What You Need To Know About Being Sued

Personal Finance blogger Lazy Man & Money is being sued by a multi-level marketing company called MonaVie that sells a very expensive juice. The crux of the matter is that Lazy Man is highly skeptical of the claims the company makes about the product and the company is trying to shut down his freedom of speech on the basis of a very flimsy trademark infringement case.

While I am no lawyer and the extent of my legal knowledge is limited, I have been sued, involved in lawsuits and have been sent threatening letters that required legal opinion. Did I say I was sued – that’s only partially correct. The company I had a minority ownership stake in was sued.  My friends and I started an internet telephony company together to sell prepaid calling cards and pinless dialing services. When we started it several years ago, we were tired of paying outrageous per minute fees for international calls and we just wanted to make free telephone calls. We also wanted to make some money off of it and after raising about $30,000 and co-signing $75,000 worth of loans for telecommunications equipment we realized we didn’t have any money left for marketing. So we deliberately decided to infringe on an existing trademark of a foreign company that does not do any telephony or telecommunication business in the USA. We knew we were going to get sued in a year but since we didn’t have any money left we didn’t really care.

We were able to use the goodwill of the foreign company to bootstrap our small outfit to the point where we hired about a dozen people in India to do all the back-end work.  A year later the company sent us a cease-and-desist letter and we complied and changed the name. However, I didn’t know that the main partner re-inserted the company in to the website after a month or so. About 6 months later, the company came back and sued us for trademark infringement, all our domain names, $50,000 and 30% royalties on all income.  When you fight a legal battle against people with deep pockets, you usually lose! Especially when you are wrong. Long story short we lost our domain name and we settled for $1,000. Was it worth it? In terms of return-on-investment, yes. There’s no way we could have gained that sort of traction with a $1,000 marketing budget. But would I do it again – definitely not. However there is a lesson here, the same lesson I learned from working for Michael Robertson a few years ago – you should never back down from a good fight.

On to the next story. A few years ago, I had put down a deposit on a spec home in Florida. It was a small deposit and it was pure speculation. If the home prices increased, I would close on it else I would walk away from it and my deposit. Unfortunately for the builder, the market turned sour and it seems everyone was walking away from their deposits. So I got a letter in the mail saying that if I didn’t close on the home he would sue for damages on various technical aspects of the contract.  I showed it to my lawyer and he said its a shake-down. His advice was to ignore the letter since the cost of pursuing this line of reason was too expensive for the builder.  He was right. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that this goes both ways. Someone I know embezzled money from me and some investors by arranging  a sale of assets to an out-of-state entity. He set up a dummy corporation with the same name and deposited the check from the buyer into that account. He was then nice enough to wire us some of the money but then he skipped town with the rest. After talking to lawyers and the DA’s office in that town we realized that it would probably cost us between $25,000 and $50,000 to get a judgment against him, and if he’s spent the money, we’re out of luck! The lesson here is that suing people can get to be very expensive.

The third story is about me and a group of investors suing a group of real estate developers for deliberately misleading investors on an investment. The gist is they lied and withheld materially important information. Obviously we formed a group and sued them all. 1 of them settled for a third of the amount owed (plus interest and legal fees), 1 of them went underground and the 3rd is claiming she has no assets. The legal cases involved the last two are still underway so I can’t really say much about it except that suing people really does get very expensive, especially when you’re paying an attorney $375/hour to fly to another city and take a deposition!

So what’s my 2 cents on Lazy Man’s case? I don’t think MonaVie has a strong case and they know it too. Otherwise they would be wasting time with multiple cease-and-desist letters, they’d just sue him. Secondly, I think its just going to create more bad publicity for the company as multiple bloggers write about this and link back to Lazy Man’s site (boosting his rankings in the search engine for the search term – MonaVie is a scam). However, they’re obviously well capitalized so they’ll probably take this a lot further than they should. If it was me, I’d just pay Lazy Man to advertise on his site. That would just make him lose credibility in the eyes of the “faithful” MonaVie followers.

Please go visit Lazy Man’s site and try to link to it with the word MonaVie in the anchor text! Or if you want some entertainment, go visit Help You Sue.

When Is Enough, Enough?

UCLA Alumni, Andrew Lahde, announced last week that after making an astounding 866% last year, he was closing down his hedge fund and returning all the money back to his investors. While it’s not certain how much money he’s made, it has been speculated that he’s worth around $30 million – pretty good for a guy who just ran a hedge fund for only 2 years!

Unlike other hedge fund managers, he doesn’t want billionaire status. He’s made enough money to afford him a lavish lifestyle and he’s quitting to enjoy it. He made one-sided bets against the sub-prime market and he made a killing. Why ruin his track-record now!

Here’s his farewell letter to his investors – it’s quite entertaining.

Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, “What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it.” I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list those deserving thanks know who they are.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don’t worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer’s company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.

I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life — where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management — with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won’t see it included in BP’s, “Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions,” television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM’s similar commercials. But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country? Ah, the female. The evil female plant — marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let’s stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

With that I say good-bye and good luck.

All the best,

Andrew Lahde

AL Gore: Businessman Of The Year!

I saw a news clip on Fox saying that Al Gore has made $100 million from his scare campaign on Global Warming. But he’s just really a poser – his research center says that his Alabama mansion uses 20 times more energy than the national average!

While I think his global warming campaign is a scam, his movie is a work of fiction, and that carbon credits will not have any effect on reducing pollution, I must tip my hat to Al Gore, the businessman.

Since his election defeat, apart from winning a Nobel Peace prize and an Academy Award, he’s landed numerous $175,000 speaking gigs and his stock in Google and Apple that he received as a board advisor is reportedly worth nearly $35 million. Plus he’s started a carbon credit trading company and his networth is supposedly north of $100 million!

Not only has he re-branded himself as a visionary but also made a huge financial success of himself!

The Millionaire Chauffeur

Here’s another vacation from India. I’ve hired a chauffeur to drive me around the city of Ahmedabad (also called Amdavad)  in Gujarat state. Even though people don’t (more like ‘can’t) drive fast because of the insane traffic, its very stressful so having someone else drive is a good idea. I just found out  that my 22 year old chauffeur (who’s called a “driver” in India) is a multi-millionaire.

How did he become a millionaire?

His family owns farming land, where traditionally they’d do sustenance farming and raise milch cattle. With the boom in India’s economy, real estate prices have shot through the roof and many cities are expanding at a furious rate. His family owned land that was in the path of development and become extremely wealthy. He happened to buy some land a few years ago and thats now worth 10 times what he paid for it, making him a millionaire.

While a million dollars is a sizable amount in any country, in India where the buying power is around 4 times that of the US, it seems even larger.

Despite his wealth he’s a pretty simple chap. He doesn’t drink or smoke and he’s vegetarian. However, one of his side activities is lending money out to people at 10% interest. Thats 10% per month! Often the borrowers don’t pay on time, so he has rough them up a little bit. But you have to be tough if you want to own land in India.

So why does he work as a driver for a measly $75/month?

Mrs. Micah had an interesting post about people who considered certain types  of work to be beneath them.  This obviously isn’t a problem with my driver. Apparently he’s had several run-ins with the law and having an honest job keeps him out of trouble. He makes twice what he earns as a driver from his “money lending” practice and he also has leased out his land to farmers for additional income. On the whole, he does very well. But he doesn’t see himself as a millionaire who’s too rich to work as a driver. He recognizes that he’s gotten lucky and doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to handle this kind of wealth. Which is why he isn’t selling the land and living the large life.

So he works as a driver and maintains that sort of lifestyle (although he does have an expensive cellphone). He sees this job as an opportunity to meet new people, earn a little bit extra money and most importantly stay out of trouble. Having a stable job increases his respectability in his community, and since he’s unmarried thats extremely important.  After all, which father would want his daughter to marry an unemployed guy who keeps getting in trouble with the law, regardless of how much land he’s sitting on.

I guess there is dignity in work after all!

Prioritizing The Important Stuff

Here’s an inspiring story I received via email from a friend. Enjoy!

When things in your life seem Almost too much to handle, When 24 Hours a day is not enough, Remember the mayonnaise jar And 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class And had some items in front of him When the class began, wordlessly, He picked up a very large and Empty mayonnaise jar And proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students If the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked The students again If the jar was full, They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand And poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced Two cups of coffee from under the table And poured the entire contents Into the jar, effectively Filling the Empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, As the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that This jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things- God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions- Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter Like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else- The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” He continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time And energy on the small stuff, You will never have room for the things that are Important to you. So- Pay attention to the things That is critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time To clean the house And fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first- The things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand And inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled, “I’m glad you asked.”

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, There’s always room For a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

What Would Your Last Words Be?

Here’s an inspiring story about Prof. Randy Pausch. At 46, Dr Pausch has pancreatic cancer and only a few months left to live. He gave a speech about achieving his childhood dreams.

Why are we all concerned with making money? So that we can get out of the rat race and achieve all the dreams we had as kids.

I believe its not the quantity of life but the quality that matters. Dr Pausch has definitely lived a great life, fulfilling all of his childhood fantasies.

Make sure you achieve yours!

Here’s the full article at WSJ.com