Five Tips for Naming a Tech Startup
Creating a great company name is a challenge for any startup these days, but creating a unique and compelling tech company name can be even harder. Why?
By their very nature, tech and IT companies morph and evolve quickly. They are shape shifters! But the naming part of the business comes right up front, when the complete picture is still unknown.
That’s why many entrepreneurs and IT startups focus their naming efforts on the features of their tech, forgetting the universal benefits that drive it. In a rush to go to market, many tech startups highlight their functionality, which can become outdated. The names quickly become carbon dated and irrelevant.
Witness the likes of CompUSA, Books-A-Million, RadioShack, AllTheWeb.com
Avoid Literal Names… Literally!
Don’t base your tech company name on functional descriptions unless you are prepared to rebrand in the future as your products and services expand and evolve.
By contrast, look at how the competitors to these companies fared…
(value and affordability)
(an abundant flow of goods)
(the name of a really big number [googol])
These more successful tech companies used a variety of naming strategies to convey their value proposition. They “positioned” their companies based on attributes vs. descriptions.
Determine your tech firm’s key value proposition
What is it that truly sets your technology apart?
Keep in mind, it’s not just what you do, but more importantly, how you do it. In essence, what does your tech company or IT service promise to do better?
Identify the top benefit or attribute behind your technology upon which to build your brand. We refer to this as your “pivot point,” the one central theme or idea around which all your products and services revolve. You may want to combine these to two or three at most but be sure to prioritize them. What one key theme or benefit, more than any other, does your technology deliver? What differentiates you from the pack?
The idea is to capture a sense of your brand essence, what is it that you bring to the table?
For automotive tech, it’s not the ability to deliver thousands of pounds of metal, wires and glass. Cars would instantly disappear if we could magically teleport, so the goal is to speak to the customer’s real desires, e.g. freedom, ease, convenience, prestige, etc.
Here’s a few examples of how this plays out in real life…
|Lyftconveys ease and mobility|
|Uberconveys “modern” and “cutting-edge”|
|Zoomcool, fast, efficient, edgy|
|GoToMeetingdull, boring, uninspired|
Are you seeing a pattern here? Great tech brand names capture a sense of a company’s big picture purpose – their reason for being. So what is your purpose? Think about it and brand around it.
Explore Multiple Tech Naming Strategies
Now that you know your core value proposition – the benefit behind your tech offerings – it’s time to capture that brand essence in a name. As an award-winning naming agency, we employ a wide variety of methods when coming up with company names. Here are just a few of them…
Metaphor Tech Names
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a metaphor brand name says a mouthful.
|OracleAll knowing, all seeing tech|
|AppleFresh, consumable tech|
|AcornFintech that grows big savings|
|SnowflakeCloud based data company|
|NestGoogle’s home based IT products|
Think of metaphors for your company. We named one medical data research company Canary Insights to convey how they warn customers of impending changes in government regulations. Animals are great for metaphor names and you can mix and match these with other words to create more ownership (and get that elusive domain name!) Think of how the chosen metaphor matches your core value proposition, hawks for insight, owls for wisdom, gazelles for speed, (Tungsten for brilliance!)
Disruptive Tech Names
If you have a disruptive technology, a disruptive name says “hey, take notice!” Some of these names are borderline pejorative in nature. The primary goal of these names is to simply stand out…
|SlackA verbal smack upside the head|
|YahooTake a search on the wild side|
|Geek SquadWe’re nerdy and we know it|
|BlizzardVideo game developer with a cool edge|
|NewEggHatching new electronic deals daily|
|TikTokYou can’t unhear this earworm of a name|
Warning: Use this tech naming strategy carefully! This is a bold move and should only be used to reflect a true change in the tech or the business model. Once you have a name that says “Look at me!” you better have the goods to prove it. We’ve all seen big bold brand names that didn’t deliver, so choose wisely and develop a deeper story once you have your customer’s undivided attention.
Key Attribute Tech Names
This is perhaps the most popular tech naming strategy and for good reason. They highlight the company’s core value proposition, making it front and center. IT consulting firms love this approach.
|Agilent TechnologiesWho doesn’t want responsiveness?|
|CognizantA real word brand name that basically says it all|
|QuickenWhen time is of the essence, the name makes a statement|
|BrilliumA data analytics company we rebranded to reflect their genius|
|IntelWell done and sure, they got there first, but what a great position to own|
The trick here is to find that coveted key attribute word (or words) and find ways to tweak it. A data security and networking firm came to us with their outdated legacy name of PCnet-inc.com (ouch!) needing a more timeless brand name to reflect their mission-critical IT role.
Write out a list of key attributes that your company provides. See if you can leverage these concepts by adding intuitive prefixes or suffixes. The operable word here is intuitive. Don’t mangle words, improve upon them. Build on natural speech patterns and you just might have a cool new tech name.
|Legacy Name PCnet|
|New Name Conserva|
Evergreen Tech Names
Let’s face it… tech can be somewhat dry and boring at times. To brighten up your brand, try a two word combo naming strategy. The key is to pick positive association words that match your brand vibe.
|OnStarA brilliant name for a navigational technology|
|TeamLogicA franchise we named based on their collaborative approach|
|FourKitesAn uplifting name for a supply chain logistics company|
|RedHatA reference to the founder’s start up story|
With so much noise and compression in the marketing world, evergreen names give your brand an immediate head start. Rather than using an empty, meaningless name (acronyms or a surname for example) you can jumpstart your brand with a name that comes pre-imbued with good energy.
A good tip for this naming exercise is to create a 10×10 grid and fill it with various benefits, attributes, semi-related words, etc and then try mixing and matching them. Some will be ridiculous but others may actually make sense. And with some creative imagination, you can begin to build out a story.
Descriptive-Evocative Tech Names
While literal names by themselves are problematic and forgettable (see Naming Tip #1) they can work if paired with a more evocative second word. Think JetBlue in the airline industry. LendingTree in finance. Just make sure the main descriptive word is not too niche or restrictive. Keep the industry indicator broad enough so your tech offerings can continue to grow
This approach is not the most creative company naming strategy, and leans conservative in nature. But if you want to sound like you belong, this is a tried and true option.
|DigitalRiverStreamlining complex data to simplify business|
|TradingBlockOne of our own, a solid e-commerce trading platform|
|SalesForceA straightforward name that implies size and scale|
|NetEaseOnline PC and mobile games and e-commerce platforms|
|GameStopFortunately they didn’t go with VideoStop, so the name still works|
|UpWorkTech and other freelancers looking to elevate their client base|
|ServiceNowA software company that manages digital workflow|
To pull this off, make sure the second highlights or at least compliments your core value proposition. When creating a new company name with a variety of decision makers, this is often a good consensus strategy.
Other Cool Tech Naming Tricks
To top the exercise, add these extra sticky linguistic treats…
|AlliterationDoorDash, TikTok, PayPal|
|Word PlayInugo (a garage parking app we named)|
The list above describes the bulk of company naming techniques, a good base of concepts to help name your tech business. There are always nuances and names that defy an easy definition. Some names are a combination of two techniques, if you went with TechOwl say for example – a descriptive hybrid and a metaphor.
But the above strategies should be enough to get the creative juices flowing.
Screen Your Top Naming Candidates to Narrow the List
Before falling in love with a name, take your top contenders and run them through a quick pre-screening process. This includes the following…
Domain Name Availability
This can be a minor or major naming criteria depending on the nature of your tech business. Most e-commerce companies require exact matching names. Others can use a descriptive word (e.g. consulting, tech, partners, global, USA, etc.) as a modifier. If you use a modifier, be sure it’s broad enough to not limit your brand.
Some tech firms, especially start-ups, are using .io, .co, and even .tech extensions. If you do this, and you grow, you could end up boxed in, so look at who currently owns the .com and proceed with caution.
The reality of the domain market is that you will need to pay for most exact matching names, unless it is made up, and even those are mostly taken. A good start-up budget for domain acquisition is $5,000 to $10,000 for a two-word name.
For simple one-word brand names, the cost can be just about anything, but easily five figures, so you’ll have to do your research. It might be wise to employ a domain broker, GoDaddy provides this service as do other boutique domain brokerage firms.
Trademark is the biggest bummer when it comes to naming. Many of your great ideas get whacked at this point, but it’s just the pragmatic part of naming. It’s better to know now than to be served with a cease and desist letter. So before distilling your list down to the finalists, run a quick check.
If you are US based, check the USPTO database and do a TESS Search.
For a wider global search, check WIPO
And since trademark law is based on “first to use, not first to file,” do a Google search of the name to see if others are using your potential brand names and have never bothered to file a trademark.
Before choosing the final winner, be sure to perform a comprehensive trademark screening. These can be done by your legal counsel or through an experienced trademark attorney. They can also file an “intent to use” which means that you plan to go to market with a specific name. This provides a heads up to anyone else considering the name while you await approval.
Social Media Availability
It’s not like it used to be, choose a company name and you’re done. Depending on the type of tech firm you run, social media handles can play a big role in establishing your web presence. To see if your proposed name is available on various social media sites, use services such as BrandSnag.com or NameCheckr.com. You can add modifiers if the exact matching names are taken, but try to keep the naming format as uniform as possible.
Finalize Your Short List and Pick the Winner
Review all your names and distill them down to a manageable shortlist. One clue is to go with names that just seem to keep coming back to you, even if you don’t know why. Chances are the name has some qualities that you may not know how to articulate, but nonetheless, are telling you to take a second look.
Criteria to Help You Judge Your Short List
Does the name have a good “mouthfeel?”
Is it easy to say and does it roll off the tongue? Some names present better visually while others are easier to say. Consider which is more important to you.
Does the name lend itself to a back story?
Does it start a conversation you can build on?
Is the name memorable?
On a scale of 0 and bland to 10 and zany, what is your creative tolerance? How easy will it be to recall the name unaided?
Does the name reflect your company’s personality and culture?
Does it strike the right balance, one that matches the customer experience? Do you want to sound bold and innovative or established and credible?
Does the name provide you with “white space?”
If you search your proposed company name, do other similar names show up? How would that affect your SEO efforts?
Can you “one putt” the name?
In other words, does the name get you close enough for a simple explanation. e.g. Tungsten… we create brilliant brand names.
How does it feel introducing yourself with the name?
All new names seem unfamiliar at first, so practice making an introduction. What would come next after saying the name? Some names lend themselves to deeper conversations and some just seem to stop, so play it out and see which ones flow best.
Does the new name have logo potential?
Some names, especially metaphor names, lend themselves to mascots or iconic images. Which names would stand out the most visually?
Which of all the names on your shortlist is the best one for your tech company? In the end, it’s the one that feels right to you.
We often tell clients that naming is a lot like picking out clothes. There might be “outfits” that look great on you, a tuxedo for example, but that doesn’t mean you should wear it as your everyday apparel.
The best brand names are ones that you can get behind and embrace – they speak to both your customers and your team. The winning name? The one that provides insight into your overall purpose and direction, the one that helps you tell your story bright.
Share the Love
We hope this article has been helpful. If so, please share with other members of your team. If you need professional help in developing your brand identity, reach out to our team for a no obligation assessment of your specific project.
BY Phil Davis
Brand Naming Expert
With over twenty-five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought-after naming expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.