Sunday, May 31, 2009

Third session @ Founder Insitute

The 3rd session at Founder Institute will be devoted to Name & Branding. As always, we will have three mentors for tomorrow. They are:
  1. Bryan Thatcher, CEO of Empressr,
  2. Jay Jamison, Founder and CEO of Moonshot, and
  3. James Hong, one of co-founders of Hot or Not, listed under Troublemaker title now. :)
I really know nothing about all of them, but James Hong. Somehow his startup was so popular that a lot of people used to mention it. I actually first heard about him when I was living in LA, and he and his business were often discussed during (rare) entrepreneurship events. It would be very intereting to meet him in person and ask some questions.

Well, so now few thoughts and ideas on what branding and naming are, and how did I use them in my previous ventures before. The first thing I should say, that I never took either academic or research approach on this. I tried to keep the name of the company pretty related to what it's actually doing, but I should say I wasn't paying to much attention to it. Of the most important things I wanted to have were:
  1. Conciseness — I don't like long names (well, but I had something like "Extra Communications Company" before :) I also prefer "classic" name to be used with dot com at the end. However, I'm willing to choose extremely weird spellings, like for the short.
  2. Easiness of saying and spelling — the name should sound good and should be easily spelled out. It should easy enough to be said by either native speaker or not. When you say the name of your company, nobody should ask you about it again. It should be aboslutely clear. And when it's said, it should be easy enough to type it in the browser's location bar, without saying "How do you spell that?". Oh, and when you read it, you should be able to say it right away from the first try. :)
So how do I do that? The short name is always a headache, especially, as there are no more 5-letters domain names left in dot com. And 6-letters is already too much. :) That's why I prefer to start from #2, and get back to #1 when I have a good idea about the name.

So, I use to start with a set of names, written down, which can be related to the nature of the business. They don't have be connected. Normally, they should be a legal English words (like web, search, etc), but not a Web2.0 abbreviations (like tumblr, loopt, etc). We'll have a chance to deface them later on. :)

I'm not good at shortening names to Web2.0 notation, so as for now, I think I don't have any names like that (well, maybe but the Tweeplies).

So, when I have the list, I'm starting to looking for a good and available domain name. You need to be able to read it, and actually, have some associations with the words, that will bring you to the right direction. It's like when you're looking at the lemon-like fruit, you are ready to something like citrus, while you might not know what is it exactly.

Normally, I'm ending up with the several lists of 15-20 available domain names, that can also be a company name. I'm trying to avoid more then 5-7 combinations of the same words (or pairs of the words). This keeps you pretty limited to one meaning, while we can have a thousand of them.

When I have the lists of names, I'm just emailing them to about 5 friends of mine, quickly describing the idea of the business (very very lightly!) and the list of domain names. If there is a good association with the nature of the business and the name, you don't need to know the idea deeply, as it makes you a little bit biased. This something that I believe to be a place for improvement, as I think I need to rely on opinion of more then 5 people.

From the other hand, I'm not sure if I need to spend that much time on choosing the name, as just a name doesn't do anything. It's not a brand, it's not a trademark, it's nothing, but a name. You can make it strong, or you will forget about it as soon as it fails. Well, I know, there is also a different point of view, and some people suppose that good and proper naming can add more maturity, trust in your business, which Web2.0-like stuff can be totally unacceptable for a serious business. I can't take a solid position on any of these approaches, but I believe that something like Cornigerous, Inc. is a bad choise, no matter what you're doing.

I don't really have any specific questions for the third session of the Founder Institute. However, I'm not less excited about it, as I want to learn more about other people naming approaches. Except, the only question I might have is:
  1. Did anyone experienced changing the name of the company, and having it going up or down because of that? (I'm not talking about screwing up with brand, but keeping in mind that everything else is the same, but just a different mame.)
I'm also going to take some time and discuss this with purple start team members. Four heads are always better then one, right? :)