Editor’s note: Inman News publisher and longtime innovator Brad Inman has launched a blog at BradInman.com that will carry "stories, ideas and lessons on starting businesses." His second post, republished here, retells his adventures in branding three online ventures. Click here to read the original post.

People ask how I came up with the name Vook, the new ebook publishing company. Was I typing the word "book" and inadvertently tapped the "V" key instead of the "B" key, which sit next to each other on the keyboard? I do not recall how I came up with the name. However, I have several stories when I named other ventures.

Twenty-three years ago, I started a consumer education business that taught people how to buy homes. The San Francisco Examiner was my partner in the annual all-day event, running house ads to get people there. When I approached the executives at the Examiner with the conference idea, I pitched the title "In Search of Equity," a corny knock-off of the best-selling Tom Peter’s book "In Search of Excellence."

Larry Kramer, the managing editor of the Examiner at the time, liked the business idea but chucked the name. He named it the San Francisco Examiner Home Buyers Fair. The business was successful and was expanded to other cities.

We had several ideas for naming the online real estate company, HomeGain, one of which was "HomeSave." When I reached out to the domain owner in Wisconsin about purchasing the name, he wanted to check with his brother-in-law, who was a mortgage broker, about the value of the URL. He called back and said that the real estate market’s value was $1 trillion and that the name "HomeSave" should be valued at 1 percent of that. I never did the math but told the cheesehead that I would get back to him.

Soon after, a friend suggested, "Brad, your company is about gaining not saving, how about ‘Homegain’?" I went online and found that the URL was available for $29 — saving me billions. …CONTINUED

A day worker, who was cleaning up a construction site in San Francisco, inadvertently named TurnHere. Soon after I started the company, I hired a design firm to help me name the company, craft the logo and work on positioning. On my way to meet with them in The City, I got lost, pulled off to the side of the road — pre GPS — and asked the day laborer, "Where is De Haro?" He said, "Turn here." I arrived for my meeting and said that I had found a name for the company.

Entrepreneurs can take several approaches when naming their businesses. There is the empty vessel strategy (a fun name that is filled by marketing, good will and strong products"), real words, misspelled words, compounds and phrases.

If you have a big partner like the San Francisco Examiner, you may consider allowing them to name your enterprise, though I would not do that today. One publishing partner pushed me to modify the name Vook, but I pushed back and I am happy we did.

The possibilities are unlimited, just check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to insure that no one else has trademarked the name.

In the end, a name correlates to a tiny fraction of a company’s value if you build a good business. Bill Gates would be worth many billions today, even if he had named Microsoft BillySoft. While naming a company is fun, it is wise to spend more time finding customers and less time on tasks that do not fundamentally contribute to the company’s early success such as employee titles, e-mail address protocol and cool office space.

Other sources and facts:
1. Ten Company Names on Tech Crunch: Pros and Cons
2. Web 2.0 Name Generator
3. Microsoft‘s first product was the "Micro-Soft BASIC," explaining the company’s name.
4. List of company name etymologies
5. Picking a domain name

Brad Inman is the founder and publisher of Inman News; he created and later sold online real estate lead-generation and marketing site HomeGain.com; and is the founder of TurnHere.com and Vook.com.


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