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Or, just name your company quickly and move on. We lost a couple weeks early on to naming Matasano, and after some false starts, eventually gave up and thumbed through a list of exotic plants. By the time the book of plants had been opened, the naming premise had been accepted: we were done trying to find a semantically "fitting" name for the company. We just picked a plant with a cool name.

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.

It's certainly more important to execute on product and market than come up with a good name, however don't discount the importance of a name. Consumers do judge companies by name, and first impressions matter immensely.

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 feel comfortable arguing that Matasano has never lost a customer early in the funnel because of various points of confusion about what it does.

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.

Just because a company is successful doesn't mean it has a good name (just as a good name doesn't make a company successful.)

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.

Most of us aren't really in businesses where customers find us by Googling relevant-sounding names and following one of the first 2 links on Google.

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.

Okay, I don't think we are too far apart. We probably just disagree on how strong an impression a name can make. Similar to bad design and user experience, a product can be successful with a bad name. That doesn't mean user experience, design, or the name is not important.

Agree wholeheartedly.

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.

Not sure I agree with your Amazon example.

Think about the websites that are commonly spoken by the general public - none of them have a pronounced "dot com"

Aren't GM, Dell and Sears still respected brands? The BigCorp I work for issues Dell laptops to everyone, I thought GM had regained it footing in the auto world and Sears is still the go-to place for a new dishwasher?

I don't mean to offend you but Matasano is probably one of the worse names I've encountered in the past few years. My thought process:

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.

I'll definitely look into dealing with those problems. Thanks.

You should be able to pull off a great name in 1 day. Heroku is a great name: abstracted, unique, interesting and developer related. Ebay is also a great name.

I think Heroku is a terrible name actually. Same goes with Ebay.

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.

I am not clear on how "Heroku" is "developer related" in a way meaningful to most of its customers.

"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.

Heroku could mean '6 farts'[1] You'd have to open up something other than a book of Japanese plant names to come up with that :p


It's funny; first Google search result:


... and most of these are viable company names.

"You should be able to pull off a great name in 1 day."

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.

Ebay had the advantage of a tremendous amount of free publicity because of when it started. While it's no longer relevant whether it's a good name or not that is certainly worth mentioning.

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.

Another reason not to procrastinate on the name, logo, etc: Almost everyone starts more than one product/company. Most of these fail. I seem to remember that 30% of YC companies change their product during YC.

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.

Equity goes into* your name; it usually doesn't get extracted from your name.*

-- This is a good articulation to remember.

But, especially at an early stage, the rate at which equity can enter your name is determined partially by the name itself.

Matasano sounds good to me. I want to start a business ay some point called something like Jorge's Taco Truck. The business will not be owned by Jorge, there will be no sale of tacos, and we won't have a truck. I bet the name would be just fine, perhaps even memorable.

I would totally buy word processing software from Jorge's Taco Truck.

Braintree is the name of a town in England... I think they came from there. I dont think there was a suggestion of brains on trees.

Braintree is named after the town in Massachusetts, because the founder liked John Adams: https://www.braintreepayments.com/blog/whats-in-a-name-custo...

Many of the towns in MA were named after towns/cities/counties in the UK (Essex in particular); Braintree, Chelmsford, Billerica[y], etc. Indeed the counties of MA are mainly UK town/city names in the UK. It's only 3 out of the 14 that aren't (Dukes, Franklin, Nantucket).

It always made me chuckle to see so many place names I recognised from home (UK) when I visited our office in Lowell, MA.

Same happens in other former UK colonies, e.g. Australia.

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