Does Your Startup Name Pass the GRANDMA TEST?

by on Apr 2, 2016

How to choose the right startup name?

Choosing the right startup name is the trickiest part of the game.

Tricky because so many names cross your mind and make it to your ideas list, that you are confused or spoiled for choice.

Tricky because it depends on availability – someone may already have taken the name that you badly want to use.

Tricky because the domain name may not be available.

Tricky because there could be some legal aspects that interfere with your choice.

So, how to choose the right startup name

What many of us may not realize is that choosing the right startup name is not only a tricky part, but also the most important part of the game, because a name has the potential to make or mar your business.

How’s that?

If what the business is about is obvious from the name, then half the marketing and sales objectives are already achieved!

Again, how’s that?

For example, let’s look at this problem. Most founders have a technology background with little or no sales and marketing experience.  Moreover marketing is not necessarily the cup of tea of techies.  As Vint Cerf, the father of internet, famously said, if engineers had named Kentucky Fried Chicken, they would call it “hot dead birds”.   Just many many many startups fail due to poor marketing – be it not conducting research to assess market need or creating a product that is sub-optimized for success or marketing it badly and so forth.

Now imagine somebody creates an app to help newbies learn sales and marketing skills. What name would be best for this app?

Jupiter (because the founder was born on a Thursday)
Drona (a mythological teacher from the Indan epic, Mahabharatha)
Potato (because it rhymes with Zomato, an app the founder is a big fan of and hopes naming the app as Potato will make it as successful as Zomato is)
StartupTutor (because, the name is self-explanatory as to what the app might be about)


Okay, Jupiter, Drona and Potato are all catchy names, no doubt.

But calling it ‘Jupiter’ doesn’t make sense at all. It does not tell us what the app is about.

‘Drona’ does make you infer it must be something to do with teaching or learning, but it is not specific enough for your target market. Moreover, not the whole world is familiar with the concept of Drona.

If you call it ‘Potato’,  people will think it’s an app related to food.

When users don’t instantly understand what a product or a service is or does, don’t expect them to take the pains to find out what it is.

They will just ignore it and move on.

StartupTutor, on the other hand, does not need an explanation as to what it is about.  When users instantly understand what a product or service is, they will map it to their needs themselves and do half the sales and marketing work themselves.

Additionally, StartupTutor is inbound-marketing optimized, as potential users could be googling for  “startup tutor”

Other suitable names for this imaginary app could be –


If the startup name is too generic that it sounds drab or doesn’t meet naming guidelines (in some countries, you can’t register generic terms as your business name), then you can play around with the spelling a bit.

Such as:


Famous startups names that are self-explanatory

Here are examples of successful billion dollar startups.  People can instantly guess with a high level of accuracy what the startup may be about, even if they are hearing the name for the first time.

I surveyed a few people who are not very familiar with these names and asked them to guess. This is what they said.

Salesforce – must be something to do with sales management or CRM
Buzzfeed – a feed of buzzworthy news or articles
Eventbrite – something related to finding or creating events
Snapchat – a messaging app using snaps
Airbnb – opportunities to avail or host air bed and breakfast
Flipkart –  e-commerce
InsideSales – a sales tool for inside sales
Oyo rooms – an app to find room sharing opportunities
Zomato – rhymes with tomato, so it has to be something to do with food
Pinterest – pinning interesting stuff
Dropbox – a place to store files
Olacabs – of course, a cab booking service
Coupang – this has got to do with coupons or ecommerce
Cloudera – must be about data or storage
Delivery Hero – this should be about restaurants and delivery logistics
Docusign – e-signature app, you bet
HelloFresh – e-commerce
Survey Monkey – survey tools
Paytm – must be an e-wallet
Instacart – e-commerce
Zocdoc – must be something to do with health care
Mongodb – db…database….aah, this has to be about big data
Transferwise – something fintech
Tutorgroup – could be some education related technology

So there!

If potential users can easily understand what your product is by just  hearing the name, you have already sold it and they have already purchased it (if they need it).  You don’t even need large descriptions, lengthy brochures or long demo sessions to hardsell the stuff.

You can take a minimalist approach to sales and marketing,  Check out the Eventbrite website, for example.  It does not have a ton of pages with a ton of content struggling to explain what the platform is or how it works. A few words suffice to accomplish that.

What if the right startup name is already taken?

Going back to the startup trainer app, let’s say all those names are already taken. That’s a bit sad. But you can try to get around that by optimizing what you can and then adding a short tag-line to make it self-explanatory.

Your startup coach

With a startup mentor on the go!

….or some such hack.

How to choose the right startup name for multiple offerings

Sometimes, when you are a successful brand and you want to diversify into more products or services, you can capitalize on your built up brand equity, if you can name your products consistently.

For example, Google’s various products have the Google stem in their name – Gmail, Google+, Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Google AdSense, Google Glasses, etc.  Only YouTube is named differently, but that’s because, Google bought YouTube and did not found it.

When consumers already trust the brand, you don’t need to spend additional time and funds on building brand for each offering separately.

The bottom line

Choosing the right startup name is more important than you thought it was.

Keep it short, catchy and optimize it for instant consumer comprehension as well as inbound marketing opportunities.

Make sure it passes the “Grandma test”

Even your grandma should be able to make out what a product is or does, by simply hearing it’s name.

A product named rightly is a product easily marketed and sold.