In this edition of StartupStories, Trademark Factory founder Andrei Mincov is giving us an exclusive look at what it means to truly fill a hole in the market. After decades of practicing law, Mincov traded his career for entrepreneurship in order to fulfill a demand he noticed in the trademark industry. Here, Mincov fills us in on his company’s independent, intuitive beginning, its evolving marketing strategies, and a peek into the future of Trademark Factory.
Why were you inspired to start Trademark Factory?
It was a combination of a few factors. I became an intellectual property lawyer at the ripe age of 19 when my father, Mark Minkov, a famous Russian composer caught a radio station stealing his music. They took a song he wrote for a children’s film and made it into a Samsung commercial—without his permission. When he confronted them, they told him to sit down, shut up, and be happy they were making him even more famous. At the time, I was a student at a law school with zero knowledge of intellectual property and equally low desire to become a lawyer.
But I’ve always admired my dad and his approval was very important to me. So when he asked me if I could help him sue the radio station for copyright infringement, I said yes. I had to figure out what copyright was and what to do in a courtroom—while I was suing them. I had to take this case all the way from the bottom court to just one level below the Supreme Court of Russia—my very first case! And I won.
I was happy and triumphant, but I saw firsthand what it does to you when someone steals what you’d poured your heart and soul into. I saw what it does to your focus, I saw what it does to your productivity, I was what it does to your life.
This is how I became passionate about helping people protect their intellectual property. In fact, I strongly believe that we owe some gratitude to all those people who created all the wonderful things that surround us and that would not have existed if they hadn’t invented or created them. The music, the movies, the software, the gadgets, the cars, the computers, and on and on and on. I believe that the first thing we must do to show gratitude is to not steal from them.
When I moved to Canada 10 years ago, I realized that Canada has very weak copyright laws—even compared to Russia, as weird as it may sound. What this meant was that if I wanted to prosper, I had to do more than just copyright. But I just wasn’t passionate about any area of law other than intellectual property. Patents are too technical. This is how my focus started shifting towards trademarks—until one day in 2015, I realized that more than 90% of what my firms is involved in is trademarks.
If there is one thing I value in other people’s services, is predictability. I’d much rather pay more for a guaranteed result at a predictable price. I thought I wasn’t the only one and realized that no one was offering predictable, guaranteed trademarking services—and saw it as an opportunity to offer a new way of registering trademarks.
This is how Trademark Factory® was born.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
I started it as a regular intellectual property law firm. I had been an IP lawyer in Russia for over 13 years when I decided to move to Canada to start everything from scratch.
I had to go back to law school for 3 years, and after graduating and obtaining my lawyer license, I suddenly realized that no one wanted to hire me. It was the first time in my life when I had to look for work—and I was not finding it.
This is when I discovered the book by Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad. And as I was reading it, I realized that his point that employment income is the most insecure type of income was written specifically about my situation.
And so, I gathered my courage and started my own firm—and very quickly, I realized that my success would have very little to do with my brilliance and my excellence as a lawyer and everything to do with my abilities as a marketer and a sales guy. One little problem though: I used to be horrible at both. This is when I started attending countless seminars and webinars and reading dozens and dozens of books—until I got better at it.
In 2013, I decided to take part in the annual meeting of International Trademark Association (INTA) in Dallas. I’ve always wanted to visit Texas and I’ve always wanted to witness what it feels like to be at a convention with 10,000 lawyers in the same room. It was a perfect opportunity to combine the two. My problem was, I knew that I couldn’t just go there and hope to have any value from it if I didn’t have anything memorable about me and my business.
That’s how I came up with the idea of Trademark Factory®. I asked 100 business owners what they hated about dealing with lawyers and trademark lawyers in particular. They all mentioned pretty much the same three things: having to pay for time, rather than the result; having no idea how much the whole process is going to cost; and lack of refunds in case the trademark is rejected.
So I created an offer that was the exact opposite: we started offering free trademark searches, trademark registration services for a single, all-inclusive flat fee, with a 100% money-back guarantee. I remember finalizing the last pages of the Trademark Factory® website on the night of my trip to Dallas—just to be ready for the event.
What shocked me is that I was the only person in that room of 10,000 lawyers who had such a bold offer. It was a statement. And it gave me confidence to turn the pitch into reality.
This is how our 10-second pitch was crafted: “Trademark Factory®, the only firm in the world that offers trademarking services with a predictable result for a predictable budget: our licensed lawyers and trademark agents help entrepreneurs and businesses from around the world trademark their brands with a free comprehensive trademark search, for a single all-inclusive flat fee, with a 100% money-back guarantee.”
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Trademark Factory?
We are the only firm in the world that offers trademarking services with a predictable result for a predictable budget: our licensed lawyers and trademark agents help entrepreneurs and businesses from around the world trademark their brands with a free comprehensive trademark search, for a single all-inclusive flat fee, with a 100% money-back guarantee.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
It has always been and continues to be a work in progress.
At the very beginning, Trademark Factory® was little more than a marketing gimmick to position our services apart from those of the competition. Gradually, with development of our systems, client base and, frankly, our confidence in superiority of our offering compared to everyone else, it evolved into what is now a viable business model that has helped hundreds of businesses around the globe secure their brands.
The biggest pivot point came in 2015 when after 20 years of calling myself a lawyer, I chose to give up my lawyer license in order to be able to scale Trademark Factory® internationally. The way Canadian regulations are written, I just could not continue to grow the scope of the services we provide to our clients the way THEY want to obtain them. So, one day, I realized that I can help more people get what they want if I’m not a lawyer, compared to when I’m a lawyer. We’ve had 5 best quarters in a row since I made that decision. But I have to tell you, it was one of the biggest steps out of my comfort zone.
I happen to know programming. I’m not a professional web developer, but I am very good with automation and algorithms, and I know how to code. Now I have a full-time developer, but back in the day, I coded the first version of the Trademark Factory® website myself. I vividly remember how I locked myself up for a week and coded for 16 hours a day automating the generation of a very sophisticated legal agreement with the client all the way from the client choosing the trademarks they want to register to generating the agreement and sending the client invoices upon the client accepting the agreement. This used to take me about an hour per client to do it manually.
One day I decided to write the code to do it for me—and so some 100 hours later it was ready. And I remember sitting there and saying to myself, “Andrei, you don’t have that many clients yet to justify the time you just wasted automating the process!” But then, a few days later, I woke up and saw a chain of emails that notified me that one of our prospects just went through the whole process while I was sleeping. And I thought, “No, that was not a waste of time, it was well worth it!” Hundreds of thousands of lines of code later, that first code I wrote is still at the core of our process.
Initially, we only had one package for our services. This was the whole idea behind Trademark Factory®: one flat fee that covers everything from start to finish, with a money-back guarantee. About a year in the business, we introduced two other packages that our clients can choose from, I Feel Lucky and Ultimate, but our All-Inclusive package is still by far our most popular, with about 87% of our clients choosing it. Giving clients choice actually made it easier to showcase the benefits of the core offering.
Initially, we only filed trademarks in Canada and the U.S. In 2016, we added Australia and the European Union to the website. In addition, we have helped our clients file trademarks in China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Russia, and some other jurisdictions. And this list keeps growing.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Trademark Factory?
There are two distinct categories of brand owners who need our services: those who see the value of trademarking and those who don’t. It makes it very difficult to decide on the message. Should I be selling the importance of securing the brand through trademark registration or should I focus on why Trademark Factory® has the best offer on the market? How to avoid prospects from being overwhelmed with new information or from tuning out?
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
If there is one holy grail of marketing that trumps everything else, I haven’t discovered it yet. We have steady streams of clients from my interviews, video and social media posts, guest articles, trade shows, in-person meetups, books, SEO, affiliate program—but neither leads by a significant margin.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Trademark Factory?
Learn to ask questions. I’m a lone wolf. I love being on my own. I love making decisions by myself. I don’t need anybody’s company to be happy. The problem with this approach is that sometimes finding the right solutions and implementing them just takes too darn long—much longer than it would have taken if I had advice of someone who’s been there before. Throughout 2016, I had a mentor and I made it a point to ask him 3 questions a week—even if I didn’t really have anything I wanted to ask him. Pushing myself to ask questions led to some amazing breakthroughs.
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
This one is easy. I’d invest it all in Google Ads and test, test, test!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Be bold. Be persistent. Be legendary. Protect your brand.
What can we expect from Trademark Factory in the next year?
Expect 2017 to be a breakthrough year for Trademark Factory®. We’ve built some amazing internal systems here, and are ready for a massive scaling up. There are 5 million trademark applications filed worldwide. There are a lot of business owners we are prepared to help. Do you have a brand worth protecting?
To learn more about Trademark Factory, please visit trademarkfactory.ca.
Looking to get your own Startup off the ground? Meet StartupSites, our all-in-one digital marketing service for startups and small businesses on a budget. Get started today and you, too, could be sharing your StartupStory!