How to Name Your Startup

04/30/2010

isoftcom.com 1 150x150 How to Name Your StartupNaming sucks.  Seriously, have you ever had a pet? Did you name it something stupid?  The truth is if you call your hamster Hammie, it really isn’t the end of the world.  But name your startup John Smith and Associates and you’ve got yourself a problem.

I’ve never named a company but I’ve named products a handful of times with decidedly mixed results (See my post on product naming here).  I had 2 conversations with startup founders this week that are trying to decide on a name for their company and I felt their pain.   Here’s what we discussed (take it for what it’s worth, which by the way is exactly what you paid for it):

  1. Findable – The most important thing your company name does is identify you so that people can find you.  That might be tricky if your name is Ubbnoxx.us. The big things to consider is how easy your name is to spell and how unique it looks to search engines.  For example, it would be pretty hard for people to find this blog if I called it RokkettWatcha and naming my site Rocket Launcher might have had me competing with the Guns and Ammo crowd.
  2. Connects to the product/service – Connecting the name to the space you are in helps make it memorable and can help you communicate the value of what you do.  Be careful here though because things can and will change.  Be wary of connecting your name to a specific technology.  Ages ago I worked on a product family called Olectra – the name coming from OLE controls.  When Microsoft changed OLE to ActiveX our stuff looked dated.  Even when it comes to your specific value proposition, chances are you going to make some big pivots so don’t get too specific about things that can and likely will change.
  3. Differentiated – Have a look at other companies in and around the space you will be playing in.  When you pick a name it helps to stand out from the crowd and you want to make sure that there will be no chance of confusion between you and other companies in the space.
  4. Memorable - There is a company that competes with a company I’m working with now called PBInnovations or GRInnovations or something like that. I don’t know, I can never remember what they are called.  Don’t be like them.
  5. Trendy (or not) – You wouldn’t think that something like naming would be so influenced by fashion but it really is!  In the early days of tech we had the big corporate names – International Business Machines, Digital Equipment Corp. Computer Associates.  Then we decided it was cool to shorten those down to acronyms. Then we started calling our companies sort of arty one-word names like Oracle and Apple.  Then all of those names got trademarked and we had to get more creative which gave rise to the made up word names like Accenture and the like.  Then Web 2.0 companies produced their own cheeky version of that which involved taking a word and spelling it all funny like flickr and Digg.  Lately the trend is more to take a couple of words and stick them together like Facebook, Firefox, YouTube, etc.  This post – 10 company name types on TechCrunch from TheNameInspector is a great read if you are looking for ideas.  There are pluses and minuses to each of these approaches but be aware that 5 years from now we’ll be creating names in a new way.
  6. You CAN rename your company later – yes, it will be a bit of a pain, but it isn’t the end of the world.  OnStartups had a great post a while back detailing the process OfficeDrop went through to rename themselves.  This is a good thought to keep in mind while you are picking a name because, hey, you named your cat Whiskers didn’t you?

Good luck (you’ll need it).

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