When Cinzia Cozzolino bought an online domain for her business in 2015, she thought being “the” Smoothie Bombs would set her brand apart.
The qualified nutritionist and former cafe worker was hungry for growth at the time, having realised her ready-to-mix smoothie booster product, originally invented for a fussy eater in her personal life, had legs and was primed for international expansion.
And so thesmoothiebombs.com was born.
But the entrepreneur’s enthusiasm soon faded after a few conversations with her fussy eater — teenage daughter and now business partner Lana Cozzolino.
The digital native made the case for a much more accessible online home for their business at smoothiebombs.com.
There was a slight issue though; in the months between registering their first site, some enterprising internet sleuths had bought their desired domain and begun sitting on it.
“It was a really rookie mistake,” the business owner tells SmartCompany.
“We really wanted smoothiebombs.com, it was probably there at the time … I didn’t even think about it.”
Taking on the squatter
Known as cybersquatting, the practice of taking a domain someone else is likely to want and trying to sell it back to them for a profit has become a global industry in recent decades.
That’s because while a one-word determiner like “the” might seem like a frivolous matter; in the modern world of business, domains can be the most valuable asset a company has.
Cybersquatting can have some hilarious results, like that time a Melbourne man managed to take over scottmorrison.com.au and turn the Prime Minister’s domain into a website that played a lewd rock song.
But in other cases its used to extort small business owners out of their hard earned cash, as Cozzolino found out several weeks later.
“Before I knew it, someone had turned around and was trying to sell the domain to me for $3,000,” Cozzolino says.
The business owner declined, opting to wear the mistake over giving into “internet scalpers”.
Things escalated in early 2019 though, when one of Cozzolino’s competitors bought the domain for a little under $1000, realising they could direct customers looking for her own products to their website.
Years earlier the same competitor had tried to launch in the United States with the name Smoothie Bombs, but backed down after a few sternly worded legal letters from Cozzolino.
Left with few options, Cozzolino launched a cyber-squatting challenge with the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a decision that embroiled her business in an international legal dispute.
Having trademarked Smoothie Bombs in Australia back in 2014 and in the United States in early 2018, preparing for a North American expansion, Cozzolino and her lawyers were confident they’d win.
Evidently, so were lawyers for their competitor firm, who contacted Cozzolino once the case was filed to offer her the domain for about $1,000.
Despite lawyers recommending she take the deal over the uncertainty of a panel decision on her right to the domain, Cozzolino decided to decline and move ahead with the case.
“I said no way,” the business owner recalls. “They had deliberately done this.”
“I wanted proof they’d done this, I wanted to win the case.”
It was a risky move, even though Cozzolino and her lawyers believed they had a strong case, legal deliberations are complicated affairs.
But by mid-November last year, a little over six months after filing the case, Cozzolino was basking in good news — Smoothebombs.com was hers.
“We were elated, I knew it was the right decision,” Cozzolino says.
The power of the smoothie
Smoothie Bombs is now going from strength to strength, having utilised social media platforms like Instagram to develop a solid business in Australia in recent years.
Cozzolino keeps growth figures closely guarded, but in 2017 was predicting hitting seven-figure sales.
The appeal of the product is relatively simple, riding the same wave that propelled Janine Allis’ Boost Juice to international success, but with a home-made twist designed to make the process of blending smooties at home easy and affordable.
The power of the smoothie undeniable, the mother daughter duo behind the company are now negotiating with American supermarket giant Walmart, which has allocated 250 stores across the United States for a potential July launch of their product in its stores.
Before that, Smoothie Bombs will launch in 36 Macy’s stores later this month, in a move Cozzolino predicts will be a new test for the brand internationally.
Its a big step for a business which only a few years ago had two employees and a fledgling e-commerce presence, Cozzolino concedes.
With almost a dozen workers now under Cozzolino’s leadership, she says the United States represents an exciting opportunity.
“The US market appeals to me just because it’s so big,” Cozzolino says.
“Even if we just entered California, it’s more than the whole of Australia … they also get it, a lot of our customers are over there.”
All that for someone who never imagined themselves as a business owner.
“I never thought I’d be in business, I gew up in a family business and I watched how hard they worked and thought … I’m never going to do that.
“But here I am, and I love it now.”
If there’s one piece of advice the Cozzolino’s have for other budding entrepreneurs out there, it would be to learn from their mistakes.
“No one is thinking about intellectual property,” Cozzolino says.
“But there are people out there who are going to step on you.