4 tips for naming your business
In this Innosight:
100 most common startup names to avoid
At Innopipe, we’re in the business of handling huge amounts of startup information and something we see quite frequently is that companies keep calling themselves with the same names, confusing not only customers, but also potential investors – our customers.
To help future unicorns out, here’s a list of the 100 most common startup names that you should at least avoid, in descending order of popularity. Notice how they are a mix of descriptive and emotive names as well as acronyms.
You may know some of these companies, but did you know there are at least 5 other startups with the exact same name for each of these? It gets much worse when you take only small variations. For example, we list 159 startups whose name starts with the word “Synergy”. Not very unique or distinguishing… Read on and we’ll discuss more about naming a startup in general.
- real state
Starting an (ad)venture
You’re in that exciting time of having found a problem, you have a plan for a solution and all you need to do is get a team together to execute. In other words, you’re about to start your new startup. Exciting and exhilarating!
You’re also going to need a name for your (ad)venture and this is where founders typically take one of two roads: over- or underthinking it. This short post attempts to provide some help to starting founders at this stage to allow them to get to creating solutions faster.
It’s natural to want your name to be descriptive of what you do. After all, people (and investors) will first see the name – so you want to catch their attention quickly even before they get to the description. This can give you a nice edge over other startups. TripAdvisor and DeliveryHero are good examples of descriptive names. Longer descriptions can be made into catchy and memorable acronyms as well like IBM (International Business Machines).
While the above is true, it is also a pitfall. You may think you know what your startup will be doing, but 9 times out of 10, you will be focusing on something completely different a few years down the road as you discover and learn more about the problems you are solving. Having too descriptive of a name can actually be limiting in those cases and being memorable trumps descriptive any day. Take Apple and Zoom as examples. Acronyms can also have a reassigned meaning, making them a risky proposition. Take the diving association PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), jokingly referred to as “Put Another Dollar In”.
Conversely, it’s possible to spend hours or days trying to find emotive words that have a more general meaning and will fit your startup no matter what you pivot to do, while still eliciting a strong positive emotion. Examples of emotive names include Smartly.io and Uber.
Those can often last longer than descriptive names, but the time spent thinking of a name is rarely offset by the benefits of it. The reality is, you’re just starting out and you’re likely to even change the name down the line, so don’t spend too much time thinking about it yet.
So just picking any name is ok, right? Maybe just use the names of the founders. It worked for McDonalds (Richard and Maurice McDonald) and DHL (Dalsey, Hillblom and Linn), didn’t it? Maybe just make up a word like Not so fast… this is the second mistake, underthinking the name. Without doing any background research to the name, you various risks, including:
- Raising negative associations in some language, cultural context
- An example on the more polite end of the spectrum is Hulu, which means “cease and desist” in Swahili, a language spoken by about 18M people.
- Being confused with another company – worse still, a disreputable one
- The previously mentioned Smartly.io – providing advertising technology – can be confused with Smart.ly an unaccredited online education platform.
- Not being able to register related domain names
- The online shop Argos has had to settle for a co.uk-domain as argos.com was already taken.
- Being liable for trademark infringement
- You’ll likely be notified of regional trademarks when attempting to register, but who wants to remain regional anyway?
To avoid these and other issues, a search engine like DuckDuckGo is a good place to start by seeing if there are any obvious hits with a given name, but it only gives you a top level idea. Why didn’t we say Google? It can work as well, but Google personalizes the searches and you will likely see results that people similar to you will see, not what potential investors and customers would see (unless you fit the description of those).
You should also check some common domain name availabilities for example with the ICANN lookup tool to make sure you can register the domain for your company at least in the most common markets you aim to tackle.
Lastly, if you aim to operate in multiple countries, make sure you try to translate the name to some common languages to avoid all too common embarrassing “lost in translation” situations. Since the phonetics of a word can be equally important as the spelling, this is best done by just asking some native speakers.
The bottom line
A name is the company’s calling card. Even at events geared towards making startups shine, you will often not have more than a minute or two to describe your entire dream. Most of the time, the name and a one line description is often all you can manage – so the name is not insignificant by any means, but founders often obsess over naming far more than is merited.
A good name should be memorable and concise, but more importantly, it should allow locating your business and avoid confusion. This means the name should be something that doesn’t require a complex domain name and isn’t confused easily with other companies when input into a search engine.
With just a bit of due diligence you can get a great name that is You and helps your business be memorable. We hope to see many more unique names at Innopipe in the future.
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