Startup adviser, product, usability and business model expert. 15 year industry veteran and co-founder. My work has made millions and helped companies reach the top of their industry.
While first to file has a solid claim, current use is also valid. This situation can come down to who is more scary. If they are a larger company they can use their lawyers and resources to show that they have already been using this mark in trade. And you can always use this official filing to bully other small companies into abandoning the mark.
As to your direct question, yes, the Virgin group can definitely come after you if they want to. Even if you have a strong case, a legal battle can bleed you dry and this is a common tactic of larger companies to bully and force smaller ones to do what they want in legal matters like this.
First do your research. Create a customer profile from this research. Who is this person? What is their goal? What challenges are they going through? Then, when you know this, how can your product or service help them? What do they get out of it? Now you have a reason for them to start talking with you. When you do your intro, frame it as something they benefit from, not something they'd just do as a favor for you. For example, if you have a customer relations platform for dental offices you might find out that one has a lot of negative yelp reviews about their staff being unresponsive and poor communicators. For this business, you don't say "hi, I want to talk to you about my software which does CRM for your company. Can I take a few minutes of your time to talk with you?" I
nstead you might say "hi, I have a solution for you that will not only make your current customers more happy with your office but also give you more customers as well. Can I take a few minutes of your time to show you how?". See the difference? You now aren't just some random cold caller, but someone who can help with that office's current problem.
In a nutshell, quickly and clearly show the benefit for your potential customer. Do the work for them so it's not even a matter of them trying to figure out how you can help you, but a much more simple matter of them saying yes.
1. Are you sure you are solving the problem?
Make sure you are building the right product that people will actually want and pay for. Don't just spend 6 months locked away building something and then release it. Start talking to potential customers as soon as you have an idea. Otherwise that 6 months may be wasted when you find out you built a product no one wanted.
2. make sure you have the right market.
You need to find out the following: Is this a big enough problem for them to spend money on? Can they afford to pay what I need to charge? Is the market large enough for me to succeed in? If you don't know these things they can kill your business.
3. Don't forget to measure
Measure and track everything. User feedback, money spend, marketing, development cycles etc. By doing this you can see where to optimize and what is working vs what is not. This is especially critical when you are bootstrapping since you're going to be restricted in time/money/resources compared to a funded and/or already successful company.
4. Pick the right team
This will bite you in the future if you don't get it right the first time. Make sure that your team can all work together through thick and thin. Also, make sure that it's a rounded team. For example, you shouldn't all be designers. Ideally you will need a programmer, designer/product person and business/marketing person. At a minimum you should have a programmer + a non programmer for any online or software business.
Of course, there are many more, but those are top ones.
If you don't want to work for free and are starting from scratch, then I recommend doing the following
- make up sites. Create websites that come from your imagination. These can be riffs off of existing sites if you like but make sure you don't just copy something and change the main pic. They should be entirely of your creation.
- redo an existing site and show a before and after. Include a case study to show how and why you made the changes.
The point of a portfolio is to showcase your work. Whenever I review a candidate, the first thing I do is check that portfolio to see if their level of design is what I'm looking for. Doing the above will show the viewer that you are experienced and competent, even if you don't have a ton of companies under your belt.
If you are already engaging with customers but are losing them because of a weak or non existent portfolio, then spend some time looking over their site before you meet. Put together a plan of what you would do to improve it and walk that customer through this plan. This will help establish you as someone who is not only knowledgeable, but actually vested in your customer's success. Doing this prep work will go a long way towards landing the client. Especially since few people take the time to do so.
It's delivering what they want and need in an enjoyable and engaging manner. Client experience is not just servicing a need, but making it a great process. It should be something they enjoy doing and and something that is not a chore. The best way to do this is to have a well designed product with an amazing user experience. If you give them an easy and enjoyable way to do their task then this is something they will not only come back to, but something they will be more likely to share with others.