We’d launched the minimal viable product about 6 months ago, and after a lot of iteration and hard work, growth was picking up nicely.
And then my mom called me: “I had Steve install your app, but he can’t see the team I setup.”
Steve had installed the wrong app. And it’d been happening more and more.
A year before, when we started thinking about our startup, we spent a good amount of time brainstorming names. “Flock” stuck with us pretty quickly – the imagery of a flock of birds moving in unison fit nicely with the vision we had for the product. It was short, memorable, and was at the top of all our short lists.
Yes, there had been a well-known startup with the same name, but it’d been defunct for a while. And there were some other apps with that name, but they all seemed pretty small and far away from our space.
And no, we didn’t own flock.com. But it wasn’t being used, and maybe we’d be able to buy it someday. We registered heyflock.com because it was available, and sounded fun. Then went heads-down to start building the product.
But as we moved forward, it was clear how much of a mistake that was. Some people went directly to flock.com to try to find us. Others stumbled on another app with the same name in the app store. And even more wouldn’t quite remember the cutesy domain variation of the name and promptly gave up looking for us.
I was stubborn. “It’s such a good name! And we already had some t-shirts made.”
It hit home when I realized I couldn’t even get my mom to find our app.
And the knockout punch came when the following day Paul Graham published this.
It was time to change our name. And do it The Right Way™.
I’m pleased to say that once we set about it, we found a 4-letter dictionary word .com domain that we love for only $10k.
Here are some of the things we did right the second time around:
This time we decided there were 5 things we wouldn’t compromise on:
- Ability to buy the .com domain
- Something short and simple (probably 8 letters or fewer)
- It had to be easy to pronounce and spell
- Capacity to rank #1 in web and app store search results
- A solid fit with our desired brand personality
Having clarity around the importance of a great name and domain was the most important part of the process. And given the reality of the project triangle, since we had consensus around not compromising on quality, we were prepared to be flexible around time and cost.
Define the Brand
Before we even started to work on the app, we drafted some thoughts on the vision and purpose for the company. Along with this we put together some notes on the personality we wanted for the brand. In starting the process over again, we decided to use some outside help to facilitate the brand discovery process and better document our thoughts.
Yeah, some of this process feels pretty cliched and cheesy, but even just an hour or two of discussion on the team around typical brand discovery questions really helped get us on the same page. It was helpful for us to have a common understanding around the kind of brand we wanted, and a rough list of attributes that we wanted to latch onto or avoid – Playful or Serious? Conversational or Cerebral? Simple or Complex?
This set the foundation for developing some of the instinct of knowing a good name when we saw it.
Don’t Get Attached
It was really hard to let go of “Flock” as a name. We even briefly considered pretty bad variations of the word like Flockful or Flockday, but it was clear that those weren’t going to nail our list of core requirements.
From there, it was critical that I did my best to not get overly attached to any name or concept. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to get the domain, or we’d hit a trademark issue.
One of the ways I tried to protect against getting attached was to build as long of a list of viable names so no single one cemented itself.
Pay More Than $9
The chances of finding a perfect startup domain name for $9 is next to nil. Not impossible, but it was helpful for me to start with the assumption that we’d have to allocate some budget towards finding a great domain.
The good news is that you don’t have to pay 6 or 7 figures for the right domain. Because million dollar sales of domains make headlines, it can be easy to assume that any short dictionary word .com is going to cost at least $100k, but that’s rarely the case.
I spent some time with NameBio and DN Journal to get a better idea of what sales looked like for premium domains. They also turned out to be good sources to figure out where we could find domains to buy.
Here are a handful of recent domain sales to startups for between $1-$50k:
- boxed.com – $35,000
- breather.com – $2,070
- canva.com – $2,632
- dropoff.com – $16,745
- ento.com – $2,422
- expa.com – $12,100
- float.com – $50,000
- hc1.com – $1,550
- jott.com – $42,500
- joyus.com – $7,250
- looker.com – $50,000
- pager.com – $45,000
- raise.com – $40,000
- reserve.com – $45,644
- rover.com – $40,000
- runnable.com – $2,600
- segment.com – $16,000
- shyp.com – $2,000
- sightly.com – $10,000
- transpose.com – $6,000
- unravel.com – $47,500
- uptake.com – $10,000
- vessel.com – $10,000
- workable.com – $2,000
The prices vary considerably, but validates that it’s possible to buy pronounceable 4-letter .com domain names for as little as $2k, and that there are some really great dictionary word .com names available for less than $50k.
We had committed to find a great domain name and earmarked a rough budget, but now came the hard part- actually finding one that we liked and was available. Since we were looking for a diamond in the rough, I ultimately had to put in the time and search across a variety of channels.
The first thing I did of course was take every name we’d brainstormed and see what the status was for the .com domain. Of course, most were already in use or unlikely to sell. For the rest, I tried to figure out the potential sale price using a lot of the techniques described in detail here.
The best ideas for names came from spending hours scanning lists of domains for sale. It became habit to sip my morning coffee while looking through thousands of domain names to see if there were any that were interesting, usually from one of the following sites:
I also wrote a script that would download daily backorder domains from Pool and match against short dictionary words.
It’s safe to say that I looked at a lot of domains. Which brings me to my last point…
Give Yourself Time
The domain search process ended up taking about a month, which was enough time for me to look at thousands of domains each day without driving myself completely crazy or taking too much time away from day-to-day work.
If we would’ve rushed ourselves, we may have missed out on a great domain that wasn’t available yet. Or otherwise would’ve settled for a domain we didn’t love.
Speaking of which, it did take a while for us to fall in love with the new name:
I found Jell.com on Sedo for a buy-now price of $10k. It fit all our requirements – short, memorable, and fit our vision for the product more than we were expecting a new name would. It was a little on the high side of what I was hoping to spend, but we felt it was worth it in the end.
Now that we had a name, there was a lot more work to put in to design a new logo. Check back next week for our writeup about that process….