Why Startups Are Sporting Increasingly Quirky [Horrible] Names

From Today’s Wall Street Journal

The New York cousins who started a digital sing-along storybook business have settled on the name Mibblio.

The Australian founder of a startup connecting big companies to big-data scientists has dubbed his service Kaggle.

The former toy executive behind a two-year-old mobile screen-sharing platform is going with the name Shodogg.

And the Missourian who founded a website giving customers access to local merchants and service providers? He thinks it should be called Zaarly.

Quirky names for startups first surfaced about 20 years ago in Silicon Valley, with the birth of search engines such as Yahoo… …and Google

By the early 2000s, the trend had spread to startups outside the Valley, including the Vancouver-based photo-sharing site Flickr and New York-based blogging platform Tumblr, to name just two.

The current crop of startups boasts even wackier spellings. The reason, they say, is that practically every new business—be it a popsicle maker or a furniture retailer—needs its own website. With about 252 million domain names currently registered across the Internet, the short, recognizable dot-com Web addresses, or URLs, have long been taken.

The only practical solution, some entrepreneurs say, is to invent words, like Mibblio, Kaggle, Shodogg and Zaarly, to avoid paying as much as $2 million for a concise, no-nonsense dot-com URL…

…The challenge is to come up with something that conveys meaning, is memorable,?and isn’t just alphabet soup…

…Founders tend to favor short names of five to seven letters, because they worry that potential customers might forget longer ones, according to Steve Manning, founder of Igor, a name-consulting company…

…At Mibblio, the naming process was “the length of a human gestation period,” says the company’s 28-year-old co-founder David Leiberman, “but only more painful,” adds fellow co-founder Sammy Rubin, 35.

The two men made several trips back to the drawing board; early contenders included Babethoven, Yipsqueak and Canarytales, but none was a perfect fit. One they both loved, Squeakbox, was taken.

Finally, Mr. Leiberman thought to blend together “music” and “biblio,” the Latin root of “book,” to form “Miblio.”

“It looked like ‘MY-blee-oh’,” Mr. Rubin says. So he suggested they add a second “b” to aid pronunciation. Plus, the two b’s double as eighth notes in the company’s logo.

To come up with Kaggle, Anthony Goldbloom, 30, an Australian-born data scientist, wrote an algorithm to generate all the pronounceable combinations of letters, three syllables or fewer, whose dot-com addresses weren’t claimed.

“I was too frugal to want to pay for an [existing] domain name,” he says. Of the 700 names spit out by the algorithm, he found two finalists: Sumble and Kaggle. He dashed off an email to family and friends asking for their preferences. The overwhelming response was Kaggle. So he went with that…

…However, since moving his company to the U.S. from Australia, Mr. Goldbloom says he has discovered that Midwesterners tend to pronounce the name KAY-gel, as in “Kegel,” the pelvic-floor-strengthening exercises done by women to prevent or remedy urinary incontinence. In other words: It’s probably not the best name for an online data startup.

“The primary driver for startup naming right now is the misguided mission to find the shortest possible, pronounceable [unclaimed] dotcom address,” says Igor’s Mr. Manning.

Startups are likely underestimating their potential customers, and adding an unnecessary constraint, in clinging to short URLs, he adds…

Full Article

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