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Naming your startup September 6, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in start-up, startups.

Epicenter pointed me to an interesting Seattle Times article that asks what is the impact of startups with weird names.

New Internet companies are being baptized daily with handles that sound like a blend of toddlerspeak, scat singing and what the aliens will greet us with when they land.

Most Internet company names make little sense, and they roll around the mouth like a marble.

“Old-school ideas about sounding trustworthy or sounding big are not as important as they used to be,” said Burt Alper, co-founder of Catchword Branding in Oakland, Calif., which has helped companies pick such names as Vudu (makes a device for watching videos) and Promptu (creates voice-recognition products). “Now it’s about sounding different and standing out from the crowd.”

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I’m not a fan of dropped vowels or unconventional use of high scoring Scrabble letters in company names. I think company names (or at least URLs) need to pass three tests:

1. Can people say it?
2. Can people remember it?
3. Can people spell it?

Word of mouth is a great, free user acquisition channel. But if a happy user tells a friend to check you out, you only need to fail one of these three tests to lose the shot at a new user. Remember how Universal Tube and Rollerform Equipment Corp’s website, utube.com, got a lot of traffic intended for Youtube? Word of mouth can be like playing the Telephone Game. The wrong name risks that happy user’s referral getting lost in the translation…


1. Allen - September 6, 2007


I agree with you. start-ups should have “better” names. However, the problem is that domainers have purchased all the good url’s. Acquiring a “good” domain name these days will cost you 6, 7 or 8 figures. May be this is an area Lightspeed should look to invest in.

2. Jeffrey - September 6, 2007

0. Is is confusingly similar to the name of a competitive business?

3. Jordan Mitchell - September 6, 2007

Ironic timing on your post. I had a [self-described] marketing guy tell me yesterday that he didn’t like my company name (“Others Online”) because it wasn’t distinctive enough to build a brand around it.

I certainly see his point, but at the end of the day I’d rather meet the criteria you point out.

4. Esme Vos - September 6, 2007

Well Hulu is easy to say and spell but hardly memorable.

5. John Philip Green - September 10, 2007

Great post. I’d like to add one more test:

4. Can people read it at small font sizes?

See, in addition to failing some of your other tests, a product name we ran with, Nuvvo, was hard to even read. (The 2 vees look like a w.) We did some stuff with the logo to mitigate this, but it was always a problem.

6. David Sachs - September 12, 2007

An interesting discussion of naming can be found on Igor’s website.

They also have a very comprehensive naming guide that discusses much of the work that naming consultancies do for (typically larger) companies:

Click to access igor-naming-guide.pdf

7. Attention data and Xobni « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - September 26, 2007

[…] don’t love the name (it’s inbox backwards) for reasons I’ve discussed before, but I do like the product. Xobni is an outlook plugin that contextually exposes metadata and links […]

8. John - October 29, 2007

Choosing a name is never easy and you’ve done an excellent job of outlining the pitfalls in your post. You can find a short piece on how we came up with the name for our company, Owner’s Locker, at:


9. The 15 dumbest names for Web 2.0 startups - October 13, 2008

[…] naming Folksonomy – 7 tips for naming your Web 2.0 startup GigaOm – 3 rules for naming your startup LSVP blog – Naming your startup Startup Spark – Everything You Need To Know About Naming a Startup TechRepublic – The dos and […]

10. Digital Notepad » Blog Archive » Articles on naming your startup - October 21, 2008

[…] LSVP blog – Naming your startup […]

11. MC - September 6, 2010

Check out http://www.globalnaming.com for a complete process tool. Naming is so much more than just a nice sounding word.

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