NEA Blog

Venture Conversations: What's In a Name?

  • August 30, 2012
Dear Venture Conversations: My VC hates the name of my company. Should I change it?

If your VC normally offers sound advice and hates the name for longer than one board meeting, it’s possible you have a naming mishap on your hands. In the absence of graver or more immediate threats to your company’s well-being, you might want to stand back and assess—after all, you are better off getting the name “right” now rather than later. Hopefully, your company is the smallest it will ever be.

While waiting for a connection at London’s Heathrow Airport on a recent business trip, I noticed a big blue sign for the airport spa instructing passersby to “Be Relax.” Channeling my inner Lynne Truss, I briefly debated the relative merits of deleting the “Be” or adding an “—ed,” before turning to the bigger implication:  multiple people presumably had to conceive, design, approve and produce this name. Whatever their aspirations, “Be Relax” is ultimately a failed attempt at elementary school grammar that distracts good, paying customers and reflects poorly on the business.

A company’s name does not necessarily dictate its potential for success. There are plenty of start-ups that have flourished despite misspelled, unoriginal, overly geeky or just plain bad names. Still, there are certain considerations an entrepreneur should heed during the naming process.

Things to consider:

  • Choose a broad name. Sometimes the choice of a name gives you the license to think big and a narrow name limits your imagination on the size of your opportunity. How does ShopBooks.com sound instead of Amazon.com? Would they have gotten to thousands of selling categories and hosted store fronts, let alone market AWS to host their applications? Don’t be so specific that your name forces you into a corner. Technologies advance; trends change, and focus shifts. You want your company to be able to grow with its market or even change markets in some cases.
  • Separate the product name. A corollary to the broad company name is that it is often useful to have a separate name for the product to allow yourself room to expand to other categories and tailor names to suit. If you choose numbers, please help your customers keep track easily – I am yet to figure out why a Nikon D7000 is better and more expensive than a D70, but less so than a D700.
  • Make an impression. You want your name to be memorable and enticing. Particularly early on, a good name that is easily repeated builds goodwill. Run a survey of family, friends, employees, selected customers and your board for their initial impressions of potential names. Your name should evoke the same emotions you envision from your brand or product. While you are at it, practice your elevator pitch on them as well to make sure your name and your mission are not dissonant.
  • strong> Try not to offend your customers. Foreign languages or word mash-ups come in handy when searching for available web domains, and often have the side benefit of a cool back story. But watch for strange spelling, mundane acronyms, and hard to pronounce words that leave audiences confused or disconnected. A distracted customer or investor is not listening to your message. Also, if your company is international or you market to international consumers here, ensure that the name does not double as offensive slang or a negative cultural reference to others. Pontiac’s subsidiary Saturn Corp has the name of the astrological sign associated with impending disaster in many cultures. No one wants a car that they think brings bad luck with it!
  • Finish well. Take the time to do a trademark search to ensure that no part of the name violates what someone else has already protected. Hire a good lawyer to help complete the required charter and trademark filings. Secure domain names - you want potential customers to be able to intuitively find you on the internet.  Where possible, don’t set yourself up for having to buy out pre-existing domains once you make it big. Ever notice how http://thefacebook.com and http://face-book.com all lead to http://facebook.com? Consider purchasing related domains to avoid cyber-squatters and redirect incorrect address inputs.

While all these considerations are important, be careful not to become too wrapped up in the naming process. It is the company that powers the name and not vice versa, and your team and your product must be your primary focus. Not that you should sit back on your heels and “Be Relax” when it comes to your brand, but scores of misnamed companies have ultimately thrived (some renamed, others not) on the merits of the core business.