How To Pick A Company Name: Tips From The Trenches

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How To Pick A Company Name: Tips From The Trenches

 

The following is a guest post by Healy Jones.  Healy is head of marketing at OfficeDrop, a digital filing system and document scanning service and a former venture capitalist.

Pixily just changed its name to OfficeDrop – this is the story of how we went about making the change.

There comes a time for a lot of companies when they decide that it’s time for a new name. Google was once Back Rub, Nissan - Datsun, and Pepsi Cola used to be Brad’s Drink. Maybe the original name is confusing for customers, maybe it no longer represents the product, or maybe it just becomes stale.  For whatever reason, companies find themselves struggling to find a new name. A name change can be just the refreshing boost your company needs to reach the next level. The question is: how do you pick a new name? onstartups change button

Pixily to OfficeDrop

We found ourselves asking, well… ourselves, this very question this past December. We eventually ended up with a new name: OfficeDrop. We think we came up with a pretty good system for name generation, and there were a few techniques we used that we found especially effective. To help you with your potential name change, here is some insight into the process that we used. Parts of it were fun; parts were arduous, but we like the result.

Reasons and Goals for Change

First you should know the reasons we changed our name from Pixily. The main issue was that consumers found no explicit meaning in the name. Customers also had problems remembering and spelling the name. Related to this issue, the name failed to explicitly reflect the nature of the services we provided as a document scanning and document management company that helped small businesses and home offices get organized and go paperless. A lot of people confused us with an online video company.

This being understood, our very first step in deciding on a new name was making sure whatever we chose overcame the issues with Pixily. The new name had to be:

a) Simple to remember
b) Easy to say
c) Highly spellable (Is spellable a word? If not, then consider this bullet ironic.)
d) Illustrative of our service

We also set some parameters for things like length, composition, and interpretability. We decided that our length goal would be ten characters, and that the words could in no way be misinterpreted or confused with another company’s name. Oh yeah, and we had to be able to buy the domain name too – this final part is harder than it sounds!

Brainstorming Session

Now that we knew what we wanted, we had to find a way to generate some names. It turned out that all the resources we needed for a wall of great names were right there in our office. There are a lot of creative minds about, and our main method of name generation was crowd sourcing our employees. To do this, we held a day-long, company-wide brainstorming session. The first part of this session was intended to help us define the character and values of our company. Then we came up with words that represented these ideas. Finally, we hashed out how these words came together or inspired other words that could become our new company’s name. We weren’t expecting to come up with the single answer that would be the best name, but rather a list of great ideas that we could whittle down later into a few solid finalists.

While brainstorming sounds simple enough, there were a few details we found very important. We wanted to make sure everyone had a say in the names, and didn’t want the thoughts of our CEO or other founders to drown out the ideas from our more junior employees. We also wanted to allow everyone to be as creative as possible and openly share their ideas. These precautions made sure we generated as many ideas as possible.

We found three effective ways of avoiding groupthink and producing the largest number of potential names/words:

1. Have people brainstorm independently before sharing their ideas

2. Letting the more junior team members go first so that they did not feel intimidated by the management.

3. Create an open environment, letting employees know  it was ok to share outlandish/silly suggestions since we wanted everyone to feel good sharing whatever they came up with (kind of like that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell’s character talks about the trust tree…)

Our CEO and co-founder, Prasad Thammineni, kicked off the session by talking a bit about the vision for the company, describing the passion he felt for it and walking through some of the technologies we were developing to help small businesses manage their paper and information.

Everyone had a pad of paper and a pen, and we sat in a circle facing our fearless marketing intern, Matt, who led the discussion as the most recent, least biased employee. Idea generation was focused by categories that we previously determined. Matt would present a category (example: objects you associate with the company) and allow us an allotted time (5-10 mins) to independently and privately put our thoughts on paper. After we’d worked our way through a series of categories, we shared our ideas with each other and Matt wrote them all on large easel pads and attached them to the wall.

From animals to minerals, we covered pads with people, places, and things that might represent what we do here at Pixily. We then brainstormed a list of action words and values that reflect our service. Over pizza we stared at the hundreds of words on the wall and everyone privately paired nouns with actions to create potential names. We all had a lot of fun doing this and we came up with many great names for our company.

Narrow it Down

With about 100 names on the white board, we needed to narrow it down a bit.

We didn’t want to waste our time (or get too attached) to names where we’d never be able to get the domain name. This is where the fact that we are a technology company was helpful; our CTO built a quick script that queried whois.net to find out if any of the .com domains were already owned. We also split up the list and each enlisted the help of a number of our employees to visit each potential name’s .com address and see if there was a company living there or not. Unfortunately a number of our favorites were ruled out due to unavailability of domain name, but we still had a solid list.

We were left with a list of about 30 decent names. Our next step was to ask our employees to vote for their favorites.  By using a vote-based survey emailed throughout the company, it only took a couple of iterations to bring the name list down to a manageable number. We used Google Documents to do this. We now had a decent list of potential names; it was time to talk to customers.

Informal Customer Conversations

We began having phone and in-person conversations with customers and partners. We asked them what they would think if we changed our name and then presented them with the short list of potential names. We asked for candid feedback (and got it!) It was great to speak with customers about the change. We found that a number of them really identified with the Pixily name, but also that a lot of them never really liked the name and didn’t understand how/why that was our company’s name. This step was very important in helping us get down to a final list of potential names and in reassuring us that our decision to change the name was a good one.

Customer Survey

Once we narrowed the names to around 10, we did a formal customer survey to give our users the final say. Our customers were a great help with choosing the name.  We wanted the survey to be fast and simple.

The questions we asked were:

1. For the proposed company, rate the following names from 1 to 5 (where 1 is 'Hate it' and 5 is 'Love it') (we then listed the finalist names)

2. Without going back to the previous page, please list as many of the names that you just rated as you can remember. (This question was intended to help us measure recall and spelling ease of each name)

3. What do you think of when you see each of the following names? (We wanted candid thought – and we got them!! We also tallied up positive, negative, on topic and off topic answers. We wanted to find a name that people did not think of negatively and that also made them think of helping small businesses manage documents.)

 4. If you can think of any names that would be great for us let us know!

Needless to say, OfficeDrop came out number one in the polls. In particular, not only did people like it but it had high recall. It also came out with a high percentage of positive comments and few negative ones.

We hope you found our name change process interesting. We highly recommend this system for any business considering a name change. 

Have you had to change the name of your startup before?  If so, how did you go about it?  Any tips or lessons learned that you’d like to share?  Would love to read them in the comments.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Mar 22, 2010

COMMENTS

Very interesting post. I went through a similar exercise (outcome not yet implemented) some months ago.  
 
My most important lesson was that getting customer opinions on board is a double-edged sword.  
 
Customers want the name to reflect what they think you are, today; you, as an entrepreneur/ leader, want the name to be 'future proof'. The tension is difficult to resolve.  
 
One way to deal with this situation is to use a left field suggestion in the surveyed names. The kind that gets the customer to ask 'what does that mean?'. You can then prime them with your story and your vision. The response can be amazingly more educative than we can imagine. 
 
Oh and I am all for made-up names. Names which have a recognisable hook but are not necessarily made up of words in a dictionary (or the Bible, if this reference reminds you of Paul Simon's Keep The Customer Satisfied).  
 
Thanks.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:13 AM by Shefaly


Hello 
 
its good to see the article. Actually i am trying to find a name for my uncles new hospital. There are many positive points in the above article....like you have given chance to juniors as most company will not do . Another was you openly asked customers about the new name. 
 
 
 
Regards

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:28 AM by Abdul Rauf


You might want to check out this excellent resource for naming from Igor International: http://www.igorinternational.com/process/naming-guide-product-company-names.php

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:32 AM by Zach


Dharmesh: 
 
 
 
You need to secure the domain name(s) first before going outside the room with any names and then go through the process you described. Most hosting companies like bizland.com can reserve a name for one year at $19.00 - trying to buy an existing name can be cost prohibitive for a startup ($5,000 - $10,000 depending on the name). There are companies who make it a habit of buying names that are available when queried so my strong advice would be to come up with 5-10 potential candidates - buy the names and then go through your vetting process. Less creative I will grant you but I would hate to spend the time and effort to decide on a name only to find out that sometime in the last week someone else reserved that name (and worse it is someone you know). Don't forget to check the DE name reservation system to make sure that the corporate name or some permutation thereof is available as well. Yes, you can do a dba ("doing business as") but that process can become cumbersome after awhile. There are a number of companies likewww.bernett.com who can also provide you with a focus group to help with selecting your new name - remember part of a "rebranding" is a re-positioning to attract new customers not just put old wine into a new bottle -

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:32 AM by Hitechlawyer


Hitechlawyer, that is a good point you make about actually owning the domains. The management team here at OfficeDrop is a bit of a domain name junkie(s) - we own over 200 domains and did purchase most of the domains we proposed in the survey prior to sending it out.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:39 AM by Healy Jones


Using the Igor Naming Guide as a reference I created a Google Docs Excel sheet that will help anyone choosing a new name for a company/product. 

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 10:32 AM by Miguel Hernandez


Great topic. 
 
When whittling down a large list -- for name of companies, products, bands, whatever -- it's helpful to do a round of "vetoing." 
 
After all, no one should have to work at a company whose name they hate! 
 
Usually people are OK with several choices but hate a few. Nix the "hate" first and the list diminishes rapidly.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM by Jason Cohen


Nice Article. 
 
We recently followed a similar process except for the customer survey as there are no customers for us.  
Our case is little different as we just formed a team and decided to develop a product.  
We needed to call our new product idea something but after spending a weeks time we were not able to get a name liked by all stake holders.  
Finally we decided on one placeholder name for demos and continued our discussions. All the team members were supposed to spend a hour discussing different options every 2-3 days, over IM. Ofcourse domain availability was being done in real time.  
For some of the very good names, we tried reaching the domain owner who just bought the domains but did not put any site up.  
Unfortunately we got zero response.  
 
while selecting the name, our criteria was simplicity and a name that clearly reflects what we do. And finally we got the name which is simple to spell and pronounce, and has the two main keywords of the product in the name.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 11:13 AM by Vijender Yadav


@ Jason Cohen: We made a conscious decision to not veto any names that made the final list to be shared with customers (i.e. that made it through the internal company voting/initial conversations with customers). We did this because the names came from all levels of our company and we did not want to make any of our more junior employees feel like their contributions were unimportant. There was actually one name that a couple of our employees really loved that, at least in my mind, was not going to work. However, they felt very strongly about this name so we included it in the large customer survey. Customer feedback on this name was... well, it was how I expected it to be. However, when we asked our employees to be creative and contribute openly we had to honor the goal of being an open company that values everyone's contribution. Does this make sense?  
 
@ James F: I like the sound of Fendza, but I don't really hear scheduling software. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good name! I think you'll just have to be aggressive in your branding. I mean, did Amazon mean order books and other stuff online? Nope, but now it does. At OfficeDrop we just didn't have the marketing muscle/experience to make the name Pixily overcome the issues we described above.  
 
@ Vijender: And what name did you come up with!?! And I happen to think it's never too early to talk to potential customers - even if you don't have any yet.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 11:27 AM by Healy Jones


Its GameBook www.gamebook.in ; site not up yet). Its a educational gaming portal for kids.  
Yes, thats what I get from your article. We do have few customers we are talking to and it will be interesting to hear from them about the name.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 11:47 AM by Vijender Yadav


Here is a bullet point which, I should think, might be very close to 
the top of the list: 
 
o--> It should be a word which, previous to your presence on the web, yields few hits in a search engine. 

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 3:37 PM by lee doolan


We brainstormed a bunch and then took a secret vote. That way, there was no pressure to conform or get bullied into a name. The more names the better. Everyone in the company should put up at least one name as well. That way, they all feel like they had a say. 
 
In terms of names, they should be short (less than 2 syllables) and easy to say. Nonsense words or concatenations of existing words seems to work well.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 5:33 PM by Jarie Bolander


Back in the day when we were choosing our business name we had to contend with other businesses copying our name and putting the letter "a" in front of the name multiple times due to the fact that the classifieds at that time listed businesses by alphabetical order, so our legal name is actually AAAAA Fast Trash Removal, how ridiculous is that, but it did work :)

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 7:50 PM by Boston Junk Removal


@James F.  
Fendza? How does that name equate to employee scheduling software (or anything else, for that matter)? Is this a USA specific thing that doesn't translate to the UK? Its a meaningless name to me (unlike Amazon which has a meaning both as a location and as an online retailer). 
 
@Healy Jones 
Pixily made me think of image processing software - nothing to do with your business. Changing the name was a good idea. 
 
Me? I work for Software Verification (and our software does just that). 

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 8:16 PM by Stephen Kellett


Hi Great post thanks for sharing.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:13 PM by Scott @sydneydesign


@ lee dolan – YES! We did google the heck out of the finalists. I should probably modify the post and put that in there… We did get a few “the DA office drop charges against…” but we’ve very quickly over run those search results. 
 
@ Stephen Kellett – I’m glad you like the new name! Thanks.

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:24 PM by Healy Jones


Interesting and very informative post, thanks for sharing. Also, a very important point by Lee Doolan which taken into account will catapult the company's presence if SEO is implemented properly.  
 
Selecting a name is very exciting and challenging. Actually, my challenge was more to find a domain name than the company name itself. For my first venture - Things2Offer, the name popped up suddenly and I was very lucky to get domain name which I boght immediately. But, for my second venture - GroupNDeal, I had to struggle very hard as all the apt names were either had domain presence or were sold out. At last, after many alternatives and filterations, I zeroed in on and immediately bought domain name for the same. 
 
So, after selecting a name, buy the domain name ASAP. 
 
 
--Sannidhi-- 
GroupNDeal - http://www.groupndeal.com 
Things2Offer - http://www.things2offer.com

posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:51 PM by Sannidhi


Hi Healy, 
Thanks for your description of the process that you went through. I think one of the most powerful things that you included was the involvement of all of your team. It was also a great touch to get the more junior members to go first so they were not intimidated. Will achieve great buy in and build your internal brand and culture too. 
 
Nice work! 
 
Adrian

posted on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 4:44 AM by Adrian Swinscoe


Here you can get hundreds of personalized & creative names for your business fast!www.BUZZinessName.com

posted on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 7:04 AM by Mike


I'm shocked that everyone is so concerned with the domain name but not with legal implications. I guess no one here is aware that you cannot choose a name that has a related trademark or copyright. I'm not even a lawyer but I know that. Well beyond putting together a focus group (which is completely useless, if you'd like the sociological and psychological reasons behind this, feel free to ask), checking GoDaddy for the domain, you need to make sure there is no existing usage of the name for any related company. Unfortunately if you are a search engine and someone used the name for a beverage, they can still argue that you would dilute their brand identity. This could be a company in the same town or in a different country because the web is International. Not to mention effects on SEO, AdSense, etc. 
This is why you hire a professional to do it, unless you have someone inhouse to comb through international logo mark databases.

posted on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 3:45 PM by Michael Durwin


Bernett has been involved in hundreds of re-branding and naming projects and I worked with some very smart marketers. One tip I learned was that a great name should not include the name of the product or service. So many times when a re-branding occurs the brass at the company want to include the key words that they think the company is great at. But this method produces only names that get caught in the clutter of every other company that does the same thing. Try to think out of the box. Anyway, that's my two cents.

posted on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 5:04 PM by Andrew Hayes


When naming AddyMate, a sm@rt address book service, I was often tempted to go with catchy, cutesy Web 2.0 names which imparted no value & were often difficult to spell. Having gone through a similar exercise one of the techniques that helped immensely was to create a 2 dimensional matrix (spreadsheet) of words that convey a dual purpose of the service. Then put them together to see how it sounds/sticks. It sounds silly but actually provides a good visual & aural elimination exercise. 
 
Here are my lessons from the exercise: 
 
1. Convey what product/service you offer through the name - this is crucial for a no-name startup. :-) Sometimes colloquial words for the same word work better in landing domain names. 
 
2. Try to pick a name that starts with an letter earlier early in the alphabet list. Although, this may sound silly it's important for companies starting out when listed alongside others in the CrunchBase DB or at conferences & events which sort alphabetically. Folks start at the beginning of the list & then jump to the end especially if it's a long list. 
 
3. Keep it to 2 syllables. 
 
4. Do a search on the name to make sure there are no other services (competing or otherwise) you could be confused with. 
 
5. See if the name can be used as a verb. 
 
6. Calculate the number of keystrokes from a mobile phone especially on an abbreviated keyboard like the Blackberry Pearl or regular numeric keypads.  
 
7. Sleep on it. This is important because it may start sounding stale when you repeat it often. 
 
8. Domain name check. Get the ones that can be pronounced the same as well - AddyM8.com 
 
9. Twitter handle check! 
 
10. Unusual Marketing tip - Get a name that can fit on your license plate. ADDYM8 ;-)  
 
PS: I did have someone who said AddyMate reminded them of "Playmate". Hmmmm... :-) 
 
Hope this helps!

posted on Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 8:41 PM by Rajdeep Junnakrar


Michael Durwin: 
 
 
 
Now that we know what you do for a living you should know that once you clear a name with DE you do a Thomsen & Thomsen Trademark search which is part of what I do for a living. Start-ups do not have the time or the resources to hire an agency like yours pre-funding - the name of the game is cash preservation. The purpose of this board is to give entrepreneurs tips and pointers to share first hand experience and knowledge from the trenches. "Hire me" might be good advice to General Electric where I have no doubt your services would be of great value but the purpose of this board is to provide advice to entrepreneurs who want to achieve great things while not missing payroll at the same time(which legally is a very bad thing).

posted on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 8:15 AM by Hitechlawyer


Hitech Lawyer, 
a) I doubt you know what I do for a living (see the above URL).  
b) My experience comes less from my marketing background than going through the same procedure with my startup. We thought we had a perfect name, we got the domain, Googled it, and incorporated. We should have hired a professional. We received a cease and desist letter about 6 months later and had to go through the process all over again, this time, the right way.

posted on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 10:11 AM by Michael Durwin


Hitech Lawyer, 
Doing name or product development isn't something I do for a living. So, you're suggestion that I used this post as an opportunity to promote my business is out of line. Actually I suggested that you hire a professional and that would be someone like you. My point is that this is an area that you shouldn't try to take on yourself because of the consequences. Now, I'd be glad to help you with marketing once your name is in place and you are funded, but from one entrepreneur who has been burned in this regard to others who might be, spend money on getting the right name and making sure it is legally applied instead of an office or furniture. 
:p

posted on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 10:21 AM by Michael Durwin


Michael Durwin: 
 
I was wondering why you posted twice when if it was so clear from your web site that you were not in the business of helping startups so I looked again just to make sure I did not owe you an apology and I don't.. here is what your web site says: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"Engine East has helped many clients with many problems: 
 
 
 
B2B billing software company needs a new website, realizes it also needs an internal rebranding and Social Media primer. 
 
 
 
Major online retailer launches it’s own technology product, needs help teaching people how to use it, to keep support calls down. 
 
 
 
European sports brand misfires it’s US launch, needs help reintroducing it’s brand by using a flagship product. 
 
 
 
Seasonal product manufacturer needs help selling it’s pricey product, finds it needs a brand perception overhaul as well. 
 
 
 
Private college needs a new website, finds that a new student portal helps students connect before they even step foot on campus. 
 
 
 
Cable network finally blocks overseas pirates from stealing it’s feed. Now it needs to market to them. 
 
 
 
Major multi-network brand launches broadband video platforms, sales people can’t connect to them when meeting affiliate CMOs, gets them bundled up for travel. 
 
 
 
Cable, phone and Internet provider decides to laser target customers based on nationality, needs to speak their language and address their culture. 
 
 
 
Startup launches with a major client already in the bag, uh-oh, they have no logo, no collateral, no website! 
 
 
 
Racy cable network needs commercial spots to sell their content, without showing it. 
 
 
 
Apparel company wants to share it’s 100 year history, but only has seconds to do it. 
 
 
 
These are just a few of the challenges our clients have faced, and Engine East has been there to help them overcome. What are your challenges?" 
 
 
 
Clearly nothing to do with products or branding and no mention of that on your web page...so I guess when someone calls about rebranding a company or a product you will refer it to someone else? Be honest or change your web site. 
 
 
 

posted on Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 12:32 PM by hitechlawyer


Hitech Lawyer: 
Did you see anything about naming a company? Logo design, branding (language, tone, messaging, etc. yes. Name, no). 
Besides my own startup I've never named a life in my career. 
But just to avoid any possibility of making it seems like I'm pitching, I've changed my URL. Better? 
Yet again another interaction with a lawyer than leaves me feeling yucky.

posted on Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 12:47 PM by Micaehl Durwin


Great post - we get loads of query's about how to name a business at Launch Marketing - research clearly essential but agree with Rajdeep - keep it short and check the domain's free before you get too excited!!  
 
More top tips for start-up businesses here.

posted on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 5:32 PM by LucyD


Well done on finding such a good name that gives some indication that you deal in office services. Pixily reminds me a little of the word pixel and I can see why people could not spell the name correctly. Even more, it reminds me of the word pixie, so I would expect a company offering children's toys or something similar. 
 
 
 
There's a downloadable step-by-step guide to naming a business on my site: 
 
http://www.winningnames.co.uk

posted on Sunday, April 04, 2010 at 11:53 AM by Susan, Winning Names


Great article. I changed the name six times during start-up phase. I will blog about this article and link, lots of small start-ups would benefit.

posted on Sunday, April 04, 2010 at 7:46 PM by Geoff Snow


@Susan and @Geoff - I'm glad that you liked the article/name change. 
 
@popupbooster - the nice thing about the way we did this change is that it was not expensive.

posted on Monday, April 05, 2010 at 9:15 AM by Healy Jones


Thanks for sharing your story, Healy. Lots of great insight. I especially like your approach to brainstorming and gathering customer feedback.  
 
You stress the URL, which for a startup is a clear, immediate need. But you leave out any discussion of trademark and linguistic issues, both of which can come back to bite you down the line.  
 
Regarding trademarks, it's relatively easy to carry out simple, cost-effective screening within the creative process and registration afterward. Otherwise, you might be at risk of infringing on someone else's mark, and they could very well sue you or force you to change your name if they have a strong enough case.  
 
As for linguistic issues, even if your customers are only in the US, it's always good to get a read on potential negative issues with your name in major languages aside from English spoken in the US and abroad. You can do this toward the end of the creative process for relatively low fees.  
 
A few weeks ago I posted my own tips for naming a new brand. Feel free to check them out here: http://bit.ly/b63pIe 
 
Thanks again!

posted on Monday, April 26, 2010 at 9:25 AM by Scott Milano


I like this post a lot, seeing as how I have had to start thinking of a new name for my startup company (not by choice. That is another story all together). Based on how my co-founder and I found our first company name (CityFit.com) and how we will (if we do have to) invariably find the next one, our method very much parallels yours. For us, it was about not being forced to find a name based on the availability of a domain name. To us, companies that take on abstract names may be losing sight of what that name may be able to do for them in the long run (or don't do in many cases). While the internet has allowed companies to spawn names that seem to have no correlation to the products or services they sell and provide, it was our goal to find a name that does exactly that. All of your points are well taken and should be considered by any company searching for a new name.

posted on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 2:51 PM by Ian Matthews


@Ian - good luck with your name search, and thank you for the kind words on my post.

posted on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:24 PM by Healy Jones


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