5 tips for naming your business

In Mark Randolph’s ‘That Will Never Work’, about the founding of Netflix, he explores how Netflix came to be just that – Netflix. A lot of companies don’t keep their names when they go from concept to market. While My Food Bag was always My Food Bag, we actually didn’t have the money to rebrand the business before going to market, and we loved the fact that we could work with the name to create subgroups e.g. My Family Bag, My Gourmet Bag, My Veggie Bag, etc. Nevermind the fact that we stopped delivering in brown paper bags about 3 years into market! In hindsight, dropping the “Bag” from our name would probably have been the sensible thing to do, although it doesn’t seem to matter now. There’s also something to be said for having grown to be a household name by then; where a name change had some potential to disrupt recognition.

Learning from the My Food Bag experience, our latest business, ‘Project XYZ’, is a working name rather than the ultimate brand name. Randolph tells us that before Amazon became Amazon it was called Cadabra, while Twitter started out as Status. Netflix was originally called Kibble, as in dog food. This was to ensure that the working name/brand was so bad he’d never take it through to market.

So, why Project XYZ then? All of our founding documents are headed under Project XYZ, from our shareholders agreements, to employee contracts and bank statements. But at some point, prior to launch we will swap over to our true brand name. We chose Project XYZ as a working name for a couple of reasons: a) Because it appeals to our sense of humor, while not being explicit about what we’re working on, having a name such as Project XYZ is a nod to what our focus is; and b) Because it confuses people and as such will never be a long-term brand name (… and that’s a promise!).

Picking a name is an incredibly difficult task so we engaged with the brand agency Culture & Theory to help us with this. While launching several successful sub-brands (including Bargain Box and Fresh Start), we’d always had strong brand views before completing our branding projects, as a result this was the first time going through a naming process with an agency.

Truth be told, when Culture & Theory did the big unveiling for us, we didn’t immediately take to any of the names. They encouraged us to sleep on it, and we’d follow up with another working session the following week. By the time Monday rocked around, we’d slept on it and gone from hard no to a enthusiastic yes, landing out the same name (out of 8 choices) independently. Winner!

So, how do you name a company?

  1. Keep it simple. Too many letters, syllables or weird spelling makes it hard for a consumer to relate to you. It’s easy to get caught in up with the trends, but ideally a name should stand the test of time. Our advice? Live with it a while before you use it!
  2. If you can avoid it, don’t tie the brand name to an individual. While we did own the ‘Nadia’s Food Bag’ website domain, we quickly dismissed this as it made succession planning hard and also wasn’t transparent enough to showcase all the other amazing people who worked to make My Food Bag what it is.
  3. Take your time.  This is why it’s good to use a working name. Dwell on your name, write it down, say it out loud, sleep on it. Come back to it. Share it with others around you and check their response. While we’ve now picked a brand name that we really love (and looks great in writing) we also know that when you say it, often people don’t quite catch it. So, we know there’s something to work on there.
  4. OWN the name. But the upside on the prior issue is that we have a name that we can OWN. Owning the domain and the TM from a sales and long-term IP value perspective is critical.
  5. Use your ears. If you’re lucky enough to have other people caring about what your brand name is, then hear them out and be collaborative to agree on a brand name that everyone can relate to.