When is it safe to go with a .CO, .ME or .IO and when is it foolish?


It’s a question my startup founders ask themselves – do I need to spend a bunch of money on the .COM or am I okay with a .CO, .ME, .IO or any other popular .COM alternative. This is a very polarizing topic as I know some startup founders that will only brand on a .COM, and others who think it’s ridiculous how many people are “squatting” on .COMs and they don’t want to spent more than the registration fee on a domain.

That being said, I think a lot of people are stuck in the middle – they want a .COM, but might not have the budget and still want to brand around a specific word or combination of words. Here’s an example.


When the startup Intercom started, they definitely didn’t have the budget for a big one-word .COM like Intercom.com. Now, having raised $115M, yes 115 million, they upgraded to the .COM. What’s important to remember is, big one-word .COMs like Intercom.com sell for six or seven figures, so in the early days this is typically well outside of a startup’s budget. While I agree – yes, without a doubt upgrading to the .COM is easily worth seven figures for a company like Intercom that has raised over $100M, did they make the right more first building their brand on the .IO?

In this case yes. By building their brand as “Intercom” and just doing it on a .IO they did not have to ever go through the rebranding process, and once they could afford the .COM they bought it and didn’t have to change their name. I also know that Intercom was able to raise over $10M while still rocking a .IO domain so it clearly didn’t hurt them that much in the early days when it came to acquiring customers and raising money.


Here’s a similar example, Keen.io (who calls themselves Keen IO) has raised close to $30M and continue to brand around the .IO. You can’t raise close to $30M without some serious customer traction so in this case, like Intercom, the .IO doesn’t seem to be holding them back, but I’m sure as they still want the .COM.

The question is, should a startup build their company around the brand name that they want, i.e. Intercom or Keen, or pick their second or third choice brand name but build it on a .COM. A lot of companies choose to take a hybrid approach that I’m not a huge fan of, adding the word “get” to the front of the name or “online” at the end of the name in order to brand on a .COM.

Still I think that’s a weaker option. I think Intercom.io sounds a lot better than GetIntercom.com or IntercomOnline.com, and I also think it’s a much smoother transition to go directly to the .COM later down the road. Yes, you could always say that someone could come along and build a competitive product on the .COM if you don’t have it, but most startup founders know that building a product and raising millions in venture capital isn’t a trivial task. It’s why nobody signs NDA when talking about their ideas, you can steal an idea but remember only 1% of startups are successful and that’s because of execution.

There are tons of examples of startups who build their brand on a non .COM and then later down the road spent the six or seven figures to acquire the .COM. The question is, when is it safe to make this move and when is it foolish? For every Intercom and Keen IO out there, there’s also a graveyard of startups who branded on a .IO or another non .COM, never raised any money, and poof, the domain shows up on Park.io available to buy for under $100.

What do you think? Comment and let your voice be heard!

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • leonard Britt November 1, 2017, 10:39 am

    While startups think they are being cute with a .IO and avoiding having to pay for an aftermarket domain, I would never submit credit card or banking info to a company operating on a .IO. The. Com trust factor prevails.

    • Howie November 2, 2017, 4:23 am


      I too believe in the authority of .com.

      But not all .com websites have presence, the domain name lacks authority and the web design is poor. There are tons, and tons of .com businesses that ‘brand’ themselves with inferior .com’s and tired and weak web design; that, I would not trust my dollar with.

      I have however, trusted my money with professional https ccTLD sites with authoritative names.


  • leonard Britt November 1, 2017, 10:54 am

    Fyi I know of a startup in CA which originally operated on some obscure TLD and contacted me about a two-word. Com priced at $xxxx. They must have thought that was too much for a domain. A year later they contacted me again with a high $xxx offer which I declined. However I noticed they were using the exact keywords as mine in. CO. Note their website mentioned they had done $100 million in business. Yet they can only afford $xxx for a domain….

  • R P November 1, 2017, 11:31 am

    Think both of you guys are correct. The type of business built upon the domain is important. Is website going to be primary, transactional revenue driver for company or simply informative? If transactions take place on the website than starting with .com is fairly important. Otherwise an upgrade down the road probably makes more sense.

  • M. Menius November 1, 2017, 12:01 pm

    A .io domain is nonsensical to 99% of internet users. Like random characters.

  • Paul McMenamy November 1, 2017, 12:38 pm

    I always try to guide clients towards seriously considering the business name/brand by checking firstly for the .com (and even the .io also) being available. Some businesses run into very serious problems when they assume the business name they choose is going to be there for them. Naivety and perhaps ignorance of the “domain space”.

  • Eric Lyon November 1, 2017, 1:39 pm

    If the .com is available, great, get it. If not, no worries, you can use the same marketing capital these days to brand with any extension. It’s getting more and more acceptable every month as hundreds of small businesses across the world advertise their new online presence on an extension other than .com. I think the practice of acquiring the .com a few years later, once their business generates enough revenue to justify the acquisition is fine, but won’t be as necessary in the next 10 to 15 years.

  • Tauseef November 2, 2017, 2:01 am

    Choosing a non dot com TLD is not an issue at the beginning. But, a startup should not brand around a name the dot com of which is in use, even though it’s trademark free.


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