Starting a business comes with the inevitable question of how much resources should be spent on a name: the high costs of a URL, the potential cost of a name consultant, the favors you ask people, and the hours of “namestorming” all add up and take away from other vital aspects of the business, especially early on when resources are sparse.
So how much time, money, and resources should your spend on a startup’s name?
As you decide that for your startup, we wanted to share our findings when naming our startup’s $500, 5 letter, dot com name “Omelo.com”.
Step 1: Create a criteria
We started our journey with a selection criteria:
- Must be 2–3 syllables: Needed to be spoken quickly
- Pronounceable: People can easily say it out loud
- Spelling: People can easily search for it
- Psychological: Can produce emotional value; people can trust it
- Neutrality: No negative or strong existing connotations
- Budget: $800. We figured 15% of the anticipated profits for year one ($7,500).
- URL hierarchical system: Story-based “.co” < Story-based modifier (“get” “on” “app”) < Empty-vessel “.com” < Empty-vessel with 5–7 letters “.com”.
- Conversation ready — it must pass the “Add it to (name)” or “Check out (name)” test.
- Association spectrum: It could be abstract (ie Hulu) or suggestive (ie Netflix) but not descriptive (ie Airbnb.com).
- Fewer than 10 characters
- Relation to product
This criteria filtered hundreds of names we would have spent hours exploring and gave us a framework for brainstorming and decision making.
Step 2: Rapid prototyping
We began by exploring different suffixes with the word “line”:
RunLine.co, RunTeamline.com, OnTeamline.com, Fastline.co, Tuneline.com ($500), Ravline.com, Runbaseline.com, Runline.co (.com = $5k), Teamline.co (.com = $7.5k), Bamline.com, Bemline.com, Yeahline.com, Anyline.co, Autoline.co, Motorline.co, onHighline.com
We continued our brainstorming but this time we added other prefixes and suffixes like lane, tune, tempo, run, and day:
Runwey.com, Rucey.com, Runul.com, Runoh.com (1.7k), Walview.com, Daylane.co, Runbul.com, Everday.co, Runcal.com ($500), Dayhat.com (1.6k), Dayhop.com (1.5k), Dayjim.com, Daybot.com ($500), Dayfall.com (1.7k), Dayhal.com, Dayring.com ($2k), Dayler.com ($2.3), Daylur.com, Runbase.co (.com = parked), Daysip.com, Clearlane.co (.com = $20k), Daylane.co (.com = parked), Monthy.com, Timefully.com
We were getting closer. Every iteration taught us more about what we didn’t want and further refined our criteria.
Step 3: Machines for the win
This stage had the most team disagreements in debating whether or not to introduce an “empty vessel name” to secure a dotcom URL, without needing a modifier like “on(name)” or “get(name)”.
As we continued to debate, a pivotal breakthrough came when Moe (Cofounder) visited sedo.com and found an empty vessel name that changed our way of thinking.
The name started with an “o” and ended with an “o”. It was genius! We hadn’t thought of combining the letter sounds with letter appearance.
It made sense: our UI was entirely a series of “o buttons”, the O’s symbolized life happening between two points, and it had a story to tell. It was visual, simple, creative. It worked.
That particular name didn’t work but we knew the O’s would be the first and last letter so we needed to fill in the rest of the word within this structure:
O + [Consonant] + [Vowel] + [Consonant] + O
This plugin couldn’t replace critical thinking but it did replace the hours of manual processing.
With hundreds of names generated from that plugin, I used a bulk name search to filter only the available URLs; 40 in total. I then picked my favorite 4: Obavo.com ($500), Omelo.com ($500), Ozuso.com, Osepo.com.
Step 4: Name throwdown
Ahhh decision fatigue. We had our criteria in place but there were still several names that could work. The struggle is real.
So, how did “omelo.com” win?
Omelo landed within our criteria but it was not the top choice amongst our customers. “Decision by committee” can be a destructive path to take so we decided not to ask for votes but for sentiment — the way people felt about each name — their emotional associations.
The winners were: timefully.com and teamline.co.
“Teamline.co” received the most votes but it didn’t fit the product direction — ex: if users wanted the product to schedule a trip to Spain, or document a hobby, or any personal endeavor that didn’t require a team. Customers only associated it with Project Management. Additionally, it didn’t get us excited. Teamline was a bit too normal for us, maybe too expected. We also wanted a dotcom.
The second customer choice “Timefully” was interesting but didn’t pass the conversation test: “Put it on timefully” “Wait…what? Put it on what?”. It was a mouthful: “I use trello, asana, timefully, dropbox”. Is it “Time flee?”, “what does that even mean?”.
So there was Omelo. No one loved it but everyone had a neutral connotation with the name. Internally, we loved it. Visually, the letters could do a lot. It was easy to pronounce and spell. It had no SEO results. It was fun and fit us and what we were trying to do with the product.
But we still needed our customers to be fond of it. We did an experiment to see if designing the wordmark could change customer’s sentiment. It did.
“ohh I like that”
“that is fun!”
$500 and 40 hours later, our name was chosen: Omelo.com.
Okay, so $500 and 40 hours might be a bit much for a name. But it kept us going during the start. It made our company feel real, it felt special, it was ours.
A name is your business’ primary vessel to the world — it’s spoken, it’s read, it’s felt. I believe it needs attention, creativity, and a sense of visceral attachment.
In returning to my original question about resource allocation, I would suggest the following for your MVP:
30% — Insights (Talking to customers, testing prototypes, researching)
30% — Product Design (solution iterating)
30% — Product Building (coding, design)
10% — Branding (naming)
As for last words of wisdom, consider the following when naming:
- Create a criteria upfront
- Test the name through conversations
- Explore made up names, they can work
- A name won’t make or break your company
- A dotcom name doesn’t guarantee success
- Don’t look for customer favorites, understand their emotional ties
- “It’s more effective to do something valuable than to hope a logo or name will say it for you.” — Jason Cohen
- Stay lean, you can always rebrand
If you have any comments or insights about naming, please leave them below. Thanks for reading!
- Psychology behind naming: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237643
- Name Science: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/magazine/the-weird-science-of-naming-new-products.html?_r=0
- Name Strategy: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/title-tk/
- Name Science: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/20/2/135.abstract?_ga=1.79246231.247553660.1402514767