The Startup World Is Becoming The Ministry Of Silly Names

Founders’ are making their companies sound like vanity license plates.

Where to start?

In an industry that is so jargon heavy you could be forgiven for wondering if summit meetings and pitching events were being conducted in Esperanto, it seems churlish to point out that company names are getting more and more ridiculous.

But boy, are they!

Big news this week – “Deep Mind”, a London “deep-tech” firm fronted by a boy genius and an Oxford University dropout, is going to show off the strength of its AI by having one of its algorithms play somebody, who presumably has few friends and wears sandals, at the ancient game of Go.

Meanwhile, “Magic Leap”, the mysterious Google and Qualcomm (to the tune of $1.39 billion dollars!) backed Augmented Reality play from Florida that will be sending a immersive headset your way soon, has purchased FuzzyCube Software.

How cute. Rumours that Magic Leap are set to Acquire “MoonBot” are apparently wide of the mark.

Ugh! Somebody fetch us a bucket.

The latest and greatest examples of companies that do something that is not terribly interesting, but seek to disguise this fact by adopting a name that sounds like a cross between a porn star and a leotarded early 90’s gameshow circus freak?

Shazam? Grabble? Magic Pony? Deliveroo? BrewDog? TaskRabbit? Fresh Relevance?

And we found all of these names simply by going through the last couple of startup focused newsletters in our inbox!

Now, some would argue that these quasi-outrageous names have been designed for the most practical and pragmatic of reasons.

Firstly, in today’s world, every new company must have a website – and purchasing a domain can be expensive if your name is something generic like “Perfect Travel Holidays”, or “Train Times Checker” or “Dog Walkers Inc.” – you could end up paying 6 figures or more for domains names such as these.

So to cut costs, founders must think of names that are catchy and memorable – something that creates an immediate association in the users’ mind, quickly, with a certain type of business.

The original and best? Google, of course. The brand needed a name catchy enough to capture the public imagination, and over time, the nonsense word became a verb, and “Google It!”, became part of the lexicon of the modern world. Hooray!

Everyone tried it – Yahoo; Bing; ahem, Ask Jeeves. But Google was the punchiest, the snappiest – the one that people liked saying the most.

How much was that name worth? Literally trillions of pounds.

So it’s no wonder that startups try to dream up funky names; one founder even used an algorithm to discover all of the “pronounceable combinations of letters, three syllables or fewer, whose dotcom addresses weren’t claimed”, reveals Forbes contributor Tim Worstall.

The result? Kaggle. Anyone know what they do at Kaggle? Us neither.

OK, so there may be method in the madness; but we kind of feel that recently, things have snowballed a little too far.

To us, SnapChat makes sense. Snap photos and chat. Facebook – it’s not a book but it is a directory of faces, and back when the platform was fun and interesting, before Zuckerberg sold out to advertisers to fund his presidential bid, it worked.

Tinder is kind of clever; ditto Twitter. But which site would you choose to visit if you wanted to buy a house; RightMove, or Zoopla? You want to eat takeaway; JustEat, or Deliveroo?

Wacky names are a huge gamble, and to work, they must, in some way, reference what the business does, and make it sound like you are improving it, not infecting it with your gormlessness and ineptitude.

Google got away with it because search engines barely existed when they launched, so they were inventing a new language – the language of the internet.

At best, a wacky startup name adds a bit of colour to an otherwise functional activity – at worst, they reflect the kind of company that wants to Blue Sky its way to a billion-dollar valuation, when really, they are about as disruptive as a dodgem ride at a theme park.

You can have all the fun of the fair at a startup, just try not to be a clown.

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