Monday 2 February 2015

That's the spirit

Three Kiwi guys are building a business around their passion and looking to fly the flag for Kiwi gin. Protecting their unique brand has been a top priority.

It began three years ago as an ambitious idea conceived one gin-soaked night. But that's where the craziness ended and the careful strategy kicked in. Since that moment, everything about Rogue Society - the premium New Zealand gin brand founded by Daniel McLaughlin, Mark Neal and Richard Bourke - has been meticulously researched and planned.

'The three of us would get together often to sample and talk about gin,' explains McLaughlin. 'We're all pretty fanatical about gin. One night we decided to give it a go ourselves - to create a beautiful modern gin from the bottom of the world that turns tradition upside down.'

Rogue Society launched into the Auckland market in February 2014 with McLaughlin, Neal and Bourke managing all sales and distribution from their Ponsonby office. A freshly inked deal with nationwide liquor distributors Hancocks will give the fledgling company a much-needed platform on which to expand locally. The plan is to take their brand offshore next year.

Getting to this point hasn't been easy, admits McLaughlin. The trio spent much time researching and developing their gin, packaging and branding. They quizzed distillers, spoke to bartenders, and worked for months to perfect their own unique 'citrusforward' blend of 12 botanicals. It's packaged in a bottle inspired by a 200-year-old gin bottle McLaughlin spotted in an English antique store. But their modern version took 18 months to go from a drawing to a 3D form.

After all that effort, they knew it was crucial to protect their brand both here and abroad, so they sought advice from intellectual property expert Colleen Cavanagh at AJ Park. 'We knew we should do something about protecting our IP,' says McLaughlin. 'I'd heard horror stories about new companies working for 18 to 24 months to get a product to market and then getting served with 'cease and desist' notices and having to pull stock and start again.'

Cavanagh conducted international trade mark and freedom-to-operate searches for Rogue Society while the trio went about finalising their positioning and choosing a name they could safely use and protect in their target markets. They have since strategically rolled out trade mark registration first in New Zealand, then Australia, followed by the UK, China and Singapore. The US will be next.

'It's the Rogue Society brand and the premium nature of the product that we're working to protect,' explains Cavanagh. She says Rogue Society is the perfect example of a company doing its homework and ensuring early on it has freedom to operate in its chosen markets.

'It's about thinking ahead and identifying potential markets so you can devise the best and most cost-effective strategy. A lot of businesses fail to do this and encounter roadblocks in other markets. We discussed Rogue Society's export strategy and goals, and developed an IP strategy around that.'

Like most companies, they wanted to get established here before going overseas. But news travels fast in the global marketplace and Rogue Society is already gaining an international profile.

'Since we launched locally, we've had enquiries from all sorts of unexpected places,' says McLaughlin. 'There's a lot of opportunity out there. Gin is a popular spirit around the world so there are certainly plenty of potential markets.'

In typical Kiwi start-up style, McLaughlin, Neal and Bourke are funding the business themselves. Maximising their IP spend has been vital.

Colleen helped us develop a strategy that worked within our budget. It's been a long and sometimes painful process, but in hindsight it was a hugely valuable exercise. If we'd invested all this time, resource and capital to get to market and then realised we couldn't use our mark, it would've all been for nothing.

- Daniel McLaughlin, Rogue Society

AJ Park is also helping Rogue Society develop its entry strategy into China. It's a potentially lucrative market but one many New Zealand businesses know little about. AJ Park has been running a series of seminars to educate its clients about the nuances of exporting to China and protecting their IP there.

'Going forward, we'll give Rogue Society advice around their China strategy,' says Cavanagh. 'We have many contacts to help firms in the set-up stages get to grips with the market and find the best way to access it.'

'Rogue Society has a great future, and it's exciting to see young, enthusiastic people who are prepared to be entrepreneurial and take a risk. It really makes me want to help them succeed.'


Written by Deirdre Coleman, an edited version of this case study was featured in issue #54 of Idealog.