Mick Spencer, Founder and Managing Director of ONTHEGO®, has learnt what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur quicker than most. At 19, Spencer started OnTheGo - a web start-up that sells custom-branded sports gear to teams, companies and organisations - with $150 and a mobile phone in the garage of his parents’ home. Five years later and OnTheGo is one of Australia’s fastest growing brands that supplies products to over 50 per cent of Australia’s health-club market.
However, OnTheGo does more than just sell sportswear. The company has the grand ambition to help give every person the opportunity, regardless of circumstance, to live a healthy and active life. The company has partnered with two humanitarian organisations to help change the world through sport as well as running their own initiatives. Soon, OnTheGo customers will be able to track exactly how their purchase helped make a difference through a unique serial code.
On meeting Spencer it’s easy to see how he has become so successful. He has incredible energy, drive, and passion that have allowed him to ride the highs and the lows that most start-ups experience. He has already come up against some incredible challenges including online fraud schemes, a fraudulent factory overseas, and staffing issues.
‘If these things didn’t happen we wouldn’t be where we are today,’ Spencer says. ‘I treat every problem as an opportunity to grow.’
The intellectual property (IP) lesson
This positive, ‘can-do’ attitude has seen him approach a number of high profile business people and ask them to mentor him. He now has an impressive list of people he can call on for advice. It was one of these mentors who first introduced him to the importance of IP.
‘After a conversation with one of my mentors I realised that IP is pretty important stuff,’ Spencer said. ‘IP is all about your brand and your brand is one of the most important business assets there is.’
A year into trading Spencer decided to file for a trade mark to protect the term ‘OnTheGo’. The application was unsuccessful.
‘I was gutted,’ said Spencer on being notified of the decision. ‘I put a lot of research and effort into the process and I couldn’t find any reason why it wouldn’t be approved.’
Unfortunately for Spencer the trade mark had already been filed by a competing sportswear company but it wasn’t being used. Spencer decided to fight it. Having little cash flow at the time, Spencer took a lawyer out for lunch and got some advice. He also did a lot of research himself. His hard work paid off and he was successful in gaining the IP rights to ‘OnTheGo.’
A few years on and Spencer has around 10 trade marks to his name, with plans to register more in the immediate future. Spencer has filed these trade marks himself. When asked why this was, Spencer said, ‘I didn’t have the money to do it any other way. I had to be resourceful, I had to learn what I had to do and give it a go.’
He is glad he did as ‘the process helped me learn the real value of IP. I can now say I understand IP, the value and the process and I can hold lawyers accountable if I use them in the future.’ Spencer has now also helped a fellow entrepreneur register her IP.
Advice from Spencer to you
Spencer has some advice for start-ups looking to go through the process of protecting their IP. ‘Do as much as you can yourself. Go through the process and ask IP Australia as many questions as you need to.’
He adds ‘research thoroughly. There is so much advice available online. If you plan to visit a lawyer go there with as much knowledge as you can. This will help minimise the time with them and the fee. Weigh up if your time or money is the most important.’
He suggests start-ups ‘get as much protection as possible before you start, but don’t let it hold you back if you can’t.’
His final advice to start-ups is to ‘dream big, remain optimistic and don’t be afraid to stretch relationships’. If Spencer didn’t make the effort to reach out for guidance perhaps he wouldn’t have cottoned on the importance of IP so early on in his start-up career.
Registering your IP
- Have you developed a brand? Protect it with a registered trade mark. You can learn about trade marks, search for existing trade marks and apply for a trade mark.
- Protect the way your product works with a patent. Learn about the benefits of patents, search for existing patents and get an idea of how much a patent may cost.
- Protect the way your product looks with a design. You can learn about designs, search for existing designs and apply.
- Understand your commercialisation options to monetise your IP.
- If you’re an entrepreneur or start-up our IP – your business edge magazine helps steer you through how protecting your IP can help grow your business.
- We understand the IP system can be complex so we’ve put together the basics for patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights.