We ran into two "problems" down the road; first: it turns out that a "Matasano" is a "quack doctor" in South America, which we discovered shortly after hiring someone from Argentina. We quickly convinced ourselves that the irony was a value-add, not a cost.
Second, we kept getting confused with Monsanto. This sounds (a little) sillier than it actually is. A lot of our clients, particularly back in 2006-2007, were large enterprises where the staff was particularly likely to have some confusion. We had more serious conversations about renaming over the Monsanto thing than over the "quack doctor" thing.
Ultimately, we just got over it and kept plowing forward. Equity goes into your name; it usually doesn't get extracted from your name. There's some sense in picking a good name, but keep in mind that weeks of time --- which is what we were facing --- is a very steep price to pay for something that might only be marginally important down the road.
I submit that the term "Airbnb", while memorable, has very little intrinsic meaning to most people who rent out their places on Airbnb. Ebay has none whatsoever. "Heroku" was one of YC's biggest acquisitions; that name breaks one of the rules of thumb of this post (3 syllables, yet means nothing to its customers). "Stripe" and "Square" and "Paypal" are great names, but "Braintree" seems to be doing pretty well too, and if "Braintree" is OK, I humbly suggest that "Mindweasel" and "Thoughtpants" will work too.
This is a good post. All I'm saying is, be careful of the procrastinate-y issues that come up early in your company. They all matter less than execution on everything else.
Matasano is not a good name for an American company. It is difficult to spell and has no apparent meaning or association. That doesn't mean you can't be successful, but you will have harder time and lose consumers early in the funnel because of various points of confusion about what your company does, the spelling of your name, and what language your founders speak.
Compare mint.com to wasabi.com. Which one will my mother be more comfortable with? Which one will I remember easily? Which one will I go to first if both are equally positioned among a list of alternatives? Which booth will I (or more importantly an average consumer) walk into at a convention?
All of the above is somewhat less important for a B2B company, but still vitally important.
For sure, move forward with your business and product. Don't procrastinate on a name. But do carefully consider what impact your name will have on someone who doesn't know, and probably doesn't care, what your company does.
One analogy - if you want to invite people to a party, are you better off looking like a 60 year old, bald, fat man, or a beautiful 25 year old Argentinian woman? Both can probably get a party going, but one is going to have an easier time, need a less compelling case, and spend less money.
I am willing to stipulate that there are names that can cost customers if you're a general consumer-facing company. For instance, Casimiroa edulis is the species name for the Matasano plant. If Matasano sold appointment reminder software to people like my mom, and had chosen the name Casimiroa instead of Matasano, we'd have lost business just because nobody could spell the name. It is a true but boring retort to my post to suggest that there are names that will cost customers; of course there are.
But common sense will navigate you away from most of those names. "Braintree" says nothing about payment processing. "Ebay" says nothing about auctions. Those names work regardless.
Ebay is a terrible name, but they had other advantages.
Braintree is a poor name, which may explain some of their struggles with entering the broader market. PayPal and Stripe are much better - emotive and associative.
If github were called snaggletooth, they would have struggled much much more.
Regarding your experience, the point where you lose customers is generally before they talk to you. You would not know that you were losing them.
I don't know what Matasano does, and truthfully if I am honest with my emotions, I care less because I don't associate with the name and initially discount the company because of the naming choice. This is a base emotive response btw, not a conscious judgement. You may have a fantastic product that I would ultimately select if I were in the market, but you are starting at a disadvantage.
The point of my comment isn't that there are names that are better than other names. There clearly are. My point is that the difference is unlikely to be determinative of success. Again: Heroku is meaningless. There are many companies in Heroku's space with much "better" names that do not manage to outcompete Heroku.
I am now repeating myself, but because this is worth repeating: there is a long list of things that "founders" procrastinate on that won't really help their business. They include logos, designing replacement web frameworks so they don't look like they're using Bootstrap, finding the optimal company name, business cards, attending SXSW or going to meetups... the list goes on and on. Most founders would be well served to at least note that these are likely to be unproductive tasks.
That doesn't mean you can't engage in those tasks. If you love web design, vent some steam by replacing Bootstrap. Just don't con yourself into thinking you're doing something vital by doing that.
Terrible names (e.g., Mad Cow for steak company) can sink companies, but companies by and large succeed because of their product, not their name. Amazon outshines everyone in e-commerce, even though one rival -- Buy.com -- owns the perfect name for online shopping. Would you care if Google renamed itself to Moogle? Probably not. Google's search engine is the best, independent of name. To paraphrase billionaire investor Vinod Khosla, brands are nothing more than proxies. Meaning, great names cannot hide poor products -- especially in the information age.
There are many examples of ordinary names representing extraordinary businesses. Apple. Four Seasons. Amazon. These names evoke excellence because the underlying services are excellent. Strong brands today will fade tomorrow once quality suffers. Think GM, Dell, and Sears. These were once among the most respected brands in America.
Build something people value, and value will flow to the name.
Think about the websites that are commonly spoken by the general public - none of them have a pronounced "dot com"
1) Sounds like Monsanto, do they do agriculture? Sounds boring.
2) Sounds Latin American, is that their origin / market they're focusing on? Sounds boring.
So I think there are a lot of names where you guys could've avoided those 2 problems. I still don't think of Matasano as a high-tech company. I think of a mexican farmer that's trying to sell me grain.
The only reason these names make sense at all is that you already have identified them with a very popular product. That doesn't mean the name is good, it means the product is succeeding despite the name.
That of course raises the entire point of names not being that important overall.
Pinterest, for example is a wonderful name for that company. Microsoft is another. Oracle, even better.
"Abstracted", "unique", and "interesting" are very easy bars to clear when you take "relevant" out of the mix. So yes: I buy that you could come up with a name as good as "Heroku" in a day. Just open up a book of Japanese plant names.
... and most of these are viable company names.
One of the things I always suggest to people is running name choices by potential customers when appropriate. As such you simply wouldn't be able to do this in one day. Even if you just wanted to check and see how well people hear the name when you say it and can easily spell it that is going to take some time. The amount of care you take in this area of course is related to what the name is being used for of course.
Heroku is an interesting name and has trademark and brand potential certainly because it's a made up word. The problem is it can be confused spelling wise. You could do hiroku or hirowku or herokoo just to name a few. It's usually a good idea if possible to steer clear of names like this lest you want your email, or some web visitors to end up in the wrong place.
A great name depends on the circumstances. Things have worked for heroku obviously given who they are selling to. It might have been a good name for a car model as well. But I wouldn't say a heroku like name is the right choice in all situations.
I can tell you from experience - the 5th time that I had to come up with a name/logo for a company, because I switched to a new idea, I already understood that this was not a productive use of time.
-- This is a good articulation to remember.
It always made me chuckle to see so many place names I recognised from home (UK) when I visited our office in Lowell, MA.