Do not rename your startup after a Klingon

Unless.com CEO Sander Nagtegaal explains why we are not named after a Klingon.

Do not rename your startup after a Klingon

Video transcript

Hi, it's Sander from Unless and today I'm going to share with you why and how not to rename your startup. Also, I will reveal why we're not named after a Klingon. So, I'm Sander, CEO at Unless.com. We're a personalization engine for websites and I will tell you how we got this great domain name.

We didn't start off as Unless.com. We started off as Teletext.io. Teletext is a technology where people would push content from a central location to many television screens, which made sense at the time, because we launched a content management service plugin for websites with complex software. So, we thought that was funny.

However, in 2016, we decided to pivot to a personalization engine for websites - which meant that our audience was shifting from developers to marketers and marketers don't really seem to appreciate geeky puns. So, we decided to rebrand. We chose the name "Instant", which is a fairly generic name.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to buy the .com name, because that would have set us back for seven hundred thousand US dollars which we didn't have, so, instead we decided to go for a domain hack and bought a top-level country domain from Cameroon which is the .cm extension.

As I said, we didn't really think this through because about half year, later we launched an addition to our product, which allows marketers to start personalizing without code access. This means that you can just type in any URL to start personalizing, and share the result using a link that you would get from us. This is meant for marketers to be able to bypass their own IT departments which is really important for them. But... the deep link that you get from us needed to be very trustworthy. Unfortunately, the CM domain is commonly used for phishing so we needed a .com extension instead.

Since we still didn't have the seven hundred thousand US dollars, we decided that we needed a new name. We wanted to do it right this time, so we chose a data-driven approach. We used the Nominology test which we were tipped off on by Paul Graham in an old blog post. This test consists of several metrics that you can use to make a data-driven decision for your name.

Let me quickly get you through this. The name needs to be evocative. It means that it should convey at least a hint of what its naming. Secondly it's brevity, which means that shorter names are better than long names. The greppability: the name should not be the substring of common words - so if you look for it in say, a document, the amount of results should be low. Googleability is related to that. It should be easy to find using search engines. Pronounceability: you should be able to read it out loud in the proper way when you see the word. The reverse reasoning for that is spellability. If you hear it you should be able to spell it correctly. Last one: Verbability. Can you turn it into a verb?

We had some additional wishes, like pivotability. Is it possible to shift your focus without changing the name again? Because we didn't want to make the same mistake. Is it already trademarked by somebody else? Very important, especially for .com extensions. Last one: is it civil? We wouldn't want to insult anybody with a poorly chosen name. Also, not unimportant: how much does it cost to acquire? And the most important thing is: do we like it as a team? We used this approach and one of the names for example that we really liked was Worf.com which refers to the main Klingon character in Star Trek. Of course, that's awesome - but we were kind of scared that it would not pass the trademarkability test so we didn't go for it which I still regret to this day. Uhm, no I don't.

Anyway, one night my co-founder Marcel called me. Because, we've been doing this for a month and it didn't really go anywhere, but then we got lucky. So, he called me in the middle of the night and he said

Listen, Sander - right now on flippa.com, there's an auction going on for this great domain name Unless.com - and the price seems fairly low. It's about to close, so go there and buy it.

And so I did. I bought it for a bargain and that's how we got Unless.com.

So, what's the lesson here if I were you I would go for a data-driven approach any day but sometimes.... you just get lucky!