Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner. Considering the fact that “video” is one of the most searchable words on the web, our first startup challenge — actually coming up with a name for our site — proved to be extremely daunting.
Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I had any tips for startups regarding choosing a name for their product.
A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I’d share some key takeaways with you here:
MAKE SURE THE DOMAIN NAME IS AVAILABLE
Let’s face it: We live in a digital age. The fact that a record $35.3 billion was spent online this past holiday season is evidence of that. And in this digital age, the proverbial “open for business” sign that used to dangle in the front shop-window has been replaced with the search bar.
So the first thing to think about when naming your product is this: If the domain isn’t available, you don’t have squat (more on the concept of “domain squatting” in minute).
But finding an available ‘.com’ is just the beginning. As the web becomes increasingly crowded, a myriad of domain extensions have emerged. A few of the more popular ones include: .tv, .me, .biz. And this doesn’t even take into consideration domains for foreign territories.
With all these new extensions emerging, a natural question many entrepreneurs ask is: “Does a place exist that will check all the available domain extensions at the same time?” Actually, there are several.
If you just want to search the “big three” — .com, .net, .org — I suggest a site called Instant Domain Search. Just type in the name you want, and the website does the rest.
If you want to search all the extensions, give Check Domains a shot. Not only will it instantly tell you all the domains that are available, when you’re done it even takes you to GoDaddy.com, a popular registry site that lets you purchase those extensions you’ve selected.
Because you never know which domain extension is going to be the next one to take off, my advice is to purchase as many domain extensions as possible. I know .cc (the domain for the Coco Islands) may seem completely unnecessary today, but the last thing you want to do is be held hostage by some domain squatter who had the foresight to buy your domain before you did.
YOU DON’T BE EXACT; YOU CAN ALLUDE TO YOUR PRODUCT
As your business grows, chances are your product line will expand as well. You want to make sure your name grows with it, too. It’s okay to leave something to the imagination of your customers. In the “name game,” being allusive can be a powerful attribute.
Take the word, “Amazon,” for example. For Jeff Bezos, books always were just the beginning. From the very outset, the forward-thinking entrepreneur saw his company expanding well beyond the written word.
Don’t kid yourself. The selection of the name “Amazon” was hardly happenstance. Bezos deliberately chose a word that alluded to the business he saw downstream, rather than the actual entrepreneurial waters he set out to navigate in 1995.
Inspired by the seemingly endless South American river with its countless tributaries, the notion of a continuous flow of consumer goods feeding into a massive marketplace perfectly aligned with Bezos’ vision to create the world’s largest e-commerce site.
Today, when we think of Amazon the first thought that pops into our mind is retail, not a river in South America. Apparently, the Googleplex agrees. Just search the word “Amazon” (preferably after you’re done reading this blog).
The first mention of a river or rain forest doesn’t appear until page three.
CREATE A NEW WORD THAT CAN DEFINE YOUR COMPANY
Google … Yahoo … Facebook … Twitter … These words may have existed before they found their way into the pantheon of contemporary popular culture. (“Googol” is the digit 1 followed by 100 zeros; a “yahoo” is a rude, noisy or violent person; “Facebook” is the nickname for the student directory at Phillips Exeter Academy, where Mark Zuckerberg went to high school; “twitter” is a short burst of inconsequential information.)
But the brilliance of the entrepreneurs behind the companies that bear those names is that those words are now so far removed from the original meaning associated with them that they are effectively new words altogether.
Yet just coming up with a catchy name isn’t really the trick. The real magic is coming up with a word that’s connected with your product in such a way that it becomes both a noun and a verb — at the same time.
Let me give you an example from my own experience—
When we were coming up with the name for Stroome, we wanted a name that would work as both a noun and a verb. Much in the same way people now say, “Google it,” we wanted people to say, “Stroome me,” when they had some great content they wanted to share. Of course, we didn’t have the word “Stroome” yet. But the Dutch did — “Strømme.”
It means “to move freely,” which is exactly what we want our site to facilitate — the movement of ideas, points of view and content freely between people. We played with the spelling a bit, but the name was perfect.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Without question, naming your product is important. But it’s also a great opportunity. The right name can distinguish you from the competition, as well as differentiate your product from seemingly similar offerings.
So when naming your product here are three things to remember. First, make sure the name you chose is available across as many domains extensions as possible. And if the domains aren’t available, don’t get discouraged. Instead, get creative. Second, come up with a name that alludes to who you are, but doesn’t specifically say what you do. And finally, if you do have to come up with a entirely new word, don’t be afraid to really think outside the box.
Who knows, you might not just be naming your product. You may just end up defining an entire new product category.
This article is the fourth of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.