When real estate broker-turned-tech entrepreneur Barret Blondeau launched a real estate technology platform in 2018, then called Unlock’d, he checked the name with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office as well as with the Louisiana secretary of state. No one had it registered, so he figured it was his for the taking.
Nearly two years later, in mid-2020, he got a cease-and-desist letter from a California company telling him the name was theirs and threatening to sue.
Rather than fight, Blondeau rebranded his startup in January to Falaya, as in Atchafalaya, which Blondeau says is an apt metaphor for the seamless efficiency and transparency his platform brings to buying and selling real estate.
But the experience serves as a cautionary tale for other startups.
“I didn’t know they existed until the summer of 2020 and they still don’t have a trademark with the USPTO or anything registered so there was really no way for me to know,” Blondeau says.
The California Unlocked was a discount brokerage and not a direct competitor of Blondeau’s company, which is a listing platform that also serves as a process management site. The two startups didn’t even spell their name the same way.
The problem was both startups were in the online real estate business.
“Theirs was a totally different business model but we’re in the same sphere and it was starting to cause problems because their customers were finding our platform,” he says.
The other problem was that the California company started using the name in 2017, about six months before Blondeau’s company was founded.
Blondeau retained a lawyer and initially thought about fighting to keep his name, especially since his company was starting to gain traction and was placing in local pitch competitions.
But because of the prior use issue, his lawyer told him to let it go.
In hindsight, he says the experience was positive because going through the rebranding process really helped him think about what Falaya does and how it wants to position itself in the market.
“It gave us a huge opportunity,” he says. “We envision the real estate process as a river that flows from beginning to end, connecting people to the service provider they need. Falaya is a young, hip name that kind of captures who we are.”
But rebranding isn’t easy or cheap, and Blondeau advises other eager entrepreneurs to scour the internet and website domain sites as well as the USPTO office before settling on a brand name.
“It worked out well for us and people really love the name Falaya,” he says. “But it would have been easier if we had done all this on the front end.”