Great company names are hard to find. Or are they?
Among the startup mistakes I’ve made was wasting too much time with my co-founder trying to come up with the perfect company name. Either the name wasn’t descriptive enough, or a good, short name was already taken. We went back and forth for days. In the end we got nowhere.
Could you be doing public relations damage to your cause if people don’t understand what your startup does because of a strange name? I doubt it.
The Wall Street Journal yesterday became the latest publication to lament the proliferation of Web 2.0 names, especially those ending in li or ly. By their count there are 161 companies whose name ends ly or li. There’s even a Pinterest board. Those crazy kids!
Writer Lindsay Gellman says:
With about 252 million domain names currently registered across the Internet, the short, recognizable dot-com Web addresses, or URLs, have long been taken.
The only practical solution, some entrepreneurs say, is to invent words, like Mibblio, Kaggle, Shodogg and Zaarly, to avoid paying as much as $2 million for a concise, no-nonsense dot-com URL.
The Atlantic Wire amplified the original story under the headling “The Pitfalls of The Clever.ly Named Startup,” and Quartz went with the sensationalist title “Startups, stop choosing names that aren’t actual words.” Shameless link bait. Alas, I clicked.
This story emerges every so often. Every time a new writer talks about Web 2.0 names they inevitably mention Flickr, Twitter and Tumblr. These companies that are today household names were compelled to adopt unusual monikers because the ones they wanted were unavailable. Companies who are lambasted by the journalist get some free public relations exposure, and hopefully get at least a few downloads apiece.
Shorter names are perceived as better, especially in an era of 140-character updates.
But all of these stories miss something. Longer names can be fine too, especially when they’re descriptive and catchy. A commenter on the Wall Street Journal story named his personal finance tool Greater Than Zero. Makes sense. Right? I recently heard about a solar company called Milk The Sun. You can still be clever and come up with a good company name that makes sense.
But there are benefits to the oddball Web 2.0 names that are not discussed in any of the articles I’ve read. From a marketing and public relations standpoint it can be good to invent a word.
The more distinct your name, the easier it is to track yourself online. With a zany, made-up name it’s easy to keep track of what people are saying about your fledgling company using tools like Google Alerts, Mention and BrandsEye. If you’re name is made up the signal-to-noise ratio is very high. People are only going to tweet, blog or share your name if they’re interested in you. Even if they’re slamming your product.
Having a trackable name allows you to directly engage your audience, solicit feedback and quickly make changes based on user suggestions.
Once you reach a certain size this no longer matters. On Quora I asked how many times the word Google appears online each day. Unfortunately no one serious stepped up to the question. When Google was called “Back Rub,” it would be impossible to distinguish whether someone was talking about the company, or about a massage. But switching the name to Google gave founders Larry and Sergei the opportunity to engage with anyone using their name online.
Ultimately it comes down to the value your company creates. IFTTT (If This Then That) seems like one of the sillier company names I’ve come across, but it keeps popping up more and more often. In spite of the oddity of the name, what they’re doing is increasingly relevant to me, so their name could be anything, and I would probably still use their product.
Create value and you can call your product anything you want.
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