I had just turned 18 and started at university so everyone was busy making new friends, both offline and online. The adoption of the product was no lesser than viral that “You’re not on Facebook?” became the norm. In between my university days, I also happened to start my photography page that helped me grow my business to a level I could sustain living off of the income I earned from it. About a year and a half ago, I joined a disruptive F&B cum co-working space where I would handle some of their online marketing where Facebook was the primary marketing channel. 6 months later, I joined Houzify as a photographer and digital marketing specialist and, this time, I used Facebook not just to drive our content marketing but acquire users for our Android and iOS apps. So in a nutshell, I’ve gone from finding and connecting with friends from around the globe, to earning my living through skills I’ve learnt and continue to exercise on Facebook.
I’ve been a fan all along, until Saturday morning.
On Saturday morning, I (along with my colleagues) woke up to a rather unpleasant shock of having our Facebook brand page taken down because of an alleged trademark violation in response to a complaint filed by our competitor in the US, Houzz Inc. On 16th December 2015, we received a Cease & Desist notice from Houzz, Inc. claiming the same and more. Our legal team replied to their baseless claims and submitted an official rebuttal establishing our use of the Houzify brand. Instead of continuing to engage in the dialogue they initiated, Houzz opted for an extra-legal route for instant gratification of their demands. They filed a trademark infringement claim with Facebook, avoided the niceties of due legal process and had Houzify’s Facebook page taken down. No warnings. No emails. Not a chance for us to be heard. The enormous efforts that were taken to carefully curate the content and build a sizeable following have now vanished and the business stalled indefinitely. I’m extremely disappointed by Facebook’s actions, even if I believe that they’ve followed the existing policy on trademark infringement and intellectual property rights. It is unfair and almost unethical to be at one end of the spectrum where you have no voice and are asked to directly contact Houzz regarding this matter?
As a fan, avid user, ’leverager’ and a generous advertiser, I appeal to Facebook to relook at this policy in such a way, where not just in our case, but in such cases involving two (or more) parties, in the future, be given equal opportunities to be heard and establish an impartial process(es) and only then settle the matter in whichever way the courts (or you) deem fair.
A year and a half ago when I joined Houzify, I looked up to established platforms around the world, including Houzz, admired what they had done with this space in the US and other locations in the west and would even lament that someday our photos would be as good as theirs. But nowhere in our pursuit to become India’s most loved platform for home design did we become “copycats”. Not once in our endless discussions and meetings did we say we should replicate their success story. That would be easy. What we’ve instead built and continue to do so comes after hours of research and feedback we receive from our users and partners of Houzify. India is a highly disorganised home interiors market which exists almost entirely offline. On the ground, across cities in India, it is Houzify which has won the love of home creators and interior designers alike. In the last year, Houzify has deployed an army of photographers and home decor experts to document, curate and organise this industry. We have been working tirelessly to build a strong community of users and professionals who trusted our brand. By solving the complex discovery challenges posed in India, we have played an active role in simplifying the experience of decorating homes for Indians.
Be it at work or activities we involve ourselves in, we love a bit of healthy competition. It strives to push us beyond known boundaries, gives rise to crazy ideas and innovations and benefits the end users in ways I can’t even begin to list. Instead of being part of this rewarding ecosystem, Houzz has chosen to bully the existing competition out of the way. I’ve been in the startup world for all of 10 months and I call out Houzz’s actions to be of very poor taste. Being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India offers innumerable opportunities for foreign successes to launch here and maximise profits at minimum costs.
I strongly believe that the Internet is a neutral, open and equal platform for all. Houzz’s actions attack that belief at its core on the back of the assumption that they will be able to use their $2.3 bn valuation to claim exclusive rights over the word ‘house’. As a millennial who has grown up with the open Internet as a permanent part of life, I expected a higher level of maturity from our competitor.
While we at Houzify are disappointed by Houzz’s aggressive actions, this incident does not dampen our resolve. We remain committed to our vision of enabling 100 million homeowners and design enthusiasts across India beautify their homes.
With helpful inputs from my friends at Houzify.
DISCLAIMER: Views are personal and do not necessarily echo those of parties involved unless stated otherwise. Read the official reply here.
Akshay Gururaj, Growth Hacker at Houzify
This article orginally appeared on medium.com