Dharmesh Shah

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How To Pick A Company Name: Tips From The Trenches

By Dharmesh Shah on March 22, 2010

The following is a guest post by Healy Jones.  Healy is head of marketing at OfficeDrop, a digital filing system and document scanning service and a former venture capitalist.

Pixily just changed its name to OfficeDrop – this is the story of how we went about making the change.

There comes a time for a lot of companies when they decide that it’s time for a new name. Google was once Back Rub, Nissan - Datsun, and Pepsi Cola used to be Brad’s Drink. Maybe the original name is confusing for customers, maybe it no longer represents the product, or maybe it just becomes stale.  For whatever reason, companies find themselves struggling to find a new name. A name change can be just the refreshing boost your company needs to reach the next level. The question is: how do you pick a new name? onstartups change button

Pixily to OfficeDrop

We found ourselves asking, well… ourselves, this very question this past December. We eventually ended up with a new name: OfficeDrop. We think we came up with a pretty good system for name generation, and there were a few techniques we used that we found especially effective. To help you with your potential name change, here is some insight into the process that we used. Parts of it were fun; parts were arduous, but we like the result.

Reasons and Goals for Change

First you should know the reasons we changed our name from Pixily. The main issue was that consumers found no explicit meaning in the name. Customers also had problems remembering and spelling the name. Related to this issue, the name failed to explicitly reflect the nature of the services we provided as a document scanning and document management company that helped small businesses and home offices get organized and go paperless. A lot of people confused us with an online video company.

This being understood, our very first step in deciding on a new name was making sure whatever we chose overcame the issues with Pixily. The new name had to be:

a) Simple to remember
b) Easy to say
c) Highly spellable (Is spellable a word? If not, then consider this bullet ironic.)
d) Illustrative of our service

We also set some parameters for things like length, composition, and interpretability. We decided that our length goal would be ten characters, and that the words could in no way be misinterpreted or confused with another company’s name. Oh yeah, and we had to be able to buy the domain name too – this final part is harder than it sounds!

Brainstorming Session

Now that we knew what we wanted, we had to find a way to generate some names. It turned out that all the resources we needed for a wall of great names were right there in our office. There are a lot of creative minds about, and our main method of name generation was crowd sourcing our employees. To do this, we held a day-long, company-wide brainstorming session. The first part of this session was intended to help us define the character and values of our company. Then we came up with words that represented these ideas. Finally, we hashed out how these words came together or inspired other words that could become our new company’s name. We weren’t expecting to come up with the single answer that would be the best name, but rather a list of great ideas that we could whittle down later into a few solid finalists.

While brainstorming sounds simple enough, there were a few details we found very important. We wanted to make sure everyone had a say in the names, and didn’t want the thoughts of our CEO or other founders to drown out the ideas from our more junior employees. We also wanted to allow everyone to be as creative as possible and openly share their ideas. These precautions made sure we generated as many ideas as possible.

We found three effective ways of avoiding groupthink and producing the largest number of potential names/words:

1. Have people brainstorm independently before sharing their ideas

2. Letting the more junior team members go first so that they did not feel intimidated by the management.

3. Create an open environment, letting employees know  it was ok to share outlandish/silly suggestions since we wanted everyone to feel good sharing whatever they came up with (kind of like that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell’s character talks about the trust tree…)

Our CEO and co-founder, Prasad Thammineni, kicked off the session by talking a bit about the vision for the company, describing the passion he felt for it and walking through some of the technologies we were developing to help small businesses manage their paper and information.

Everyone had a pad of paper and a pen, and we sat in a circle facing our fearless marketing intern, Matt, who led the discussion as the most recent, least biased employee. Idea generation was focused by categories that we previously determined. Matt would present a category (example: objects you associate with the company) and allow us an allotted time (5-10 mins) to independently and privately put our thoughts on paper. After we’d worked our way through a series of categories, we shared our ideas with each other and Matt wrote them all on large easel pads and attached them to the wall.

From animals to minerals, we covered pads with people, places, and things that might represent what we do here at Pixily. We then brainstormed a list of action words and values that reflect our service. Over pizza we stared at the hundreds of words on the wall and everyone privately paired nouns with actions to create potential names. We all had a lot of fun doing this and we came up with many great names for our company.

Narrow it Down

With about 100 names on the white board, we needed to narrow it down a bit.

We didn’t want to waste our time (or get too attached) to names where we’d never be able to get the domain name. This is where the fact that we are a technology company was helpful; our CTO built a quick script that queried whois.net to find out if any of the .com domains were already owned. We also split up the list and each enlisted the help of a number of our employees to visit each potential name’s .com address and see if there was a company living there or not. Unfortunately a number of our favorites were ruled out due to unavailability of domain name, but we still had a solid list.

We were left with a list of about 30 decent names. Our next step was to ask our employees to vote for their favorites.  By using a vote-based survey emailed throughout the company, it only took a couple of iterations to bring the name list down to a manageable number. We used Google Documents to do this. We now had a decent list of potential names; it was time to talk to customers.

Informal Customer Conversations

We began having phone and in-person conversations with customers and partners. We asked them what they would think if we changed our name and then presented them with the short list of potential names. We asked for candid feedback (and got it!) It was great to speak with customers about the change. We found that a number of them really identified with the Pixily name, but also that a lot of them never really liked the name and didn’t understand how/why that was our company’s name. This step was very important in helping us get down to a final list of potential names and in reassuring us that our decision to change the name was a good one.

Customer Survey

Once we narrowed the names to around 10, we did a formal customer survey to give our users the final say. Our customers were a great help with choosing the name.  We wanted the survey to be fast and simple.

The questions we asked were:

1. For the proposed company, rate the following names from 1 to 5 (where 1 is 'Hate it' and 5 is 'Love it') (we then listed the finalist names)

2. Without going back to the previous page, please list as many of the names that you just rated as you can remember. (This question was intended to help us measure recall and spelling ease of each name)

3. What do you think of when you see each of the following names? (We wanted candid thought – and we got them!! We also tallied up positive, negative, on topic and off topic answers. We wanted to find a name that people did not think of negatively and that also made them think of helping small businesses manage documents.)

 4. If you can think of any names that would be great for us let us know!

Needless to say, OfficeDrop came out number one in the polls. In particular, not only did people like it but it had high recall. It also came out with a high percentage of positive comments and few negative ones.

We hope you found our name change process interesting. We highly recommend this system for any business considering a name change. 

Have you had to change the name of your startup before?  If so, how did you go about it?  Any tips or lessons learned that you’d like to share?  Would love to read them in the comments.

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Inbound Networking: 42 People I Want To Connect With at SXSW

By Dharmesh Shah on March 10, 2010

I’m going to be presenting at the big and boisterous SXSW conference in Austin, Texas this Saturday.  I’ll be talking about Inbound Marketing.  More specifically, I’ll be talking about some insider lessons we’ve learned building a marketing machine at HubSpot.  We’ll even be sharing some relatively confidential data.  The session is at 11:30 a.m. on the Day Stage. Here are the details: Inbound Marketing at SXSW

In any case, from what I hear, the event is supposed to be lots of fun, but huge.  As an introvert, I’m generally not a big fan of huge events.  So, I made a list of people that will also be at SXSW who I’d love to connect to.  I figured by having a list, I’ll feel more guilty if I head back to Boston and haven’t talked to at least a few of them.  I’m also hoping that a few of them will come across this article and be kind enough to reach out.  I made it a bit easier on myself by including some folks that I know pretty well.

If you’re on this list and reading this, please leave me a comment.  I’d be very grateful.

People I Want To Connect With At SXSW

1. Lane Becker, GetSatisfaction

Why:  I met Lane at a Startup2Startup event in Palo, Alto.  He was at my dinner table.  Smart guy and I’m intrigued by this overall category (though I’m hoping Lane doesn’t ask me why I’m a customer of UserVoice instead of GetSatisfaction).

2. Chris Brogan, ChrisBrogan.com

Why:  I always learn something new from Chris and it’s been a while since we had our list dinner plotting global domination.  It’s unfortunate that despite living within driving distance of each other, we don’t meet more often. 

3. Dries Buytaert, Acquia

Why:  I’ve talked to Dries a couple of times on the phone and Acquia’s a local (Boston area), venture-funded startup.  Have met several people on the Acquia team (they’re great).  Want to ask Dries how Drupal Gardens is going.  I’ve been meaning to play with it, but havn’t yet.

4. David Cohen, TechStars

Why:  I’m an investor in the new TechStars Boston cohort for 2010 and will be a mentor again this year.  David’s super-smart and a big supporter of early-stage startups.  I love startups.

5. Evan Cohen, FourSquare

Why:  My most recent project (currently in alpha) is SquareGrader (a free tool for analyzing FourSquare users)

6. Dennis Crowley, FourSquare

Why: As I noted in #6, I’m building a new, free tool for FourSquare.  I reached out to Dennis just a couple of days ago and he was gracious enough to respond almost immediately.  Would love to help FourSquare win in their market (and I’m an avid user too). HubSpot reaches over a million users a month -- many of them should be FourSquare users.  We can help make that happen.

7. Chris Dixon, Hunch

Why:  I’ve been reading the blog for a while (Chris has been on fire!),  it’s one of the better, more practical ones out there on the topic of startups and funding. 

8. Laura Fitton, oneforty

Why:  I’m an investor in oneforty and Laura’s great.  I’m always happier after having met her.  She’s energy-generating.  And, she might introduce me to some folks because she’s a rockstar and a networker extraordinaire.

9. Pete Cashmore, Mashable.com

Why:  I’m an avid reader of Mashable.  Mashable frequently writes about HubSpot or one of our grader.com tools — and I’ve love for them to write even more.  And, Pete’s a social media celebrity that at least a couple of the women at HubSpot have a crush on (not naming any names or anything, you know who you are).  It’ll raise my street-cred to go back to the office and say I met Pete.

10. Jason Fried, 37signals

Why:  Jason was kind enough to let me interview him for my graduate thesis and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.  Want to chat with him about how his new book Rework is doing and what I can do to help. 

11. Paul Graham, Y Combinator

Why:  He’s on my short-list of really, really smart entreprenerus and I’m a major fan of Y Combinator (and many of its portfolio founders).  I also understand that the recent Y Combinator conference went well (Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz spoke there) and that the next one is going to be about monetization, lead generation and freemium.  I’m going to see if I can finagle an invite to it.

12. Kevin Hale, Wufoo

Why:  I just love what he’s done with the company and Kevin’s got talents that I’d give-up 10% of my net worth for.  And, he says useful, practical stuff about how to actually grow a startup.  If I accepted board positions (I don’t) or they’d invite me (they havn’t), Wufoo’s on the short list of companies I’d actually do it for.

13. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn

Why:  Major, major fan and not just because LinkedIn is so successful.  He’s just a super-savvy, strategic thinker (and angel investor).  He’s the kind of guy that I’d love to have involved with HubSpot some day.  (Yes, I aim high).

14. Beth Kanter, BethKanter.org

Why:  I first came across Beth because my wife is passionate about non-profits and was working on a paper for a Harvard class she was taking (the paper was on social media).  Beth is just awesome.  Smart, well-written and has done more to help non-profits than anyone I know.  And, she was kind enough to provide some great feedback on a recent, mostly-failed idea I ran to help Room To Read.  She’s speaking at the NewComm forum in California — but unfortunately, my session is at the exact same time as hers. 

15. Guy Kawasaki, AllTop

Why:  Guy’s written what I think is the best books on startups, ever.  Art Of The Start and Reality Check.  He’s also been kind enough to respond to my emails, write a back-cover blurb for my book and all-around supportive of my entrepreneurial efforts.  Would love to actually meet him in person.

16. Ross Kimbarovsky, CrowdSpring

Why:  CrowdSpring’s an interesting company, and I’m working on a crowdsource-based project for HubSpot this year.  Want to hear how his new project is going and see if there are ways I can help.  [Disclosure:  I’ve also met the founder of CrowdSpring’s main competitor, 99designs, and like him a lot).  I wish both companies well.

17. Jason Kincaid, TechCrunch

Why:  Jason’s going to be talking about scaling LAMP applications (which I could totally use help with).  He also writes for TechCrunch, and it never hurts to know people at TechCrunch (they’ve been kind enough to write about HubSpot and grader.com several times).

18. Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb

Why:  He fundamentally gets all of this new fangled social media stuff.  I’m an avid reader of ReadWriteWeb.

19. Scott Kirsner, Innovation Economy

Why:  He’s a great guy that I’ve gotten to know pretty well.  I try to meet up with Scott every chance I get — will be interesting to see this “other side” of him (i.e. film/movie stuff).  I always think of him as being a tech/startup kind of guy.  He’s done a lot for the local tech scene here in Boston.  I’m also speaking at his Nantucket Conference coming up next month.

20. Andrew McAfee, MIT

Why:  He’s smart and witty and is now at MIT (instead of that other top-tier school in the Boston area).  Andy’s a good friend of HubSpot so it’s always fun to catch-up.

21. Dave Mcclure, Founders Found

Why:  He’s the hardest working man in show business.  I wish I had half his energy or had done a tenth of what he’s done to help startups.  It’s humbling, really.

22. Mike McDerment, FreshBooks

Why:  All-around great guy and growing a great startup.  I learn something from Mike everytime I meet him (which has been several times now). 

23. Lori McLeese, Room To Read

Why:  I’m a big fan of Room To Read and given my recent failure to generate much money with the Inbound Marketing Charity Challenge, would like to see how I might do better next time.

24. Marc Nathan, Bulldog Financial

Why:  I feel like I’ve known Mike for years and am surprised we’ve never crossed paths in person.  Hoping to fix that.

25. Charlie O’Donnell, First Round Capital

Why:  Charlie and I go way, way back (he may not even remember).  We’ve intersected many, many times online — but have never actually met.  Now, Charlie’s an investor in Backupify (a company I’m a seed-investor in), so we have even more reasons to meet-up.

26. Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group

Why:  One of the more analytical and thoughtful writers on the topic of social media.  Minimal hand-waving and such.  Would like to hear his thoughts on weighted social graphs. 

27. Aaron Patzer, Intuit

Why:  Had dinner with Aaron during my last trip to the west coast.  Smart guy.  Would like to hear how things are going post-deal.  I have a suspicion that he’d actually tell me

28. Aviva Rosenstein, Salesforce.com

Why: I’m really impressed with the business they’ve built at salesforce.com.  I’m also a customer.  I’d love to hear how Aviva is tackling some of the usability challenges in the product.  We’re dealing with some of those same issues in my startup.

29. Darren Rowse, ProBlogger

Why:  Much of what I know about blogging in the early days, I learned from ProBlogger.  He gets this stuff.

30. Chris Sacca, Lowercase Capital

Why:  He’s a legend in the tech/investor/startup world.  Chris and I are now co-investors in Backupify.

31. Ryan Sarver, Twitter

Why:  He’s from the Boston area and I almost met him several times.  Now he’s at twitter so a little harder to connect with. 

32. David Meerman Scott, WebInk Now

Why:  The “Inbound Marketing” book wouldn’t have happened (literally) without him.  Great supporter and an all-around fabulous guy.  We need more of him.

33. Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Why:  Earlier tonight, I did a late night webcast/seminar thing for his members in the earn1k program.  Oh, and he’s a NYT Bestselling author.  Want to get some inside secrets as to what it takes to break into the list — and what impact it’s had since.

34. Brian Shin, Visible Measures

Why: Brian’s a friend and former classmate.  I invested in Visible Measures, and he invested in HubSpot.  We go waaay back.

35. Julien Smith, Blah Inc.

Why: He’s partner-in-crime with Chris Brogan on “Trust Agents” and I feel like I should know him.

36. Brian Solis, Future Works

Why: Great guy and recently came out with a new book “Engage”, which I’m reading on my Kindle.  Want to show him Book Grader.

37. Jonathan Stark, Jonathan Stark Consulting

Why: Because he knows a thing or two about building iPhone apps.  And, I want to do one of those this year.

38. Wayne Sutton, @waynesutton

Why:  Wayne’s big in the whole social media thing and was nice enough to be one of the first alpha testers of Square Grader. 

39. Gary Swart, oDesk

Why:  Awesome entrepreneur that was kind enough to spend some time with me to talk about startups and fund-raising (we were raising our Series C at the time).

40. Gary Vaynerchuk, Vaynermedia

Why:  Because he’s a force of nature.  And, to congratulate him because he’s #1 in the web marketing books category on Amazon.  And, I’m usually #2 or #3.

41. Tim Walker, Hoovers Inc.

Why:  Heard him speak at the Inbound Marketing Summit and chatted with him briefly afterwards.  Really nice guy — and he knows his stuff.

42. Chris Winfield, 10e20

 Why:  Have had the chance to spend a bunch of time with him in the last year.  Great guy, and was kind enough to donate directly to Room To Read as part of my (mostly failed) experiment, the “Inbound Marketing Charity Challenge”. 


Phew!  That took some effort.  If you’re on the list, please leave me a comment if you’d like to connect (or if you’d like me to stay the heck away, that’s fine too).  And, if you’re attending SXSW, and I happen to be on your list — leave a comment too.  I’m planning on carving out some time while at the conference to meet with folks.  The best way to (initially) find me is to attend my inbound marketing session at the conference.  It’s going to be a busy few days.

Hope to see many of you there.

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