How to Choose a Name For Your Startup

Posted by John Ibister on November 10, 2017

Note: this article specifically applies to internet startups (or brick and mortar startups that need an online presence). If you're looking to name a business that does not need a domain name, you can safely disregard this content as most of it will not apply for you.

I recognize it can be extremely difficult to select a name. After all, your success relies relatively heavily on your startup's name, and changing your business' name can be challenging down the road. Here are some of my recommendations when it comes to selecting a name.

First of all, you must recognize what category your business falls in. There are several generic categories that are relevant in nearly every industry as it pertains to startups (I will talk about industry-specific distinctions later.

Are you funded?

If you aren't, you can skip to the next heading, since this information will not be highly relevant to you.

If so, how much funding have you raised or personally invested? How much are you willing to spend on a domain name? You need to determine these amounts because it will give you a general expectation of what you should look for. For example, it would be a waste of time for someone only willing to spend $200 to go for a one-word .com domain such as lawyers.com, whereas for someone with $50,000 the hunt would be far more realistic.

If you fall into this category, I strongly encourage you either hire a firm that specializes in domain name acquisitions (if you're planning on investing a significant sum of money into your domain name) or read some articles/guides dictating how to optimally approach purchasing an existing domain. Warning: this is typically not an easy feat. There will be tough negotiations most of the time, since many cyber squatters purchase these domains and hold them for years with the outlook of "cashing out" on a few large domain name sales. However, it is certainly still possible to do strategically--you just need to do your due diligence.

These domain purchases are not within my realm of expertise, but there are great articles explaining the process and what to look for. A notable one is Noah Kagan's podcast after his Sumo.com purchase.

Are you looking to register a new domain?

This is, frankly, the cheapest and safest option for a new startup without substantial capital to invest. The downside to this method is that you won't receive the advantages associated with an aged domain (SEO advantages, primarily). However, you will be immune to purchasing any domain names that have been "blacklisted" (by search engines and email providers) in the past. Another major downside is that you probably won't have access to your "ideal" domain. You'll need to settle for something more realistic. This means you won't get that magical "four letter domain" that would perfectly associate your company. Nonetheless, you can still pick up a reasonably good domain with some digging--one that will yield positive results.

In order to brainstorm and find a suitable a name I use several tools--all of which are free. The first one is instantdomainsearch.com. I'm sure many of you are familiar with their service. It makes searching for domain availability very quick. domainr.com is a similar tool that is also feasible, although I prefer instantdomainsearch.com. You'll use this tool to check the availability of any names you come up with.

The next tool I use is a thesaurus. Yes, a good old thesaurus. In the English language there are dozens of synonyms for each word that mean practically the same thing. I prefer thesaurus.com, but any thesaurus will do.

Now that you have these two tools, how do you find names? You'll want to break off your domain name into two words--one that will describe what your business entails, in a nutshell, and the other providing a more specific description of what your startup does. So, for example, what I chose for WebinarSuite as a base word initially is "Webinar". This is quite simple and describes the platform as precisely as possible in one word. Next, I added a descriptor, "Suite", since what I was building was essentially a complete array of features associated with building and running webinars. However, I did not come to that on my first try. I first brainstormed a bunch of different descriptive words. For example, I thought "Creator" was a reasonably good description of what the startup does. So I would initially search webinarcreator.com, and if that's unavailable, I would go to thesaurus.com and find alternatives to "creator". Then I found words like "maker", "generator", "compiler", etc. Obviously, not all the words will apply, but you can pick and choose the words relevant to your startup. The entire point is for the tool to do the brainstorming for you. Unfortunately, all those domains were already taken, at which point I had two options: 1) email the owners of the domains I found most preferable and see if they're willing to sell it at a reasonably low price, and 2) continue thinking of new "descriptive" words searching for new domains. I did both, and while awaiting responses I stumbled upon the domain webinarsuite.com, which I ultimately chose for the business.

The above method is a repeat process of what I do for nearly every website/app/startup I launch. It's a quick and effective way to find a domain.

Finally, there is another tool that can be very useful. It's called leandomainsearch.com. You essentially put a key word into the system, which in my case would be "webinar" and hit search. It'll automatically generate a list of about a thousand different domains combinations using the word webinar. So, it'll add things like "wizard" (ex: webinarwizard.com) and output a list of available domains it finds. The best thing about this tool, however, is that it already searching for domain availability. Therefore you don't need to constantly search each individual domain it suggests only to find out that most of them are already taken. It already does all the heavy lifting for you and only outputs combinations that are readily available. This is likely the second most effective method of finding an unregistered and preferable domain name, behind the method described above.

Does your domain name need to be exactly the same as your registered business name?

No. This is a commonly held misconception. Your domain name does not need to be the exact same as the business name you register with the government. Your business name can be different as long as you communicate that information in the "contact area" or "about us" within your website. For example, if the government won't let you register Cleaning Inc. but will register Certified Cleaners Inc., and your domain is Cleaning.com, then you can still call your business "Cleaning" (just make sure not to make any indication that it is a trademark of your business, or the like), and mention in your contact us page that your business is Certified Cleaners Inc. As well, obviously any contracts that your business enters into needs to include your officially registered business name.

That concludes this article. I hope you picked up some useful suggestions and are able to implement it in your business.


This concludes the article. I encourage you to think critically about your business and its processes, and find ways you can incorporate webinars in your business to make it more effective.