Trying to name your startup? Here’s what one founder learned…182 bad names later


Tyler O’Briant, the co-founder of Kowalla wrote a great article about lessons learned from generating 182 bad startup names. The reality is, for any startup, coming up with a name is hard, and given that just about every name you can come up with is likely already taken, it’s probably harder than it has ever been.

While I don’t completely agree with Tyler’s entire article (sorry Tyler, you’re awesome and I like 98% of what you said!) there were some really solid words of wisdom that I think many founders can relate to.

Alec started working a demo he called “Actualizeur” earlier in the year. The name worked on a conceptual level. We wanted to build a place for people to actualize the projects in a community of like-minded builders. But it had it’s faults too. Mainly, I haven’t found anyone but Alec who could spell it correctly.

Actualiezer… Actualizr… Actualizer… Actualizur?

We launched into the process of finding a new name. We hoped to find another name-product match like we had with Actualizeur, but with a lower vowel-to-consonant ratio. (Source – ProductHunt)
The issue Tyler highlights here is a big one, and one that I think many people learn the hard way. When your name is a word that people might be able to guess how to spell…but you’ve spelled it in some weird way that only makes sense to you…that’s not a winning name.

The first startup I worked for (back when I was 15…yeah I’ve been in the startup world for a LONG time) was called Xaos Tools. Everyone I told our name to assumed it was spelled Chaos Tools…so literally, every single time I said our name, I would have to say, “Chaos Tools” but with an “X” to which I’d usually get a lot of confused looks and then I’d have to spell it out.


Another issue that Tyler highlights a really good idea that I think can help founders as they’re trying to land on a name:

Look to the fallen. CBInsights has been compiling postmortems of various failed startups since 2014. These post mortems are interesting reads, and while naming your startup they’ll help give you some insight into naming trends over the years. Kowalla’s name was actually inspired by Gowalla, a former Austin-based startup mentioned in this list. (Source – ProductHunt)
I highly recommend startups that are trying to figure out a good name read this article, it’s a good one. That being said, I did mention earlier above that I don’t agree with everything in the article. It’s really the end. Tyler ends by saying, “Then, buy the domain and build something great.”

This last sentence could be turned into an entire book. “Buying the domain,” is often a lot easier said than done. I wrote about this topic on Medium in a post titled, What Every Startup Founder Should Know About Buying Domain Names. Domain brokers like Media Options have also covered this topic in great detail. In short – it really isn’t as simple as coming up with a name and then just buying the domain.

Coming up with the name is freaking hard, so is buying the domain, it’s all hard, but as a startup founder hard is just par for the course. Thanks to Tyler for putting this article together, I really like it and it hit a lot of really good points that I think founders will enjoy now and for years to come.

What did you think of the article? I want to hear from you, comment and let your voice be heard!

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Snoopy March 13, 2019, 8:01 pm

    Look at the end result, another terrible name that is unpronounceable and difficult to type,

    I did not read the article, though even if I’d wanted to aI couldn’t because of SSL errors on the page.

  • Bobby March 13, 2019, 8:44 pm

    “It’s not just the system, Dick. It’s the NAME, that glorious name.”
    Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc in The Founder

  • Michael March 13, 2019, 10:29 pm

    I like better, it’s for sale for not a bad price. I would think finding a brandable domain would be harder than just finding a keyword domain for a startup but it shows that your startup is less boring if you do find a good one!

  • John March 14, 2019, 7:15 am

    I agree 100% Kowolla is absolutely awful.

    This is an area where by the grace of God it seems that I excel. I should probably even go into business for it.

    One time I named the business for a friend of mine in a large major city, got her set up with the domain and reg account, and in no time at all she attracted big shot clients including one of the most famous anchors of the city’s TV news who gave her a huge feature segment all about her and her business. Too bad I didn’t know about Epik then (Epik probably didn’t even exist then actually) because I would have set up there.)

    The her main client died and left his huge fortune to her and she retired and has been living the jet set life ever since.

    • John March 14, 2019, 8:16 am

      PS, it was a three word name, too. Totally killer. 🙂

  • George In Miami March 14, 2019, 9:10 am

    Play it again, Sam… “Kowolla”..? I see. Maybe forgot to do the radio test.


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