The Startup Diaries, naming the company.

As developers we all know how hard it can be to name things. Variables in functions are usually pretty easy but naming a public function or class deserves some thought. Creating a new executable usually requires at least quick quick pause to consider options. Naming your children can also very challenging since the old "Rob2" or "RobEx" patterns of Win32/COM days are now so passe'. But trust me when I say that that none of those compare to the challenge of naming your company.

Naming a company is paradoxically bounded and unbounded in incredibly paralyzing ways all at the same time. For example, you can name your company anything! Anything! Imagine that. You can name your company anything. How cool is that?

Except... your company name cannot be the same as an existing company. But that's probably not a real deal breaker. That rule really only applies to companies that are in the same business domain (aka: software). It's likely there are plenty of names still relevant to your company's specialization. Plus you want something distinct from any competitors. So like I said, lots of room.

Except... it is almost guaranteed that some random entity on the World Wide Web already took your name. This will be maddening. More than once in the search you will curse and exclaim, "All the good names are taken!!!" And it will be true. And, yes, you pretty much really need the ".com" domain name that matches your company.

Except... sometimes you can buy the name from the entity that owns it. Some entities are actually waiting for someone to show up and offer them money for the domain name. Sometimes they want lots and lots and lots of money. More often than not the entity is using the name and is not interested in selling it. So you need to move on.

Aside: We got lucky. But more on our name later.

So where does that leave you? You're looking for a name that is memorable, ideally two to three syllables long and easy to spell. Oh and try to make it easy to understand over the phone. You'll likely be saying your company name (and your email address) quite a bit. Pick something easy to say over the phone or be prepared to spell it out all the time (then you'll doubly want it to be easy to spell).

How do you do that? Well, you could farm the work out. In fact, you can farm out the whole decision making process. The Customer Development Labs blog has a cool entry called A Better way to Name a Company. They farm out the name generation to SquadHelp then use Mechanical Turk to gather data about a few of the names and finally make decisions based on the data. It all makes perfectly logical sense to me.

Except... it feels a little like naming your kid based on surveying a bunch of strangers. The artist in me just doesn't feel right about that, statistics be damned. <smile/>

Instead, we spent months brainstorming available names. My wife started coming up with so many good names that I had to show her how domain lookups worked so she could filter out the taken names herself. I grabbed a bunch of available names based off her suggestions that we didn't end up using but I liked enough to stick in my back pocket.

Ultimately, we kept coming back to a name we liked. Of course, the domain name was taken. But it was for sale! The more we talked about it the more we liked it. We started coming up with more ways that the name was a great name for us. Finally, we took the plunge and paid the asking price. The whole transaction took maybe 30 minutes but I swear I held my breath the whole time. That was a thrilling moment in our first week together that I will remember forever.

Now we had a name! We would soon have email addresses! We basically now existed virtually! As I mentioned in the first Startup Diaries post the lawyers were quickly dispatched to incorporate with the final agreed upon name so that we could exist physically as soon as possible.

Before I let you go, let me leave you with this one last suggestion when you start dreaming up your company's name: Do a bunch of search queries for your company name before you own it. In other words, do a bunch of vanity searching to ensure you are okay being associated with the topics that show up in those searches. You should also want to be thinking about how hard it will be to rise to the top of that list. Many people still find companies by searching for them rather than going straight to the correct domain name. Will those people find you by searching? Will they snicker when they see who hangs out with you in the top 10? Decide what that means to you.

In the mean time, while dreaming up some great names for your company, keep coding. I'll be back with more for the Startup Diaries soon.

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