How to pick a strong brand name and domain name.
At this stage in our validation, we have no product, we have no customers, in some cases we have no idea.
In truth: WE DO NOT NEED A BRAND!
- We do not need a brand to validate our idea.
- We do not need a brand to get on the phone and talk to people.
- We do not need a logo for our landing page.
We could literally pick any old word like SPLAT and use it as a placeholder during discussions and as a header on our landing page.
- It can be quite difficult to have conversations without a product identity to use in the conversation. I personally find it challenging and from what I've seen, so do most other folks.
- A landing page is more believable with a good brand, something that aligns with the value proposition as a whole.
- Outreach emails seem more trustable if you can sign them using something like "Justin (Founder of Nugget)"
- A good brand makes you and your idea more memorable to potential customers.
- It makes you feel confident when you have a strong brand underpinning your discussions, which in turn helps you sell your idea more effectively.
- At some point, you will need a brand. It may or may not end up being the one you create at this phase, but either way, it's good practice. Like many things, branding is a skill, and practice makes perfect.
- It's fun!
Uber's original brand during the validation stage was Uber Cab. My buddy Jason turned down the CTO role "in part" because of the brand. He found it difficult to take a "Cab Company" seriously enough to uproot his family and move from LA to SF.
While there are many ways to come up with a brand name, I'm going to show you the process I regularly use.
It helps me invent strong brand names very quickly. It's based on two core methods.
- Method #1: Name the Generic
- Method #2: Name the Center of the Onion
Again, it's ok if you're just working with a market at this point and you don't have a product idea yet. These methods can still apply to a market in general!
The first method is to name the generic idea behind what the product does in one or two words. Here are some one-word examples:
Here are some two word examples:
This concept also works if you name the generic and tweak it with a letter or two:
The second method supports the first. It's a method and mental model that can help you quickly uncover words that name the generic.
- Imagine your product is an onion diagram (as shown below)
- Each layer of the onion describes your product
- The center of the onion describes your product in only one or two words
- The next layer uses a few more words
- The outer most layer is the most descriptive
- Start with the outer layer and work your way in until you have only one or two words
Here is an example brand onion:
As you work backward through the layers, focus on one specific theme of your product idea. In the above case, I focused on "searching & mining."
Let's say I had focused on the theme "mailing out startup ideas." The center of the onion might have been something like IdeaList.
You're looking for generic names that have a nice ring to them. Names that sound like a brand.
It's hard to quantify what makes a generic name sound good! The trick is to come up with a few variants and see which seems the strongest and most catchy.
For example, let's say we were trying to brand a search engine. Here are some generic words that name the idea:
- Search Engine
- Find It
Of those, Find sounds like a powerful brand name, especially when paired with an interesting top-level domain. For example find.io
This is an art, not a science! If you need some inspiration, be sure to discuss your ideas with the group in Slack.
There is only one question you need to worry about in this regard:
Is this brand already internet owned?
The only reason we even care about this is because we don't want to confuse people during our validation discussions.
For instance, if we call our idea "Word," people are going to keep bringing up that there is already a product called "Word" and it will confuse things.
The smell test for any brand you are considering is simple. Google it!
- Search Google with your brand idea.
- If the top result is a well known product, then nope, do not use that.
- If the top 5 results are things like thesaurus and other unknown websites, then go for it.
Examples of generic terms to NOT use
The only way to own a generic term on the internet is to have lots and lots of people linking to your website. In other words, become very well known and very popular. This is how to get to the number one spot on Google.
You should avoid using generic terms that are already internet owned. Here are some examples:
Examples of generic terms that are fine to use
Conversely, if a search does not produce any well known brands in its first few results, then it is fair game. Here are some examples:
These are all perfect starter brands because no one internet owns them, which means there will be no confusion during your validation discussions.
They are also strong and simple and easy to remember.
All we're looking for right now is a solid brand we can feel confident about when talking to potential customers, creating a landing page, and sending outreach emails.
Something strong we can hang our hat on.
There's no need to worry about trademarks or anything legal at this point because let's face it, we're small potatoes and don't even exist yet.
Once you've come up with a strong brand, you'll want to register a domain name. This will be the address for your landing page, your new email address, and may even become your ultimate product domain.
Whatever brand idea you come up with, it will almost certainly already be registered as a .com.
This does not matter.
You can easily get around it by using one, or both, of the following methods.
- Method #1: Tweak a .com
- Method #2: Use an Alternative TLD
It's easy to find a .com variant of your brand idea that is available. Simply add words like "get" or "go" or "hq" to the name and see if they are available. For example, let's say we wanted our brand to be "happy". We could see if any of the following were available as a .com:
This works well because during discussions we can still refer to the product by it's brand name (i.e. Happy), and we can also have a .com domain.
When tweaking the domain make sure not to add a modifier that is an implementation choice.
For example, if we were creating a diff tool for writers it might seem logical to use the modifier "diff" (e.g. WriterDiff.com) BUT validation may show us that writers don't care about a diff tool and, instead, want a tool that makes it easy to try out different plot lines.
In other words, use a modifiers that don't lock you down to any type of product solution. Use modifiers like "try", "app", "go", "hq", etc.
When Drip was launched, drip.com was not available. So, Rob registered getdrip.com instead. It made no difference to all his validation discussions because he would always call the product "Drip".
In the fullness of time, Drip became very successful and Rob was able to circle back and spend the high dollar amount required to get the domain drip.com.
With that in mind, when you choose your brand, it might be a good idea to check if the .com is for sale at a high dollar amount. If yes, that might be another reason to pick that brand because one day you might be able to circle back and buy it.
If you're willing to use an alternative top level domain (.io, .xyz, .one, etc.) you might be able to use your brand idea without tweaking it.
Using weird TLD's used to be a no no, but in this day and age they are becoming quite trendy.
This tool is an excellent way to quickly see what top level domains are available for any word you care to think of.
You'll be surprised at just how many top level domains are available even for the most generic of words.