startups

What’s in a name nayme naime mname?

Ok – I haven’t blogged in about 2 months, but this I just have to say.

Its about names. I have worked, in some capacity or another with about a dozen start ups, and maybe three dozen or more products. All of which had names.

Startups especially tend to spend an undue amount of time, and often money as well, on choosing one.

What is a name for? Its for identifying a product or company. I know your name. It means I can refer to you, talk about you, and others know who I mean.

So. Let’s talk about the online music company I consulted for that wanted to name themselves “Audacy”. Cute. I get it. But this is an audio thing. Anytime the name was mentioned, it would have to be spelled. Oy.

Or my recent client who wants to change a perfectly good, though 5 syllable, name to a 3 syllable one that is clever but unspellable and unreadable. I won’t mention Will by name (sorry Will – perhaps I can change your name to whylle) who has a geat idea with an absolutely inscrutable name.

People want their name to be clever, memorable, evocative of the intense thoughtfulness and wonderful qualities of their brand/company/product. They want it to become a “verb” like “Google”.

Horse manure.

If you are successful, then your name won’t matter. Who gives a second thought to coke, google, ebay, intuit, adobe, charmin, amazon, aol, fedex as to the quality of the word itself?

So – there’s not a ton of upside to a great name.

There is, however downside to a bad one. Like one that you can’t spell or remember, or get the URL to.

Here are the 3 laws of acceptable product and company names.

Breaking them does not mean you’ll fail, it means you have an extra challenge that you could have avoided. And aren’t there enough when you’re trying to launch something successful?

So –

1. You gotta be able to get the URL.

I know its hard these days, and this motivates people to all sorts of twisted spellings and such. But here’s number 2:

2. It should be obvious how to spell it.

I hear about it from a friend, i go check it out. Except if I can’t find it cause you spelled it Cynergy (sorry guys). This is ANTI-MARKETING. you are loosing people before they can even get interested. Word of mouth? Doesn’t work! Yeah- most people will send a link. But I still have actual conversations with people – don’t you?

3. It should, please, be obvious how to pronounce it.

So my friend, Whylle – the way he pronounces it makes it make some sense. But I he had to spell it out for me, so to speak. Same with the little 5 syllable to 3 syllable company.

I expect both of these companies to meet with some measure of success. 5 syllables, in fact, really rocks (I don’t know as much about Whylle’s company yet – stay tuned, cause after this I’ll owe him some good press, if I like it). But this success would come just a touch easier if they got a name that worked for them, instead of against them.

Oh yeah, Audacy? They blew half their operating budget on getting a new name, and that was good indication of their general decision making ability.

So one last thought on this – if you’re spending more time or money on your name and logo than on making sure your product knocks it out of the park for your intended users – then its time to re-think. Are you futzing with the name because you feel blocked on other fronts? Or is it perhaps time to take a breath and get focused again on what matters – providing value for people who care in a way that has a reasonable chance of paying the rent.

faithfully yours,

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The Value of a Value Proposition

My current project is working with a very early stage startup. They, like all new startups, are working very hard to get what they want and need – a great product, excited users, some press coverage, and investors.

We’ve been discussing how to best define, refine and articulate their unique value proposition, and some very interesting (to me at least) themes emerged from the conversation. While there is considerable and unique value they are building, they, like almost every product team, are struggling a little to find the best way to articulate it. And, not being traditional product managers, they asked a simple and great question: Do we really need a value proposition?

Some team members went on to say things like “After all, the bar is so low to trying free online products, all there needs to be is the slightest hint that it could be useful. And besides, we can’t possibly predict all the values the product will have for all its users”.

At first, all I could think was “oh, brother.” My next thoughts went down two roads. The first was a list of the reasons you do need a well articulated value proposition (is it just a sacred cow?). I’ll share these down the page a bit.

But the other thought train went this way: we are in a phase where the power of emergent behavior (the wisdom of crowds) is newly important and useful online. One of the key values that this team is actually expressing, is that in addition to creating specific new value, they are enabling their users to find and create the value they want, and to use the product as a platform to get done what they want to get done. They are designing this product to allow its users to influence its value and its future.

That is terrifically cool, current and powerful.

Having said that, there are still some pretty good reasons for articulating your value proposition, even if part of your value proposition is dynamic.

A value proposition defines and describes WHAT a thing does and for WHOM.

So – why is this useful.

1. A value proposition helps design the product.

Once you are clear on what your product does, and for whom, your choice of features, navigation, look and feel are much easier, because you have clear criteria to evaluate your choices. (Anybody ever work on a product that did everything for everyone? Was it fun?)

2. A value proposition helps market the product.

A value proposition is not the same thing as a tag line, but its certainly the first step. More over, the what and for whom identifies your target market. (obviously articulating the value proposition is not necessarily the first or only place you’ll be discussing the target market, but it helps reinforce the very deep relationship between the target and the product). Knowing your target is, of course, the first and most important step in finding, targeting, messaging recruiting and building relationships with those people.

3. It helps investors/management/partners get excited.

Hard to get excited about/support/invest in a product where only a couple of passionate guys “get” it.

4. It doesn’t matter how low the barrier is to trying your product, you still need folks to be motivated enough to click, or blink, or inhale or whatever minor action they must take to try it. And, once they’ve tried it, they need to find it useful (or at least highly entertaining). If your users aren’t clear on the value proposition, then they have to “discover” it for themselves. That means they need to think and/or work, and there go those barriers again, shooting upward.

A clear value proposition helps you communicate to the engineers, designers, to investors, advertisers, and most importantly your users. It makes every decision easier because it encapsulates your ultimate goal. Providing something valuable for somebody. Even if the value is that users can participate in creating the value.

We don’t always have the chance to recognize, let alone challenge our fundamental assumptions. I really enjoyed this chance to think about this one.