Sep 15 2004

Change of Name?

Change of Name

Fellow CEO Greg Reinacker posted an open question on his blog about whether he should change the name of his company, NewsGator. This is a GREAT topic.

We struggled with it for years at MovieFone, because at some point, the Internet became a huge part of the business, and the name seemed antiquated. Plus, everyone knew us by the phone number, 777-FILM (or whatever number it happened to be in any given city). But it had 10 years of brand equity at that point behind it.

Return Path used to be called a really long time ago, and we changed the name to be less “dot com” three months after we got started (that’a story for another posting as well). People ask me all the time if I sitll think that Return Path is the best name possible for the company. I’m sure there’s a better one out there, but I am sure it’s going to be hard to convince me to change it. Why? Let’s start with these 3 reasons:

1. It’s close enough. We’re in the email business, in general, and Return Path is a good name for people in the industry to remember (it’s the first two words in every email header) for people in the industry, and it’s easy enough to say.

2. It has good equity.
Almost five years in, most of our customers and industry watchers know it. Of course, it’s not Coke and has limited equity in the grand scheme of things, but its equity relative to the size of our enterprise is meaningful. That’s the important part. There’s a reason GE is still called GE even though its primary business is financial services now.

3. I have no idea what business we’re going to be in three years from now. Ok that’s an overstatement. I’m pretty sure we’ll still be in email. But while there are perhaps more appropriate names for us today, in today’s dynamic technology market, the company might look very different down the road, and changing a name is painful enough that I wouldn’t do it without a MAJOR event underway like a dramatic change of focus for the company, or a massive acquisition.

That said, if I had happened to name the company CompuTyco or EmailEnron, I’d change it because the collateral damage or risk thereof. If my mom had named me Adolph, Osama, or Saddam, I’d also be headed down to the courthouse to switch to a new one. They’re not as evil as a bad dictator of course, but Gator has so much baggage — they changed their own name to Claria!

So Greg, change that name despite the challenges outlined above. You’re lucky in that t’s still early enough for you. Just make sure you pick a new name that’s flexible and extensible into other areas in case the business you have in three years isn’t the business you have today. And don’t bother with an expensive naming consultant (let me know if you want to hear about that nightmare). Just have a good, structured brainstorm with your team.