Seven Terrible Startup Names, and One Really Great New One

Last week, brand-naming expert David Placek – who has come up with Blackberry, Powerbook, and Scion, among other powerful brands – told peHUB readers that the key to a good brand is its ability to capture the right sounds, the right story, and the right associations, often in a single word.

You know when a company has gotten it right, too. Take Cherry, a months-old San Francisco-based company with a slick app that lets users order a car wash, wherever their car happens to be parked, for about $30. What do you associate with the word cherry? Shiny. New. Car. It’s joyful, too. It’s a perfect word to communicate the story they want to tell.

Most companies don’t quite nail it, though, especially those in crowded market segments, where descriptive names get snapped up first, followed by cleverly evocative names, after which anything goes.

Consider what happened in social networking. First came Friendster in 2002, a descriptive brand that people immediate understood. MySpace, which emerged in 2003, was equally descriptive. Facebook, founded in 2004, continued on the same path, taking its name straight from the student directories that some schools produce. Then 2005 rolled around, and Bebo hit the scene, and, well, you kind of knew the world had one social networking platform too many.

Of course, in 2008, Bebo was acquired by AOL for $850 million in cash, while Friendster sold in 2009 to a Malaysian e-commerce company for an amount rumored to be $100 million. Which suggests that while brands can be powerful, they don’t exactly make or break a company. Indeed, following are a list of seven other startups whose brands Placek would probably torpedo in two seconds but that will likely be just fine.


[slide title=”Blekko”]

What it does: Blekko is a search engine company whose technology incorporates integrated social data, including Facebook comments, into its results. It also bans links to materials produced by renowned content farms with the help of humans (mostly volunteers).

Funding: Blekko has raised $55 million, including a $30 million round led by the Russian firm Yandex late last month.

Associations: gecko; blech; bleck (it means to blacken; also, to defile).

Assessment: Blekko’s got short going for it. But naming experts say pleasant sounds play a role in a great brand name, and Blekko sounds like a violent sneeze.

I think the founders did better on the branding front with their last startup, Topix, a news community. But better search results, which Blekko often offers, definitely trump a gnarly sounding brand.

[slide title=”Aprius”]

What it does: Aprius develops top-of-rack I/O Gateway systems.

Funding: The company has raised $22 million since 2006, including from Lightspeed Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, and Menlo Ventures.

Associations: sleep apnea, the Toyota Prius, apricots.

Assessment: It’s euphonious, but I sort of think this brand belongs on a drugstore shelf, next to the skin creams.

[slide title=”Datahug”]

What it does: Datahug is a 20-month-old business networking software startup.

Funding: $1.5 million, including from Ireland-based Oyster Technology Investments and investor Ron Conway

Associations: data, hugs, flow charts, teddy bears

Assessment: This brand would work if the company sold software to preschools, but its enterprise software instead crawls through employee contacts, looking for sales leads. Mmm, not so cuddly. I put this one in the category of trying too hard.

[slide title=”Faqme”]

What it does: Faqme is a site that allows users to create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) stream

Funding: N/A

Associations: I doubt I’m allowed to say here.

Assessment: This brand is intentionally audacious. (It’s one of the many projects of serial entrepreneur Philip Kaplan, who’s known for his lurid sense of humor.)  I kind of love it — it’s definitely memorable! — but a branding expert might feel otherwise.

[slide title=”Tynt”]

What it does: Tynt works with online publishers and websites to track and analyze data about their users’ sharing activity.

Funding: It’s raised $11.9 million since 2009, including from Panorama Capital, Greycroft Partners, and iNovia Capital

Associations: tint, taint.

Assessment: I would definitely vote this one down in a focus group, but the brand doesn’t seem to be impacting the company’s ability to lock on with publishers.

[slide title=”Floop”]

What it does: Floop is a newly released mobile app that allows users to poll their friends in real time to gauge their opinions on any topic.

Funding: The company has raised $475,000 since March of this year, including from Ironwood Capital and Advantage Capital Partners

Associations: flop; whoops, the failed e-currency company

Assessment: Sounds like an interesting idea for an app. My advice: Ditch the brand while you still can.

[slide title=”Phrot”]

What it does: Phrot is a social blogging community that invites people to read and post blogs, then discuss and vote on them.

Funding: N/A

Associations: rot, fraught, Halloween

Assessment: There’s really nothing good to say about this particular brand, unless it’s targeting the goth scene. In that case, it’s pretty brilliant.