Cezary Pietrzak is a New York-based creative marketer and growth strategist. He currently runs marketing at tech incubator QLabs and previously co-founded travel site Wanderfly. You can read his thoughts on startup marketing at www.cezary.co.
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At this point, you’re on the final leg of naming your startup. You have a very large spreadsheet of root words and permutations as well as a shortlist of names that you like. Before you make a final decision, though, you should stress-test each name using the criteria below to ensure it holds up. There are always little problems that you don’t foresee, so these steps will help you understand the risks of choosing a particular name. Here are some suggestions:
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- Check availability and price. First, see if the names are available using a tool like Instant Domain Search. Assuming it’s not, compile a list of prices to get a better understanding of the spread between the different options. Prices for some premium domains will be readily available (and almost always negotiable), while for others you may have to inquire directly by emailing the individual listed in the WHOIS database.
- Say it out loud. Something may look good on paper, but sound very different when you actually say it. Repeat each name a few times and see how you feel about it -- you’ll be surprised how quickly your attitude toward a particular name may change.
- Survey your friends. Get a sanity check from your friends. You can create a poll on Facebook or a more formal survey using a tool like FluidSurveys. Make sure to ask people why they like or dislike a certain name, as this will provide you with more insight than a simple yes/no answer.
- Ask users for feedback. Ask your beta users or someone from your target demographic which names they like most. Remember, names have different connotations to different people, so listen to the feedback of people who will actually be using your product -- even if you don’t like their suggestions.
- Do a Google search. Search the name on Google to see what types of sites show up in first page results. These will be the sites that you’ll compete with for SEO, so avoid names that belong to established businesses, as this may hurt your discoverability.
- Do a trademark search. Do a search on the USPTO website to see if anyone has trademarked your name. Smaller companies from different industries shouldn’t be a concern, but a if a large tech company already owns the name, your best bet is to bite the bullet and stay away from a lawsuit.
No name will be ever be without risk, but covering most of these points and understanding what you’re getting into will put you in a much better position -- especially when justifying your purchase to investors.
Buying a Domain
Once you’ve testing your name and weighed any outstanding risks, you’re ready to buy the domain. If you’re lucky and the domain is available, purchase it right way on a site like GoDaddy, NameCheap or 101domains (always search Google for promo codes to get a discount). But if you’re not so lucky (90% of us), you must negotiate the purchase with the owner or a third party. Here’s the best way to this.
First, determine who owns the domain so you can get in touch. Usually, you’ll be able to find the owner by looking up their contact information on WhoIS, or by simply pointing your browser to the site and seeing the information on the homepage. For the latter, the owner may list contact information directly on the page, or the page will be managed by a domain parking site like Sedo.
If possible, contact the owner directly. Even if the domain is parked using a third-party service, you should contact the owner first because it’s much better to deal directly with the seller. That said, offers from brokers are also negotiable.
Next, make an offer. People selling domains are not stupid, so you need to name a price if you expect them to respond. Usually, a few hundred to $1,000 will do the trick for most good domain names. Here’s the short email I send to domain owners, a slightly customized version of the brilliant guest comment on Fred Wilson’s blog. The anonymous author -- who claims to have participated in over 50K domain transactions - crafted this message to downplay the emotional attachment to a name, demonstrate clear alternatives and assume that a sale will happen.
************************************* Title: www.domain.com ($500?)
I noticed you're the owner of www.domain.com. I'm looking for a domain name for a client to build a website, and think this one could be a good fit. My budget has been approved and I'm contacting several different owners to find the best one.
Would you be interested in selling your domain for $500?
If so, I can wire you the funds via a trusted source (e.g. Escrow.com) the next day.
Thank you, Your name *************************************
Once you get a response, negotiate the offer. Everyone will claim that their domain is worth much more than the offer you made, but the reality is that many great domains are never purchased. So when you get high figures, answer nicely that they’re out of your budget and that you’ll have to purchase something else in your price range. Remember -- time is always on your side, so the longer you can hold out, the higher the likelihood that the owner or broker will come down to your price point. For example, I received an offer that was initially priced at $1,890, but dropped to $470 after only two weeks (75% discount).
Lastly, complete the transaction via escrow. Just like it’s not a good idea to wire money to people on Craigslist, it’s not a good idea to send the domain owner a check without ensuring that the domain is properly transferred. Placing the site in escrow is the best way to get this guarantee and prevent fraud. I’ve found in my research that Escrow.com is the best option due to its low price (3.25 - 6.3% for domains
So that’s it, the complete guide to naming your startup. If you followed all of the steps, you’ve come a long way: You dedicated your time to finding the right name, brainstormed various roots words and permutations using best-in-class naming conventions, checked the name for availability and quality, and -- finally -- made a purchase. Be proud of this accomplishment and be happy even if the name isn’t perfect. Assuming that you made a good choice, you’ve laid a solid foundation for your business and done better than the vast majority of startups. You can now return to regular business and focus on building your big idea.
Image via iStock, Hillary Fox
This story originally published on Mashable here.
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