In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to come up with a name for your startup.

Finding the right name for your startup can be challenging, and it’s important you come up with a great name because it can have a significant impact on your success. For example, if you choose the wrong name for your startup, it could fail to connect with customers or worse.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how to come up with a great name for your startup, how they came up with the names of their companies, they share some tips that can help you come up with a name for your own startup and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:40 Why this topic was chosen.

01:43 Why you should choose a name that makes sense to your customer.

03:00 How thinking about the customer can help you come up with a better name.

03:37 How Hiten and his team came up with the name FYI.

04:17 How to come up with a name that doesn’t take you a lot of time.

05:07 Why it’s a not a good idea to come up with a name and rebrand it.

05:36 Steli wasn’t involved in naming

06:23 How they came up with Elastic Inc.

07:34 A different approach to coming up with a name.

3 Key Points:

  • I don’t think anyone is exceptional at naming.
  • The best names are the ones that make sense to your customer.
  • I was not involved in naming



Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: Today on this followup chat, we’re going to talk about something I can not believe we’ve not touched on in almost 400 episodes, which is how to come up with a damn name for your startup. This is probably focused on early days. You have an idea and you now need to give that idea a name, or the company a name, or the product a name; and obviously there’s considerations. You know, domain names, competition. What’s easy to spell? Should I spend a lot of time on this and try to get it perfect and really think long term branding? Or should I just MVP it? it doesn’t fucking matter, I can rename it later. Let’s touch on some of these most obvious and big questions on how to help in the early days and how to come up with a name. How do I come up with a name for my idea, Hiten? How do I do that in 2019?



Hiten Shah: Oh man. I think that on one hand, the people put a lot of weight on a name and make it almost too hard on themselves to come up with a name. The most common thing I hear is I’m not good at naming. I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t think anyone’s exceptional at naming or anything. I don’t think it’s this big thing you got to be great at. It’s something you don’t really do that many times, to be honest. To me, the best names are the ones that make sense to your customer. Let’s just throw down and just say that because I know you agree with that. Right?



Steli Efti: Yes. Yes, and it’s the one thing nobody was ex- … It’s one of those things nobody was expecting you to say this at this moment, but nobody’s surprised you said this at this moment.



Hiten Shah: There you go.



Steli Efti: Those are the best things because almost every episode right now, we find a way to go back to like, “What does your customer think about this?” Right?



Hiten Shah: There you go.



Steli Efti: Or how is this for your customers? But when people come up with names for their startup, the last thing they think about … Honestly, I don’t know if we thought about our customers when we came up with the name of the company, but I don’t think … I’ve never heard somebody go, “What would our customers think? How do they feel about this?” Most people think very quote unquote selfishly, like “What’s a cool name? What do I think would be exciting or cool, or do I like?” It’s a very personal taste that dictates most people’s naming conventions.



Hiten Shah: I know.



Steli Efti: But thinking about the customer I think is brilliant.



Hiten Shah: I know. But think about it. Your’s is



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Close deals. Right?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Make sales happen. It works. It works great. You think about your customers, like you go to Why? Because it’s software to close deals for you. Right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: It’s pretty … It makes sense to me. Even names like Salesforce make sense. So, I think another thing I’d say is if you think about your customer and then you think about the name, you’ll know it when you come up with it. For my business, I have a hard domain because I can’t get the domain like you, is probably really hard, right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: So the name’s FYI and is hard so we have and for us, we kept thinking about the name, but we thought about the name from a what’s going to make sense to the customer? And our product helps you essentially find your documents, no matter where they are. So FYI was the play on like “For your information.” Right?



Steli Efti: Right.



Hiten Shah: We changed it, we don’t talk about this anywhere, but we changed it in our heads to “Find your information.”



Steli Efti: Interesting.



Hiten Shah: You know?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: We wanted something common, people will recognize it, they understand it, they can say it. Right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: But that wasn’t easy necessarily to come up with. We just kept playing with the names. And then one day someone said [fi] or something like that, and then actually we just kept riffing from there and somehow we got to FYI. Then, we had to find a domain that works. We didn’t want like FYI HQ or any of that kind of stuff, we wanted something that felt right. UseFYI felt about right to us, and it was six letters, and it was available. So there, I just gave some tips, right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: On like some of the basics. But I think the hard part is how do you come up with one that doesn’t take you a ton of time but is very focused on the customer. Look, if we said, “Oh, we’re just going to build some document tool,” not knowing what it was, I think naming it would’ve been a lot harder. But because we knew what problem we wanted to solve for people at the core, naming it was much easier. We also knew, and this is something that I’m sure will have this objection in their head right now, we also knew that this problem wasn’t going to go away. So, if we came up with a name and it was kind of problem associated like FYI and then at some point you’ll be able to find all your information, like just in the world today easily, the problem goes away and the name might not make more sense. I think about that but I don’t think about it too much. I think more about what makes sense to the customer. I don’t like this idea, by the way, of come up with a name and then rebrand it. I think that’s a dumb idea because then you’re kicking the ball way before they’re out and then you’re going to have to pick it up again, and be like, “Oh no. I got to come up with a better name, and now I have thousands of customers. Oh crap, we have to change the name,” and all that kind of stuff. I mean I don’t know, how did you guys come up with a name?



Steli Efti: All right. I’ll tell you something I’ve never said out publicly. I don’t know. I was not involved in [crosstalk] … I was not involved at all in naming-



Hiten Shah: That’s the best.



Steli Efti: … Naming Close, Close.



Hiten Shah: Lucky you.



Steli Efti: I have no fucking clue how they came up with this name.



Hiten Shah: Lucky you.



Steli Efti: I was busy running a services business called ElasticSales and then they came back and they’re like, “Well, this is our website and everything.” Then I saw the name and I was like, “Oh, kind of makes sense to me.”



Hiten Shah: Works for me. I love it.



Steli Efti: Works for me.



Hiten Shah: Lucky you, dude. Lucky you-



Steli Efti: That’s pretty much-



Hiten Shah: … That you weren’t involved and you still came up with a great name.



Steli Efti: Yeah. So, I don’t know, but I know that with ElasticSales for instance, I was involved with it. And that, the idea there was obviously we’re going to have this massive sales force and everybody can tap into it and scale it up, scale it down, so elastic was a thing, a word that was thrown out there in our brainstorming. was available and that’s how we went with it. But I’ll tell you that we used Elastic Inc, which is still the name of the corporation because we had made the mistake before where we named the corporation the same name as the product and then we pivoted hard and were like, “Oh shit. This name makes no sense anymore as the corporation.” So, with Elastic, let’s name the corporation Elastic Inc., that’ll give us flexibility if we ever pivot away from ElasticSales, we could do something else and it’s not that tragic. But I do think that a lot of people are stuck in this they want to get it right but they don’t know if the name is going to be perfect forever. So either they’re stuck because they want to get it perfect and the can’t find a name that they’re really, really excited about; or they’re maybe too thoughtless about it and they just give it some shitty name, CRM, that’s simple and easy dot com. They’re like, “Who cares? We’re not even going to give it any real name,” and then you have to go through the effort of rebranding. Might talk about this at a later episode. One thing that I want to ask, to throw out there, to quickly hear your thoughts on this, is the idea of you said using a name that makes sense to your customers, but then there’s also this approach to naming things, like come up with a name that kind of has nothing to do with nothing. Or having a name that’s very generic that you then infuse with meaning. Think about if I can come up with a good example, but there’s some names that don’t necessarily relate to what the product does. I don’t know, I think about Hulu now, for whatever reason. It’s like that name says nothing. It’s kind of short. It’s kind of cool, easy to say maybe. Although I remember when they came out with it, tech [inaudible] was writing that is a terrible name, if you know the background of it and all that. But it worked out. Sometimes, this idea of use a name that’s kind of a short, cool word that means nothing and then you give it meaning, versus using something that’s more descriptive like Dropbox or Salesforce or Close, or FYI that matter. What’s your stance on that in today’s environment when you start a new product or company? Like giving it some kind of a cool name that maybe doesn’t really say anything about what the product does.



Hiten Shah: I did one of those in 2005 when we named Crazy Egg, Crazy Egg.



Steli Efti: Yeah, that’s true.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. It just felt right at the time. It was two words, really easy to say. We already had the domain. We didn’t feel like making it more specific. I think at that time, that name helped us because people were like, “What is that?” It was nonsense, and New Egg, as well, as an online retailer was pretty big at the time. We didn’t think about that but some people have mistaken me for the founder of New Egg, but that’s not true.



Steli Efti: Interesting.



Hiten Shah: So that’s what’s in people’s heads sometimes, but Crazy Egg sounded good and we just did that. I think that it was okay at that time when you could come up with a name like that, there wasn’t that much software out there and the branding around that name with the egg and when we had 404 errors on the site, it was like, “Oh, you’re egg got cracked.” Then when we had downtime, we had this downtime game where there were little drone-like people walking, zombies walking on the bottom, and you’d be able to throw an egg on them, and when you hit them, you got a point. So it was like a fun little office game when we had downtime and we had a bunch of downtime early on. We just played into it. I guess my point is you come up with a name like that, you’d better play into it. I like Mailchimp is another one that gets to play into that in that way. Freddy, their little mascot is pretty awesome. Everyone tends to know Freddy or knows the look of Freddy, or has gotten some kind of swag at a conference about Freddy. I think it’s okay to have a name like that. You just have to really be all about it as much as you can. Your logo has to represent it, you could have a mascot, whatever. It’s possible. It takes a little more skill to do that from a design and aesthetic standpoint. Then, with Kissmetrics, I think it was all about the acronym, like “Keep it simple.” It’s really, Keep it simple, stupid,” and we like to change that to “Keep it simple software. Then metrics, because we’re an analytics company. So that one, we went a lot more practical. And we thought about what does our audience care about? Very similar to FYI. I think with naming, and I’ve named like way more than that many products over the years, but I’m not too crazy about being like it has to be one way or another. I think you have to play to your strengths. If your strengths are we can come of with a mascot, or we can be playful with the copy, or whatever, and it does resonate with your audience to some extent, then that’s fine to have a name that’s not specific to your product or the problem you’re solving. I do prefer names today, though, that are related to the problem you’re solving somehow. That just feels better in a crowded world where people have a lower attention span.



Steli Efti: Beautiful. All right. That’s it from us for this episode. Look out for a future episode where we might talk about how to pull off a rebrand when you are unhappy about the name you gave your startup and you have to change it.



Hiten Shah: Let’s just do it.



Steli Efti: All right, bye-bye everybody.