Ask an Investor: How do I name my startup?

Welcome to a new BetaKit weekly series designed to help startups and entrepreneurs. Each week, investors Roger Chabra and Katherine Hague tackle the tough questions facing founders today. Have a question you would like answered? Tweet them with the #askaninvestor hashtag, or email them here.

As a seed and Series A stage investor, I often get questions from entrepreneurs about how they should go about naming their startup and what I think about this name, or that name, for their startup. On this week’s Ask An Investor, I thought we would include some great advice on this topic from one of my favourite entrepreneurs, Chris Sukornyk.

Chris was the founder and CEO of Toronto-based Chango, which was a programmatic advertising platform that connected marketers with their target audience in real time across display, social, mobile, and video. The company was acquired by Rubicon Project in April 2015 for $147 million CAD. Chango was named the number one fastest growing startup company in Canada in 2014 by the Deloitte Fast 50 rankings.

Chris’ advice on naming your startup is posted below:

    I’m going through the difficult “startup-naming thing” again and I thought I would share my approach. So many entrepreneurs I speak with get stuck here – or rush through it. I’m not an expert at it, but I did really love the “Chango” brand and I’m following the same process this time:

    1. Stay unattached and create a long, long list. 100 to 200 possibilities. Take your time. For me, this often takes three to four months before I have a winner.

    2. Ensure your brand is capable of pivoting with you – you will pivot.

    3. Consider your target audience/customers.

    4. Narrow your list – if the domain is taken then do a WHOIS search – get their contact details and ask if it is for sale. Ditch the name if it is too expensive (see step one).

    5. Once you think you can get a domain – do a trademark search. This costs money, but there is no point picking the name if you can’t keep it!

    At the end of the day, be careful how many people you ask opinions of. Trust your own gut instinct.

I love this advice for a number of reasons. Firstly, it recognizes that startups are a long, long process and a startup name is something you are going to have to live with for (hopefully) a long time. For this reason, it is important not to rush into naming your startup. Make sure to take your time thinking about the best name for your startup.

Startups are a long, long process and a startup name is something you are going to have to live with for (hopefully) a long time. Adopt a name that can evolve with your business.

Secondly, I applaud Chris’ advice about picking a name that can pivot with you. Chango itself pivoted at least three times before it locked on a highly-scalable business model that took it through to successful exit. All good entrepreneurs (and investors) know that your business will change – make sure to adopt a name that can evolve with your business model. No sense going through the costs and hassle of registering a new name with the government, doing another trademark search, changing your legal documents, paying for a new domain, changing everyone’s email addresses, and so on.

Above all, though, I love Chris’ advice about limiting the input of others on your name selection process. As an entrepreneur, your gut feeling is your best asset. You will constantly be bombarded with advice and comments from everyone around you on all sorts of topics when you are building your startup. It’s essential for you to cut through the noise and follow your own instincts. Listen and absorb advice from others (especially from your customers), but take it for what it is – advice. Nobody knows your business as well as you do!

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Roger Chabra

Roger Chabra is the CIO at TribalScale, a global provider of digital products & companies for mobile & emerging technology platforms with offices in Toronto, Los Angeles, Dubai, San Francisco and New York City. You can follow Roger on Twitter at @rchabra

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