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Naming your startup matters

What’s In a (Company) Name?

Names matter. We probably know this fact more than most companies. For those who aren’t familiar with FullContact history, we weren’t always the bastions of intelligent naming that you see before you today. Oh no. We started off life as WhoSentIt, and then became “Rainmaker”. Those updates that we do to your contacts? We used to charge for each one of them. They were called “Raindrops”.

Yep. We’ve learned a thing or two.

Why Is a Name Important?

It’s a value proposition. It’s a first impression. It’s (potentially) the most lasting piece of any interaction. In a landscape where a thousand businesses do the same thing, your name is what can help people remember who did it best. The world’s most successful brands will fiercely protect their names and for good reason.

What’s In a Name?

We ask ourselves this question pretty often. Come to find out, there’s a whole story behind every name, whether it belongs to a company, a product or a person. Great names convey their meaning without being either overly obvious or completely obtuse. Instagram, for example, is a portmanteau of “instant” from the old Polaroid instant cameras and sending messages via “telegram”. When you look at the name Instagram it’s easy to know that they’re a company that helps people communicate.

But even Instagram had its humble beginnings as a different product, named Burbn. Web 2.0’s terrible habit of dropping “unncessary” letters struck Burbn pretty hard. While there have been some successes (see Flickr, for instance), there were far more failures.

Thoof

Remember this one? Probably not. Thoof was a latecomer to the personalized news flurry that begat sites like Digg. People gave it a pretty good shot at success, but the company could never secure funds past its initial seed round, and it couldn’t gather enough users to keep pushing forward.

Heekya

I’ll give you three guesses as to what Heekya did. No clue? No surprise. The name would give you no indication that Heekya was a platform for social storytelling. Its idea is perhaps the genesis of the more-successful company of today, Tapestry. But whereas Tapestry plays from the thought of the woven art that tells stories (as well as using taps to move through the stories themselves) Heekya had no such foresight. It just had a name…that didn’t mean much.

.NET

Oh no, Microsoft, you’re not safe from this list either. .NET (pronounced “dot net”) was lauded as Redmond’s move to being an Internet-savvy company. Unfortunately nobody at Microsoft could really define what .NET was or what it could do. Microsoft initially touted .NET as being an “everything to everyone” solution. It turned out to be anything but.

.NET was so complicated in its initial stages that it completely confused consumers and developers alike. These two audiences, who were accustomed to speaking different languages, were suddenly being forced onto the same platform even if it didn’t make sense. Fortunately for Microsoft, the company quickly found out that no consumer could figure out what .NET was so it pulled away from pushing .NET as a consumer product and left it only as a developer framework.

Choosing a Great Name

Kleenex. Jell-O. Google. Chances are that you don’t ask for a tissue or a bowl of flavored gelatin. You also don’t search for things on the Internet. Names matter because (in a best-case circumstance) they become the descriptor for an everyday product or action. Names communicate far more than any other marketing message. They are the first impression and often times the most lasting.

Picking a great name doesn’t have to be difficult. Just tell a story. But you have to be able to answer one question – What does your product or company do?

For us, we knew that we turned partial contact information into full contact information. FullContact was an easy choice (though not an easy domain to get, but we’ll talk about that another time). Our friends at UserVoice help facilitate communication between product owners and product users. NationBuilder helps you build communities and gives you all of the tools that you need in one place.

Every great relationship starts with an introduction. Make sure that your first impression is a positive one. As a company or a product, your name is a building block for your future success.

Don’t screw it up.

Image: Kevan Davis via Flickr

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