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  1. Naming Your Companies

    Or, how not to name your company

    When I chose the name for my personal blog (sixkidsandafulltimejob), I looked for something that would be a conversation starter. I realized that the blog was at once a brand that should be memorable and, at the same time, something that should arouse interest and curiosity. The name is very descriptive, but it has some interesting and unusual facts. I mean, how many people actually have a full time job?

    The blog name has been the gift that keeps on giving. Everyone remembers it because it is unique. It starts a conversation when people say, “Oh, so you are the guy with six kids and a blog…” To which I respond, “No. I have 8 kids and a son in law.”

    Needless to say, the blog name was not scalable as God and my wife were truly the gift that kept on giving. However, that conversation also created an ongoing branding event. That is the first imperative in choosing a name.

    naming2 (2)

    When we started Aleph, Eden and I spent a fair amount time on our name which yielded this slide and story. Part of the rationale was that many Israeli funds at the time were choosing English names and, for us, “different is better than better” always. The logo still needed work but that did not hinder the fundraising. Even with the fund raised,  we hired a first class pro designer who got it right and now our brand is pretty too…

    One of the things I am constantly amused by in the Israeli startup scene is how founders choose company names. They are often highly descriptive and technical. They often include the word “tech” or “soft”, or a description of what they do, such as data-BI-for-geeks.com.  It feels like tons of Israeli companies are called “XYZ Systems” or “ABC Technologies” or “data-BI-for-geeks-systems-tech.com”. Even gaming companies in Israel go by Playtech.

    However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have been getting better as a country, using more generic and open-ended brands that can morph with the company and expand to encompass Israel’s ever growing ambitions to build globally scalable companies. Your company name needs to be able to grow with your ambitions.

    Nexar comes to mind from our portfolio. It sounds like “car”, so you can associate with autos, which is what they do now. “Nex” evokes “next”, which feels like something future-relevant.  But it is generic enough to morph, even away from cars. It can grow with the company.

    Epistema, a seed stage company which does hardcore collaborative data analytics, is another name I like, because most people don’t understand it. Ironically, enough, therein lies the beauty. To wit, most people don’t know nor understand that in modern times, ontologies might be governed by epistemology and many people’s telos is no longer theological but rather epistemological or technological (this writer excluded). Hence, quite beautifully, the name Epistema is quite the convoluted conversation starter and it can tell or evoke a story. Lemonade is another great example, albeit a simpler one to digest. There are lemons in lots of industries that are waiting for some ice and sugar. In both cases, the name reflects a worldview, not a business model nor a technology.

    Speaking of fruit, Apple apparently pioneered this approach to naming tech companies. I recall that earlier in my career, I was approached by another fruit called Mango (who could not control themselves, so they named the company Mango DSP, as in “Digital Signal Processor”). Recently, I was approached by a company with Banana in its name — fruit is back in vogue, I guess. Raspberry Pi is another interesting and cute fruity company and product name. Although motherhood and apple pie would likely be just that, dull. And, of course in Israel, we have the well-known Pitango fruit.

    Recently there is a new trend in the US to move from fruits to fruitcakes (and by that, I mean — people). Here too, Apple was the pioneer (and also an early leader in diversity), with the Lisa. It failed as a product and Apple retreated to fruits, such as the Mac(intosh).

    However, Apple did not give up on humanizing computers. They tried again with dead people such as Newton. Whereupon Newton had a second (albeit inanimate) death, leaving much room to ponder whether Newton’s laws of physics should expand to include the life expectancy of tech products named after dead scientists or paintings hanging in the Louvre.

    Despite Newton’s second law of mortality, humans are now back in vogue although diversity is definitely not at startups, all named for males. Today I tried a new product called Charlie. I assume it is meant to evoke the Charlie from Charlie’s Angels since it works in the background and delivers you information on people you are meeting. “Alfred”, of course, is a butler and a product that fetches information but not my batsuit. “Bob” was a Microsoft failure in the 90s (not just the name), evoking a bad precursor to Windows who was somehow replaced by a paperclip called “Clippy,” as if that was an upgrade. Charlie and Alfred are moderately scalable since batman and the angels were on air for years and had many sequels. The background angel operator feels like a better conversation starter though than the trustworthy butler. “Earnest” provides really earnest student loans and hopes you will believe that they are “earnest” and “honest” unlike….insurance companies named after lizards or “All-the-States” that they have been licensed in. Hard to make a tasty refreshing summer drink out of Lizards or Bureaucrats.

    Bigger companies are bringing more diversity to human technology. Alexa is a woman. SIRI is kind of asexual or metrosexual and Cortana is…well…Microsoft. It is some sort of AI android with a woman’s voice. Maybe Bob and Clippy weren’t so bad.

    naming2

    All of this got me thinking that Israeli companies may also start naming for local popular names. Of course, you will need names that can be pronounced globally, which renders many unpronounceable Hebrew names and letters off limits (although that did not stop some of the fruit names). My assumption is that these are not far away, so I wanted to be ready for this and offer some of my own examples:

    I Imagine that some leading contenders are “Moshiko”, when Uber for haircuts launches. “Shelly” for a review site for beach resorts and a social network for socialists. “Eden” for nirvana-like customer experiences. And my favorite will likely be “Bibi”, for a sticky product that you can’t get rid of, say like adware.

    On second thought, none of these are likely scalable. So maybe Israelis should just stick to fruit or fruit drinks.

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    Innovation never stops. Investing in a down market is an opportunity

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    Startups move fast. As products and companies evolve, growing pains are inevitable. Even if the initial technology stack choice was sound and the technical debt is properly managed, product pivots and scaling challenges will likely result in major changes to code. Following a meetup at Honeybook, below, we review Honeybook’s successful migration to AngularJS for some lessons learned.     

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  4. Do What You Love

    On my journey to figure out what’s next, I’ve spent the last year at Aleph exploring possibilities and thinking out loud with Michael and Eden. I have reached a destination: I am thrilled to announce that today I am joining WeWork as Senior Vice President, Digital Israel.

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