How not to pick a domain name for your startup

insult

I just got back to San Francisco after spending the evening in Silicon Valley at an event for angel investors. When I’m at events like this first I realize what a newbie I am when it comes to investing, and second, I can’t help but pay attention to the domain names that early stage startups sometimes gravitate towards.

When it comes to picking domain names, tonight I think I found a startup that can serve as an example of how not to pick a domain name. Out of respect for the startup I’m not going to share the domain, but instead I will share how the founder came up with the name.

To give you a bit of context, the domain itself is a common English word repeated twice, think wordword.com. This particular word relates to food, the startup is in a business completely unrelated to food.

When asked how they came up with the name they said they had a few drinks one night at a party, felt really happy, realized that they wanted their startup to be centered around happiness. Here’s where it gets interesting, they then thought – well what happens when you’re happy? You dance. And what’s the word for dance in another language.

Then they repeated the word for dance twice, slapped a .COM at the end and called it a day. The domain had nothing to do with what they do, stands out because it’s the same word repeated twice, and given that it’s a word used to describe food, makes you think they’re in the food space.

There’s a good lesson here, it’s a mistake that people make all the time. Rather than coming up with a name that will resonate with potential users, they come up with a name that ends up being an inside joke or something that has a specific meaning only to them.

While it’s true that you probably can’t come out of the gate buying a big juicy one-word .COM, you can think about who your customer is and what name will resonate with them. Coming up with a name that means nothing to your customer and steers the conversation away from what you do and instead towards – “how the heck did you come up with that name?!?” doesn’t exactly accomplish what you want from a branding standpoint.

The silver lining here. I’m going to help this founder find a better name, after going through the same logic with them they agreed. Like I said above, I don’t know much about angel investing, still learning a lot there, but I do know a bad domain when I see one and no, I can’t help but say something.

For startup founders reading this, remember – don’t pick a name that means something to you and only you – pick a name that will mean something to your users because at the end of the day you’re building a product for them, not you, right?

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • BullS November 29, 2018, 9:46 pm

    Since I travel alot and just received a free complimentary “clear” so I don’t have to wait for TSA, as you all know it is a pain in the butt waiting in line and especially this holiday season…

    they are using clearme dot com instead of clear dot com, go figure.

    Coming the next 2 years, there won’t be anymore printed tickets to get into your flights, it is all facial recognition and it is already happening in major sport events and international flights.
    Get use to it!!

    Reply
  • Jon Schultz November 29, 2018, 9:50 pm

    Totally agree. It’s strange how otherwise talented business people sometimes choose a terrible brand/domain. I remember when iEscrow.com rebranded as Tradenable.com around 2001, I thought it was an awful name and somewhat coincidentally, perhaps, the company didn’t last long (and the domain is now unregistered).

    If you want any help finding the company a domain let me know, we have PeopleWhoEatPeople.com 🙂

    Reply
  • Richard Morris aka Bulloney November 30, 2018, 1:38 am

    Morgan…generally I agree with your assessment, however I’m sure the very same sort of comments could be made about “Google”, “Yahoo” or even “Xerox” when they were startups. They weren’t two words like”PopPop”, but they could have been, and even “Xerox” didn’t become popular until after the fact.

    As you’re aware, I’ve been very critical about names serving this industry like “Sedo”, “Flippa”, “Undeveloped”, “Afternic”, “Estibot” and the list goes on. These names have absolutely nothing to do with the domain industry as far as I can tell, and NONE of my business peers (and have hundreds) have ever heard of any of these companies, and I refuse to participate in what Verisign views as an industry scam. This is why I’m very proud to be taking my names to the Marketplace via names like “Domain Gourmet” come January, 2019.

    Morgan, prior to my attending NamesCon in Vegas the end of January, someone I know will be starting another blog that serves ALL names regardless of derivation. Domain names, are just a piece of the “name” pie. Business names, pet names, nicknames, vanity tag names, team names, school names, streetnames, boat names, kids names etcetc help make up the whole name pie.

    Rumor has it Morgan, this new blog may even turn into a reality TV show all about names where your blog may get some additional exposure. Thanks again,

    Bulloney aka ThatNameGuy™

    Reply
  • mike g. December 6, 2018, 10:04 am

    For years I have a domain name http://www.goldbrick.com, among a few others, I would have thought it would sell but no-one seems interested at any price.
    I think the domain market is way to loaded and will completely disappear over the next few years.
    On the other hand I cannot afford to

    Reply
  • Todd Orr December 6, 2018, 10:07 pm

    SalsaSalsa ?

    Reply
  • Joe December 11, 2018, 4:14 pm

    Great article and something that as you say happens a lot. Domains are not difficult to find but I think most of the time people aren’t sure how to go about buying them without resorting to pretending to be someone with no money and hustling a good deal.
    There’s websites that sell domains at fixed prices like https://www.brandbucket.com and https://www.brandaisy.com which you don’t need to haggle with. The price is there, right in front of you. I think this is the way to go when buying a name. It’s much better than using something like sedo as most of their sellers think they own a domain that’s worth a lot more than it is and as soon as they do get an offer they want more.

    Reply

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