Ready, Set, G… wait, we need a real name

Really, is this the most productive use of a start-up’s time?

Unfortunately though, once you start brand building you want to stick with your name and it needs to be something that can grow with you.  With today’s paltry .com selection, bit.ly’s trend setting .ly cooling since it stands for Libya, and del.icio.us actually becoming delicious.com, what’s a start-up to do?

In the process of trying to find a name, I came across a lot of very useful advice on the internet.  For example Guy Kawasaki suggests choosing names that start early in the alphabet and have verb potential.  ahundredmonkeys.com suggests not to “caught up in anybody’s rules about how to name a high tech company, like beginning with letters early in the alphabet or only looking at names that can turn into verbs.”  Of course, that was rule number 3 of 10 from a company that sounds like a Bruce Willis Sequel, but what do I know.

So while I can’t help you pick a good name, perhaps I can save you some effort from picking a bad name.  Here’s my top 5 list of failed techniques to naming a start-up:

1Dot-o-mator: Good fun, and while CrimsonSphere.com sounds cool, it is actually already taken and doesn’t really seem like it will stand the test of time.  Sounds a little too much like SRI’s failed consulting firm name AtomicTangerine, clearly a dot-o-mator early customer.

2. Morse Code: While cool for the Stig, not cool for a company name.  dotdotdashdotdotdotdashdashdotdashdotdashdotdash.com

3. Names and Initials: While it worked for Bill Ed and Alfred down at BEA and Tom Seibel at Seibel Systems, times have changed and today’s dot com needs a little less (obvious) personal ego. (Plus, Mackinaw.com was taken, stupid island).

4. Use a Foreign Language: Well, unfortunately there are actually people that speak those languages and register domains in their native tongues.  So that leaves Latin.  While I personally liked Ecdicus.com, it was turned out to be not very clever since it was already taken and I was the only one on the team that could pronounce it.  On the upside I can now confidently tell my high school latin teacher that it really was a waste of time.

5. Desperation – Scrabble Grab-bag: Hands down the most effective tool at finding available .com names!  Unfortunately, xdtfuvq.com doesn’t roll off the tongue.

In the end, the only advice that I came across and would offer as legitimate is as follows:

  • Use the thesaurus
  • Keep it to 2-3 syllables and use it in a sentence out loud – would you want to say it 30 times in a customer pitch?
  • Don’t make a rash decision, select your top few and use them all for a week – the team will naturally gravitate towards one
  • Consider Hyphens – many will disagree with this I’m sure, but if your choice is between a hyphenated name that you like, or something completely random, hyphens are not the end of the world (as long as the non hyphenated version isn’t a competitor).  Eventually if you grow big enough, you will want to pay the premium for the other URL.  I don’t feel it’s any worse than creative spelling of a company name, people will still find you.
  • Search to make sure it’s not trademarked (thanks to Rand Fishkin for the link)
  • Ask others and see how they react
  • Keep at it!  While it might not be your first, second, or even 100th pick, you will find one that is acceptable that will grown on you over time
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    “One Click Shopping” – ah, the good old days

    As I’ve gone down the route to starting my company, I’ve had to anchor around how I’m different than the other thousand companies trying to do online community engagement. The key is in our unique algorithm to drive incentives and accountability.  However, once we gain some traction, it will be obvious why that is better than what exists today, and so we fully expect other companies to quickly copy our use-cases.

    While imitation may be the highest form of flattery, flattery doesn’t get you funded – VCs want barriers to entry.  So like any good entrepreneur, I’ve chatted with a few attorneys about filing a patent – I mean if amazon can patent “one click shopping”, surely my idea should be patentable.  “Not so” say the patent attorneys.  Apparently, the trend now is to issue patents for physical things – if you can code it into a physical box – you have a chance, but if it’s just a business model or software, be prepared for an uphill battle.

    After being told this twice in under a week (with almost frighteningly similar analogies to “if you can’t kick it, you can’t patent it”), I did a bit of research and learned a little of what is going on.  Apparently this was all started by the Bilski case, and has since started a change in attitude by the patent office and even a public outcry for reduction in software patents.  There is a great thread on slashdot for more info, but the key point is – if you’re starting a software business and IP protection is a barrier to entry you assume available to you – you might want to think again.

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