My first cease and desist letter

🏁Here’s the story of my first cease and desist letter, and what I learned from that experience.

TL;DR… in business-building at any stage you will encounter friction. It’s not supposed to be easy. Push forward and turn the setbacks into advantages.

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The year was 2005 and I was gearing up to take my t-shirt company to the next level. Well, at that point it was more of just transitioning from hawking a couple of my initial designs to more of an actual business.

Step 1? Logo!

Without getting into the philosophy of why I called the brand “Welcome to the Zoo”, I headed to Google image search for inspiration. That’s where I discovered and loved this lion emblem.

I played with the lion graphic in photoshop, interweaving different fonts and trying to make it my own. After a few hours of work I called it done. I felt really, really good about this logo. It felt regal, and it felt like me.

This is the original logo design which I still proudly wear after 15 years. ☺️

Fast forward about a hundred t-shirt sales later, and I was surprised to receive a cease and desist letter in the mail. What! No way!

The funny thing is, and I remember this well, is that it felt REALLY GOOD to get that letter. I felt like I HAD MADE IT.

How is that a college freshman deep in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts can attract the attention of a real company, and a real lawyer? I also had a real company… but I didn’t have real lawyers. And I knew their claim was right–I had taken their image and used it as my own.

Thankfully that was pretty early on in the business and didn’t result in any significant costs. I changed the logo (this time around to a silhouette of a gorilla) and built up a brand over the next couple of years that was relatively successful (I was able to buy a used Accord and had beer money throughout college 🍻).

LESSONS LEARNED…

➡️This this story taught me a fundamental lesson about what originality means (and doesn’t mean) in the context of copyright law.

➡️One of the deeper lessons I took away is that in business-building at any stage you will encounter friction. It’s not supposed to be easy. At the end of the day, you are trying to capture value in a unique way, and you might hit a snag like receiving a cease and desist letter. There are no instructions or guidebook on how to capture value, and sometimes there’s no better way to learn than to just go forth and conquer.

Channeling deeper focus with emotions (Josh Waitzkin)

I’m definitely one to try and suppress emotion at times, which is why I love how Josh Waitzkin thinks about using emotions to one’s unique advantage. This quote is from his book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence.


“There are performers who recognize the disruptive potential of emotions and try to turn them off, become cold, detached, steely. For some personalities this might work, although in my opinion denial tends to melt down when the pressure becomes fierce. Then there are those elite performers who use emotion, observing their moment and then channeling everything into a deeper focus that generates a uniquely flavored creativity. This is an interesting, resilient approach based on flexibility and subtle introspective awareness. Instead of being bullied by or denying their unconscious, these [performers] let their internal movements flavor their fires.”

Free-flowing unconscious process (Josh Waitzkin)

This Josh Waitzkin quote is from his book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. I love how Josh thinks about leveraging the power of unconscious states of mind. He refers to this in the context of chess and other learning mastery as “the moment when psychology begins to transcend technique.”


“…much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered. This is a nuanced and largely misunderstood state of mind that when refined involves a subtle reintegration of the conscious mind into a free-flowing unconscious process. The idea is to shift the primary role from the conscious to the unconscious without blissing out and losing the precision the conscious can provide.”

What is creativity? (Josh Waitzkin)

This Josh Waitzkin quote is from his book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. I love how Josh defines creativity, and views the relationship between technical mastery and insight.


“When I think about creativity, it is always in relation to a foundation. We have our knowledge. It becomes deeply internalized until we can access it without thinking about it. Then we have a leap that uses what we know to go one or two steps further. We make a discovery. Most people stop here and hope that they will become inspired and reach that state of “divine insight” again. In my mind, this is a missed opportunity. Imagine that you are building a pyramid of knowledge. Every level is constructed of technical information and principles that explain that information and condense it into chunks… Once you have internalized enough information to complete one level of the pyramid, you move on to the next. Say you are ten or twelve levels in. Then you have a creative burst… In that moment, it is as if you are seeing something that is suspended in the sky just above the top of your pyramid. There is a connection between that discovery and what you know—or else you wouldn’t have discovered it—and you can find that connection if you try. The next step is to figure out the technical components of your creation. Figure out what makes the “magic” trick.”