Nibletz Startup Contest Startup tips

When Bad Names Happen to Good Startups

Nibletz founder Kyle Sandler used the headline above in 2012 in reference to a startup that unwittingly had chosen a NSFW name. The following year SXSW had a session by the same name. An experience April 17 led me to recycle the headline. I was part of a three-judge team along with serial entrepreneurs Bruce Cox and Jim Corman. Our job was to select four finalists for Auburn University’s Tiger Cage business plan competition from among ten semi-finalists.

One of the semi-finalists is named “Bookworm.” Let’s see if you can guess what this company does. Is Bookworm:

(a) a dating website for librarians,
(b) an online marketplace for rare and unusual books, or
(c) an online marketplace for used college textbooks?

Believe it or not, the answer is (c).

I’m reminded of an old saying: why buy trouble when you get enough for free? Getting traction as a startup is hard enough without creating self-inflicted wounds. Choosing a name that will confuse potential customers is an unnecessary obstacle as you try to perfect your business model and build a customer base. In the case of Bookworm, switching to a name like BuyMyTextbook or TextbookXchange could be a smart move.

Another semi-finalist is named Bauce. You might guess that Bauce is a website for barbeque sauce recipes. Instead, it is an app centered on challenges that users complete to win prizes. That’s a cool idea, but like Bookworm, the name Bauce is troubling because it does not relate to the actual service being provided. Bauce also has a second issue – it is not clear how to say the name. The entrepreneurs behind the company pronounce it to rhyme with sauce, but one could just as easily think the name rhymes with mouse.

I too have earned some “name shame.” In 2011, I published a graphic novel about entrepreneurship called Tales of Garcón : The Franchise Players featuring a main character called Garcón. Although the name was meant to be pronounced as Gar-saun as in sauna, some readers read it as Gar-kahn. It quickly became clear that a simple name like Garcia would have been a better choice.

In the end, Bookworm did not make the cut as a Tiger Cage finalist. On the other hand, Bauce is a finalist and its creators will pitch their concept again on Friday April 24 to a group of judges that includes Shark Tank alumnus Kevin Harrington. Bauce’s founders might  score an extra point or two with the judges if they change the company’s name to something like ChallengeMe or Contestor that offers potential users clues about the service that their app provides.