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It Takes a Great Name to Launch a Successful Startup. So says Mashable, and they are absolutely right. They have posted a video of the latest episode in their TechStars series that highlights the value of having a great name. The video begins with the declaration, "A great product is nothing without a great name," and here is the teaser on the web page: "A good product and a solid, engaging pitch is what will sell your company to customers, but a good name can get you in the door. If potential customers don’t feel inspired by its brand, a startup may lose that business before it gets a chance to sell."
Great advice. The key word here is inspired. And while the three startups featured in this episode did at least improve their names, the results do not quite live up to the goal of being inspiring. Let's take a closer look.
The first company featured in this clip, Urban Apt ("Urban Apartment"), was trapped by a generic name that was not only forgettable, but limited the service to "urban" and "apartments." They changed their name to nest.io (that's "Nestio"), adopting the "nest" metaphor that is, unfortunately, overused among businesses and products related to house and home -- "Nestio is the easiest way to organize your home hunt" -- such as the Nest thermostat (at nest.com), The Nest magazine, Nest interiors of San Francisco and, well, you get the idea. It's a pretty crowded nest. Nest.io also suffers from the faddish construction of building your name around an alternate top level domain (TLD), in this case .io (del.icio.us being the most egregious example of this trend). However, the new name is an improvement over the anemic Urban Apt, so power to 'em.
Next up is a company named Wiji, a name all the show's mentors dumped on. So the company changed it to Immersive Labs. Again, not the most exciting name, but certainly better, and it does at least map well to what they are doing: "developing anonymous face detection technology designed to create amazing experiences, deliver targeted content and analyze the effectiveness of media assets," i.e. immersive experiences. I think. It is a restrained, buttoned-down name that doesn't try to hard, which probably works fine for a B2B company, which this is.
The last startup featured in this episode is a company formerly known as SocratED, the worst "before" name of the bunch. Asked to explain this name, TechStars co-founder David Tisch said, quite succinctly, "'Socratic' plus 'Education' equals 'crap name.'" In the video, company CEO Lee Hoffman says, "Seeing as nobody was able to pronounce our old name, SocratED, we thought it might be a good idea to move to a much shorter, 4-letter domain that actually meant something. So we did, and we are now using Veri.com." That's just dandy, if you happen to have a 4-letter domain sitting around, or the will and funding to purchase one.
Once again, Veri isn't the most inspiring brand name. An altered-spelling (another faddish trend) of "very," which itself is pretty generic. It also fails to tell a compelling (inspiring) story or support any specific brand positioning; but then again, it's hard to figure out from the website exactly what it is they are doing -- something to do with self-education and tagging of content, but I don't get any sense of Why they exist. The TechStars mentors/judges, however, were beside themselves that this company had scored a 4-letter domain name, and a conversation about this sprang up among the three mentors, TechStars co-founders David Cohen and David Tisch, and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, the VC firm:
David Cohen: That's a good name, right? "Veri," sort of "truth"?
Fred Wilson: Oh it's excellent. They got that domain?
David Cohen: Yep.
Fred Wilson: "4-letter domains? Impossible, you can't get a 4-letter domain.
David Cohen: "Where'd they get the money for that?" is the first question I ask.
David Tisch: "Well here's the crazy thing. Lee has owned that domain for the past six years.
Fred Wilson: Well there you go. That's awesome! They're the team of the week just for that alone. That's going from the outhouse to the penthouse.
That's what happens when the bar is set low (must be better than SocratED), and a short, exact-match .com domain name is required. Even so, creating an amazing name is not impossible: look no further than the new name we created in the education space for Coursekit: Lore, also four letters, and for which the company was able to buy Lore.com. It just takes hard work is all, and a vision. Oh, and the budget to buy the domain.