Undoubtedly, the most fun part of creating a startup is coming up with a name. Kind of like naming a child, the possibilities are endless (especially these days when you don’t really have to worry about whether the .com is available). But naming a business is not an exercise to be taken lightly. It’s as important, if not more important, than those other really important steps in business ownership, explains Dr, Jeff Cornwall, the Jack C. Massey Chair of Entrepreneurship at Nashville, Tennessee’s Belmont University and co-founder of The Entrepreneurial Mind.
“In a B2C business the name can be critical,” he says. “It can both identify the nature of the business, and it is the starting point for building a brand. If the business model is B2B, it is important for the same reasons, but is not critical. Branding and identity tends to be a little less important with B2B clients, but the name does become synonymous with reputation.”
Further, it’s important to those all-important and coveted investors: “They know it is an important aspect of defining the business within the market, which is critical to build market acceptance and revenues,” he says.
In other words, don’t be flippant or dismissive of this important startup step. Instead, follow these expert tips to find the perfect name for your startup.
Strike the right balance between creative and straightforward
Cornwall says one of the biggest problems he sees with naming a company is the founder’s efforts to try to be clever, which usually results in a business name that is misleading or confusing about the nature of the business. “Don’t try to be so clever that your business name confuses your customers,” he says.
Take your time
Mac Lackey, a Startup Southerner contributor and veteran entrepreneur, has named five companies, ranging from consumer brands to innovative disruptors. “Personally I tend to make lists and keep adding to it, scratching out names, adding names and then just narrow it over the course of a week to a few I like,” he says. “One tends to jump off the page at me once I’ve stared at them all for a week or so.”
While you may come up with your company’s name in a day, most will not—and should not, for that matter. Take your time and give it the same attention you might give, say, your business plan. Cornwall says he generally sees entrepreneurs NOT spend enough time on this step. It’s also important to seek feedback, from friends, family and startup support organizations in your community, former (or current, if you’re a student!) professors and trusted professionals in your network.
Adds Lackey: “Be sure to solicit trusted friends and advisors for advice. Just to make sure it makes sense to them, they can pronounce it, spell it and think it says the same thing you want it to communicate.”
Match your name to your vision
Even though the companies Lackey founded were different, the strategy for naming them was largely the same—focusing on the vision of the company. “Names are important and should telegraph for the audience what you do or how that maps to your vision,” he says. “Are you a safe, stable company? You’d consider using words in the name like granite or steel.” Innovative? You may use an alternative domain extension like .io instead of .com, Lackey says.
It’s also important to consider who’s going to be supporting the company—investors or consumers. “Depending on who our key audience is, I would consider what I want to communicate to them in a name,” Lackey says.
Don’t follow naming trends (or do)
There’s a reason Emily, William and John consistently appear on top baby name lists—they’re classics. Meat and potato names, as some may call them. Same goes with your startup. Be creative, but don’t take the easy way out and settle for something that follows the latest naming trend.
“Business names, just like the kitchens in our houses, can quickly look dated,” Cornwall says. “Although you can change out your kitchen appliances and cabinets if they become dated, changing a business name is extremely difficult, time consuming and costly. It also can confuse the market and hurt sales. So, be careful not to follow the latest trend in naming.”
That said, Lackey says there is a time when picking an on-trend name might be beneficial: “If you are looking for VC funding you will likely want to be on the early side of an emerging trend,” he says. “So your name may benefit you if it clearly places you at the right place in a timeline.”
Try to get it right the first time
Of course, founders can and will make mistakes, but choosing the wrong name can be costly. Cornwall explains that a change requires legal processes, as well as new signs, letterhead, etc. Changing the name can also be confusing and costly from a brand standpoint. But sometimes it’s necessary, like if you choose an awful name or when your startup changes focus and the name no longer says it all.