Flatterers deceive UK start-ups

Posted by 19 April, 2014 (0) Comment

A spectacularly large US company flattered a UK start-up with a huge contract which was eventually signed and secured. This would give them the capital they need to multiply their success. The contract wasn’t exclusive and the start ups web application was valuable to many similar companies. A fantastic “result” and only two types of insurance were required by the US company.

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Contractual responsibility

 

The contract issued by the Americanclient had 2 pages making direct reference to the type of due diligence, risk management and business insurance required of the start-up. The rest of the contract revealed 26 further liabilities and requirements that were, or would become, necessary.

Not all were manageable for a small company with limited cash flow. The really fine points of the contract referenced this exact point and made it clear they would take full and furious legal action if something went wrong. Ouch, a soft landing is required so we received an introduction.

Part of the liability related to the website, which was provided as a service, and had to be operational 99.9% of the time. The US company staff would be trained to use it and then supported 24/7. It had to work and the contract made it clear that they would want compensation for any downtime over 0.01% in any one year. Keep in mind that one way to compensate is not charge fees that are due.

Penetration testing must be the answer

 

It helps work out weaknesses today yet doesn’t account for advances made by hackers tomorrow. IT Systems security methods of suppliers aren’t always reliable and data theft was the main concern of the US client. They made the UK startup contractually liable for the costs of notification to the relevant authorities and those whose personal data is compromised.

This is a really tough figure to try and quantify because few own up when they have a data breach so the statistics cannot be compiled. Contrast that with fires where it is easier to quantify losses.

That won’t change just because it becomes a must to do (new regulations are due to land in the EU in 2015). So if some Herbert got at the data, the US company would have to spend to meet US regulations and the UK start-up could be ruined by the losses. Identity theft costs vary from person to person so it really is a difficult number to calculate.

Legal liabilities change across borders or state lines

 

The chances of a breach are minuscule, the costs ridiculous. The damage to brand immeasurable. Get a lawyer to get legal on your contracts and they’ll close the gaps. Some clauses don’t hold water in the UK yet US companies issue proceedings where they want. The contract formed a vicious circle when the statement of work and suppliers agreement were reviewed together. No stone had been left unturned and the US company had a fair minded legal team. That is not always the case.

However, there was a liability of millions and the supplier of the application’s infrastructure were only going to cough up £182k if they failed to maintain their supply. Worse still, the infrastructure wasn’t easy to transfer to a new supplier and a 30 day window tied the start-up down. No fix in 30 days and the US contract terminated automatically. And further contracts would not have been issued by them or anyone else.

We deal with cyber risk every weekly basis. It rarely touches the smaller business, yet their suppliers are at risk. Cloud sounds great yet it is not as solid as your own database with your own security. The solutions are a contractual nightmare.

Wrap up: It is not unheard of for a large company to issue a contract to a start-up, allege an error and drown them in legal proceedings. This is because they can then strike a deal which leaves the start-up Directors free of debt if they give up their Intellectual Property. Only in America? No! Uk companies do this too. Does Directors protection work in these cases? No! See why here: http://www.cobinecarmelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/What-are-Directors-real-risks.-CCLv5-URL.pdf

Top tip: One digital games company signed an NDA and found the other signatory copied their ideas and started selling their titles. It cost £300,000 to force them to stop and compensate the original designer. There is no point getting someone to sign an NDA unless you have the means to enforce it !

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Lambs slaughtered in Den

Posted by 28 March, 2014 (0) Comment

This article is about people eliminating threats to their business, taking risks and getting others interested. Read on to find out how the intrepid pitch for investment yet fail to illustrate their position on risk, never mind secure someone else’s hard earned finance.

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Dragon’s Den is a risk worth taking

 

I learn a lot when watching Dragons Den. It is always interesting to see a great idea. Everybody loves those. Yet, a lot of the time we are treated to ‘car crash television’ where it appears that the unprepared have been literally thrown at the Dragons. I have actually cringed when watching the programme, yet it is rarely the Dragons that scare me. It’s some of the characters that arrive and put their “worst” foot forward. On the other hand, my heart does sink when a genuinely warm, credible person drops themselves in it. Even then, I don’t feel sorry for too long because I have a lot to learn myself.

Even though I’m watching on television, it’s not hard to spot the weak points that are being attacked. I’m always alarmed by those who do have a great idea, a coherent plan and still fail because they didn’t think about the objections that would inevitably be raised. When they shoot themselves down in flames I feel their pain. I suppose not all of it can possibly be unwitting. I expect some people do well out of the exposure even if they don’t get the investment they were after. Good luck to them!

Sometimes you can smell the ill-preparation

 

Recently a couple of entrepreneurs explained they had a huge following and people were biting their arms off to extend their travel and tour company business to take in festivals in different places. I had heard of this type of business yet they seemed to have a way of making it cost efficient and therefore more profitable. The Dragons were listening. Right up until one of the Dragons mentioned that they were not happy that the risks to the business had been thought about in detail. The lady announced that “all it takes is for one hotel to go down and you are snookered”. I had heard the guys mention that they were ATOL/ABTA protected which means that their clientèle are flown home in the event of the holiday providers having financial problems.

They should also have mentioned that ATOL/ABTA (and others) provide insurance that covers them for most of the other costs that follow such issues. They didn’t. Why not? Didn’t they realise this protection was available? Had they decided that insurance was too expensive for their business? It didn’t sound right that people who had been sending clients on trips to festivals around Europe hadn’t put any protection in place for their clientèle, never mind their business. I remain puzzled because the investors lost interest. No surprise there then.

When the Dragon questioned whether they would be able to continue if a third party let them down, all they had to do was say they would insure the risk. Even if they hadn’t arranged it at the time they could have accounted for the investment in their plan. It rarely “breaks the bank” to protect oneself.

 

Wrap Up: If you have a great idea think about the threats that could interfere with your business plan. Reduce them or eliminate the impact completely where possible because Dragons are risk averse, they only  take balanced risks. They don’t assume. They gauge their possible ROI based on all the variable outcomes. You can too.

 

Top Tip: If you are looking for investment try and understand just how risk averse your investors are before you pitch to them. Their previous investments will give you clues.

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Double agent leaves tenant between a rock and a hard place

Posted by 9 February, 2014 (0) Comment
This article is about tenants, builders and surveyors. One of them behaved badly when an insurance claim occurred and it’s not who you think. Insurance fraud is a huge problem for all of us. This article gives you some clues as to how you can avoid getting caught up, and caught out, when someone thinks it’s OK to commit fraud.
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Leaks can be a real drag

 

A last minute call before Christmas comes from a client in a mini panic because the client facilities at their studio have got pools of water where it shouldn’t be. The area has to be sealed off because of the leak and the business might have to close, albeit temporarily, if gets any worse.

This is a straightforward issue for us, yet it could be the first time a client is going through this scenario and prompt assistance and advice is what they need. We provided the reassurance that we promised, confirming that the damage to their property was covered. However we instructed them to contact their landlords insurance people because the leak had not sprung from nowhere. It was likely that both insurers would need to be involved. This is quite common and, in this case, a managing agent handled insurance affairs for the landlord.

Property Manager or Mangler?

 

After a fashion, I received another call from the client explaining that the property managing agent did not want to offer much assistance. They simply said “the builder must be responsible”. I reminded the client that their landlord had cover for investigating leaks, which had become clear when we checked their insurance provision at the beginning. Armed with this information the client/tenant felt confident in contacting the managing agent and pressing their point home. Subsequently, a surveyor arrives and determines that a pipe has not been correctly sealed, causing water to leak and bubble up through the flooring. Luckily it was water rather than waste that leaked, so the damage wasn’t too messy.

In the ordinary course of things, this would have been simple from here on in. The landlord’s insurance pays for the tracing of the leak and the builder repairs the pipe they installed defectively and the client has insurance to repair the resultant damage to their flooring, etc. The managing agent had other ideas.

Why do people think it’s OK to to defraud insurers?

 

The managing agent contacted the tenant and asked them to pay for the surveyors invoice. When they refused, because it is not their responsibility, the property managing agent said “completely off the record, it will be much easier to do business with us if you tell your insurance company that this was an uninsured part of the landlord’s policy, or write a letter confirming that there were more damaged areas than was actually true”. They wanted to recover the cost of the surveyor without resorting to their own insurance. Or rather, the landlord’s insurance. This seems daft because it’s not their insurance to worry about. It’s the landlord’s! Doing their job properly means presenting insurance claims to insurers in order for them to be settled promptly, fairly, and keep the premises in good shape.

What we know is that this happens all too often. Regrettably, property managing agents have to have their fingers in the landlord’s insurance pie, and they do deals with insurance companies, not always with the landlord’s knowledge, that means that they get paid extra if they do not make too many claims. This is on top of the income they receive for managing the insurance, which is paid to them by the insurance company and allows them to charge the landlord less for the overall management of the property. To landlords this is either something they are unaware of, or dressed up as a good deal. However, they don’t seem to realise that it is going to cost them money in the long run if the property is not well looked after.

Surely the managing agent should be looking after the property rather than trying to earn money out of the insurance that they don’t even pay for. People find it hard to believe that this happens, yet property managing agents seem quite willing to hide the commissions they receive from their clientele and mess up claims situations when it suits them. At the end of the day they always blame the builder or the tenant. Who is the landlord going to believe?

Top Tip: Always check the insurance arrangements of a premises you are about to buy or lease, because you will find insurance history can paint a different picture to the particulars you were originally shown.

Wrap Up: There are some great property managing agents out there yet there are also plenty of rogues. Accountants have told me that they have recovered many hundreds of thousands of pounds from property managing agents who stitched up the owners of properties they looked after. It’s not just on insurance, they do the same on maintenance issues and when repairs are required. Take a closer look at the bills they are sending and see if you can spot any trend that doesn’t make sense.

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Insurance claims departments grill their clients

Posted by 13 December, 2013 (0) Comment

Not all insurance companies treat claimants the same. This article is about what happens when an insurance company settles a claim for a break-in, the methods they use to reduce claims, and the daft things they do afterwards.

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“Someone’s breaking in across the road”

 

A man is up later than he should be. He hears a loud bang, and peers out his front room window. He sees that there are some shadowy figures and torchlight inside the office premises across the road.  Stopping himself from rushing across the road, he calls the police instead. He took the sensible option. By the time he finishes the call to the police the burglers are gone. It’s a classic commercial theft. Kick the doors in and take whatever isn’t nailed down and can be sold for cash.

The police contact the owners and the premises are secured, which is difficult to do when a UPVC door has been ripped from it’s hinges! Yet it’s a temporary measure, a more permanent fix can be worked out later. Computers, monitors and petty cash have been taken.

Insurers step up… then down again

 

The client contacts us in the morning and we make the report to their insurer, who won’t do anything until the crime reference number is allocated by the police. Armed with this, we make a detailed report explaining what items have been stolen and what damage has been caused. The people handling the claim seem amiable. A few hours later we receive the email acknowledgement, yet they start as they mean to go on requesting why my client kept so much petty cash. The irony.

It’s this sort of nit picking that really annoys people. They didn’t ask how much petty cash they had before the break in. Indeed, they even make a generous allowance for it as a policy benefit. Yet they use it as a tactic to delay making a payment. It wasn’t the only tactic, they argued about the broken door too.

Settlement achieved

 

It took a few days to resolve, yet the experience left a sour taste with the client.  “How will they behave if we have a major loss?” I reassured them that this company was better in the big losses, which is why we had chosen them. It’s just that you need to have experience in order to push the small ones through, because this company uses smaller claims to train their staff. They don’t tell you that in their literature before you buy from them – we have the inside track.

Once the client has his full payment he asks me to look for alternative insurance providers, which is understandable! Who wants to be contractually tied to someone that makes it difficult together what the contract is supposed to provide? Especially when it’s before a problem with the terms and conditions. A “can-do” attitude means a lot to those who want their businesses to run smoothly. They avoid suppliers that make their life difficult after advertising that they would make it easy. Insurers could take note, but they won’t. This insurer said they would be happy to lose this client because it was “petty cash” that made them attractive to thieves. Poppycock.

Wrap Up: There are hundreds of reasons why insurers are slow to pay out, some are procedural, others personality based. As Forrest Gump said, claims departments are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get……unless you have opened them before.

Top Tip: Make sure your adviser has handled similar outcomes to those that you’re worried about if you really want the reassurance that insurance allied to service can provide.

 

 

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Insurers pay one claim but not the other

Posted by 26 July, 2013 (0) Comment

This article is about how insurance companies often make odd decisions. Here’s an example of how one insurance company refused to pay a claim that another department had already agreed to pay, the delays it causes, and what you can do about it.

 

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We’re paying. No were not!

 

Terry calls me and lets me know there’s been a flood from an appliance installed at their property. It’s obvious that this is covered by the insurance because this is one of the main risks that we were asked to reduce.  It was a contractor that caused the problem and eventually they will be paying for it, yet when there’s water all over your property floor and the contractor has failed to answer their phone, things can get stressful. I let Terry know that we would ensure that someone visited to assess the damage, but the main thing was to stop the leak and find out what caused it.

How can they possibly refuse?

 

Once the claim was made the insurance company confirmed that it would repair the internal damage yet none of the damage to the walls. Yes the wall, this was some leak! This was some leak and it is not unusual for this to happen when a property is unattended.  We helped the client make contact with the insurance company of the walls, and things seemed to be progressing smoothly, with all the various parties agreeing the damage was covered and the amount to be paid to the insured to replace all of the damaged property, repair the flooring, the walls, et al.

 

It then transpired that the same insurance company covered both the internal and the structure. However one department had agreed that it was fair to pay for alternative accommodation whilst the repairs were undertaken and the other department said it would not be necessary.  This caused a delay, there was no need for it, because you can’t renege on a promise, and as insurance contracts are promises, we weren’t going to let them get away with it.

What can you do about?

 

This often occurs and the two insurance departments appointed 5 separate “independent” advisors to manage the damage. We oversaw all the relevant parties and it was a shame that one of them was seeking to “draw favouritism” fromthe insurance company by trying to reduce the claim.  Terry was pleased with the final settlement, but it was only achievable because one of the adjusters appointed by the insurer was reasonable and went the extra mile once we had put together a fully reasoned argument as to why  the settlement should be full and include the cost of alternative accommodation.

As I write this, Terry is preparing for her stay in a hotel and all the building work is due to be completed within a fortnight. It’s a shame that a hotel is even necessary and the lesson is, make sure you use contractors and suppliers who are there to help you when you most need it. A good way to check this is to ring the claims line of any insurance provider that you are due to choose. I have said this before – at least it will give you the opportunity to assess how quickly they will respond to your claim. It may help you measure whether they have put all of their resources into sales and leave you hanging when you most need them.

 

Wrap Up: There are always difficulties when different policies cover parts of the same property. Who covers the floor if it is someone else’s ceiling? The measure of any service is how well they perform when you need them. If you can, try and use as few advisors as possible when protecting your assets, income or reputation.  This will reduce the number of gaps and the time it takes to deal with any queries when accidents happen.

 

Top Tip: If you are having any form of work done at your business or home check the insurance details of the proposed contractors. The fact they have insurance is a good start, yet not all “cover notes” are the same and the policy details behind them are even more complicated.

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Will Intellectual Property lead the UK out of recession?

Posted by 12 July, 2013 (0) Comment

This article is about the true value of intellectual property, the risks and advantages when leveraging it, and the solutions available.

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Intellectual property is Marvellous

 

Every week I meet someone who has had a great idea.  Not all of them will make as much money as Coca Cola, yet some of them are simply amazing. Naturally, these conversations are private and confidential, and I am often asked to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), before I am party to the secret. I don’t mind doing this because it helps build trust with entrepreneurs and inventors.

I think it is vital to protect the intellectual property in any country, UK Plc. seem to have more nurtured good ideas than most. The gentleman who designs Apple products is British, although he is an employee of Apple, so he is handsomely rewarded for giving them the rights and it makes sense to leverage an idea by partnering with someone who has the means to make the most of it.

The UK authorities are aware of just how much tax revenue they make when ideas created in the UK are well protected in the UK, so they have invested in grants making it worthwhile to protect intellectual property, because they make money when we make money.

Intellectual property risks examples

 

One inventor has designed a new water bottle for athletes. Another has invented one with a filter that means that it can be filled from a puddle, yet still be drinkable. When they initially approached me they had similar concerns, someone might copy it and they wanted to enforce their patent, design and trademark rights. Perhaps another manufacturer would try to flood the market with cheap copies that would damage the brand if people were injured whilst using an inferior bottle.

Social Media searches helped another inventor determine people who were jealous of the invention and were using very similar names to promote their product. In each case they can enforce their rights because they arrange protection to close down the miscreants or, at least, stop the fake or suspiciously named goods reaching consumers.

Sometimes this is achievable by a warning shot across the bows, commonly known as a cease and desist letter; this doesn’t always work. Authorities will act upon injunctions and stop goods leaving a factory, impound them at a distributors warehouse or prevent them being loaded onto a ship if the Intellectual Property owner has the means to enforce their rights. Sometimes this is avoided by the miscreants and the legal costs of enforcement mount up.

Some inventors have told me that they believe people will think twice when they have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and that is certainly true for the vast majority of people. Large companies and corporations have taken advantage of the little guys and will stop at nothing to make a buck. Just a little research unearths companies who brought their manufacturing process back to the UK from abroad to find that aggressive companies in England started copying their top four selling items and promoting them on the internet.

Whoever let the copycat have the designs probably signed an NDA. It will take time to find out who the culprit was or if the data was stolen by hacking, employees or “external forces” have been known to do this. Without legal costs protection in place, even though they had protected their unique features and registered their designs, it costs a considerable amount of money, time and effort, to stop this happening.

The same applied to an Irish game designer, doing business in the UK, who was courted by a US publisher with a hawkish side. It cost $380,000 to get the game they “copied” removed from the shelves and they eventually gained a licence agreement for a share of the sales of his original ideas.

Intellectual property advantages

 

It is understandable that some companies do not want to register a patent because they know that there are really aggressive companies, especially in the US, who have a habit of copying ideas as soon as they are registered.  I don’t mean registered as a patent, I mean patent applied for. How they find out about such things is fraudulent, of course, and I share tweets noting those that get caught or the sectors that are at the biggest risk.  Savvy intellectual property advisors often recommend that registering be left until the last minute, yet this also carries the risk that someone else may have come up with the idea on a completely opposite of the world, and register it first, obtaining Worldwide rights, if they have the ability to do so.

When discussing these issues I let people know that there are ways of protecting such inventions without them being fully registered.  Get a registration in first, and inventors or designers can enforce their rights before they are registered. This makes patent attorneys and intellectual property lawyers very happy because it gives them a significant tool in their armoury and also enables them to generate fees when the protection process takes too long.

Large companies do not wait for small companies to enter the market before they attack them. A client is in the UK and bought a US Company and made it their branded subsidiary. The players who had the largest share of that particular US market instantly issued “malicious” proceedings against the UK Company before they had even started promoting their products.

 

Wrap Up: Intellectual Property is a real bargaining chip, if it is adequately protected.  Aggressors often try to tie new entrants up in legal process – which is a huge cost – especially in the US, to prevent them from spending their money on marketing and eroding the established leaders market share.

Top Tip: Having a non-disclosure agreement is great, yet you will need to enforce it if someone breaches confidentiality or trade secrets. This is simple yet not easy. Registering patents, marks, brands, domain names, or other unique features of a product or service, and the way it is marketed, can all form part of Intellectual Property protection.

 

 

 

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