5 questions to find the name of your startup

The name of your startup cannot be an afterthought. Here are some tips to find the right one for your business.

Imagine that you are hungry. You see a food truck. You slow down. You're tempted Look at the sign on the side of the truck. In big, bold letters you see “Norwasion.” Are you stumped: What does “Norwasion” mean? Maybe Norwegian/Asian fusion? Or some kind of high-tech food? You have no idea, so what do you do?

As I created the name Norwasion, you understand this: When potential customers are unfamiliar with a business, they can take clues from its name to understand what that business provides. If the words “Barbacoa” or “Tacos” or “Seafood” had been in the food truck's business name, I would have immediately known what those business owners were offering, and could have made a quick decision about whether to stop.

The same premise applies to a wide range of companies. If you see a business called “ACME Design Studios,” you might naturally assume that they provide interior design or graphic design services. But if the business turns out to be an architecture firm, many customers will be confused.

When you decide how to call your startupask yourself the following questions:

Restaurants can go by seemingly obscure names: Nobu is named after its founder, Nobu Matsuhisa. Le Bernardin comes from the French folk song “Les Moines de St. Bernardin” about an order of monks who rejoiced in food and drink.

But a daycare called, say, “Caribou” probably can't get away with an obscure name.

While that may seem obvious, consider how many companies you see with seemingly made-up names. Certain names may seem cool, trendy, or have personal meaning to the founder. (After all, your business is your baby.)

But not if the name gets in the way of attracting customers and building a brand.

Take a brand like Verizon. Everyone knows that it is a telecommunications company that offers wireless services, broadband, etc. But Verizon has also spent millions of dollars to ensure that customers automatically associate its name with its products.

Unless you have considerable capital at your disposal, don't choose a name that requires you to spend some of your advertising dollars to help potential customers connect your business name with what you provide. That money is better spent highlighting the problems it solves, the benefits it offers, and the needs it satisfies.

You are your business, especially during the startup phase: your skills, experience and reputation matter.

But as your business grows, you become less important. You can't do everything. (You shouldn't want to do everything.) Eventually, your business becomes bigger than you: the brand becomes the sum total of your employees, systems and products.

Imagine if Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank had called your store «Bernie and Art's Hardware» instead of what they finally chose: “The Home Depot.”

If you plan on outgrowing your business, consider calling it something that doesn't include your name.

«Boston Wedding Cakes» It's a good name; clearly indicates where it is located and what it does. But what if you decide to open a location in New York City? Or decide to expand your offerings to cupcakes, cakes, etc.?

While you can overcome any geographic, product or service limitations implied by your company name, why take the chance? Too much specificity of a name may require making a change as your business expands.

There are hundreds of thousands of companies, which means hundreds of thousands of business names are already in use. If another company is using the name you want to use, take a step back and consider the ramifications. There is a chance that another company will at least threaten legal action. And it could be much more difficult to get the web address you want.

Since your goal as a business is to differentiate yourself from the competition, why not start that process early by making sure your business name is different? You may have to go back to the drawing board a few times, but that's okay.

You want your business to last, so make sure you choose a name that will last as well.