Startup Secret 44: A rose by any other name

Thinking of spending a bundle on that sexy dictionary word for your company name and URL? Stop right now.

Rafe Needleman
Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
2 min read

"You make it mean something."

--Don Dodge, Developer advocate, Google

Don and I were at the Launch startup conference talking about goofy company names. It turns out he's sort of in favor of them. New companies spend way too much on securing what they think are important, common-word short URLs. And then they try to back into the justification. Color, for example. Or Path. I can tell a company has paid too much for a domain name when I ask the CEO what it cost, and they turn red and quietly answer, "We'd prefer not to say."

Do these investments ever pay off?

I'd argue that they can. But it's a huge risk.

Don was the director of engineering at AltaVista. "It was two sort of words that don't mean anything. We made it mean something." He points to other companies that have done well with nonsensical names. Napster. Google. Cisco ("It's the end of San Francisco. It means nothing").

Not to say there aren't rules for naming. For tech companies, Don has three.

  1. Memorable
  2. Easy to spell
  3. Short

Using a common word as a company name has a problem in addition to the expense. It's very hard to rise up in search rankings if you're just starting up and have a name that appears on your first-grader's spelling quiz. Better to make it what the kid writes down that's wrong.

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