Step 1: Brainstorm
One of our top priorities in finding a new name was finding a new name that had the perfect .com available for less than $3k (with perfect meaning exactname.com, not exact-n4me.com). Why did we want it this bad? Well, as Paul Graham says,
“[a] marginal domain suggests you're a marginal company...having x.com signals strength even if it has no relation to what you do.” - Paul Graham, Change Your Name
For this reason, our first step in analyzing any name was to check GoDaddy to see if it was available for purchase (remember to check whether a domain is available for purchase or auction - there’s a big difference). In our experience, there’s nothing worse than coming up with the perfect name, getting the whole team on board, and then discovering that the .com is unavailable, or $750k.
If you decide to go this route, you’ll quickly discover that most of the good .com’s are taken, and ALL of the obvious choices are long gone. Finding an optimal .com takes tremendous patience and creativity.
Fortunately, there are other options.
Consider the following alternative route that can not only generate more ideas for names, but can help your startup gain valuable publicity and reach new audiences.
Launch a Contest
Why should you run a contest? Because coming up with a name is hard. Coming up with a good name is harder, and coming up with a good, available, and cheap name gets harder everyday... at least on your own. Having always held the firm belief that two heads are better than one, and a thousand heads are better than two, we at Got.Law are big fans of the ‘power of the crowd,’ so holding a contest to come up with name ideas made complete sense.
Here are some main benefits of crowdsourcing your name:
The only disadvantage we can think of to running a contest is the risk of investing a lot of time into running it and not getting back valuable results. Yet, we would argue that you run the same risk by trying to come up with the name yourself as well.
Get People to Enter Contest
There are endless possibilities for how to do this, and we encourage you to come up with some creative and unique strategies of your own.
However, there are two free channels that we think everyone should pursue: PR and Social Media
Press Release 1 of 2:
We’ve always been a fan of press as a marketing strategy. First of all, it’s free. Second of all, people read the news, and I mean actually read it (it’s exponentially easier than getting people to read ads and clickbait). Third, most people trust the news, and it’s becoming exceedingly difficult to gain people’s trust when you’re trying to sell to them.
On top of all of that, it turns out that the headline “Help come up with a new name for [x] and win $1000!” is ‘PR candy,’ mainly because everybody loves the idea of winning money.
Not only will this PR campaign yield a ton of awesome name ideas, but you’ll also gain a bunch of new fans in the process. Our contest, for instance, had around 12 million potential media impressions via broadcasts, newspapers, and online media outlets. In order to submit an idea to the contest, contestants will need to learn about your business, and each contestant that finds your contest via a news article becomes a new potential customer of your brand who previously may have never heard about you. Or, even if they had heard about you, maybe they had never bothered to learn what you do.
Here’s what you need to do to launch a contest:
*pro tip - be wary of offering your product as a reward. “Help come up with a new name for [x] and receive [insert product]” isn’t nearly as compelling of a headline.
-How are you affiliated with X?* (options could include ‘mentor, investor, current customer, potential customer, friend of company, or none of the above’ for example)
-Have you ever been a customer of the services X provides? (for us, have you ever hired an attorney?)
Finally, provide all of the rules and details of the competition at the bottom of Page 1.
Remember the description of your business that we came up with in Step 4? Put this at the top of page 2 to remind contestants who you are.
Next, include 5 free-form text boxes for contestants to submit ideas (Idea #1, Idea #2, etc.)
Lastly, include a larger free-form text box to allow contestants to submit as many names as they’d like.
On the confirmation page, add a custom thank-you note for contestants to let them know when and how you’ll notify them if there’s a winner.
Wasn’t that easy?
Here’s our original version if you wan’t to see it in action: http://goo.gl/forms/OS6gYWSLMd
*Pro tip: let contestants return to the survey as many times as they’d like; art can’t be rushed and the best ideas often take time to surface.
Step 2: Redesign Your Home Page
Renaming your company is the perfect opportunity to rebrand your entire startup. This could be a partial rebranding, like redesigning your website, or it could be a good time to make a substantial pivot in your business.
Someone who’s done a stellar job with both of these is our good friends Pana (www.pana.com). Initially known as Varsity, a So-Lo-Mo company targeting college students, they transformed into Native with a slick new design, a badass new logo, and a killer new value proposition – to be everybody’s personal travel agent for a low monthly fee (they didn’t pay us to write this or anything, but their app is really cool and definitely worth a look). After receiving $1.35M of seed funding, they were able to scoop up Pana.com for a relatively low price. This time around, they kept the majority of the value proposition from Native, but changed their design to what you see today.
The route you choose to take is totally up to you and your team, but we decided to redesign our entire brand (name, logo, design, and style) and keep the same value proposition.
Launch a Contest
See a trend here? Leveraging the power of the crowd once again, we ran a contest on 99designs.com with a $1200 reward. We received some incredible submissions from designers all around the world, but websites like 99designs are only as good as you make them. To ensure you receive designs you love, make sure you not only spend sufficient time on the brief before launching the contest, but also provide ample feedback to designers throughout the contest.
Quick note - Our summer intern had done all of the branding and designs for Congo, but had since returned to Tulane University to study. This meant that we were not only looking for a one-time designer, but a part-time designer that could continue working with us pushing forward. We used 99designs as an opportunity to receive design ideas from a wide variety of designers around the world, and were able to select not only our favorite design, but our favorite designer as well. Mark added a very friendly and welcoming character set to our website, and really nailed down the balance of professional and fun that we were aiming for.
Another cool thing about 99designs is that they offer a full refund if you’re not satisfied with the designs submitted. However, if you want the best designers to participate, you’ll need to guarantee your reward.
Step 3: Pick Your New Name
After receiving our name changing contest submissions, we checked out all the names and picked out about 20 that really stood out. This process was way more difficult than expected, with dozens of viable, hard to compare names and least one team member basically hating every name that we received. To make matters more confusing, we reached out to members of the startup community, customers, investors, mentors, friends, family, strangers, literally anyone that would listen to us, and asked them what they thought was the best name. Unfortunately everyone offered contradicting opinions, making us second guess ourselves over and over again.
We eventually narrowed the list down to 10, and put together this round 2 survey hoping to emerge with our winner.
Round 2 survey http://goo.gl/forms/48cO6TS0aX
As per usual in the startup space, the results were the exact opposite of what we had expected. There was no clear winner, and in fact, all the names appeared to be clear losers (we had too many people select a name and then leave a score of 1, which meant ‘I HATE it, but it’s the best option on the list.’
(Technically Lawbook.com was the frontrunner and was also my personal favorite, but unfortunately, it wasn’t available for purchase. We reached out to the owner of Lawbook.com and corresponded with his assistant for at least a month, and while he was interested in the idea of trading equity for the domain, we needed to move quickly and didn’t have enough time to take this route).
Finally, frustrated, and with time ticking away, we reached out to TechStar’s Natty Zola for advice (Natty had taken our Round 2 survey and left a score of 1, pretty devastating news to a startup that at the time was applying to his accelerator program). He told us about this interesting technique called mind-mapping and we decided to give it a shot. Starting with a list of words that we thought described our value proposition, core business values, and feelings that we wanted our customers to have while interacting with our business, we kept adding synonyms for each word and synonyms for those synonyms until we filled up a whole whiteboard wall. Once the wall was about filled, our co-founder, Tyler Cox, threw out the name LawBooth, which everyone agreed was the least worst name that we could come up with. An important thing to keep in mind here is to not act off of impulse. Once you find a name that you like, let it marinate for a few days before you pull the trigger. One name might sound perfect in the evening and then atrocious the next morning (I had to look back at our original top 10 list to write this, and I am so happy we didn’t go with some of those names). If you and everyone who is willing to listen to you still likes the name after a few days, it’s probably a safe bet.
With the name finally decided upon, we snatched up the domain quickly (which ended up costing $1,780 in total) and started migrating the new website we had been building underground (on a private staging server) to LawBooth.com. We didn’t technically pick a winner in the contest, so instead, we decided to reach out to everyone who entered the contest (with a email headline of “Congo Rebranding Contest: You’re a Winner!” which unsurprisingly had some record-high open rates) and had them pick from a list of nonprofits that we support. After getting all of the responses, we donated to the groups accordingly. Now that the dreaded task of choosing a name was over, we could move on to the next step: branding and logo design.
Step 4: Logo Contest
With the website redesign contest still in full swing, we launched a logo contest through 99designs in the search of the perfect insignia. Logo design and website design are two totally different animals, so we wanted to find a designer who focused specifically on designing great logos. We browsed through the 99design-ers and sent invites to a handful of designers work we thought fit the style we had in mind. For whatever reason, as the logos came in, we started to get more and more defeated. None of the designers could really capture the look that we were going for, so we reached out to 99designs and told them that we weren’t going to be using any of the submissions. They encouraged us to hold out a little longer and kindly offered to bump our contest up into the next skill bracket of designers free of charge.
Running out of options and time, the team was struck with an idea for a logo that we immediately loved. We sketched it out on paper and worked closely with our favorite contestant throughout the remainder of the contest to transform the sketch into our current logo.
Step 5: Development
I’ve got a ton of respect for developers, but I’m a business guy, and though I wish it weren’t the case, I don’t have the time to learn a whole new language. If you’re like me, this step may be the trickiest for you. Luckily for us, we have an amazing team of engineers that was able to take the reins and give us realistic deadlines. Nonetheless, we still built in a 2-week safety cushion to ensure that the website would be looking good and be (mostly) bug-free before our scheduled launch date.
Step 6: Update The World
So now that you’ve got a brand new name, logo, website, and maybe even company altogether, it’s time to shout it from the mountaintops. Prepare a press release for the official launch, and build some hype for a few weeks leading up to the big day with enticing teasers of what’s to come (a good example of this would be how Apple teases its products pre-launch:
iPhone 5 Pre-launch:
Mysterious email list CTA:
There are many creative ways you can market your launch. The key here is preparation and synchronicity. Make sure all of your ducks are in a row before making the announcement, because once the internet has a hold of your news, there’s no turning back. Some steps, such as securing an EV SSL certificate, or receiving approval from Facebook to change your page's name, can take some time to complete - make sure you plan ahead for these.
Here is an extensive, but by no means exhaustive list of all the stuff you should update before announcing (you can find a separate list of the things that can wait until after at the bottom):
What To Update Before:
*The Terms and Conditions you may be able to handle in-house prior to an attorney review (no matter what though, for Christ sakes, have an attorney review the terms and conditions!). An easy way to change the name of your company in this document is to define any pronouns related to the company, the old company name, or any other reference in the header as being the new name. For example, our Terms and Conditions say “This website is a service made available by Congo LTD [our legal entity] (the “Company”, ”Got.Law”, ”us”, ”we”, ”our”).” Once you’ve done this, just run through the document and be sure that any pronouns or references to the company are covered with this header.
What To Update After:
Reach out to the same media outlets that picked up your renaming contest and see if they’ll run an update story. Also think about reaching out to local news organizations that frequently cover startup news and see if they will run the story too – basically just reach out to as many people that you can think of to push this new name and brand. Pin a post to the top of all of your company’s social media accounts announcing the rebranding for anyone who is confused by their strange new follower. Finally, make sure that all of these announcements are synchronized within one day at least. You want to have the internet buzzing about your name and it’s hard to do that over the span of a week.
Step 7: Embrace It
This may seem like a pretty obvious step, but if you don’t wholeheartedly embrace the new name and brand now, you’ll have a much harder time liking it down the road. Practice saying the new name as often as you can until it becomes second nature. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than answering your business line and saying “Hello this is Joe from Congo, I mean LawBooth...” Practice your introductions all over again, as well as your elevator pitch. According to the mere-exposure effect, all this time spent with your new name will make you like it more as well.
Final step: Timeline
Now listen, I understand that this post doesn’t explain the rebranding process for everyone, but these are the steps that we took. There are a million different ways you can do this, but whatever route you choose, it’s important to organize your path into a timeline (and assign the right tasks to the right teammates). Before we took the plunge, we had a plan outlined with conservative deadlines for every single step of the way. From laying out the development team’s work schedule, to media outreach, to ordering new printed materials so that they arrived before the official launch of our new name, we had hard deadlines that we refused to miss. Rebranding is truly a rabbit hole if you don’t have an actionable plan in place, so be sure that you have the next month or two scheduled out - I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
Simply put, we wrote this article because we knew that if we could just help just one lost entrepreneur find their way within this convoluted rebranding process, it would be well worth our time. The entrepreneurial community supports the ‘give first’ mentality unlike any other community that we’ve been part of. If we all help each other out, there’s no telling what we’re collectively capable of.
And so with that, we would love to end with an ask: reach out to us in the comments or by email (willy@Got.Law) and tell us all about your experiences with rebranding: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ll be keeping an updated list of stories below to try and help anyone who’s struggling with the process. If we can help prevent just one startup from failing, isn’t it worth it!?
Well, thanks for reading y’all, it’s been fun. We hope you took away at least one thing and that we didn’t just waste half an hour of your life.
Until next time,
Willy, Joe, and the Got.Law Team
Edit: Since writing this article, we rebranded again from LawBooth to Got.Law. It does get easier every time.