Why Naming Your Startup is Harder than Naming Your Firstborn
May 23, 2011 ‐ 0 comments

When you're a parent naming your child, the only opinion that really matters is your own. When you're a founder naming your company, your opinion is the one that matters least. Why? Because if you're an entrepreneur you're (hopefully) a hyperintelligent, technology-savvy workaholic who thrives on risk. In short, you have nothing in common with 99% of the rest of the world. If what you like is informed in part by what you are, then you can probably bet that many names on your shortlist wouldn't make anyone else's. TWO PLATFORMS, ONE BUYER Here's an anecdote that's not about startup naming but should prove instructive nonetheless. A few years ago the marketing director of a $70 million company we were working with was in the process of choosing an ESP. The two finalists were ExactTarget and MailChimp. MailChimp met 100% of the organization's needs at 10% of the price, but ExactTarget received serious, continued consideration. Part of the reason was the nature of each solution's integration with Salesforce, but another part was the fact that one product sounded right for a b2b technology and the other simply didn't. We're not saying ExactTarget is a better name than MailChimp. We are saying that if we were starting a company that was targeting marketing directors in a conservative industry we'd choose a name more like Responsys or ConstantContact than JangoMail or Emma. (If you disagree with this statement, we suggest you meet the people that marketing directors in conservative industries report to, and then imagine telling them you'd just selected a new system to handle account inquiry calls called "Twilio"). SO WHAT'S A FOUNDER IN NEED OF A NAME TO DO? The answer is simple, but not easy:

  1. Forget what you think you "like". Forget your first dog's nickname, your cofounders' initials or the letter your last four ventures' names have in common. Close the doors on your subjective, personal, irrational tastes and open your mind to names that solve the problem of positioning your company the right way to the right people.
  2. Identify the most importance audience for the name. It could be sales prospects if you have a product and some traction, but if you're using strong personal connections to get beta customers onto your prototype then angels and venture capitalists might come first. If indeed you are ready to generate new business, then get specific - in b2c, what type of consumer will not only try but ultimately evangelize for your brand new product/service/company; in b2b, what position in what department wields the most influence over the decision to buy?
  3. Figure out what that audience responds to. More of the "nothing in common with 99%" bit. Mark Zuckerberg happened to be a college student when he built a website to help other college students connect. (It's called Facebook - have you heard of it?) Most other founders have slightly more distance between themselves and their target. Don't just think long and hard about what your intended audience wants. Talk to them, or at least talk to people who know them well, and figure out whether they like shiny new objects or proven reliability; whether they prefer speed or service; whether they want something sleek and chic or cheap and cheerful.

The name you end up with may indeed be something like Zynga but, if you did it right, it won't be because you found it here - it'll be because the category you were entering was inundated with descriptive names, the customers/investors/partners you needed to attract were willing or even eager to take a bit of a chance and you were looking to recruit talent for whom fun was an important part of the culture. Either that or it was the last url left on earth.

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