Real-life IP: PledgeMe

Our Real-life IP series, in which we interview clever NZ businesses and find out how they manage intellectual property (IP) in their business starts again today. If you have recommendations for who we should interview, please email us.

PledgeMe is New Zealand’s crowdfunding platform. They help Kiwis turn their dreams into reality through crowdfunding. PledgeMe runs two platforms, PledgeMe Projects, their original crowdfunding website aimed at creative projects and PledgeMe Equity for investment into companies.

We talked with founder and Chief Bubble Blower of PledgeMe, Anna Guenther.

Tell us a bit about PledgeMe…

PledgeMe is a crowdfunding platform focusing on New Zealand campaigns. We started two years ago. We’ve had over 700 successful campaigns so far raising almost $3,000,000.

[PledgeMe also successfully raised $100,000 in November through their own equity crowdfunding platform in less than 24 hours.]

PledgeMe CEO Anna Guenther
PledgeMe CEO Anna Guenther

How big is your business? Do you have lots of employees?

We’ve got three staff and a group of contractors and consultants on our board as well. We are looking to grow now that we’ve got equity crowdfunding and an equity crowdfunding license into that space, but it’s early days.

How did you start? Did you have investment?

I was working for the government for a few years and realized in order to progress [in my career], I probably had to go back and study or go and work for a private company for a little while. So I decided to go back and study, and I started the company while still working for the government.

PledgeMe actually came out of my Masters thesis. I wrote about crowdfunding and did all that business-y stuff around it, and [then] I co-founded PledgeMe with a developer who was building an engine.

We didn’t have any investment to start with. We bootstrapped it pretty hard for the first year and a half. It’s only the last year that we’ve gotten investment.

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Real-life IP: RightWay Ltd

RightWay Limited is one of New Zealand’s rapidly expanding bright companies, founded in 2011. They offer a different accounting experience – focused on small business customers, using cloud based tools to create the fastest growing accounting and advisory business in NZ.

We talked to their CEO, Greg Sheehan.

What do you do and how is it different than traditional accountants?

Small business owners, by and large, are serviced by small accountants, and most of them are suburban accountants who just focus on getting tax returns done.

Greg Sheehan, CEO RightWay
Greg Sheehan, CEO RightWay

We feel that small business owners also need help with strategy, getting their business models right, building their brands, understanding how to build sales pipelines if they were in that sort of market, understanding how to build their teams, as well as all the financials stuff – cash flows with the banks, understanding their margins, and doing tax returns.

Our claim to fame now is that we’re the fastest growing accounting firm in the country, by a number of different measures – new customers, staff number, growth up – we will be, by Christmas this year, we have 40 staff, numbers of offices, we’ve got 12 regions that we’re operating in now, and now we’re now looking at Australia.

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Real-life IP: Publons

The second company in our Real-life IP series, Publons, is a peer review system for scientific research helping researchers record, showcase, and verify peer review activity. They have been in operation since 2013, and are alumni of the first Lightning Lab programme.

We sat down with Andrew Preston, their CEO.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Andrew Preston, and I have a background in Physics. I did a PhD in Physics here [at Victoria University], worked over in the US for a few years, and learned what it’s like to be a professional researcher. Based on that knowledge, we founded Publons with the aim to speed up science. Current science could go a lot faster, and if it goes faster we could get to the future sooner, which would be ideal.

If you look at the way we communicate science, the big slow part of it is the peer review process. Publons really aims to improve the peer review process to speed that up.

Andrew Preston, CEO Publons
Andrew Preston, CEO Publons

The way we do that is we start by giving reviewers credit – something they can put on their resume for their peer review, because right now if you’re a reviewer and you review academic articles, you don’t get credit for it and you certainly don’t get paid. We’re going to solve that problem for reviewers.

How long has Publons been in business?

About two years now. We’re about six staff now and thousands of users.

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Real-life IP: Hunter Safety Lab

Yesterday we introduced our new series Real-life IP, which sets out to find out how real companies use intellectual property. Our interviews start today, with one of the cool companies Duon works with, Hunter Safety Lab.

Hunter Safety Lab Ltd (HSL) is a Wellington-based company, co-founded by Michael Hunter and Dave Grove. They make cutting edge safety systems for hunting, to reduce the huge number of accidents every year where someone shoots their hunting partner.

We sat down and talked to Mike about Hunter Safety Lab.

Mike Scott and Dave Grove, Founders of Hunter Safety Lab.
Mike Scott and Dave Grove, Founders of Hunter Safety Lab

What do you make?

Our flagship product, IRIS, is an alert system that sounds an alarm if a hunter points their gun at another hunter. IRIS stands for ‘infrared retro-reflector identification system’.

How long have you been in business?

I actually started HSL in 2009 with another business partner and a different alarm system. That didn’t work out, but we changed the product to the current design, Dave came on board as my co-founder and chief product designer, and it’s been all go since then!

What do you think the next few years ahead looks like?

Selling lots, I hope! We want to be in the US market, as well as in Europe. We also have a few new products and technology ideas floating around which we are talking to partners about, so there’ll be new things coming through to add to the IRIS safety system.

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How do businesses actually use intellectual property?

Have you ever noticed, when thinking about how to improve on the use of intellectual property in your business, there’s a real lack of case studies of how other businesses have done it?

There seems to be a lot of information out there about what a patent or trade mark is, or scary stories about patent trolls, but no actual stories on how businesses use IP – especially as a small business or start up. Do they find it hard to get information? Do they protect their ideas?

Occasionally, you get a profile piece from a law firm, saying Company X had a cool new idea, so they came to Lawyer Y and they were great! But, I want to yell, “what did they actually do?!”

So, I enlisted the help of Emily who is a start up enthusiast, co-founder and editor at Hvngry magazine, among other things. Together we started a project to interview startups and interesting businesses in Wellington to find out how they use intellectual property in their business.

We also asked them other nosy questions we wanted to know such as “Where did you get investment from?”, “Have you done anything wrong with IP you had to fix?”, “What advice would you give?”.

Our Real-life IP profile series starts tomorrow.

Articles in the Real-life IP series:

Answering the IP question

When you’re pitching your new idea to investors, angels, or VCs, they’ll often ask the same question. “What intellectual property (IP) do you have?” or “What’s your IP position?”

The key to answering is to not panic. It’s also to not rush out and apply for a patent so you can say “it’s patent pending”. Telling potential investors that you’ve already spent thousands of dollars without really understanding why probably won’t impress them. Really.

Some investors do want a company to protect IP with a patent. Some think it’s a waste of money at the early stage. There’s no hard and fast rule. So do you file or not? Like everything else in your business plan, proving you’ve thought about the issues – and have a clear, confident strategy – will put you ahead when it comes to tricky questions.

De-risking the investment

Your potential investor is excited, but they’re asking questions. What’s your IP plan? Are there any big risks they need to know about? How likely is it that a competitor will just copy you? Or sue you? With IP a number of common things can go wrong. These apply to companies in the digital space and those selling physical goods.

Want to assure investors that they won’t be throwing their money away? Start by showing you have these three issues covered:

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Finding the best patent attorney for your new product

You’ve done the hard work developing your product. You’ve even been inspired by my previous post on using a patent attorney effectively and have done some searching. You now know how your product is different from other published technology and you’re confident that this technological difference gives the product a commercial advantage. Also, you’re pretty sure you won’t run into existing IP rights in your technology that could stop you expanding in the future (Freedom To Operate).

But, how do you know which attorney to pick to protect your invention? In this connected world, is it better to get a US attorney if your product will be sold in the US? Who is the best firm to use in New Zealand?

Three simple rules for picking the best patent attorney:

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How can you choose & protect your brand name?

Naming your business or new product is hard. It’s the kind of thing where the best advice is “get two of your friends, a bottle of wine and brainstorm”. However, it’s also worth thinking about how to have a protectable name. Will you run into trouble with similar names? Will you be able to protect your brand from competitors?

To have a good, strong, protectable brand, follow these simple rules:

Choosing a name #1: To be registered, your trade mark must be “distinctive”

Distinctiveness means you can’t have the same name as someone else. Nor can it look or sound similar. Finally, it can’t be totally descriptive. When you register a trade mark, you pluck it out of the dictionary for others to use in relation to their goods or services. So, you can’t stop, for example, another New Zealand fruit company calling their product “New Zealand Apples”. or “New Zealand Green apples”.

In this way, your trade mark is different than a company name registration. A name with the Companies Office only has to be slightly different. A registered trade mark has to be “distinctive”. Good, strong brands are often made up, like Kodak®, Xerox®, Kit Kat®.

Tip: When starting out, you could use your name and a descriptive word to help customer’s associate your product with the name, e.g. Cadbury® chocolate or Kleenex® tissues.

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