The toughest problem early stage startups face

looking for a domain

Is it building a team? Finding the elusive product/market fit? Raising capital? Shipping the MVP? Nope, it’s finding a unique name for the venture!

One of my favorite parts of the MIT Venture Mentoring Service monthly meetings is when VMS President Sherwin Greenblatt reads the names of VMS ventures that have changed their names. Half the time from the reaction of the audience it seems that the change was for the worse! Having been through this venture naming process way too many times and posted about it previously, I still couldn’t resist reading the Forbes article Domain Name Do’s And Don’ts by Denis Pinsky. And it’s pretty obvious why you need a name for your venture asap: new ventures need a web  site and web domain names must be unique.

Their are multiple benefits to getting your domain right from the get-go:

  • Establish authority/credibility
  • Reinforce brand identity
  • Promote business

Make It Foolproof

Typos happen. In fact you may have noticed that the big successful companies like Amazon also buy domains that are common typos. But try to avoid problematic names in the first place. Here are four types of names to avoid:

  • Mixing numbers with words: (gØØd-dØ
  • Hyphens: (
  • Homonyms: (
  • Abbreviations (

Since searching the web is usually the number one way potential customers find you, versus you finding them, make it as easy as possible for Google to find you.

Be Memorable

A great way to create a unique domain name is to create a long, complex name like The problem is that the risk of typos or misspellings rises in direct proportion to the length of your domain name. So you need to keep your domain name short by using only one or two words.

Bad Domains

Avoid names that are too long, too bland, and too hard to type.

Be Too Trendy

Buzzwords are great but many have no staying power, thus your domain name is going to looked dated very soon, and trust me, changing your domain name is a real pain.

Forget to read it aloud

One of the best ways to test your newly created domain name is to say it out loud – many times. And an even tougher test is to use it over a cellphone connection. If you get a lot of “what’s that you said?” you’ll know that your chosen name is just unworkable, good as it looked on paper.

Sound Like Someone Else

I had this problem myself. I came up with what I thought was a great name: Mainspring. We even had a very nice logo. The definition was evocative, not descriptive: something that plays a principal part in motivating or maintaining a movement, process, or activity: innovation is the mainspring of the new economy. But much to my dismay another startup, an ISP, had the name Mindspring.  They became pretty successful very quickly and we ended up having to correct many people who kept calling us Mindspring, not Mainspring. Don’t let this happen to you!

The first thing you need to do when you come up with a domain name that passes all the above tests is to go to ICANN Whois to check that some other venture hasn’t snagged your name first. I’ve come up with innumerable clever names only to find that someone more clever than I has already registered the name. But as Dennis Pinsky points out, all is not lost:

…if you notice that the name you’ve chosen is taken, but looks inactive, find out who actually owns the domain. There are several online sites that can help pinpoint who owns it and when it will expire. If the date is close, you may want to bide your time and see if becomes available. If the expiration date isn’t close, you can reach out to the owner of the name to see if they are willing to sell it.

And increasingly I’m see new ventures give up on getting the most desirable .com TLD (Top Level Domain) and use .net, .org or for an artificial intelligence venture, .ai. If you search a domain registrar like GoDaddy they will provide you with all available options. For example, for no particular reason I came up with the name Addvocate. I thought it was clever, but GoDaddy gave me the dreaded “Sorry, is taken. But they then listed all the TLDs I could use instead, like or

Finally if you need more help there are many posts on the Web about how to create a unique domain name, including Dennis Pinsky’s own 8 Smart Tips For Choosing A Winning Domain Name



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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