Nicole Swartz wasn’t always the legal expert on trademarks and copyrights that you see today. Just seven years ago, in fact, she was a corporate lawyer who worked in cryptocurrency regulation.
Though cryptocurrency was her passion, the job’s long hours soon left her feeling burned out.
“I was sort of on that grind for a while and I thought that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was something that intellectually was interesting to me, but the passion wasn’t there and I just couldn’t wake up every morning and be super into it.”
Everything changed one night while browsing through Pinterest.
“I’m that person that wakes up at 4 a.m. and is like, ‘Here is what I’m going to do,’” she says. “All of my big life decisions happened in the middle of the night.”
Her inspiration (Pinspiration?) for this next venture was a recipe she saw for homemade skincare products. She decided to make these scrubs and bath salts to sell at an upcoming town festival. After making a couple thousand dollars from that first event, she spent the summer selling at different festivals and market testing new products.
Soon, she was stocking products in numerous stores. She quit her job and spent the next couple of years growing her company.
“At the time it was all law, all boring, and I hated it. I needed something creative and fun to wake me up in the morning and this was it,” she says. “So, looking back, kind of a bold decision, but it worked out.”
During the company’s six-month peak, Nicole saw her products in hundreds of stores, at trade shows, and even in the Golden Globes gift baskets. Then, everything crashed to a halt.
“And then we got the cease and desist letter that was like, ‘This is our brand name, you can’t use it anymore and you have to rebrand everything in thirty days,’” she says. “Which was a nightmare, as you can imagine.”
She contacted a copyright lawyer who confirmed the letter and advised her to change her branding, labeling, and packaging completely. As she worked to understand everything involved, comply, and get in touch with stores about the changes, she had to put her business on pause for six months.
The experience soured her passion for the work, making her question if she should continue investing in the business.
“I was really pissed about it. I was pissed about trademarks in general. I was like, this is absurd and I hadn’t really known anything about it,” Nicole says.
And, as she soon found out, most people were also clueless about this area of law and business.
“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘It could happen to anyone.’ And I became really obsessed with making sure this didn’t happen to anybody else,” she says. “So I kinda transitioned, my passion just changed from running this business to being like, ‘How can I make sure this doesn’t happen?’”
She sold the skincare company and founded the Law Factory, which later became Sprout Law. At the start, she kept her services broad, testing a variety of trademark-focused options to see what stuck. Eventually, she narrowed her niche to small businesses, particularly those owned by women. As a young female attorney, this helps her find the clients that are the right fit.
Sprout Law also offers a subscription-based service called the Trademark Club. This monthly monitoring service keeps an eye out for copycats, taking legal action on behalf of their clients with trademarks.
For the freelancers and small business owners reading and listening, Nicole also has some words of wisdom and comfort.
“I always say that the legal stuff is just something to keep in mind but it’s not something to feel bad about if you don’t have it in place. It’s best practice, but as a founder, we’re all doing 18 million other things,” she says. “It’s just something to think about and put in place, but it’s not something to beat yourself up about if you don’t have all the different pieces in place yet.”
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