Startups and their dictionary word names

May 23, 2022   |   684 words   |   Reading time ~ 3 min

I recently overheard a rather significant company named Fast seizing its operations and wanted to know more about the story, so I tried to find it on Google. I did not know it was a fintech startup so I relied on finding it based on its name. As one might expect, it's almost impossible to find a company called Fast through Google.

I scrolled past fast.com, a speedtest service by Netflix, the FAA's FAST guideline, a budgeting app called Fast Budget, FAST BioMedical and Fast.ai. Finally, on page three of the Google results, I found the Crunchbase profile of the startup Fast I was looking for which told me that their domain uses the .co-TLD. The company's homepage was on page six of the Google results.

This seems like such a bizarre business decision, requiring the potential customer to know the business' domain of operation (payment backend) to be returned as one of the first search results. So in the following weeks I paid attention to what names startups use and tried to understand why.

Season or Shirts?

Another fantastic example of startups using dictionary words as their names is Teespring. It's a whitelabel fashion-as-a-service platform. Basically, someone sets up a store through Teespring's website, whitelabels it with their own branding and uploads their merchandise designs to it. Customers can then order apparel (mostly shirts and hoodies) which, similarly to dropshipping, are printed by Teespring and then send straight to them.

Judging by this business model, you'd think that Teespring is a very fitting name, right? It communicates the business domain (shirts + quick setup), has a nice ring to it to set itsself apart and is easy to spell. Indeed, searching for Teespring on Google immidiately returns the correct website as the first result. There aren't any other big companies called Teespring.

Now, apparently Teespring themselves thought otherwise and is currently rebranding to Spring. Literally just Spring, like the season. [In the process they also dropped all identifying colors for a fully monochrome palette but that's a different story...] The domain now reads spri.ng, which obviously is catchy due to its very short length, but I'm almost certain that it appears odd to casual users who've never seen the Nigerian TLD before.

Either way, searching for Spring on Google returns information about the season, naturally, and results for the Javascript framework Spring (spring.io). Yes, there already is a long established trademark called Spring. Spring, as in Teespring, is only returned after Spring.io, the 'Similar Questions' snippet, a map snippet and two Wikipedia entries.

Now if only someone could explain to me what the benefit to this name change is... Maybe the customer having to type six letters less when manually browsing to the domain was worth it?

Everything is the same, everything is generic

Fast and Spring are no exceptions in the young-ish company landscape. If you've lurked on Producthunt in the last few years you probably know where I'm going, but for illustration purposes, here is a range of startup names I have encountered on the platform recently: Amplitude, Dots, Care, Highlight, Analyzed, Husky, Paper and Gravity. This glorious selection is just from the last few days and only from the trending section.

Instead of using uniquely identifying names, they pick dictionary words and append a TLD that is still available (.dev, .xyz, .app or the like). If this doesn't work because even those domains are already bought up, the startups opt for the domain name generator route:

join/use/get/go + dictionary word + TLD = domain

I genuinely don't understand this practice. It doesn't seem all that difficult to atleast combine two words to form a unique and representative identity, such as Flatfile. Maybe many startups don't do this because of a lack of marketing ressources (understandable for small startups that might even be run by a single person) and the fact that domains have become makers/breakers of startups. So founders opt for as short of a domain as possible, hoping that this is the safest route?

Irregardless, finding a company on Google shouldn't require a minute of scrolling through six pages.