Start-up stories: SnapDragon

Start-up stories: SnapDragon

Rachel Jones’ own experience of protecting and defending her business IP led to her turning that into a business of its own. She tells us how she’s winning the battle of the fakes.

What did you do before you started this business?

Long ago, I studied agriculture, moved into land-based PR (working in Shrewsbury, Edinburgh and then Auckland, New Zealand), co-founded Great Circle Communications (from a pub in Auckland) in 1998, and helped nurture and grow it for the resultant trade sale, to Vitruvian, in 2011.

Along the way, I created the Totseat travel highchair (my husband handed me the scissors to cut up my wedding dress to make the first Totseat … we’re still married!) and took this to market too. The experiences of successfully defending this brand online, in a hugely competitive market, led to the creation and development of SnapDragon.

What inspired you to start up?

SnapDragon is a brand protection solution for SMEs that was born out of successfully defending the Totseat travel highchair against copies in a global market place.

We didn’t have budget to spend on extensive legal action but thanks to an (expensive) but comprehensive intellectual property portfolio and a steep learning curve, we successfully implemented a programme of identifying copies and removing them from sale – whether from high street retailers in the UK or online marketplaces in China.

Our own learning experience identified a huge gap in the market for SMEs suffering this kind of infringement, traditionally ‘reserved’ at least in most people’s eyes for FMCG and luxury brands.  In many ways SMEs suffer more, financially and emotionally, particularly when resources are tight and focus is tight. After a couple of years of endlessly sharing our expertise for free, SnapDragon was born!

Tell us about your business in 100 words

Rapid technological advancements are making online counterfeiting easier than ever. SnapDragon helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to protect – and use – their intellectual property (IP) by tackling online sales of counterfeit goods. Our expert team of data analysts, linguists and brand managers use proprietary software to monitor, report, and remove infringing goods from the world's busiest online marketplaces, social media and auction sites. SnapDragon’s intelligent system is the most effective, fast and affordable online brand protection service available to SMEs, protecting revenues, reputations and customers.

How would you describe your business to your grandma?

Copies and fakes have been a problem for makers of luxury goods for many years but smaller brands are now at risk too because of the growth of online shopping and relative obscurity of online sellers. Many customers have no idea they are buying a fake until the inferior product arrives.

Even then, many think that they have received a faulty item rather than a copy. We help any manufacturer, or brand, to defend their business by preventing the sale of fake goods via online marketplaces – such as Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Facebook, and hundreds of others.

Where do you get advice, support or help?

I read voraciously, attend industry, IP and anti-counterfeiting events all over Europe to keep up with trends and to learn from colleagues, friends and competitors! The input from Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International is also useful – and my long suffering family, fabulous team, supportive friends and ever-loyal office dog keep me sane.

Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?

SnapDragon was bootstrapped from the start and we traded profitably without investment. Earlier this year we secured a six-figure investment from Mercia Fund Management to allow us to really develop the tech side of the business.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Last year we were instrumental in persuading the Alibaba group to accept non-Chinese registered IP in a brand’s defence on its external-facing websites. This has really helped a significant number of businesses, which previously could have done very little to defend their brands online without Chinese-registered trademarks.  

In helping to protect brands across online marketplaces, auction and social media sites we have helped to prevent the sale of billions of dollars worth of counterfeit and infringing products, protecting revenues, reputations and customers.

I’m also very proud of the dedication and resourcefulness of our team here, in Scotland, which so far encompasses 13 nationalities (speaking 17 languages).

How do you differentiate your business from others?

We are an accessible, affordable, effective brand protection solution for SMEs. Our experience is based on defending livelihoods, so we really understand the pain and frustration of infringements and work really hard to ensure our clients’ intellectual property can be used to protect businesses, customers and sanity.

What’s it like to be your own boss?

In one word, energising.

It’s nearly 20 years since we first founded Great Circle so it has been a long time since I had a boss, per se, but there’s a lot of responsibility when you have a team of people – there are mouths to feed and mortgages to pay so in many ways you have more ‘bosses’. Other than that, great fun. Mostly!

Where do you see your business in 5 years time?

I’d like SnapDragon to be working with customers around the world and to have affected global trade by having removed such a significant number of counterfeit and infringing products.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Listen, listen, and listen.  Hear from people who have been there, done it and are still doing it.

Surround yourself with motivated, visionary people who can become experts, if they are not already. You may have to pay them before you pay yourself, but this should be a worthwhile investment if their expertise takes you to where you need to go. Recruit for (the right) attitude and a love of your brand.

If you need to raise funding, consider having a smaller piece of a bigger pie over saddling yourself with a potentially worrying debt. Be prepared to survive on less sleep than you were used to!

Register and protect your IP as early as possible.