A Founder’s First Key Decision Is The Business Name
First things first – your startup needs a name! This may seem a silly and frivolous task, but it may be the most important decision you make. The name of your business has a tremendous impact on how customers and investors view you, and in today’s small world, it’s a world-wide decision.
Please don’t send me any more business plans with TBD or NewCo in the title position. Right or wrong, the name you choose, or don’t choose, speaks volumes about your business savvy and understanding of the world you are about to enter. Here are some key things I look for in the name, with some expert help from Alex Frankel and others:
- Unique and unforgettable. In the trade, this is called “stickiness.” But the issue of stickiness turns out to be kind of, well, sticky. Every company wants a name that stands out from the crowd, a catchy handle that will remain fresh and memorable over time. That’s a challenge because naming trends change, often year by year, making timeless names hard to find (remember the dot.coms).
- Avoid unusual spellings. When creating a name, stay with words that can easily be spelled by customers. Some startup founders try unusual word spellings to make their business stand out, but this can be trouble when customers ‘Google’ your business to find you, or try to refer you to others. Stay with traditional word spelling, and avoid those catchy words that you love to explain at cocktail parties.
- Easy to pronounce and remember. Forget made-up words and nonsense phrases. Make your business name one that customers can pronounce and remember easily. Skip the acronyms, which mean nothing to most people. When choosing an identity for a company or a product, simple and straightforward are back in style, and cost less to brand.
- Keep it simple. The shorter in length, the better. Limit it to two syllables. Avoid using hyphens and other special characters. Since certain algorithms and directory listings work alphabetically, pick a name closer to A than Z. These days, it even helps if the name can easily be turned into a verb, like Google me.
- Make some sense. Occasionally, business owners will choose names that are nonsense words. Quirky words (Yahoo, Google, Fogdog) or trademark-proof names concocted from scratch (Novartis, Aventis, Lycos) are a big risk. Always check the international implications. More than one company has been embarrassed by a new name that had negative and even obscene connotations in another language.
- Give a clue. Try to adopt a business name that provides some information about what your business does. Calling your landscaping business “Lawn and Order” is appropriate, but the same name would not do well for a handyman business. Your business name should match your business in order to remind customers what services you provide.
- Make sure the name is available. This may sound obvious, but a miss here will cost you dearly. Your company name and Internet domain name should probably be the same, so check out your preferred names with your State Incorporation site, Network Solutions for the domain name, and the U.S. Patent Office for Trademarks.
- Favor common suffixes. Everyone will assume that your company name is your domain name minus the suffix “.com” or the standard suffix for your country. If these suffixes are not available for the name you prefer, pick a new name rather than settling for an alternate suffix like “.net” or “.info.” Get all three suffixes if you can.
- Don’t box yourself in. Avoid picking names that don’t allow your business to move around or add to its product line. This means avoiding geographic locations or product categories to your business name. With these specifics, customers will be confused if you expand your business to different locations or add on to your product line.
- Sample potential customers. Come up with a few different name choices and try them out on potential customers, investors, and co-workers. Skip your family and friends who know too much. Ask questions about the names to see if they give off the impression you desire.
If you are still unsure of yourself, you should know that there are many dedicated firms, like Igor and A Hundred Monkeys, who can relieve you of $1 million of your hard-earned funds to come up with just the right appellation. Hmmm. I wonder how much they spent on their own names?
Written by Martin Zwilling
You might also be interested in
Co-founder Equity Split: A New Framework to Objectively Divide Startup Ownership and Get Back to Building a Business
We’ve just released our free Co-founder Equity Split tool. It’ll give you a fair and objective recommendation about how to divide your startup’s ownership, so you and your co-founders will have a sensible, real starting point for this notoriously hard, crucially important conversation.
Many startup founders find themselves lacking clarity and direction when it comes time to divide their
With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at
Update 2017: To help you understand how your startup will look to investors according to this methodology, we’ve created a fundraising feedback tool that will give you investor-level insight into your startup’s performance. In just about 15 minutes, it will tell you how much money your startup is likely to raise, where you can find that capital, and what to
After less than a year, Glassbreakers is now a team of 10, we have thousands of active users on our free product, we’ve expanded into enterprises with paying customers and raised over a million in seed funding. After a few of my Glassbreaker matches inquired, I started to reflect on what it’s like to build a startup
The median investor looking at your proposal is in her 40s. Her eyes are going, not to mention her brain. I look at a lot of spreadsheets and analytic reports, and way too many are difficult to read and therefore hard to understand.
In an effort to make my life easier, I’ve summarized here the steps that will