How to Name a Software Company?

Panic! There are only a few weeks left until I'll start my own adventure as a solo IT consultant and yet I have not decided on a company name. Until recently I thought I had found a clever one: raquo – which is the HTML character entity for » (right-pointing double angle quotation mark) often used to emphasize HTML links. After doing some research it appears that raquo was not all that clever causing me to rethink my decision.

The following article sums up my thoughts and findings on the naming process and might benefit you if you're about to start a software business yourself or think about rebranding your existing one.

Why even bother as a solo consultant?

The first thing I asked myself was if I would need a company name at all. But what would that mean? Are you going to use your private gmail address when emailing leads? Certainly not, because you'll be seen as unprofessional, amongst other things undermining your plan to demand high rates.

This argument should be enough that we're in the same boat now: having a company name is a good thing.

What if I've chosen a crappy name?

The next thing I asked myself was what it would mean to change the company name. A name is going to stick with your company. Suppose you've chosen a crappy one and some day you'd like to change it. You would have to

  • print new business cards
  • inform all your contacts
  • maybe maintain the old name to avoid losing any emails or inquires
  • And what about SEO? You might have published good content on your old website that brings you inbound leads. Would you want to give that up?

I came to the conclusion that having a proper company name from the beginning is favorable. First, having a good company should make many business situations (e.g. networking, phone calls, people searching for your company) much easier. And second, you simply don't want to have the name changing trouble mentioned above.

What qualifies a good company name?

Here are some considerations when choosing a company name

  • the name should be easy to understand. Having to repeat or even spell it is a bad start in a conversation when you introduce yourself on the phone or at a networking event.
  • people should be able to search for your company on the web – either through a search engine or by guessing the company's URL in the browser address bar – without misspelling it
  • the .com name should be available. You might decide to host the company website under your country TLD, but people should not be confused because the .com points to a completely different thing.
  • the name should not include current products or services, since they are likely to change over time. If you're offering very specific services like a Typo3 to Wordpress migration service, consider hosting a separate website for it.

Damn it, I can't find a good name! Why not use my own name?

When choosing your own first and last name to be your company name, be sure it's a very conscious decision. Here are a few questions to think about

  • You positioned yourself as the go-to guy or gal for creating stunning info-graphics? After three years in business you decide to ditch info-graphics because now you want to become the number one guy or gal for e-mail marketing? What would it take to dissolve the old association of your personal brand and instead establish your new focus?
  • You now have five employees despite you've not planned to have any in the beginning. You want to step back a bit, but the companies brand is your name. Clients want to work with THE GUY, which is you. I think cutting yourself out of the equation might be a bit harder.
  • When you want to sell your business, would potential buyers shy away from it because THE GUY will no longer be working in the company?

To conclude, because a particular service is tied to your own name, it might be more troublesome when shifting the focus. Therefore I think that choosing you own name should be a very conscious decision.

However, there are very successful consultants who have chosen this path (at least for their primary services) like Jonathan Stark and Philip Morgan.

So, how to come up with a proper company name?

I decided against choosing my own name and instead inventing a good one – hopefully. In my research I stumbled upon a couple of good articles all written by Phil Davis owner of Tungsten Branding.

Here is a short summary of the principles I learned from the articles that might benefit you as well.

Focus on core values and benefits, not on concrete products or services

Let me emphasize that this is really about your company name – not about names for special services or byproducts you offer. In this case, in my humble opinion absolutely choose problem / solution centric names since they let people instantly identify the core of the service. One reason to not go with products or services is that they are likely to change over time. So instead create a list of core benefits, attributes and values that apply when working with you or your company.

Here are some examples:

  • non-invasive because I come to your company for one week to establish and tweak email follow-up sequences so that you make XX % more software subscriptions afterwards
  • confidence because I offer a retainer service for CEOs that let them call me whenever they have to make tough decisions in the mobile space. What they really buy is to feel more confident about their decisions.
  • insightful because I'm an information visualization expert that helps companies to gain clear insights into their processes by communicating key metrics with the help of visual means.
  • holisitic because I'm not a software developer who just writes code. Instead I take a holistic view on the underlying business problems of my clients which happen to be solved with a computer program.

Structure the name finding process with naming strategies

Phil Davis suggests three naming strategies. Having made a list of core benefits, attributes and values will now come in handy.

  • STRATEGY 1: Include or derive from a key company attribute. Prioritize the list of key attributes of your company and try to come up with names. Example: Typesafe which is the commercial organization that backs the development of the programming language Scala. Scala has a very sophisticated static type system that saves developers from making bugs.

  • STRATEGY 2: Build names based on positive connotations. In his article Phil Davis mentions GM OnStar as an example. It's build from two positive words and the brand name stands for GM's intelligent navigation system. For me other examples are Adobe Dreamweaver and DigitalOcean.

  • STRATEGY 3: Use metaphors that reflect key company attributes. When using a metaphor in your company name, this metaphor immediately triggers a certain picture of your company in the head of a listener. An example is Ruby On Rails which is known to be an opinionated web framework with strong conventions that literally guides its users to develop web applications in the programming language Ruby. Therefore rails are a very good metaphor. Another example is database vendor Oracle: a database is supposed to answer questions based on the business data set it stores – just like an oracle is supposed to give answers as well.

Certainly there are more good naming strategies, but with these three one should be able to start building a list of naming candidates.

Choosing the right one

Ending up with a list of names, the final question is which one to choose. In Scoring the Perfect Brand Name Phil Davis uses an analogy with playing golf: finding the perfect name is like hitting the hole-in-one – it barely happens. Instead Phil advices that hitting a birdie (a score of one under par) is enough. You only need a name that's winning. According to Phil a winning name it one that allows "you to easily go from the company name to a short, intuitive explanation of who you are and what you do". See an example in his article.

My Company Name

Curious with which company name I ended up? Shoot me an email and I'll keep you in the loop! I ended up with ScalingCurve. I've wrote up my experiences with the process outline above.

Published by Robert Möstl

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