Why I changed the name of my company only a week after we launched

The (very) short story of Beltline & Co. + A CONTEST! (We need your help)

The launch of Beltline & Co.

Just seven days ago, I announced my plans to launch a design-focused incubator and saw the buzz amongst the Atlanta startup community swell. Creative Loafing and the Atlanta Business Chronicle both covered it. Over 1,100 people signed up on our super-simple landing page.

We thought, Hey! We are onto something! People get what we are all about!

Our focus on building design-led businesses and lifestyle companies (the kind that Atlanta is not really known for yet) was something that seemed to ring true to others. So life, as they say, was good.

Cease and Desist

…. And then, on Monday night, I found a cease and desist letter on my front doorstep from the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and their outside counsel, Greenberg Traurig. I was shocked, disappointed, and somewhat amused at the same time.

Shocked because I had done my homework. I confirmed that this “beltline” term is actually a generic word used to describe a transportation system in many cities across the US. Think “railroad”. I also saw lots of other Beltline-related businesses: Beltline Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids, MI, Beltline Electric Co. in Nashville, Beltline Foot & Ankle in Mesquite, TX, etc., etc.

I looked up the trademark on USPTO and saw that the “Atlanta BeltLine” trademark covered “urban redevelopment projects” as its use, which is an area I knew I would never enter. A tech startup incubator and an urban redevelopment project; not a chance they can be confused, right? So, say, if this guy comes into our incubator office wearing a bike helmet and spandex shorts looking for the trail, I’d be happy to point them in the right direction.

You get the idea.

This isn’t the urban trail I expected

The disappointment set in because it seems my intentions in paying homage to the project—a project that is the most impressive Atlanta redevelopment project in my lifetime—were completely misinterpreted. As a lifelong Atlantan, I love everything about what the BeltLine project represents. It aligns with the goals of this incubator (read our thesis) — urban, authentic, creative and culture-focused, appreciating the history of our city’s design but always looking for new ways to improve and delight and connect us. It connects (neighborhoods) and gets Atlantans to think differently about something (their cars). Exactly what a startups should strive to do — disrupt an industry and connect to users. It isn’t just about transportation, it’s also about quality of life. Sure, we had a few other names to choose from, but Beltline & Co. felt like something that paid tribute to the past and to where we could go as a connected, forward-thinking place.

I was amused because… well, it all seems kind of ridiculous, right? I’ve barely launched a company based on a big idea to help make jobs for the city, to retain and attract creative minds and startup companies, to do something great in the name of Atlanta. Lofty? Sure. But if done right, it’s going to be bigger than just a business and a name. It is going to be something collectively great for the city. Imagine Airbnb or Instagram or Warby Parker starting at Beltline & Co. We even thought “Wouldn’t it be awesome if this thing took off and, when people across the country asked what our name meant, we could pay tribute to the redevelopment of Atlanta’s BeltLine and how it inspired our city?” That seemed to feel right.

Bottom line: We’re changing our name

Sure, I have a winnable legal case, but that just feels ridiculous to even go there. And that’s not the point of this post.

I want this incubator to be a positive for the community. This should be, much like a startup, a place where ideas move fast and we spend time only on the things that we love (and that matter). That goes counter to spending weeks (err… months) and tens (err… hundreds) of thousands of dollars on legal bills. We’ll have enough battles creating delightful products. Fighting for this name shouldn’t be one of them.

Basically, I want to turn this into a positive.

Help us name “The Incubator Formerly Known As ‘Beltline & Co.’”

(And no, that can’t be the name.)

  • Email me your suggestions by tomorrow at 5 pm. Unlimited name ideas per participant. Descriptions are great but just the names are enough. Avoid names like “Bëltline” or “Belt, Line & Co.” or “Railroad & Co.”.
  • We’ll put up the best ones and have a vote next week for the final name and then do a logo/brand contest to follow.
  • There will be some awesome prizes for the winners beyond just being “that” guy or gal who named this place.

In light of this situation, we figure: how cool will this be if the final name, design and the brand of this place is something we can attribute to the community on the whole?

Yes. There. THAT is what this should all be about.

Other news — Hack Weekend June 6-8

Don’t forget that the Incubator Formerly Known as Beltline & Co.** is having a Consumer Brand and Design Hack Weekend June 6th-8th. Mark it down on your calendar. Sign-up will be in the next few weeks. We want to keep it small so be sure to sign up ASAP.

**new name pending

Other other news

Sign-up on beltline.co and follow @beltline to follow the new name and progress.

Other other news

All “Beltline & Co.” apparel is now half-off.