Of course, a brand is made of the company, its product and services, the advertisements and the promos. But all that happens after you have already decided a name. The question is how to come up with a good name in the first place?

First your have a business in mind, then you choose a name for it. What type of name do you choose?

Depending on the market you are in, the significance of a name varies. In niche and b2b markets, names don’t matter as much as they do in consumer markets. Consumer markets are made of masses. A name which makes sense to space organisations won’t have the same appeal with general public. That is why a satellite launching company can be named Antrix, but ask the average person on the road, he is more likely to say its the name of some medicinal capsule. Consumer brands have to appeal to a much wider audience.

So what makes a good candidate for a public brand? I think the name should be –
1. Easy to pronounceMonosyllables are best, two is ok, and three just about qualifies. Not more than that. Sony is the best on this one – monosyllable and ends in ‘y’. BlackBerry – 2 syllables, plus ends in ‘y’.

2. Easy to read and hard to mispell.
You don’t want people confused when their browser shows them Tricon.com (when they really meant Trikon.com). You don’t want them waiting on the keyboard and recalling wether to type Jhoomla or Joomla or Zoomla or Jomlaa.

3. Signify something about the line of business.
Not really necessary, but such names are better candidates. Think Microsoft in its early days.

Of course there are exceptions to these ‘rules’. Sony is monosyllable, but Microsoft has three and the world’s biggest brand Coca-Cola has four. Apple is easy to pronounce but its name (apple is a fruit) has got nothing to do with its business. Yahoo confuses you about the number of ‘o’s you need to put. It could be Yaho, Yaaho or Yaahoo.

Exception, right. But you want to place your best bet.

Now what makes a good brand name in mobile space? I really like Orange and AirTel. And I was looking for a similar name.

After some juggling I came up with FireFly. It instantly struck a chord with me.
FireFly – Its energetic, its catchy and is 2 syllables. Plus it ends in ‘y’ 🙂 Just like Sony, BlackBerry.
FireFly – Its clear sounding. Tell your dad over a long distance phone, or shout to your coworker across a noisy room – it will reach the recipent without any signal distortion. He will hear it right.

FireFly – is just plain simple FireFly. When you type in your browser, you simply type F-i-r-e-F-l-y. You have to be very bad at English to be able to mispell that.
FireFly – Fly, roam freely across the sky, freedom and mobility.

So there was this name, with everything I needed – a catchy sound, easy to remember, hard to mispell and signifying something about the line of business. I was so excited at having found such a perfect name, that I instantly called up Alok. And he instantly told me that the domain FireFly.com is taken, the brand FireFly is trademarked and worse its a mobile company! In short, I was so bang on target that it didn’t help. The bomb I had choosen was someone else’s.

Came up with BlueBird. Instantly liked it. Same thing, easy to pronouce, easy to remember, hard to mispell, catchy and all.. but guess what, BlueBird was taken.

Since the day this exercise has started, I have pushed myself into coining numerous words – good and bad.

Mobilocity (Liked this one very much, but not as short and easy as FireFly. FortuneCity, Tripod etc in early days.)

and so on… (No no, its a long long long… long list. Cant put it all here.)
But unfortunately they are all taken. As time passes by, it is becoming more difficult for me to come up with a name. Human mind has an uncanny habit of sticking to its past, so I am generating names closer to what I have already thought – none new or radically different.

Its not difficult to coin a potentially good consumer brand name. But the really remote possibility of getting the matching domain name, thanks to domain kiting, makes turn it all upside down . I think ICANN must do something about it really fast.

Now you know what keeps me awake at nights. I am still looking. If you have any suggestions for a whacky cracky name, do drop me a line. Even if you don’t have a name, do come up with one – I need it.
What’s in a name, That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet. When Shakespeare’s wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’, domain names were a long time in future.


Via Arun Natrajan  –

As part of its Mobile VAS Connect event on December 12, 2006, Venture Intelligence is providing opportunity to select companies to showcase their technology products to an exclusive audience – consisting of Venture Capitalists, Investment Bankers and experienced entrepreneurs – in the form of demos. Companies that have developed a technology product in-house AND are planning to seek VC funding within the next 12 months are welcome to apply to demo at this exclusive event.

More information is available at http://www.ventureintelligence.in/vas-demo.htm

Suman & Poorna are writing something good for wannabe entrepreneurs at Zerocaffe.in

Time to head there. Waiting for part II of their series.

Abhijeet points me to this.

I think its a much needed effort. First time entrepreneurs in India face considerable difficulty in seed funding and mentorship. What would I want to see in a Y Combinator done in India?

1.  Mentorship. Yes, not just money but mentorship. Money is difficult to come, but can still be arranged – at least as much as in required to pull off a technology company for the first few months. But valuable mentorship is more dear. It involves an understanding of the line of business, an insight into markets and future trends, people skills and contacts.

2. Focus Teams – to take care of HR, Finance, Law, Taxes, Sales Processing etc so that intially I can focus on what the venture is about. Of course, once the business is up and running you need to hire people for these things as well.

3. Freedom – I would luv to have the freedom to work out of anywhere. But I know it conflicts with the idea of mentorship. Mentorship involves communication, and communication is best done face to face. Plus startups need to do lot of networking, and networking opportunity varies with the kind of city you are in. So maybe I will have to give up this freedom. But as long as the city I am in offers similar level of ecosystem (networking, employees, infrastructure etc) I should not be required to move to the city this YC India is based out of.

But I think BoA will have some challenges in doing a YC in India.

1. The Paul Graham factor – he inspires an army of entrepreneurs by his essays, and has a huge fan-following. BoA will need someone who is as great a role model as Paul G.

2. Mindset – there is considerable difference in mindset of Paul G and the typical VC firm. BoA will need to do away with formal business plans, and bet more on the team and ideas.

A YC India would be a good thing.  Actually a great thing! It may help create the badly needed ecosystem for startups in India. I am definitely up for it.

Netflix clicked. Back here we have ClixFlix, SeventyMM, Cinesprite, HomeView, Catchflix and one particular company that I will call Madhouse. Quite a few of these are VC funded. SeventyMM in Bangalore and ClixFlix in Mumbai are considered the top of the ladder at the time, Cinesprite in Delhi is considered not very far behind. I agree its too early to even think of rankings – they are still evolving and not widely accepted. And there would be other companies in various phases of idea/implementation.

With so many players, and more to come, I can’t help but think about competition. Consider a hypothetical (but probable) scenario – VC funded SeventyMM moves to Delhi for expansion and meets Madhouse (which we will assume for now is operating in Delhi and is not VC backed.) What happens?

Scenario 1. Since Madhouse is bootstrapped, it didn’t have the luxury of expensive advertisements, or huge inventory, or iconic brand ambassadors (Bollywood stars/ Cricket personalities) and hence they haven’t built up any defendable base yet. SeventyMM (with its VC money) runs huge advertising campaigns, launches free trials, and hires scores of talented developers to build the best delivery system. And heck, it even launches a price war – offering the same service at much lower rates. Soon Delhites are hooked to the new guy in the town sporting his Merc – SeventyMM. Madhouse withers along the way and eventually closes down a year or two later.

Another scenario. Suppose Madhouse guys were an absolute ‘magic’ – really innovative – and even with their limited money they have built a strong defense to competition. This defense could be in various forms – a huge customer base, or a trustworthy brand, or a better technology, or a good distribution channel or something else that matters. SeventyMM being not only rich but also intelligent figures out (luckily) that even with all their money they will not be able to woo customers on their Merc – Madhouse’s minivan is old and noisy and leaks as well, but people are happy with it. Perhaps because all their friends are there, or due to some other reason. SeventyMM offers a premium for Madhouse – there is no other way Delhites will be friends with him, not even if he has the Merc. Since Madhouse (as assumed) is self-funded, the owner agrees if he finds price ‘right’. It is what an entrepreneur generally is after – to build something which would get acquired at sufficient premium. SeventyMM gets to be friends with Delhites, and Madhouse guys buy a yacht, and go vacationing in Maui islands before coming up with their next startup.

So far, so good. But what happens if Madhouse is also VC funded?

Acquisition becomes a distant dream for either. Why? VCs are not after petty gains – they want waterfall returns. That’s their business model afterall. A entrepreneur who bootstrapped might be happy to sell for $5 million, but a VC who has invested $2 million won’t settle for $5 mil. He will rather invest $5 million more and continue the competition for the possibility of higher returns later. So what happens in Delhi now?

SeventyMM does X Rs in ads, so Madhouse does XX. SeventyMM ropes in Irfan Pathan, so Madhouse ropes in Mahendra Singh Dhoni. SeventyMM raises $2 mil in VC, Madhouse ups them by raising $5 million. SeventyMM offers Rs 199 a month, Madhouse responds at Rs 159 a month. Its money against money.

Since money is no longer a differentiator, and ideas are public, and replicable (given sufficient money) – hence the deciding factor now – is – execution.

That much about the ‘spectators’ view. Now think from the entrepreneur’s angle. As a startup entrepreneur you have a choice – bootstrap or VC funded. Infact, you may not have this choice if you are in a captial intensive business. But suppose you are not in that kind of business, and do have a choice.

You can bootstrap and remain self-funded – being self-funded you are more easily acquirable when competition comes along. (Its a conservative strategy – you are building a strong fort in one ‘area’, which a national player will be interested in and hence pay you for.)

Or you can raise VC money. And pray that another VC funded startup does not opens in your neighbourhood. (This is an aggressive strategy – you are building a bigger army, to pan out nationally and acquire others on the way.). The problem is when you meet another company who is not willing to join forces – then you have no option but to fight it out.

So much about the dynamics that VC money can play in competing startups. Now about the online rental business. Personally I am not very upbeat about DVD rentals per se, I am much more bullish on allied businesses that can be built around it. Recently I had a conversation with Madhouse CEO, Sameer. It only reaffirmed my faith – Madhouse is the dark horse to watch for in this race.

But yes, execution matters – so much that I can say – only execution matters. And I believe they need to step on the gas there.

Alok has an interesting question. An ‘average’ person is more likely to perform better in a small team.

He nails it right with this observation – ‘a person’s work is easily noticeable in small teams’. Small fact, bigger ramifications. And worth sparing a thought.

I think the surprising thing about humans is that when time comes, most of us who are otherwise average can rise to be a ‘hero’. Think school days, college days, office days. Its likely that the time when you rose to the occasion and performed beyond your normal capabilities was a time when you believed in the greater cause and your work would have made a critical difference to that goal.

This ‘criticality of ones contribution’ is more evident in smaller teams. Throw two people down a well and each will do his best to climb out. There is no other way. They cannot look to others or blame others for not finding a way out simply because there are no ‘others’ – its only two of them. And each person’s work contributes in a significant way.
But throw fifty people and each of them will wait for someone else to come up with a solution.

Try the reverse. Throw 50 people down a well. Now the more resourceful among them will try to find a way out. The lesser ones would talk among themself and throw up an idea at random to these resourceful ‘leaders’. And there will be a few lazy ducks who will find their best use of time in cracking jokes and talking about the latest Bollywood scandal while the ‘leaders’ come up with a solution. Take 2 of these lazy ducks and throw them in another well. What do you think will happen? Jokes and scandals? Or, ‘Man, we need to find a way out’.

Maybe as Tom Peters says, it arises from man’s duality to be a part of something bigger and to stand out at the same time‘. A smaller team allows this psychological contradiction in human beings to be satisfied better, hence the avg person puts in better efforts. And hence (statistically) the performance of an ‘average’ person is better in smaller teams.

Please note – we are not talking about results. Maybe eventually ‘the fifty ppl’ will climb out and ‘the two ppl’ won’t – but we are really talking about motivation for putting in your efforts, not the actual outcome. Two people thrown in a well will put in all their worth to climb out. And the fastest rower in a 100 man boat race will think, ‘What difference can I make alone when there are 99 others to slow me down!’

How often have you come across star performers suffocated and feeling frustated in a bigger team, and how often have you seen average people performing better when put in smaller teams. Any thoughts?


Just after I wrote the post below (Finishing Line), I read Paul Graham on Kiko.
Its a thoughtful post, check it out..

Google in = Kiko out. So real.. so near.. US or India, I think it must feel the same..

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