Entrepreneur Series (Part 3): What’s in a Name?

So, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I talked about ideation and field research.  Next up: The Name Game.  

So, when is a name, more than a name?  Well, why don’t you ask how it worked out for say…CareerBuilder (big company) vs. Doostang (still alive, but easily the winner of the worst startup name evvvver).  Or how about Mint (acquired for $170M) versus…Wasabe (deadpool).  

Look, no one is saying that a name makes or breaks you…but it certainly helps set the tone for the future.  I have founded two startups…one with a pretty terrible name for all intensive purposes (to clarify, this was somewhat intentional, but we’ll get to that later), dscover.me, and the other with what I feel like is a great name, StackSocial.

I’ve touched briefly on why a name is important…but to dive a bit deeper, in my opinion, it comes down to a couple things:

  1. Common Sense Translation.  When someone hears the name of your company, they will immediately begin to determine what it means and attach that to your brand.  It’s one thing to name your company a made up word like Zozi (which is a great name), but this method goes completely awry when you name your company something that puts it in the wrong context (like Doostang…sounds like, uh, well…”doo. stain.” Not good).  
  2. Spell-ability. I don’t think spell-ability is a word, but I’m using it anyway.  Yes, we have google so thankfully even if people can’t spell the name of your company…they can google it, but its another barrier.  For example with dscover.me - first off…no one knows how to spell it. And when you type it into the search bar, Google automatically changes it to: “Showing Search results for discover.com instead of dscover.me”.  Not good.

While there are certainly others such as:  How long is the name?  How easy is it to pronounce?  How memorable is it?…i think it ultimately comes down to the 2 factors above.  Jason Calacanis has some interesting input here on the topic.

How to get the Great Name.

Next is the process for getting the great name.  There really is no secret, it’s usually a painful process.  On both startups I’ve founded, we spent weeks agonizing over the name.  Simply because everything you can think of is probably taken.  This being said, you then have three choices:

1. Buy a kickass name.  Will cost probably at least $1k or more.  This option is fine for anyone that’s funded.  I would probably go this route if money wasn’t an issue.

2. Use a misspelling, a non dotcom domain, or use a prefix.  I would avoid this route.  Sure, it worked for Flickr, Tumblr, bit.ly, MyMint.com (now Mint) and GetDropBox.com (now DropBox)…but for the average startup, this route is rife with headaches.  Dropping vowels is cliche, many mainstreamers still don’t get non dotcom domains, and banking on getting big enough to buy the real name violates my two rules above.

3. Mash two meaningful words together.  Facebook, EverNote, OpenTable, StackSocial…etc.  Even if you don’t know what StackSocial is…you at least begin to understand its probably community based and perhaps it has something to do with…say a building things? or maybe software stacks?…or something to do with programmers?…well, you get the picture.  Its close enough and it doesn’t lead the user astray.

Once you have the name, then check the availability using a service like this one.  And obviously vet it by bouncing it off a few friends, googling it, and as Jason suggesting doing a Google images search to see what kind of images are evoked from the name.

Good luck.

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