Samanah Duran is an entrepreneur who is always learning. In 2012, she set up retail brand Critics Clothing and has since expanded into the US with new factory partnerships and brand collaborations, launched new businesses, and been named in the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 alumni.
But there are still things Samanah would have done differently. She wants people to learn from her mistakes and would like to see more entrepreneurs support each other through mentoring.
Samanah, now 29, said: “The support available for start-ups is currently great. The accountancy, the branding, the social media; it’s all great and what’s needed. However, one area that I unfortunately overlooked was the trademarking and intellectual property aspect. It wasn’t a big issue at first, but it inevitably became a much larger one further down the line.”
Like most businesses, Critics Clothing launched with a basic website. Sales were good, the business grew, and the website grew with it. Fast forward six years, the business attracted a superb following with customers from the US, Canada, Russia, Australia and across Europe.
But disaster struck when the Critics Clothing team lost access to their own website, having been hacked and cyber-squatted by people in the US.
“As we work to be a sustainable fashion brand, we now only produce two collections a year,” Samanah says. “A great deal of emphasis has always been on developing a brand that our audience can connect and resonate with through brand DNA, ethos and storytelling, combined with an elaborate focus on providing quality rather than quantity. Meaning we don’t have necessarily need to update our website all the time.
“I was sat in Monaco back in July when I kept getting mobile notifications through about new subscribers. I thought ‘this is great, maybe we’ve run a really successful social media campaign or had a nice piece hit the press.’ But gradually over the next few days, we were getting a lot of new subscribers – like 300 or day. We usually get a steady stream, but this was consistently over and above.
“I flew back to the UK and looked into things a bit further with my investment team. I already knew our domain was due to expire soon, but we were no longer getting any notifications through about its which was bizarre. Then I couldn’t even log in to our own site, at that point the hackers were preventing my IP address from even seeing the website.
“I soon discovered, hackers had taken over the domain and had re-sold the domain to US cyber squatters who then put the website up for sale for £30,000.”
Samanah worked closely with her team and investment partners to respond and try and take action – but whilst Critics Clothing was trademarked in the UK, it wasn’t overseas.
Samanah added: “Although morally wrong, technically, they weren’t doing anything illegal. It was very frustrating. For a period of time, there was nothing we could do. We had built up a brand. Our customers know us and the website. We couldn’t just change our domain name.
“The ordeal took around eight months to be resolved, with us having to pay a nominal – but significant fee to take back control.”
They now have all the necessary things in place to stop things like this happening again but Samanah believes the issue might have been prevented if she had been aware and was guided through the trademarking and intellectual property foundations.
“It just shows how important intellectual property is,” says Samanah. “Sometimes things like this get overlooked but I wish I’d have trademarked ours around the world straight away. It’s definitely worth the investment of the few hundred pounds it cost.”
Having now launched the BEYOUROWN along with BEYOUROWN Membership Club, a digital media and content company with the aim to help entrepreneurs navigate their way through their business journeys, Samanah would like to see more founders work together to share experiences and help tackle any issues that might arise.
She added: “It’s a tough balancing act because without mistakes you can’t learn to grow and overcome problems, but at the same time you really don’t want to be faced with these types of challenges. The bigger the company, the bigger the potential problems are, but I think having a mentor to help guide you through these things is an invaluable asset.”
With a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp, you'll receive support from a dedicated mentor, providing you with support and guidance to help make your business a success. Find out more today.