In Good Company Blog

The Case of the Business Copycat

It’s been said that there is no such thing as a totally new idea. We agree.

We also believe in drawing inspiration from the marketplace, which we did this in the creation of In Good Company. We felt that women business owners needed a better alternative to working ad hoc at the local Starbucks, in various hotel lobbies, or between the shelves of the nearest Barnes & Noble. We were also inspired by some community-oriented businesses that we saw, such as Paragraph   – a space for writers on 14th Street. During our planning phases we contacted the owners of Paragraph, told them of our idea, and enlisted their support. We remain close to them to this day. They were grateful for our courtesy and honesty and we were grateful for their feedback and generosity.

Since we opened more than 3 years ago, we have had several women across the globe inquire about our business model and share their intentions to build something similar. Some were gracious, others not so much. We have been surprised by the large number of demanding requests that we have received to send us our business plan and financial information. It is astounding that people actually expect a favorable response to such communication.

We have also had wonderful people reach out in the spirit of camaraderie and tell us of their plans. For example, Jennie Nevins, the owner of Green Spaces called the office to let us know that she wanted to start something similar for green businesses. We said great and good luck. We remain in touch and we genuinely wish them lots of success. We even interviewed Jennie for our book on women entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, we have also had less savory instances where a member of our own community got herself hired to bring many identifiable elements of our business model and programming to another business. She never talked about her intentions or plans with us and we found out on the internet. We let her know how we felt and moved on.

My point is that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way.

I strongly believe that business should be fair and collaborative. I believe in common courtesy and I believe that it is important to maintain a certain standard of professionalism.

I usually assume that most people subscribe to the same kind of philosophy. And while I know that is not true, I’d like to think that this belief still says something good about me.

Needless to say I was shocked when one of our staff members sent me a Facebook page for another In Good Company…In Good Company Ireland. This page linked to a website, which is still under construction, touts not only our business name, but also our “Work. Meet. Learn.” tagline, and instead of our pink flower logo it displays a purple one.

Wanting to refrain from jumping to conclusions, I contemplated the various scenarios. Was it a joke? Could it be some sort of scam? When I discovered that the site owner follows me on Twitter my suspicion thickened and my attitude soured. This was for real.

(Now before I get tons of comments about intellectual property, I should point out that while we do have a trademark it is for the US and I don’t believe that it extends to Ireland. If any legal experts think otherwise, please let me know!)

I’ve thought a lot about whether I really wanted to put this out into the public sphere. Considering questions from “Am I being petty?” to “Won’t I just be drawing attention to this copycat?”.  However given the extent of their likeness I was also disturbed by the thought that searches for our brand may turn up their venture. Also I want to make it clear to those who will easily be led to think otherwise that we have NO affiliation with this other company or its owner.

More than that though, I really wanted to engage our community in a conversation about business etiquette.

I suppose I’m also hoping that since things are still under construction there seems to be ample opportunity for a change in course.

Maybe making this issue public will help good common sense and professionalism to prevail. If you agree please let us know and help by sharing this with others!

More importantly, if this has happened to you please let us know how you handled it!

(and what better image to summarize this than this print by dippylulu)

 UPDATE 11/5: Thank you so much for all your support! It really meant so much to us to hear all your comments and stories.

As an update – it seems that the Facebook page was taken down and Twitter page was edited. Almost all the traces of this imposter business are gone so I guess the message got through. Hopefully it was a good lesson to learn.

More than anything I’m just astounded about how common this very blatant type of copying is. We will be doing more to discuss how to handle issues within the IGC community.

-Adelaide

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20 Responses to The Case of the Business Copycat


  1. Oh, Adelaide and Amy…the stories I can tell you. I’ve been in business for over 7 years and there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t receive an email or phone call from someone who wants me to give hand over my business plan to them, offer them free start up advice, help them find business insurance, help them find clients or mainly “tell me how you are so successful”. When you graciously decline to give information – these people wil lash out at you as if you are holding back information that is entitled to them. Some people aren’t so point blank. I had several people pose as student who were doing their “senior project” on us, but more shocking are the women that call up and pretend they are having a party to receive information. They always shoot themselves in the foot by asking questions that no ordinary potential client would ask such as “how do you know how many workers to send?”, “what is your commission structure” or “where do you buy your supplies?”.

    I’ve had countless business owners literally copy and paste my original website text onto their site and call it their own. One forgot to replace her own business name in one paragraph, and left mine there. Others have stolen my event photos and posted as their own. And then there is of course the gaggles of people who try to call themselves “spa chicks” or think they are being safe by using “spa chicks on the roll” or “on the go spa chicks”.

    I have a lawyer who now handles all my intellectual property issues. I personally call each and every person who infringes on my name or likeness as a courtesy. It usually clears the issue 98% of the time – but sometimes it needs to go to the next level.

    The bottom line is that there are many people who want to start a business but dont want to put in the hard work to start it up. I learned all by trial and error and followed my instinct. I am not ready to part with all my “inside information” just yet…and certainly not for free. I speak of this issue often on Facebook and on my blog. I would love to be on a round table panel discussion with you about it at the office! Until then, keep your ground!

  2. Someone who copies your company name, your slogan, and your logo should be tarred and feathered. Of course there’s not much you can actually do if she’s in Ireland (and even if she were in the USA, the legal costs might be prohibitive).

    However I do feel it’s important to still be open to discussion and sharing with others, as you have always been over the years. Just because a few people in the world are assholes doesn’t mean you should stop being a resource to all the people who are honest and who give back as much as they take. I find that the assholes are few and far between, so if we all stop sharing with each other because of those assholes, then we are letting them win.

    Somehow you need to figure out how to let it go, to forget about the imitators, and to continue to innovate in what you do. Because the real success of IGC is in the leadership and the members and their relationships with each other. Without those elements, IGC would be just a desk in any office. So without you to create the special community we have, it’s not really IGC.

    There was something in that Book Club book “Click!” (I think) about how it’s important to have faith in other people, and if a few people let you down, that’s their problem–you can’t make it your problem, you have to feel sorry for them and move on.

  3. Caroline & Marie –

    thank you both so much for your support!

    Caroline – you are right, of course, that there is not much we can do and it is certainly not worth becoming cynical over. Faith in others is the way to go and what we strive for. And thank you for validation on the special sauce of IGC. We feel so grateful to all the women in the community who really make IGC what it is! thank you.

    Marie – wow – it is frightening how entitled people can be some times. I can’t believe someone left your name in the text of their website – how absurd! I just find it so confusing that someone would be so careless and lazy. Those attributes can’t make for a good business! I’m glad to hear you call each person. I will reach out to you to ask more about that. I need some advice on comfortable language. thank you.

  4. I agree with the other commenters that this is way too common and so frustrating. I’m glad you are sharing this because it is so common and all business owners need to be aware that this can happen.

    Like you, I’ve had many people ask me to share my business model and tell them how to build a business like mine. And I was once sitting in a workshop at a conference and was astounded to see MY OWN SLIDES included in another presenter’s presentation!

    I agree that no one else will have your energy, smarts and network. At the same time, I hope you are aggressive in protecting your brand.

    Good luck and thanks again for sharing this!

    Lindsey

  5. Lindsey –

    Thanks for your support. I can’t believe that your story. It is really outrageous!

    I just have to believe that all of our x factors really matter and serve as a protective barrier for our brands. But it is still hard to fathom the audacity of some people.

    In some ways it feels good to be so surprised. I know a lot of business owners and none of them would ever behave so unethically. I guess there are just some really rotten apples out there too.

    mind-boggling!

  6. Darlene says:

    One idea is to specify on your site that you are the original In Good Company, begun in [year], and that you welcome inquiries as to whether similar looking/sounding organizations are affiliated with you. I thought of this because, while searching for models for our upcoming photoshoot, I saw that one model specified that her MySpace page was “the one and only official MySpace profile of [name]” and to “click here” to report others claiming to be her. Along similar lines, Twitter uses that blue check mark to verify a celibrity’s Twitter account.

  7. Darlene –

    These are GREAT ideas! Thank you so much.

  8. Adina says:

    I just wanted to say that this is so sad and crazy and I know you guys are the originals! It’s flattering when you have such a good idea that people want to copy it. And have faith that people who don’t share your brain(s) can’t actually steal all of your ideas. Right? That’s what I tell myself!!

  9. Thank you for your support, Adina!

    Imitation is flattering but plagiarism is infuriating! There is direct text from our website on her facebook page!

  10. Judi Rosenthal says:

    There is nothing flattering about outright stealing your identity. Earlier this year, I had an advisor join bloom and then proceed to steal my name, concepts, and copy from my newsletters. She has to audacity to ask me directly for advice about what to name her women’s group. She paid for the service for three month, got her hands on my “stuff” and then promptly quit the group and stole the name. I found out when a prospect inquired about hiring me and asked if I was affiliated with her because she listed her new title on linkedin and her website as “founder of bloom”.

    I paid my attorney to send her a cease and desist letter. In addition, we filed a formal complaint through linkedin, which has a policy around trademark infringement. She replied to our letter stating that she disagrees that there would be any “confusion” about our identity because she is located in Illinois (?). As if location has any relevance at all. We had to threaten a law suit to make her take it all off the internet.

    It was four months before we cleared up the matter and in hindsight, it was a mere annoyance. That said, I was absolutely furious and at times distracted with the problem. I resented being forced to spend money on attorney fees and I spent too much time checking her site to see if it was taken down, working on letters, and talking about it with my colleagues, friends and family.

    In the end, this person stole my name, my money, and my time, but not my business. In other words, no one will ever be the “original”, they will always be just a copy. No matter how much they try, they can never replicate the brand that is YOU and a business built on anything less than 1000% integrity is destined to fail.

    If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to hire the right attorney and try to limit the amount of emotional energy you spend on this thief. Of course, I would be happy to refer my attorney to you, share the letters we sent, or just talk about it with you, anytime.

  11. WOW – Judi, that is quite the experience! It is just do hard for me to believe that there are this many people willing to so blatantly and arrogantly rip something off. I’m so sorry she fought you on it too. How bizarre. We’re going to have a discussion on this issue at IGC – I’m sure you could share a lot of good information and advice! thanks for your support.

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  13. jill stern says:

    Welcome to the ugly part of business(the good, the bad, and the ugly) but it should not deter you. You will soon find out that it will not affect your business and once you get past your feelings, you’ll be able to put it behind you and move forward.

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  15. Dale Arango says:

    And it seems the New York Times felt it was worthy of putting your story forward. I commend you for taking the time and energy to deal with it head on…..it was worth making the point – honesty and integrity can still prevail!

  16. Joan Reilly says:

    Hi Adelaide & Amy,

    I think it is a great subject. Sorry to hear about your ordeal. Today at our accountability meeting we touched upon ethics. We have seen in the past few years, desperate measures of adding a business presence. We took away from the meeting a sense of ethical values and realized our businesses are based on relationships & trust and that usually wins in the end.

    I look forward to the meeting in December.

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  19. Thank you Dale and Joan for your comments. We are hoping that as you say, honesty and integrity can prevail! Unfortunately, the copycat site is back and with more detail. We are trying to connect with the site owner directly but haven’t had any luck so far. We will keep everyone posted. In the meantime, thanks for the support!

  20. Kathleen Warner Yeates says:

    I came across your webpage when a student asked me about a talent agency called “In Good Company”. It must be destiny, as I am a woman business owner based in Ireland. I am delighted to stumble upon your discussion of business ethics, integrity and collaboration. Life is short and there is plenty to go around without stooping to backstabbing and sabotage. I will always seek to do business with those who maintain clear communication and basic decency in all dealings. I wish you all the best!

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