Tonight I am giving a presentation on naming and positioning at Founders Institute Atlanta. In prepping for it I uncovered an old draft article on the subject of naming. It was part of a series of posts on startup marketing that I published back in the summer of 2009.
While a number of articles have been written on startup naming by the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis, and Dharmesh Shah, I but together my own simple five point framework for startup name characteristics. I hesitate to call them requirements because in today's day and age if you are going to meet all the requirements it would take a pretty good chunk of change that concept and seed stage companies can not afford.
I will also say this, I am not sure if the company name really matters. If might give you an edge but it may not be a big issue. It is an subject that deserves some serious cycles but if you take a peek at the winners in the Atlanta tech space it is hard to discern if the name matters at all on ultimate company success.
This is the most element to me. A startup name needs to be memorable. To be memorable it needs to be brief. Four syllables or less. Less is good. Think eBay, Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Yahoo!. All two syllables. Two syllable names also seem to have the best verb potential. Dropbox it to me.
Part of the reason is that you don't want the name to become too long is that people will have a tendency to cheat on your name. A great example of this is Internet Security Systems. Great descriptive name, but so long people just called it ISS.
A bigger part of the reason is that you want the brand and word of mouth effects that a memorable name provides. Having a memorable name greatly increases word of mouth marketing potential.
The name needs to be memorable not only to people but to machines. Machines such as search engine crawlers. You want to be sure it is unique enough that you can own it via SEO.
2. Easy to spell and pronounce.
You want someone to be able to spell and say your company name correctly unprompted after hearing it one time. This, along with shortness, are the two most important elements in my book. If it is not obvious know to spell you will spend the rest of your time with the company dictating the letters over the phone every time you talk to someone for the first time or they ask for your email address.
If it is not obvious how to say the name you are going to have a much harder time building a brand. And this may sound a little out there but people have to like the way it makes them feel when they say the name. Xobni does not exactly roll off the tongue with pleasure. You want your name to make people smile.
No hipster buy a vowel names allowed.
3. Reflect product capabilities or be evocative.
Some of biggest brands on the Internet today have names that do not reflect their product capabilities but are evocative. Amazon, Google, eBay, Yahoo.
Some of the biggest brands on the Internet today have product capability names. Facebook, LinkedIn, NetFlix, The Weather Channel.
While I prefer product capability names I will also say this. If you go down the road of your company name reflecting product capabilities it can create issues if you have to pivot. More likely than not you will pivot.
4. Trademark clear.
This might seem obvious but you have to ensure that you can get rights to use the name for the purpose you want. Simple United States Patent and Trademark Office searches are a good place to start but are not definitive. If you have the money a CompuMark search can be undertaken.
The key to the mark being clear is if it has the potential to create confusion in the marketplace. You find a trademark clear name you should start the process of registering it as soon as you use it in commerce.
5. Able to secure web properties.
You want to be able to obtain the .com domain and the company name on the big three social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) if appropriate for your market. The .com has to be available or available for a price that you are willing to pay, now or at some time in the future. Successful companies cheat on this all the time. Twitter was Twittr. Delicious was Del.ocio.us. Do what you have to do to grow the company and then getting the right web property in the future seems to be a enough common practice that you can pursue it if you have to do so.