Archive for January, 2007

Taste and popularity

January 25, 2007

We’ve been working lately on getting feedback on possible company names. It’s basically come down to two names, which we’ll call Strongname and Safename*.
Our research so far has basically been to get feedback from a pretty large group of friends and family. I wouldn’t say that they necessarily represent our target market (we’re not sure exactly what that is yet), but they certainly represent it better than just the two founders.
Strongname has gotten some very good feedback, but also a little negative feedback. It’s also confused a few people, but struck the image we were hoping for in others.
Safename has gotten good responses across the board, but not as many really strong responses.
I personally like Strongname the best. I feel like Safename is sort of vanilla – it just doesn’t seem that cool to me. It doesn’t stick in my brain. Of course, Strongname also has a connection (a pretty weak one, but a connection nonetheless), to a pretty unsavory topic, so that’s a strike against it.
All of this is quite vague, but the point is this: I’ve been trying to justify Strongname all day, despite the fact that it’s not as universally liked and it has some other issues. I just like the name better.
But then I read an article on small business marketing sent to me by a friend, and this caught my eye:
“The name AppExchange came from one of the customers I did dry runs with. We were considering 10 different names. That one was my least favorite. But it doesn’t matter what I think. The customer is always right. A clich´┐Ż, I know, but it is also true.”
This guy is a marketing genius, so I’m inclined to take his advice. But some part of me disagrees, as least in part. I feel like at a certain point, if you only give the customers what they ask for, you’re not doing a good job. At some point customers are paying you to surprise them and give them something they want/like now, but didn’t know they wanted/liked before. Of course, at some point, you’re just being stubborn and ignoring customers to satisfy your personal tastes.
And it seems to be quite tricky to tell the difference.
*I know it’s slightly strange to talk about names without actually mentioning the actual names, but we don’t want any squatters to take them out from under us.

The dangers of meaning

January 23, 2007

In my last post, I discussed factors to consider when choosing a company name. In it, I talked briefly about the importance of meaning:
“Ideally, we’d like a name that means something. There are a lot of Web 2.0 companies out there with seemingly nonsense names. Sure, it might be unique, but what does it mean? Anything? We’d at the very least be able to explain why it’s a good name in one sentence. It’d be even better if there was a clever anecdote explaining the history behind the name, but I can live without one in a pinch.”
But I forgot to mention one key tip – when soliticing feedback from friends and family on possible names, don’t tell them the meaning or backstory for any potential name.
The reason is simple: 99% of your (potential) users will never know, or even care to know the story behind your name. And when you’re asking people about their opinions about names, you want them to look through the eyes of users. You want to see what associations come to their mind, if they have trouble saying it, what their gut feeling is. Because in the end, those are some of the same feelings & thoughts your users will have.
We’ve had many requests to explain some of our names. Its a reasonable request, since many of our names are strange combinations of words or just completely made up. But we’ve resisted doing so, because the worst case scenario is that we get good feedback on a really bad name just because its got a clever (or touching, or hilarious, or personal) meaning or story behind it.

Preferred Nomenclature

January 22, 2007

Words fail me. Specifically, they fail to arrange themselves in a pleasing combination that would make an excellent company name.
Choosing a name for your company is a weird process because it’s something you have to do very early, yet it’s a decision that you’ll have to live with for
years and years to come (hopefully). You need a company name to make real progress – to incorporate (or set up whatever legal structure you choose), to start getting bank accounts, a lawyer, and accountant, etc. Most importantly, I want to get it figured out so I don’t have to refer to “The Company” in this blog, which sounds terrifyingly Orwellian (or, more specifically, like I’m referring to the CIA)
Most other decisions at this point are pretty non-intimidating, if only because I know we’re not locked in. If we pick the wrong bank, we can move in a few months. Ditto for lawyers, offices, cities, web platforms. Yeah, it’ll be a hassle, but it’s doable. But changing the company name would be a huge legal pain at best and a complete marketing disaster at worst.
There are all kinds of considerations to take into account when picking a name.
First of all, everything great has already been taken. It’s either trademarked, or the domain has been taken by some squatter who is filling it with a whole mess of unrelated links, hoping to get some ad revenue from the gullible and the poor typists.
Even if you find something that’s not taken, you’ve got to consider the following
* Is it the right length? If it’s too long, it’s going to be a hassle to type and say.
* Will people be able to spell it when you say it out loud?
* Will your intended name be clear form the domain name? People don’t always read when you intend.
* Is it too specific? If you pick a name that refers to the type of software you plan to write – what happens in six months when you realize you need to pursue a different opportunity? You’ll feel pretty dumb for picking “SuperBlogware, Inc.” when you realize you want to transition into mapping software.
* Is there a good story? Ideally, we’d like a name that means something. There are a lot of Web 2.0 companies out there with seemingly nonsense names. Sure, it might be unique, but what does it mean? Anything? We’d at the very least be able to explain why it’s a good name in one sentence. It’d be even better if there was a clever anecdote explaining the history behind the name, but I can live without one in a pinch.
* Does the name has some alternative meaning that you won’t want associated with your company? This is the one that scares me. I keep worrying the name we pick will be some obscure British slang for a butt or mean “terrible investment” in French or something.
* And for the love of all that’s holy, let it not include the words “soft”, “web”, “net”, “code”, or “byte.”
Despite all of these hurdles, we’ve come up with a set of names we’re starting to warm up to. And as we ask friends and family to give feedback, the number one question is, “Wait, what does your company do? Shouldn’t the name be related to that?.”
The answer is: we’re not sure yet, and really, it doesn’t matter. I’ll deal with the first part in a future post, but as far as the second part goes, consider the following companies: Dell, Microsoft, Apple, HP, 37signals. None of those names really indicates what type of software is being written. And, for the reasons mentioned above, I’m wary of being too specific.
There will be a whole other round of name games when we try to name our product/service. And at that point, it’ll be very important to find a name that indicates something about the product/service.
But for now, I’ll settle for something thats relatively unoffensive and vaguely cool.
Update: I added more thoughts on explaining your potential names

LastTab: Making tabbed browsing safe for (Alt|Cmd)-Tabbers

January 18, 2007

I’m a big fan of Alt-Tab on Windows (or, if you will, Cmd-Tab on OS X). But I’m also a big fan of tabbed browsing in Firefox. Until recently, these two passions collided head-on, since Ctrl-Tab in Firefox simply selects the tab to the right of the currently selected tab. No fun.
Enter LastTab: an excellent plugin for Firefox that makes Ctrl+Tab behave like (Alt|Cmd)-Tab. My productivity while working in Firefox has skyrocketed. Check it out.

These newfangled web-logs

January 17, 2007

What kinds of stuff are we reading on a daily basis? Besides checking reddit about ten times a day (a very bad habit that occasionally yields very good results), we also are reading the following blogs
* Small Business 2.0
* OnStartups
* Paul Graham’s site (not exactly a blog, but we’re addicted to his essays)
I used to read Joel on Software, but I’ve been checking it out less and less over the past year. I also keep my eye on Lambda the Ultimate, but unfortunately, I only understand about 5% of what’s posted there.
Any other good software/technology/business/startup blogs out there we should check out?

Linked on Technorati

January 12, 2007

We are on Technorati and here is the info.
Technorati Profile
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Reading text on paper, for fun and profit

January 11, 2007

Like most every startup-to-be, over the past year we’ve been reading, reading, reading. Here are the books that blew our minds, inspired us, or just provided some good tips on either programming or business.
General Programming
* Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
* Extreme Programming Explained
* Getting Real
* Hackers and Painters
* Joel on Software
* Pragmatic Project Automation
* Pragmatic Unit Testing
* Refactoring
* The Pragmatic Programmer
Specific Programming
* Agile Web Development with Rails
* Ant Developers Handbook
* Beginning PHP, Apache, MySQL Web Development
* Google Hacks
* The Long Tail
* The Tipping Point
* The World is Flat
* Co-opetition
* Good to Great
* How to Raise Capital
Productivity/Life skills
* Getting Things Done
* Getting to Yes
* How to Win Friends and Influence People
Currently Reading
* Crossing the Chasm
* Start Your Own Business
In the Queue
* Convergence Culture
* Inside the Tornado
* Juicing the Orange
* The Ruby Way
* The Wisdom of Crowds
Any other great books that need to be on this reading list?

Mistake the first

January 10, 2007

It seems that you should not skimp on dry-erase markers. We bought the cheaper brand (Foray), thinking “How could someone possibly mess up dry-erase markers?” Well, as it turns out, the markers were rather dry, but most certainly did not erase. That would seem like a pretty crucial property of dry-erase markers, but maybe I just don’t understand the budget office supplies market well enough. We ended up going with the Sanford Expos, and they work great.
Another key lesson – when first testing your dry erase markers, draw something rather small and unoffensive. Let’s just say someone drew something out a junior-high health textbook very largely on the whiteboard to test out the markers and we had quite a scare when it wasn’t erasing.
Final dry-erase-related lesson for today: – when you have to get something permanent off your dry-erase board, use this trick

A purpose-driven blog

January 9, 2007

This blog will hopefully serve a few purposes, and, although we’d like to claim otherwise, not all of them are totally selfless. But let’s start with the one that is:
1. To let other entrepreneurs (especially other technology startups) learn from our mistakes. We’ll be honest, we don’t really have the slightest idea what we’re doing (yet) and we’re certain we’ll make a ton of mistakes. Our only hope is that a) our mistakes aren’t catastrophic b) they make funny stories later in life and c) someone else can learn from them.
And as for the selfish purposes?
2. To keep anyone who may be interested in our progress up to date (while minimizing repeating ourselves) We’re incredibly lucky to have such a great support structure of friends and family to wish us well and ask about our progress. But we’re going to be pretty busy working 22 hours a day and eating Ramen, and unfortunately, it’s inevitable that we’ll be unable to keep everyone up-to-date on the details as much as we’d like. Watch this spot for details of our thrilling exploits so we don’t feel quite so guilty for not calling.
3. To ask for help. We most definitely do not know it all, and so we’ll probably post questions and hope to get some feedback from anyone else out there who can help us out. In theory, we’ll be asking the same questions some other startups have, and you’ll find the responses as interesting as we will.
4. To hold ourselves accountable. It can be pretty easy to allow ourselves some wiggle room on various topics, both technical and otherwise, when they are just rustling around in our heads. But, we’ve found that if we’re taking the time to write them down (especially with the expectation that someone’s going to actually read it), we’re more likely to dot our Is and cross our Ts. In other words, we’re pretty sure someone is going call us on our BS (please do), which is extra incentive to get all our mental ducks in order.
Of course, blogging is also a incredibly good way to put off doing real work.

Contact Pretheory

January 1, 2007

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