Darpan Munjal came to Chicago from India in 1997 to work for a startup and, later, Sears. By 2010, he was about done with corporate America and began planning his own e-commerce business. That venture wouldn't survive. But his difficult search for a name for the firm would lead him in a more fruitful direction. --As told to Coeli Carr
As a teenager in India, I became passionate about computers. I used the limited amount of time we were allowed on them in school to learn programming and build simple games. In 1994, I got my degree in computer engineering, and then spent three years at a technology consulting company in New Delhi. But I was aware of how quickly interest in the internet was growing, especially in the U.S. I wanted to be there.
In late 2010, I was CTO at Kaplan. I'd had enough experience in corporate and decided to do something on my own. I knew how important it was for entrepreneurs to choose a great name for their company. It needs to be catchy and to stand out from the competition's. Preferably short. Easy to spell and to remember. Not hard to pronounce. And it must allow consumers to connect the name, directly or indirectly, with what the brand stands for. Just as important, if not more so, is avoiding name-related intellectual property issues and trademark conflicts.
But I realized I'd underestimated the difficulty of the naming process when I tried coming up with a name for the e-commerce company I wanted to launch. Every dot-com domain I considered was either unavailable or didn't meet my criteria. Frustration led me to ask for suggestions on various online market-related discussion forums. The ideas the participants shared were limited--the submissions seemed more about having fun.
I soon knew I needed a controlled platform on which competition and cash awards would incentivize people to submit high-quality names. I registered the domain Squadhelp.com and spent several months building the platform. Then, in late 2011, after I'd left Kaplan, I launched the website. One of the first contests on the site gave me the name for the e-commerce company I co-founded in 2012--Fashionara.com--and which operated until 2016.
My co-founder was based in India. Our goal was to build the largest destination for online fashion shopping in India. But we got caught in the middle of companies, like Amazon and Flipkart, that had access to billions of dollars in financing. Ultimately, we couldn't see a path to profitability. So we decided to call the venture off.
But a huge amount of learning came out of it. I decided to fully commit to Squadhelp.com. Over the next few years, we added many features to the platform to ensure the quality of the names. Increased word of mouth led to our getting Fortune 500 clients, including consumer brands and hotel chains. I sometimes wonder what the outcome might have been had I put all my energies into the company from the start. I completely missed how big this opportunity was.
In hindsight, I see that affordable naming services and creative expertise were missing from the marketplace. Previously, I'd focused on the numbers and doubted that people would pay for what my company offered. Entrepreneurs often get hung up on market research and quantifying the business opportunity.
A lot of times, though, it's more than that. It's about an idea you believe in. If your intuition and gut tell you there's an opportunity out there and a gap you can fill--and if you've validated that through your own experience--that's reason enough for you to jump in. The numbers will come down the road.