When there's only one

...there's only one choice
Everything here is my opinion. I do not speak for your employer.
March 2007
April 2007

2007-03-13 »

What's in a company name?

I've been reading lots of articles about choosing a company name lately. Basically nobody agrees on most of the rules, but at least it's been entertaining to see what they disagree about.

Here are my own rules:

  1. It has to be unique enough that a Google search will find it in the top few links. My last company called itself Net Integration Technologies Inc. (NITI), and to my stunned amazement, it is now the top Google hit for Net Integration. This took years and comes after way too much effort, including lots of press and chrisk's excellent Search Engine Optimization efforts (all clean and ethical, of course). This name was a bad idea. Don't do that.

  2. Despite what people will tell you, the actual domain name is irrelevant. Nobody actually types domain names into the URL bar anymore, because 99% of the time they get spam or domain squatters. For years, NITI was at "net-itech.com", quite possibly the world's most horrible domain name, and none of our customers seemed to care.

  3. Don't pick a long name whose acronym sounds like the British word for "infested with bedbugs." Or, if you do, be sure to make the joke before anyone else does. Trust me on this.

  4. Don't use names that are completely meaningless outside of their expected context. sfllaw eventually came up with our product name, Nitix, which actually follows this rule perfectly: if you call the company NITI, then it's obviously a NITI product, and if you know anything about Unix, the "ix" makes perfect sense. But word to the wise! Random two-syllable words from other languages that end in "a" are not automatically meaningful to people in your target market!

  5. Don't use names that people actually have to modify their punctuation-stripping search engine algorithms in order to query. (I'm talking to you, .NET and C#!)

  6. Don't use acronyms. People can't remember acronyms. Sure, there are plenty of famous companies (IBM) whose names are acronyms; but they were famous before everyone started using the acronym. (I discovered this rule, with great examples, in an excellent book on market segmentation from the 1980's whose name I've unfortunately forgotten.) Also interestingly, note that IBM is three syllables (annoying to pronounce), Nitix, which looks longer, is only two. Pronounceable acronyms are sort of okay, but don't be surprised if people stop treating them as acronyms (ie. the NITI in Nitix isn't capitalized anymore).

  7. Don't use someone else's name and just change a letter or two to make yourself "unique". If you're just avoiding some stupid domain name squatter, then okay, because they'll never be a good Google hit like you with your real company. But if real companies already exist with similar names, avoid them, even if you can legally get the trademark. Trademarks are kind of worthless. Google hits are valuable. We considered calling our new company Banksoft or Bankware (because we make banking software! Pure genius!). But there are already zillions of such companies, including Bancsoft, Banqsoft, Bancware, etc. Who wants to compete with that? And don't even talk to me about World Vision.

  8. Use a name that people can spell. It's not Intergration, it's Integration, darn it! But they never learn. You should.

  9. Don't use a "temporary" name "just for incorporating for now" that you plan to fix later. You won't, because the original name will always be "good enough," and as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to change your name. I've fallen for this trick at least twice. If you need a temporary name just for incorporating, just use a government-assigned unique ID number company. Trust me, it's worth it.

Where Versabanq came from

So while we're here, where did the name Versabanq come from? Did we follow the above rules? And what's with that Q?

Like I said above, we actually thought about keeping it really simple, ie. Banksoft or Bankware or something, but that had been done to death. We tried making up words, but that made them hard to remember and they didn't sound at all banking-related or give you any idea at all what we did. If your name gives people a clue, it can get you past the blank stare and into an interesting conversation.

So we really wanted to have "bank" in the name. But we couldn't spell it "bank," because we're a subsidiary of a real bank which is heavily regulated by, uh, the banking regulator dudes, and you can't legally call something "bank" unless it's a licensed "bank." We make banking software, we don't do actual banking, so no dice. (Yes, there is a banksoft.com and a bankware.com. But they're not subsidiaries of banks. This is sort of like how you can call yourself a "sanitation engineer" on your business card, even though "engineer" is a legally protected term, because the regulators are happily ignoring you anyway. They're not ignoring us.)

So, banq with a Q. It works in French too. Don't ask me what the French regulators think about that idea. Oh, and the q looks pleasantly like an upside-down b in a sans-serif font. That's why we don't capitalize the b.

And the "versa"? Okay, I admit it, I went on a random prefix hunt. But it seemed fitting because the whole point is to "make banking fun", ie. faster-moving and, well, versatile. So I like it.

And "versa" is a very underused prefix. In fact, a search for Versa shows no interesting hits. (There are presently 56 million uninteresting ones, however :)) So there's definite growth potential here.

I'm CEO at Tailscale, where we make network problems disappear.

Why would you follow me on twitter? Use RSS.

apenwarr on gmail.com