalVision, we sent a cease and desist letter and within hours it was down. Over the course of the next four days, I was repeatedly finding copycats and every time, I’d email them and every time they would be down within hours.
You were able to jump into manufacturing immediately because your design company, Boxer & Co, was already set up. Do you have any tips for others wanting to launch an idea quickly if they don’t have existing processes and relationships with suppliers?
I didn’t actually end up using many of the suppliers I already knew. The key was finding people who understood what I was doing and were happy to join the ride at the mad pace I needed them to run at! If people weren’t responsive, they fell off my radar while I found others who were. That’s almost more important than price. You need to find people who are happy to go the extra mile and at the extra pace to be part of something like this.
How did you come up with the name Sans Sheriff?
I called the business Sans Sheriff because it’s a bit of a design, typography joke but it also represented the quick, almost cowboy style of the speed I was taking it to market. I did everything just well enough to look like a real brand and launch and tidied things up later.
The political excitement will die down soon enough, and you’ve said you’ll close orders soon to ensure the joke doesn’t go stale. So what’s next for Sans Sheriff?
I’d love to do other limited edition irreverent pieces but I know the importance of a brand that delivers. I just want to get through this week unscathed and deliver brilliantly to my customers right now. Plus, I already have another established and successful business to be getting on with!
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