The Cart Before the Horse

Google was not a verb in 1997.

cart and horseHow important is a name for a startup? It depends on whom you ask. Some “experts” insist a good name is critical and others argue that the name is simply a vessel into which we infuse meaning. Here’s my story.

Now I’m in the pet commerce business. Yippee!

now and laterWhat to do first…Vet the financials? Create an action plan? A budget? No, we need a logo! We’d already chosen a name, but how could we design a Website without a logo to define the look and feel of our brand?

The financials can wait.
Unilateral decisions are the beauty of self-funding a startup.

domainer 2Months earlier, we searched for an available domain name. We found that almost all dot-com, two-syllable, easy-to-pronounce English word combinations were taken. These names were either in use by legitimate businesses or being held hostage by Internet extortionists, a.k.a. Domainers or Cyber squatters. These people hoard domains that will likely hold value to a business or person in the future and sell them to the highest bidder. Capitalism at its finest.

PetAGram_LOGO_v2I was thrilled when a friend found a good name with an available domain, PetAGram. A monthly telegram to your pet. Get it? Yes, telegrams are dated, but Instagram is cool. My friend grabbed the name and would transfer it to me later. Then, my rockstar first employee Jamie, (more about her later), created a great logo — the colored dots are like a telegram.

me dickBut as we spread the word to friends and family we got lots of negative feedback on the name. Not just “meh”, but strong dislike. Generally, I’m not a fan of consensus building, but it was such a strong sentiment, I felt we should give it some air. A bit more digging showed the name could definitely be a liability. Not yet war-torn, we hoped we could quickly find an alternative.

At the time, we thought we were lucky to snap up names like “SousPet,” “FurFancy” and “PiddleCity,” clearly brilliant, yet oddly available. By the time we were done I owned about 50 domains loosely related to animals. Very loosely. Keenly aware that we were losing perspective, we sent out a survey to 200 friends and family about which was best.

bull penisHere were the name choices:

  1. Stealthy Pet – Our code name
  2. PetAGram – We had a logo!
  3. Petify’d – Like electrified?
  4. Pizzle – Old English for bull penis, a favorite chew treat for dogs.

Survey says…none! Respondents hated them all equally. I was routing for Pizzle. surveyIf people could get beyond the visual, we’d be hard to forget. But nobody agreed. Frustrated by the process, we stayed with PetAGram – critics be damned! My friend transferred the domain to me and it arrived in my email as PetAgrams, with an “s”. Maybe PetAGram is available? Yes, from a Domainer for a $4,000. Back to the drawing board.

We chose four more names from our arsenal and sent another survey. The new “top” choices:

  1. Dog of Dogs
  2. Pampered Pet Society
  3. Ode to Pets
  4. Pawdora’s Pet Box

PPS_Logo_Final copySurvey says, “These are worse!” We chose Pampered Pet Society (PPS) because my neighbor loved it and our dogs are best friends. Strategy at it’s finest.

Whew! We moved on to copywriting. As we defined our MVP, it quickly became clear that the name didn’t match the vision and was in fact confusing. By now we we’re exasperated and lower our standards from “perfect” to “how bad does it suck?” No more surveys, feedback or fretting, let’s just nail it and move on. Back to square one. To maintain some level of dignity, I won’t list additional name considerations, just use your imagination. (Wait until you hear about the professional photo shoot in my house for 26 dogs in one day.)

fire coAnother friend, noting the dissonance between PPS and our product, mentioned that large brands were using “One” to imply holistic, united and complete – that’s us! Of course, Onepet.com was taken, but it wasn’t in use. At the same time, “.co” was gaining traction in startup land due to the dearth of available “.com” names. Onepet.co was available and since the .com domain wasn’t in use, I felt it was worth the risk.

Just for kicks and giggles, I offered the owner of OnePet.com $500 for the .com name and I got the following response, “If you’re prepared to make a serious offer in the tens of thousands of dollars, we will consider it.”

onepet_bc_front1OnePet.co is perfect.

How did I get to PoopBuddy™ from OnePet™? In Silicon Valley jargon, it’s called a pivot. In May 2013 we shifted our focus from dog-stuff-of-the-month to designer dog poop bags. We kept the OnePet name, site and brand intact planning to launch it in a few months after we on-boarded a couple thousand customers. (LOL doesn’t do justice to this plan.)

Gift Subscription ImageTo choose the name PoopBuddy we tossed a coin. When challenged about the hazards of having “poop” in the name, we put in earplugs.

I still haven’t done the financials, but I’ll get to them soon. I promise.

The Moral of the Story: The name is important, but what’s not getting done while you find a great name? The competing priorities you’re faced with as a founder can be daunting and it’s human nature to gravitate to your strengths. Co-founders, advisors or knowledgeable friends are a good way to keep your self delusions in check. 

Next Week:  The Road to E Commerce Nirvana 

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