Honest Toddler, The Honest Company, Honest to Goodness it’s Just Business

07.30.13

The mom blogosphere is up in arms this week. There are cries of bullying. Everyone who has ever met me knows that bullying is my least favorite word. If you claim “bully” you’d best be prepared to demonstrate that there’s been an unrelenting malicious campaign against you by someone with more power than yourself.

There is clearly a conflict between TheHonestToddler.com and The Honest Company but if anyone tells you that someone’s been bullied you’re reading an opinion piece and nothing about it will make you smarter, well informed or more capable of running a business.

A local mom approached me and asked me what I knew about The Honest Company v. The Honest Toddler and I sort of shrugged and told her I knew nothing. The she was like it’s Internet Drama and was like Oh my god tell me about it because pageviews!! Errr ummm… I mean because I’d like to see what the real story is.

Like every story ever told there are at least two sides to this one and a third side, that’s the one that’s not emotional and no one will ever see.

I sent an email over to Bunmi Laditan and I asked her to please give me the facts without any emotion and as close to a timeline as possible.

This is what she said:

Last spring I began the twitter account @HonestToddler. I took off quickly. The Honest Company emailed me excitedly asking for a conference call so that they could write a story on about the Twitter feed. It’s still on their website:

http://blog.honest.com/lol-with-honesttoddler/

Shortly after that, I got a book deal with Simon & Schuster in the US, Harper Collins Canada, and Orion in the UK.

I began to trademark “honest toddler” in the winter of 2012. It was all going well and passed all of the initial stages of trademarking.

Earlier this year The Honest Company emailed me asking to speak to me about my trademark application. I spoke to a man named Sean who after pleasantries were done, told me that The Honest Company wanted me to cancel my tradmark application and they would them license it back to me with limited use. I expressed my discomfort with this. Why did theythink they had this right? He said if I did not do this, we would enter into a “mini litigation that could get costly for me.” I stopped taking their phone calls and shared what happened on Facebook. The backlash against them was intense.

Immediately I received a phone call from Christopher Gavigan, the company’s CEO who ensured me that it was all a misunderstanding. I was led to believe that Sean was speaking out of turn and in good faith, removed the posted and we hosted a giveaway for diapers on my Facebook page.

About a month after, they opposed my trademark. I then hired a lawyer. In the legal documents they claim that my trademark is bringing confusion to the mark place.

http://tsdr.uspto.gov/caseviewer/pdf?caseId=85740533&docIndex=0#docIndex=0

Darren Star, the producer of Sex and the City optioned the rights to Honest Toddler.
http://www.deadline.com/2013/06/darren-star-behind-comedy-series-based-on-honest-toddler-twitter-feed-book/

I was notified from my lawyer that The Honest Company sent Darren Star a letter saying I was infringing on their trademarks and that they should contact them directly. The statements contained in their letter were pure fiction. I have done nothing to violate the law in any manner whatsoever.

This is where we are now.

Well, to be fair this is where they’re at right now. The Honest Toddler has this to say to The Honest Company.

Note: allegedly the child is saying “ridiculous”…. ummmm okay Mrs. Pottymouth over here heard something else. Calling Dr. Freud….

If you go to the Honest Toddler’s facebook page you’ll see a steady scathing stream of documentation of the legal wranglings between the Honest Company and The Honest Toddler. I decided to put in a call to The Honest Company and this afternoon Christopher Gavigan called me.

The call went exactly like this bloggers never make things up and there’s no possible way this didn’t happen:

CHRISTOPHER GAVIGAN: Hi Jessica, it’s Christopher Gavigan from the Honest Company.

ME: Hey, how are you.

CG: Good.

ME: So I called because I want to know what’s happening between you and The Honest Toddler

CG: Oh, nothing at all, we were just trying to crush her. We basically hate women. And kids too.

ME: Awesome that’s exactly what I thought. Let me hurry up and publish this.

Or not. My conversation with Christopher Gavigan (who is the CEO of The Honest Company, past CEO of Healthy Child, author of Healthy Child Healthy World and by all accounts a bit of an altruist) was enlightening.

Christopher explained to me in clear terms that The Honest Company was acting in an uncomplicated manner and working only to protect their brand. The co founders of The Honest Company have spent years creating their products, business and brand. In March of 2012 The Honest Company registered the website HonestToddler.com. The site sat dormant until recently.

Christopher did not tell me this though I assume that owning HonestToddler.com was an attempt to protect the brand.

In July of 2012 Bunmi Laditan hit twitter with @HonestToddler and the internet laughed it’s ass off. She brings the funny.

honest toddler first tweets

According to Gavigan The Honest Company loves The Honest Toddler’s blog. They want to see her continue to write, have TV shows, books and blogs. In fact they’re such fans that they tried to create a coexistence agreement with Laditan.

Coexistence agreements pretty common when two entities overlap with trademarks. In this instance the coexistence agreement would allow TheHonestToddler.com to continue blogging, writing and making TV but protect The Honest Company’s trademark as it relates to shampoos, strollers and the like. Had The Honest Company not asked for this (at a minimum) they’d put themselves out of business. This is not just standard practice, this is generous.

According to Gavigan The Honest Company is having a conversation with TheHonestToddler.com about trademark. They (The Honest Company) have a business founded on moms doing well. Bloggers are important to them and they want The Honest Toddler to do business, they just need to protect their existing trademark. He goes on to say, “We have not defamed, bullied, or been mean in any way.  Nor are we trying to lock up the word ‘Honest’ in a trademark – we simply have ‘superior rights’ in certain classes, and are acting, like any entity, to protect that which we were granted first.”

Gavigan told me no less than three times that he wanted to see Laditan succeed. He reiterated the fact that he wanted to see her on TV and loves TheHonestToddler.com. Unfortunately when solopreneurs get letters from lawyers they typically freak out. This is posted on Facebook.

honest company letter darren star

Darren Star Honest Company

 

As with most legal actions this looks like a complete breakdown of communication. I can’t imagine what Bunmi Laditan feels like right now. She’s probably worried that she’s going to lose a TV deal. I can tell you this, she might. I can also tell you something that no one else will be kind enough to tell you. If she loses the deal it won’t be because of a lawyer’s letter. Lawyers write letters all the time. If she loses the TV deal it will be because of the epic meltdown and rallying of the troops on her Facebook page (which boasts an impressive 151,000 fans).

I don’t know what to say to The Honest Company. They’ve put up an explanation at HonestToddler.com and it would be great if bloggers would read that rather than calling a trademark owner a bully. Ladian has posted her own timeline of events.

My hope is that both sides will talk, there will be a coexistence agreement and we’ll get to laugh with The Honest Toddler on TV, online and in print. Most importantly bloggers covering this as a spectacle need to keep in mind that it takes a lot of work to build a brand. So many of us want to be taken seriously and when companies approach us and want to work with us we need to be able to tell them how we influence others. If your only value is demolition ask yourself how much that’s worth.

 

 

 

 

The Innate Hazard of Leading With Your Womb

04.25.13

pregnant

I’ll be at Mom 2.0 in a week or two (not really sure of the date). This is the third year I’ve bought a ticket but it will be the first year I’ll attend. I remember one year thinking how great it would be to have an excuse to go to New Orleans and get some work done at the same time. My husband hates New Orleans so it seemed like the perfect excuse to travel. Then when I looked at the schedule and saw Mad Men parties and photo walks I felt like it would sap my energy just to get dressed to attend. I sold my ticket.

After reading today’s Wall Street Journal piece about the business of Mom Conferences I’m already starting to dread Laguna Niguel. I didn’t realize I had to dress 50’s or borrow a hat for a Kentucky Derby Party. I’ve promised myself I’d suck it up and do it all with an enthusiastic smile no matter how uncomfortable any of it makes me. Mercifully I’ll have Trudi as a compatriot. There are sessions I’m very interested in attending and I’m sure there’s a lot to be learned, I’m looking forward to the learning aspect. Because, like the columnist at WSJ, everything I know about Mom 2.0 I learned on Flickr I have the sense that it’s a boozy fashion competition. Ciaran assures me Mom 2.0 is a valuable use of my time and I trust Ciaran, plus it’s a short drive so if it’s awful I’ll just go home and Trudi can hitchhike like a big girl.

Ask me in a few weeks is Mom 2.0 is a Mom Vacation or a conference. At the moment it’s a question I can’t answer.

Now when a major conference is pending and it’s at a Ritz Carlton and it features things that bloggers want to talk about: food, fashion, cocktails, tech, networking, media, and fun… and when said conference is called Mom 2.0 and then a bunch of self proclaimed Mom Bloggers get themselves worked up into a frenzy about OMG The Patriarchy, people start looking like they haven’t thought things out very well.

Such is the hazard of leading with your womb. Call your self a Mom Blogger, Mum Blogger, Mommy Blogger or Mom 2.0 and the rest of the world will call you Mom too. They aren’t calling you “Mom” because you had a baby, they’re calling you Mom because it’s what you put on your calling card. 

Fix it if it needs fixing or just answer when the world calls you Mom.

Danielle Ellwood writes the following over at the Broad Side: 

If this was Marissa Mayer, or Sheryl Sandberg traveling for work, their trip would never be dubbed as being on a  “Mommy Business Trip“; it would simply be called a business trip. No need to be defined by the status of how many children their uterus has produced or the number of children they’ve adopted. So why are any other women being treated differently?

This actually proves my point. Neither Sandberg nor Mayer have built careers monetizing their motherhood. They are women who happen to be in technology, they aren’t Mom Bloggers attending a Mom Conference.

When I asked what all the fuss is about on Facebook (because I see the article as mostly innocuous) I was sent links to a zillion posts around the blogosphere and quite a few people commented. Audrey Holden had the most amazing comment and with her permission I’m publishing it here.

As someone who has been blogging, professionally and otherwise for 9 years, and someone who has never ever gone to a conference, I can give you an outside point of view by virtue of what I read from women who DO go to these. 

Not only are there millions of photos floating around out there of hanging out in bars or hotel lobbies, drinks in hand, or dancing at various PR/Brand parties – images that give the impression that it’s just a long boozy weekend, there are also the comments in post-conference pieces the bloggers themselves write, about how it was a great opportunity to go and hang out with other women they’ve long wanted to meet, to have a few drinks, party a little and get away from the kids and the mundane of day-to-day life. These same women write on and on about how they didn’t even hit any of the panels or roundtables/discussions because there was too much going on in the PR swag areas, or they didn’t have time because they were sight seeing, or getting together with other bloggers. 

It *seems* like for every three women who go to a conference and LEGITIMATELY get something out of it outside of self proclaimed “me time”, and attend the panels and discussions, there is one who only goes for shoe competition (I call it this because there are no end of posts, pre-conference where women are crying over which shoes to take) swag, free booze, and the schoomzing. Unfortunately, it’s this one blogger who make the rest look bad and give off the impression that these conferences are little more than how Joanne Bamberger characterized them – working mothers (and the non-working too- my own opinion) using conferences as vacations from their families. 

Is this why I don’t go to conferences? No. I don’t go because of social anxiety issues that render me unable to function in large groups of people. I’d genuinely like to go to a conference because I think there are a few out there that genuinely have something to offer someone like me. At the end of the day though, I bet I don’t have a single pair of shoes that would be OK to wear to a mommy-blogging conference.

It’s strange to me that we Mom Bloggers spend so much time branding ourselves as mothers and then lose it when our motherhood is acknowledged.

On Summiting

03.19.13

no more mom blogs

When I started this site I had some goals in mind. I wanted to hit a certain number of readers. I did that. I wanted some accolades. Been there. I liked the idea of some TV appearances. Check that off the list. I wanted to pay some bills. I just bought a new car. The bills are paid. There are limits to where a blog can take you. There are severe limits to where a mom blog can take you.

Now Mommy Blogging is boring. I know some people love it, I know there’s a robust community but it’s been a long time since I’ve been part of it and I understand the need to share experiences. When your baby has green poop, is teething or potty training you look to other mothers for information. 50 years ago the other mothers were home raising their kids, today the other mothers have blogs and you can ask them.

Mom Blogging was unique at some point in that there was a certain technical skill required to set up a blog. Of course it wasn’t actually all that complicated but it was slightly difficult to attain and the bar of entry was marginally high. During the time I’m writing this I’d be willing to bet that a minimum of 400 new Mom Blogs have hit the internet. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Mom Blogging is a crowded space, for the most part it’s just like any other career where most people aren’t particularly good at it and a few are. The folks who are good at it are so good, they are such talented writers that it appears effortless and attainable, like something anyone could do. So we all jump in. It’s like watching mountain climbers on National Geographic and somehow you find yourself at REI buying boots and moisture wicking bottom layers.

I’ve summited in this space and for the last few months I’ve just been hanging out on top of this mountain dangling my feet and tossing pebbles while whistling old tunes. I’ve let muscles atrophy and I’ve lazed around in the sunshine without creating new goals for myself. I’ve climbed the mountain and not bothered to identify my next climb. That was a problem.

It’s long past time to stop leading with my womb. Women’s issues are everyone’s issues and I’m much rather talk to you about the Mazda that’s in my driveway this week than how to set limits for your kids. I’m writing about the wrong things. I’m writing about the mountain I already climbed and not the one I have in my crosshairs.

I have an incredible show I’m shooting and will share with you soon. I have blogger opportunities to share with women who are still happy with Mom Blogging. I want to talk about cars and travel in the same manner that we talk to one another over a good meal. I want to talk about what we love and hate and I want to ditch the insider lingo that no one really cares about anyhow. I don’t want to blog about blogging, it’s dull and it’s low hanging fruit and I can and will do better than that.

I can’t stop being a mom. I’ll always see the world through mom colored glasses. I’m just going to formally step away from the Mom Blogger title. I’ve done it in increments. Today is the end of it.

I climbed this mountain. I summited. Now it’s time to climb down the mountain and tackle the next challenge. The only guarantee I make is that it will be fun.

 

Are Moms With Older Kids Unrelatable?

02.22.13

I’m looking at who the mom bloggers are and, well, let’s face it, those of us who have been in the space a while are sort of fading away. I almost never write about my kids (which isn’t really much of a change) but I’m writing less and less about motherhood, which is a change.

When the kids were little there were universal experiences we mothers were having. We all have pregnancies or adoption stories, we all lost sleep, gained weight, got peed on, taught kids where to pee, worried about what they ate or didn’t eat, had first words and there were two ways parent at home or at work.

Now the kids are in school and I work but I’m not killing myself over here. I play tennis a few days a week, I have lunches with girlfriends, I hike and I’m branching out into blogger outreach. It’s really fun and fulfilling. This is a space that I understand well from both sides and I know what good work looks like. I get to reward those of you who excel with something other than a link. I like that.

My kids are on Instagram, my daughter insists Facebook is irrelevant (please don’t tell her that they own the ‘gram), twitter is where you follow celebrities and old people talk and when you say MySpace to them they snicker like you just said Leave it to Beaver.

I get pitches every day that offer me interviews with experts who will “Teach you how to keep your children safe from social media.” Sometimes I laugh before I hit delete, other times I want to scream at them and say stop selling fear. These people also sell books which is where the laughter comes in gales because in the 300 years it takes to get a book to press the information is obsolete.

When the kids are in middle school there are huge changes and many of these changes occur in the family too. Kids are going through puberty. After the first day back to school in 8th grade Jane marveled that all the boys’ voices had changed over the summer. I won’t be writing about my own son’s voice changing… I’ll just let y’all know that I suspect it’ll be sometime around 8th grade.

Middle school mothers start feeling like the victims of planned obsolescence.

I wrote briefly about Jane’s search for a high school and how she’s made great decisions and I’ve been left out of a lot of the process. I still make many of Alexander’s weekend plans but I don’t think I’ve arranged a weekend playdate for Jane in years. The kids choose their own summer camps.

When they were infants they were literally and figuratively attached to me. We weaned ourselves off of each other for some toddler years and now that elementary school is in the rear view mirror I’ve been relegated to the role of support staff. I’m here to help out, listen endlessly and to take over if there’s a crisis. Most of my time is spent listening and helping in increasingly small ways.

So the Mom Business changes quite a bit as they grow. There are very few women left who haven’t pursued part time employment, careers or all encompassing hobbies. We’re less of a homogenous group at this point. The kids have varied interests, everyone knows how to tie their owns shoes and no matter how many times I tell Jane that Coca Cola will make her fat, weaken her bones and rot her teeth I know she’s drinking gallons of it when she’s with her friends on weekends.

I could write about my tennis elbow or my recent need to nap and my overriding fear that the Simponi which gave me my life back is less and less effective but then I’d have to face the fact that it’s probably time to look at a different treatment. I could write about my husband’s new job and how our family will be missing him for the next six months but I find that ignoring a really difficult family situation that we all agreed we would take on is really for the best. I’m two for two on denial and that wonderful man deserves a wife who isn’t bogged down with self pity.

Us mothers of tweens and teens run out of universal experiences because the whys, the ways and the whens that the kids need us are so varied. Maybe the only common thread is that they still need us and we can’t wander too far even when they’re pushing us away. 

Back to School

01.8.13

I’m a little lonely today. After having almost three weeks of kids, ten straight days of my husband bookended by two short work weeks I’m missing them all. There’s work to do. This house is a disaster as we all embraced a little vacation laziness. There is end of year billing that needs to be tied up and a dog that needs to be bathed. I have a stack of unedited videos to deal with and three, count them three, half finished car reviews.

But I’m not doing much today. Yesterday I spent the bulk of the day in the car running around town to pick up this that or the other and today I’m staring my four walls wishing my kids and my husband were home. I was thinking about getting up and out but then I decided that a day of wallowing never hurt anyone.

Tomorrow I might see a movie at noon.