Sep 212014

A while back, my friend Warren answered somebody’s question on Quora about a name for their startup. Another college friend and I saw this and had some fun with it, but it does bring up an important point that needs to be pointed out – not everything you’re doing is some type of magical secret sauce.

If you can’t describe just what your start-up actually does, why people should care, who should be using it, and more importantly, who should be paying for it,  you don’t need a name. If you know the answers to those questions, but can’t disclose them, you have no business claiming a name for it because nobody can actually become a customer. By the way, don’t hand me any “stealth mode” nonsense. You’re either ready or you’re not, and if you’re not, then you don’t need a name, you need an implementation.

If you have all of that stuff ready to go and you’re just 1 product and/or business name away from registering a domain name, filling in those last blanks your company’s web page, and starting to make money, then tell people just what the heck your business does. Who cares if anyone else sees the description and comes up with a name first? They still have to get to where they can provide the good or service, which is the most time-consuming part (and you’ve already done). If you don’t have a clear and concise description of what your company does, you don’t actually have a company, and the universal name for “nothing” is “nothing”.

This whole idea of trying to generate hype without actually having something to sell people is old 90’s-era tech bubble hype and crap. This is the kind of attitude that assumes people are going to be excited and dump tons of money into your lap for no good reason. Maybe you use all the right terms and phrases. Maybe you have a really slick pitch. Odds are though, you’re looking for a get-rich-quick scheme with the hopes of cashing out quick and big, and turning into some type of semi-famous “investor” getting pieces of other get-rich-quick schemes. That got tried and played out in the 90’s and it ended poorly – poorly enough that most people aren’t going to take you seriously anymore.

Usually, in anything that you make or do, there’s 1 little thing you do that differentiates you from everybody else. That’s your “secret sauce” and what you need to be worried about. Most companies will tell you the basics of their architecture and how they do things, because what’s really valuable to them are things like their data sets (e.g. information on user viewing habits for recommendations and content libraries if you’re Netflix), or execution (if you’re somebody like Apple), or customer service. You should be able to talk about 95+% of what you’re doing and how. If you can’t, then once again, you don’t actually have anything to offer. Take the time to actually get something in place, then start selling it. Tell everybody all about it. What is that you actually do? How are you doing it? What’s the end result for users and/or customers? Rather than just say “Well, here’s a few keywords”, you can ask the question “I have a service that based on your interests and behaviors will tell you who has specials on things you’d want to do this weekend. My target audience are college students and college towns where businesses may come and go and where it’s more likely to get group reservations. Does anyone know a good name for this that isn’t already taken?” The business may still fail, but at least you have something to offer at this point.

I’m tired of this super-secrecy “stealth-mode” nonsense. It’s like kids want to be thought of as the next Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg without actually doing anything to earn that comparison. People want to hear about people who are doing something cool and useful, that makes things better for their users. Most importantly, people want to hear about new software that does something. If you want to start a company, you need to be willing to talk about what it is you’re doing with anybody that’ll listen. Even if you don’t know what to call you’re enterprise, the rest of us should know exactly what it does. In short, your secret sauce is that 1 little special thing that you add to something people know everything else about, but nobody actually sells it by the jar.

 Posted by at 8:02 PM