I recently spent some time with a company which got me thinking about what’s in a startup’s name. For the sake of this post, let’s just refer to the company as Acme.
Acme’s real name is based on a well-known technology standard, which confers benefits and disadvantages. There happens to be a lot of innovation and investment going on around this standard over the last year or two, so on one hand having it as part of Acme’s name probably generates some excitement. Fundamentally though, what makes Acme’s technology interesting has relatively little to do with this standard. In fact, there’s a decent chance that the commercialization of Acme’s technology will involve with a different standard than the one in their name. By analogy, it’s as if MP3.com’s business was based around the Windows Media (.wma) format.
So who cares? I mean, it’s difficult to argue that Apple would somehow have been less successful if Jobs & Woz called it Pear Computer, or if eBay was jBay or something. Well in the case of startups like Acme, I think you can unfortunately get pigeonholed by your company’s name. When Acme first meets venture investors or potential customers, peoples’ first thought is frequently “Oh, this must be another [Standard X] company”. I know I’m certainly guilty of it.
When we were starting up my previous company, LinkedIn, we actually spent a great deal of time thinking about names in a variety of contexts. Our goals were really threefold… to choose a company brand that stood for professional networking, pick something based on the availability of an easily recognized domain name (obviously more relevant for consumer-facing Internet businesses), and ensure that there weren’t other corporate entities or trademarks with the same name. We very nearly became “Netra” until learning that Sun Microsystems had trademarked it (they sell a line of servers targeted to telecom vertical under this name).
I honestly believe that like most startups, Acme’s success will be primarily based on the strength of its team, technology, and market opportunity rather than a name. And my point is really not about Acme… it’s that you should be conscientious in chosing a name for a new company. Doing so can help you minimize the risk of being immediately categorized by others or even staking your strategy on the company brand.