Monday, May 07, 2007

Now or Never?

The past week has been rather sobering at the office: I found out that one of my clients dies of a heart attack at the age of 44. It drives home the point that one can't take anything for granted: even waking up in the morning. I only met with the client a couple of times nearly two years ago but he impressed me with his gregarious and friendly nature. He was certainly one of my more memorable clients.

The thing those of us can take from events like the foregoing is that there really is no time like the present to pursue you dreams and ambitions whether that is starting a business, commercializing your invention, or traveling around the world. As long as your are breathing, it is never too early or too late to begin. And realize that tomorrow, which may never come, may be too late. In other words, for those things and actions that are really important to you, such as your life goals, you may not be able to wait for another day.

As they say in a long dead language: Carpe Diem!

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

LegalZoom: Bill O'Reilly Spinning In The No Spin Zone

I was driving home the other day when who do you think I heard shilling for LegalZoom: no other than Bill O'Reilly. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. LegalZoom does have a HUGE advertising budget and they use radio as one of their primary advertising mediums. I believe I have heard Denver's own Peter Boyles also personally advertises for Legal Zoom as well. BUT for Bill O'Reilly to shill for them, the self-anointed straight talker, seriously damages his credibility in my book.

Yeah, Bill will tell it to you straight without the spin UNLESS he is paid to spin then he will spin, spin, spin like a top! And LegalZoom is probably the most egregious purveyor of spin out there. Hey, that is not surprising, lawyers are some of the best spinners. Yes, Legal Zoom was founded by lawyers and they trumpet that fact, BUT lawyers do not work with Legal Zoom clients. See LegalZoom's own disclaimer statement: "LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom does not practice law and does not give legal advice." No, the founding attorney owners of the zoom are just sitting back and taking your money without any of the heavy lifting.

Consider Robert Shapiro, part of the legal team that spun the events concerning Nicole Simpson's murder to gain a not guilty verdict for O.J. Simpson, he probably woke up one day and said to himself something like, "hmm, if I can convince a jury, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, that OJ didn't do, imagine what I could do with the American Public". And a Master Spin Machine was born. Actually, I suspect the idea for Legal Zoom didn't come from Shapiro but another founding attorney who brought in Shapiro because of his national notoriety.
So where is the spin? Well, let me lay it out for you as simply as possible. For any one of their legal document services, LegalZoom prominently tells you on their website how much you are going to save over using an attorney. For instance with preparing and filing a trademark, the Zoom will charge you $489 ($159 for their services and $325 for the Trademark Office filing fee) saving you $1285 over using an attorney according to them. And, of course, if you want a comprehensive trademark search that will add another $299 for a grand total of $788 saving you all told a whopping $2354 over using an attorney to perform the same process. Sounds good, right?
So here is the spin: First, the amount saved over going to an attorney is highly exaggerated. I don't doubt that many large national firms charge the amounts listed by LegalZoom for trademark services, BUT the individual entrepreneur who is the Zoom's customer is not likely to use a large national law firm but rather a sole practitioner or a small firm, like ours. Small firms rarely charge anything close to $3142 to search and file a trademark. Case in point, our standard fee for a trademark clearance search and the filing of a trademark application in a single international classification is $1250 including the filing fee. Still more than Legal Zoom's $788, but with us you get a boatload of LEGAL ADVICE.
Are you getting dizzy yet?
This brings me to Legal Zoom's second spin: they are comparing rotten tomatoes to ripe juicy apples. LegalZoom's document preparation services cannot be fairly compared to providing legal advice. Even they say in their fine print, "This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney." Wait, Wait, Wait! If LegalZoom's services are no substitute for an attorney than why are they comparing their pricing to that of attorneys? I will tell you why: they are spinning it. they know that only a fraction of customers are ever going to read the disclaimer and they are counting on it and they know people are going to be enticed by the huge, if not misleading, quoted savings amounts.
Hey Bill, things are looking a bit blurry over at the NO SPIN ZONE: do I see you rotating?
OK, one final spin and I will wrap up this monster post. Just take a look at this statement pulled directly from LegalZoom's Advantages web page: "Did you know that 70% of those who try to complete their own legal documents make mistakes? With LegalZoom, you can rest assured, knowing that your documents are treated with the utmost care and attention. Before completing your order, LegalZoom will review the answers you provide on the questionnaire for consistency, completeness, spelling and grammar." Sounds pretty good, right? After all, they review the answers for "consistency, completeness, spelling and grammar". Isn't that what a lawyer does when he reviews a document? Well, yes it is but we also review it for legal correctness, something the Zoom does not. We have seen a lot of Legal Zoom prepared documents in our office and guess what, nearly all have mistakes related to legal correctness. What does Legal Zoom say about all this? Let's read the LegalZoom disclaimer once again: "At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency".
Spin, Spin, Spin, Spin. O'Reilly, your looking a little flushed. Are your sure your OK? Maybe you want to get off this top and set things straight for the American public about LegalZoom. Or maybe not, so long as the big endorsement checks are coming in. So much for journalistic integrity!
Hey, if you want, send Bill an email telling him what you think about his endorsement of LegalZoom. Here is a handy link. And Bill if you read this and want to talk, I am always available whether privately or on the air.
To read more LegalZoom commentary see my other post, here.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Doing Some Good


In this blog post I am doing something a bit different. I am not going to talk about law or business or our firm – I wanted to highlight a very special event that is starting tomorrow February 22 and will continue on until February 24 that has become special for me and my family. For those of you who are in Denver, you may have heard it when you are scanning the radio dial – which is how I stumbled across it a few years back and now tune in every year. The event I am speaking about is the annual 36 Hours for Kids Radiothon put on by Alice 105.9 Denver, which benefits Denver’s children’s hospital. For 36 hours (from 6 AM to 6PM mountain time from February 22 -24) the radio station stops its normal programming to host the radiothon. Over the past 4 years this radiothon has raised more than 4 million dollars and all of it goes directly to children’s hospital. If you tune in you will hear courageous and emotional stories from children and parents about how the hospital has helped them and their families. Sadly, sometimes these stories do not always have a happy ending. As a parent, it’s a hospital that I hope we never have to use, but provides me a lot of comfort knowing that we have one of the best hospitals for children in the country right here in Denver. If you have happy and healthy kids or even if you don’t have any children at, all I encourage you to tune in as it is certain to affect you and your outlook on life. We have donated every year for the past three years and find it very rewarding to know that we are helping children who unfortunately are going through things that no child should ever go through. For those of you in other parts of the country, you can still check it out by visiting Alice’s website and clicking on the Alice in E-land link on the right hand side of the page. You can also donate over the web.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Client Going to the Olympics!

Michelle Roark, a client of Leyendecker & Lemire, will be representing the United States in Women's Freestyle Moguls in Torino. In the past few weeks, Michelle has won two World Cup events so she is definitely peaking at the right time. We wish her the best of luck and encourage all of our readers to watch her competition and route her on.

Our representation of Michelle has nothing to do with her skiing but rather an entrepreneurial venture of hers that we will be profiling in an upcoming Client Spotlight.

If you want to learn more about Michelle, her event and when it will be televised, see the NBC Olympic web site. Her event takes place on February 11, the first day of Olympic competition.

Good Luck Michelle!!!

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Rocket Science Chronicles (Part II)

Before we delve into my experiences starting and running the Denver Bicycle Design Center, Inc., it is useful to understand my prior work history and experience. I graduated from the University of Illinois in December of 1986 with a BS in Metallurgical Engineering. In my last year and a half of school I focused on polymeric materials (plastics) and advanced composite materials (such as graphite fiber/epoxy materials).

Like most engineers at the time, I graduated without a job, but as fate would have it in late January of 1987, I received a call from Martin Marietta in the Denver Metro area. I flew out from my home town of Rochester, NY on a Thursday, interviewed on a Friday and received an offer on Monday.

On March 16, 1987 at the age of 22, I started in my first post-college professional position as a lead engineer in the Composites Lab. My job was to oversee and facilitate the small scale production of composite components for various satellite programs. The job was interesting and certainly the pay was substantial for a new grad in 1987. Nonetheless, I really only looked at the position as a stepping stone to going into business for myself at some point in the seemingly distant future.

Within 6-12 months or so on the job, it began to become apparent to me that the life of a corporate engineer was not for me. In short, there was too much politics. The company and my colleagues weren’t so much concerned with producing the best quality of the product or the arriving at the best solution to a problem. Rather, many of fellow engineers were focused on looking good to the boss and other higher ups even if that meant misleading or misrepresenting the true state of the projects they were involved in. I was never good at politics; I told things the way I saw them good or bad with the intent that information was best freely shared so that the best solutions to problems and issues could be ascertained. I was so naïve! At big companies one gets ahead by covering your butt when you make mistakes and tooting your horn as loudly as possible when you do something right. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone below you to blame for your problems.

To step aside from the narrative at hand: it has been my observation that the primary advantage that large companies have over small entrepreneurial companies is economies of scale, developed contacts (such as a customer base and developed means of distribution) and an established reputation. What large companies have a huge problem with is fostering innovation and creativity at least when compared to the creativity of the entrepreneur. And for many new companies, it is creativity and ingenuity that gives them an advantage over their well heeled competition. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the entrepreneur or small company can lock up rights to fruit of their creative endeavors with PATENTS. Simply, for innovation and creativity to flourish requires taking risks. As a company grows and becomes more established, it has to protect its value and it becomes more risk adverse.

Anyhow back to our story: realizing that I was not cut out for the big company scene, I began to investigate starting my own business. Further, I began to study for an MBA part time. My first business idea was to sell advanced composite materials to radio control aircraft hobbyists. I knew where to buy the materials and I could repackage the materials in smaller lots and sell them at a significant profit. I identified suppliers, researched what types of raw materials hobbyists would most likely use and I investigated ad rates for the appropriate magazines. But in the end I never had the courage to flip the switch and get things started. I just did not have the confidence the composite materials would sell and the risk seemed just too great.

I was an avid bicyclist and mountain biker back in those days and I had a real desire to get involved in the business. I came up with my first product/invention back about 1989 or 1990: the Rack Camel. The product comprised a simple aluminum bracket that attached to the struts of a rear bicycle rack (such as a Blackburn rack) and had mounting holes for a water bottle cage. Accordingly, the a rider could carry up to 2 more water bottles during a long back country ride. The inspiration came from pedaling around the desert surrounding Moab, Utah. I received quotes to manufacture the product as well as advertising rates for the major bicycle magazines. I even made and tested several prototypes. I did not pursue a patent although I have no doubt I could have received really broad coverage if I had. In the end, I didn’t pull the trigger. Within the next year or so, a company called Fastrak Systems, Inc. made a splash with the Camelbak hydration system, and well, their solution to the problem of carrying enough water was just plain better than mine. Incidentally, if I had proceeded, Fasttrak would have likely shut down my use of the phrase “Rack Camel” as infringing on their “Camelbak” trademark even though I didn’t know about their product when I came up with the name. So in the end, perhaps this venture ended the way it should have: never getting off the ground.

Coming in Part III: My first actual entrepreneurial venture and the genesis of Rocket Science.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Quick Book Review

A month or so ago I mentioned in the future I would be writing about various books I have read concerning inventing, starting a business and/or patents. While I have finished my first book since then and here is the review:

The book: Turn Your Idea or Invention into Millions by Don Kracke

To be honest, I expected very little from this book based on its title alone. When the book arrived from Amazon, my initial fears were confirmed: How could a book with a reflective gold cover and a big “$” symbol on the front cover be anything but junk. BUT remember the old cliché, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, and in this instance the cliché is 100% correct. In short, this book is a must read for any independent inventor and I give it four out of five light bulbs (talk about clichéd!).

What impressed me most is that this very successful independent inventor didn’t sugar coat things. Making money from inventing isn’t easy and to succeed an inventor must spend a significant amount of time and even money to have a chance. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised on how closely his view on the inventing game so closely follows mine. The invention of a great new device or process is only the beginning and a lot of hard work is ahead. Further, Mr. Kracke’s advice is backed up by his considerable experience. He provides us with many examples of “how to” and “how not to” do things based on his trials and tribulations. He has both succeeded and failed many times over and his book endeavors to pass his life lessons in the world of inventing.

The biggest complaint I have with this book is its cheesy cover that is actually a disservice to the really useful advice and information contained therein.

Additionally, the book is a bit dated despite a 2001 update. Mr. Kracke has been around awhile and many of his techniques predate the infiltration of technology into every aspect of business. Nevertheless, almost all of the author’s points are still universally valid, the astute reader just needs to consider how email, the internet and computers have affected things in the past 10 years and apply the modern equivalents.

So if you are an aspiring entrepreneur or inventor, get this book, read it and let us know what you think right here.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Rocket Science chronicles

INTRODUCTION

Prior to becoming an attorney in what now seems like a previous life I was an entrepreneur. After leaving my first engineering job out of college, I started the Denver Bicycle Design Center, Inc., which designed, manufactured and produced high end mountain bicycle components. These products, namely a ultralight aluminum/graphite/epoxy handlebar and stem, were sold under the Rocket Science Mountain Bike Components brand from 1992-1994. The company had snippets of success along the way but in the end we just tried to do too much without enough financial backing and the doors closed on or about Christmas 2004. . The company owed numerous suppliers money and my personal finances were a mess. We really should have closed the doors a year earlier but when a company is your brain child, it is difficult if not impossible to let it just die without a fight.

For the longest time even thinking about the company depressed me. But as time has passed I can now look fondly on the past and recognize what I learned from the experience. And like I said above, I am so far removed from this past that discussing my experiences seems more like describing a dream than something I actually took part in. Further, I find that I am beginning to forget some of the details of the past as this first entrepreneurial experience slips in importance relative to other life experiences, such as those of my wife and twin girls.

So to memorialize this past life of mine these Rocket Science chronicles are born. In the coming months, I will describe my experiences related to product conception, product development, marketing, sales and business management in this multi-part blog series . Hopefully, those interested in inventing and development of their invention will find my experiences helpful and illuminating. These writings are somewhat rare in that they are about a business that did not succeed; whereas, most books focus on successful ventures. Ultimately, I hope you can gleam useful tips from how to run your business in terms of both what to do as well as what not what to do.

Stay tuned...

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Uzed.com

I read about this company in the Denver Business journal this past week and thought what a great business idea. What do they do? Simply, they buy your used CDs and resell them to used CD retailers. But that isn't necessarily the innovative part. They maintain a database of CD titles and the price they are willing to pay for each title and that database is linked to an online reverse shopping cart. I also imagine the price they will pay for a CD is automatically updated based on realtime demand an their stock of the a particular title.

A person wanting to sell his CDs just sits down in front of his computer; types in the titles he wants to sell; is given a price for each; decides whether to keep or sell each title; and when he is done prints out a shipping label to place on the box in which he packs the CDs. They pick up the shipping charges. Once Uzed receives the CDs and verifies their condition, the proper amount is deposited in the seller's Paypal account or he is sent a check. Uzed then sells the CDs to used CD shops.

It seems to me that is a company that has demand on both ends of its transactions. One it provides a convenient manner for people to sell their used CDs and it provides a used CD shop a convenient manner in replenishing stock.

OK, so why am I writing about this company? Well, the company is looking for additional financing from either Angels or venture capital firms. And I suspect they will get it. But the thing that immediantly popped into my mind was whether or not they have pending or issued patent protection for their method of doing business. I don't know whether they do or not. I am not affiliated with this company in any way. It strikes me, however, that the opportunity to invest in this venture would be so much sweeter if they had patent protection. Patent protection would prevent the big boys in music retailing from simply copying their concept and methodology and forcing Uzed out of business. Even a company backed by well healed venture capital firm is not going to be able to compete with the likes of Amazon if Amazon decides to launch a similar service. Who do you think would win the battle Amazon with their hundreds of millions of dollars or the small fry Uzed even with a multimillion dollar war chest.

Now if Uzed has or is pursuing patent protection, the landscape changes drastically. In such a situation, Amazon or any other music retailer would not be free to use Uzed's methodology. In fact, if a music retailer wanted to enter Uzed's space, they would have to either buy Uzed or license the technology and methodologies. In either case, the investors would likely see a handsome return.

And there you have it, the point of this post: patents can (1) greatly increase the chance at obtaining venture funding, and (ii) increase the value of the associated enterprise. Also, if you have a stack of CDs you longer use, check out Uzed.com and sell them for a few bucks.

Coming soon: Part III of my Control Protect and Leverage series. I have started writing it so expect it any day now.

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