The 5 Secrets to a Great Company Name
Coming up with the right name for your company is a serious business, and may be one of the most important (time) investments you ever make.
Choosing the best name for your new business is an important–and surprisingly difficult–decision. Mingle with a group of entrepreneurs and at least one will admit that they wish they had put more thought into their choice. Likable and easy to remember names can go a long way toward propelling a company’s success, while a bad name is, at best, a missed opportunity.
While it is possible to overcome a bad first choice, it’s better to avoid it. The biggest mistake company founders make in naming is not taking the process seriously, says Scott Milano, owner and managing director of Tanj Branding. “People often say, “Let’s toss around some ideas and see what comes out,” he says. “But that’s highly unlikely to lead to a winner.”
How to do it right? The path to a great name starts with following a robust process, rather than trying to hop on the latest trend.
1) Find the soul of your business
Who are you and why do you exist? What do you offer now and what could you offer in the future? This is not just a philosophical exercise, but an essential step toward arriving at a good name. Also critical to know: Who is your audience and what type of name will resonate with them?
As these questions might suggest, defaulting to your own name or initials is rarely a great idea. Unless you’re already famous, going eponymous “is usually the lazy way out,” Milano says. That’s largely because it says nothing about what your business does or how it differentiates itself.
Inspired by a trip to Asia, where straightforward business names like Best Laundry are common, business partners Ben Schippers and Will Schenk landed on the name HappyFunCorp for their software development company. “The core of our business is: take care of yourself, do what you need to do to make yourself happy, and everything will follow from that,” Schippers says. To help live up to its name, the company provides plenty of flexibility in work schedules and vacations and tries not to overload employees.
2) Give yourself options–lots of options
Milano recommends creating a list of 200 to as many as 1,000 names as a starting point. Why so many? Chances are good you’ll find that many of your favorites are unusable because others have already taken them, or something very close to them, so it’s important to have plenty of back-ups. Some branding experts will simply do exhaustive web searches on synonyms or adjacent terms relevant to a company’s product, service, geographic location, and other factors. You can (and should) do the same. Brainstorm with your team on words that might apply, and then use an online thesaurus to make a list of anything remotely close. After that, winnow to a list of finalists.
3) Know your competition, but don’t copy
One key to arriving at a great name is to know exactly what your competitors are doing and then do something different — but not crazy. That said, there’s a lot of room for irreverence.
“You need to find a word that means something, but it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the industry you’re in,” says Lucien Etori, vice president of naming at Salt Branding. “Many of the world’s most celebrated brands have nothing to do with their industries,” he notes, pointing to Apple, Virgin, and Starbucks as examples.
Even in the traditionally conservative worlds of financial services and healthcare, there is room for some play. The whimsically named Oscar, for example, is a new health insurance company competing against the likes of UnitedHealth and BlueCross/BlueShield.
4) Keep it real
Etori also recommends using real words – or combinations of real words – rather than making up a new word. Some of his favorite company names include airfare app Hopper, because “it’s very direct and visual.” He also appreciates the short, punchy combination used by web-based hosting platform Bitbucket, which, despite its esoteric focus, boasts a name that sounds “very layman and down to earth.”
For inspiration, Etori says, “listen to the world around you” and pick up on the common phrases, slang, and idioms that others use to describe what your company does. However, if you like the idea of a completely made-up word, be prepared to invest accordingly in order to explain it to a target audience, especially in the consumer-facing space.
“If you’re coming in with enough money, you can call yourself whatever you want and take out full-page ads to sell it,” says Etori. But for most entrepreneurs, he cautions, the better bet is to opt for something that creates a direct connection with customers.
5) Don’t be constrained by ‘dot-com’ website names
Many start-ups will drop a promising company name if the matching ‘dot-com’ URL is not available. But if you are otherwise happy with your name and can pick a close cousin (legal services company FireFly simply uses fireflylegal.com, for example, sincefirefly.com was already taken), that’s a viable option.
A better approach, however, may be to consider the many new “not-com” domain extensions that are now available. They can solve two issues at once: help you find the perfect name and ensure that your URL is as memorable and relevant as it can possibly be, especially since it could perfectly mirror your company name.
For example, Fireglass, a cyber-security firm, could have opted for something likefireglasssecurity.com once it saw that fireglass.com was already in use by a different company. Instead, it chose fire.glass, which is a clean, uncluttered reiteration of the actual company name. (Similarly, FireFly might have–and still could!–opt forfirefly.legal, now that ‘dot-legal’ domains have become available.)
The release of new domain extensions, such as ‘dot-agency’ (.agency) and ‘dot-works’ (.works), has “opened up the door for an enormous amount of creativity,” says Etori. “You can almost create a complete sentence with company names and matching domains that end in ‘dot-green’ or ‘dot-books,’ and those kinds of names allow you to engage people very quickly.”
That was the approach that equity crowdfunding platform Slice Capital took with its naming strategy. Seeking to evoke an image of “capital tables being sliced up to the nth degree” because many investors are involved, co-founder Rohan Shah initially expected to use slicecapital.com as a domain name. But when he and his co-founders learned that they could use Slice.capital, “we jumped on it,” Shah says. “It’s nice and simple, and we think these types of addresses are really taking off.”