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How to quickly choose a ‘good enough’ name for your startup

It’s very early in your startup’s journey. You and your co-founders have a good mutual understanding of what you think your startup should be, but you can’t agree on what to call it.

You don’t have time for this right now, but you know you need a brand name. Here’s how to just get it done.

I’m by no means a brand name development specialist, but I have a process that I’ve refined the hard way – through too many stakeholders, not enough time, and no budget.

Is your brand name good enough?

What does “good enough” mean?

A brand name is good enough if it’s not misleading, if it doesn’t get in the way of customer acquisition, and you and your co-founders are all somewhere on the spectrum between “don’t hate” and “like”.

You don’t have to love it yet, and it can take years for customers to like it, even if you think it’s smart and appropriate.

This is because the value in a brand name is developed over many years through a consistently great overall customer experience, not what you named the company or new product. Many of the world’s most valuable brands have a good enough brand name as a foundation (some even have horribly bad brand names).

My favorite example of this is Microsoft. “Microsoft” is a so-called “composite” brand name – made from two components of other words, joined together.

Paul Allen and Bill Gates took the “micro” from “microcomputer” and the “soft” from “software” and named their company “Microsoft”.

But no one calls them a “microcomputer” anymore, and a more modern take on “micro” and “soft” would be “small and flimsy.” I don’t think the famous larger than life Steve Ballmer would have been happy working for “Small and Floppy”.

Good enough brand names that are immensely valuable are all around you, every day.

If you had never heard of these companies, how would you know what products Ben and Jerry’s, Starbucks, IBM, or Ford made or what service they provided?

Tesla was a crazy professor who died a pauper. Apple? Don’t get me started.

Yet all of these companies gradually built a valuable brand by figuring out what their brand attributes were and then delivering a consistent customer experience that communicated those brand attributes.

Your lesson from this is not to sweat the perfect brand name for your startup: you need to start with a good enough brand (that isn’t misleading, doesn’t drive customers away, and doesn’t actually hate you).

Where do we start?

If you’re building brand equity by providing a consistent customer experience that communicates your brand attributes, it’s a good idea to first define your brand attributes.

Sounds crazy, but it’s simple: are you selling a premium product/service or a cheap product/service? (You have to choose one or the other – you can’t credibly be both). Are you high tech and cutting edge or are you solid, dependable, reliable and proven (again, you can’t be both).

Are you value for money or value for service? Are you making your clients a lot of money, or saving them time, or making them feel less anxious, or making them feel more in control, or less alone, or sexier, or high?

Are you new or established? Are you gender or gender neutral? Are you liberal or conservative? Fighting the establishment or part of it?

You can’t be credible all these things.

The less you try to be, the better you can provide a customer experience that conveys them.

Be ruthless, choose five or less, and none that contradict each other (such as leading and reliable).

It costs the whole team

A common mistake is letting one part of the team do all the branding work, leaving the rest of the team to work on other things.

While some will tell you they don’t care what the brand name is, there will come a time when they suddenly care a whole lot: when you’ve come up with something they don’t like.

Trust the process

  1. You’ll need Post-It notes, pens, and something to stick them on.
  2. Start by listing the company’s values ​​and characteristics. What do you want it to be and stand for? See if you can summarize each attribute in a single word, or split multiple word attributes (such as “value for money”) into single words (“value” and “money”).
  3. Take each attribute and use a glossary to build a “word cloud” of Post-It notes with related words, synonyms and homonyms, and Latin roots. (“money” could lead us to “asset”, “value”, “wage”, “salary”, “pay”, “cash”, “currency”, etc.).
  4. Viable single words in English are unlikely to be available cheaply as domain names under a TLD (top level domain). It is more likely that a combination of two or more words/prefixes/suffixes will be available. So build a long list of possible compound names by combining two or more options from your word cloud. These are your first round contenders. Ditch anything (like “Microsoft”) that makes you sound petty and wimpy!
  5. Check that each is available as a trademark under the relevant class. There are free trademark search tools for this.
  6. Check that each is not a slang term in English (with urban dictionary) or in a major international language (by checking the first three pages of a Google search for the word and using Google Translate).
  7. Check if domains and social accounts are available. Depending on the target demographic, you may not need to have all social accounts available, but don’t choose a brand name that already has a social account of the same name, even if that social network isn’t important to your demographic.
  8. Get a ranked shortlist of the remaining candidates by asking the entire team to vote for them.
  9. Unless your number one choice is “Microsoft”, you should be good to go registering the domain!

We are a startup, isn’t there a SAAS for this?

Tools come and go (they can be hard to monetize), but for now you could try name (adds prefixes and suffixes to a word you enter, then checks if the domain name is available on GoDaddy).

Business Name Picker is an iOS app that checks for trademark and domain name availability.

Bust-a-name helps create names and then checks domain availability. Or, of course, you can use a generative AI like ChatGPT.

I hope I’ve helped you stop elaborating and start finalizing your startup’s brand name. Let me know how the process goes for you and what you choose.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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