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How To Pick A Company Name: Tips From The Trenches

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on March 22, 2010 in guest marketing branding naming 34 Comments

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 Maybe the original name is confusing for customers, maybe it no longer represents the product, or maybe it just becomes stale.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.