A friend in the Midwest clued me into a new food delivery service launching in Indianapolis, Columbus, and Kansas City. It sounded good because the company cooks meals exclusively for just-in-time pickup so everything is hot and fresh, has lots of healthy options, and meets customers curbside, so there’s no delivery fee. I liked it. But what got me crushing on the startup was its fantastic name: ClusterTruck.
I would give a business with a name like that my credit card number in a New York minute because I love the chutzpah, humor, and branding savvy. My friend felt the same way. He signed up to beta test ClusterTruck’s service, he told me, “because I dig the name.” That made me wonder, what is in a name? Why should a name like ClusterTruck, a play on a common profanity, delight people so much?
The thing is, naming a startup is a big deal and a big business. New companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to naming agencies to come up with monickers that make them sound sophisticated, edgy, or welcoming. But then why are so many names so bad? Many are nonsense words that suggest the founders got sick of searching for domains and either swapped out consonants (Unikrn) or threw Scrabble tiles in the air (Zaarly). There are solid naming best practices out there, but founders still manage to botch this basic task.
My advice? Name your startup something that makes you high-five your friends while howling with laughter. Sure, a name like that stands out in a market of vanilla brand identities, but that’s only one reason a ribald, rebellious, even borderline obscene name can be the perfect choice. A name like ClusterTruck gives potential customers crucial information about your brand in seconds, which can be the difference between winning their business and losing it. Here are 4 signals a funny, daring name sends:
It’s a startup stereotype: The tiny office of 6 programmers and a dog who go with an important sounding name and a slick logo because they think they’ll look like a player. Nobody falls for it. In fact, in an age of income inequality and corporate mistrust, consumers would rather work with businesses that don’t pretend to be something they’re not. A silly, risky name tells people that you’re not trying to be anything but yourself.
You know your customers.
No startup would risk alienating its future customers by choosing a name they find offensive. It would be signing its own death warrant. So when a new business settles on something goofy and weird, it’s telling its target audience, “We get you. We understand you. We know what you like and we think you’ll like us.” That’s a terrific way to build affinity and allegiance.
You don’t take yourself too seriously.
It’s unfortunate, but too many startups (especially those facing pressure from VC investors) quickly succumb to what I call Comcast Syndrome: They forget that serving the customer is why they’re in business. A business with a funky name tells the word that it’s accessible, can admit when it makes a mistake, and is easy to reach and talk to. Since you learn a lot more about any company by how it responds to a problem than by what it does when everything’s peachy, that’s a big deal.
All else being equal, we’re more apt to work with people who make us smile. Since as a startup, you don’t have market share or brand awareness and probably don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around, one way to set yourself apart is to imply that every interaction with your app, website, people and product will be filled with mirth, clever puns and enjoyment. After all, look what that’s done for Cards Against Humanity.
So those risque names or groaner puns you’ve had rattling around in your head since you wrote your business plan? Lean into them. You might have a stronger, weirder brand on your hands than you realize.