Just over a year ago our team made a last minute pivot from a prior venture onto a new idea -- an anonymous matchmaking platform for passive job seekers -- those already employed but open to exploring the right opportunities.

Almost instantly, it was clear that people loved the name as much as the idea: Poachable -- a play on the aggressive recruiting term. It was memorable, a bit edgy and was a clear embodiment of the features we were building. Similar to TinyURL or Facebook (at least in the early days), there was no mistaking what Poachable did. Buzz and users followed in short order.

Poachable appeared here in Inc., The Wall Street Journal and was mentioned in the New York Times. In less than six months, we reached 25,000 members and had hundreds of companies recruiting on the platform, including Google and Amazon. We were on our way to becoming a household name; that is, until we heard from the United States Patent & Trademark Office…

To make a long story short, the USPTO refused our application for “Poachable,” citing alleged similarity to two other trademark holders, “Poached” and “Poachee”. While we wholeheartedly disagreed with the decision, appealed, and finally made attempts at a coexistence agreement with the other parties, we found ourselves facing the daunting prospect of having to start from scratch. Thus began a long, intensive journey to rename the company. 

While we’re thrilled that our new name Anthology conveys the seriousness, trustworthiness and long view for our lifelong career optimization platform, moving on from Poachable and its brand equity wasn’t easy. Here’s what we learned along the way:

Don’t even open GoDaddy

Naming your company should be about more than if www.yourcompany.com is available. What is your vision and mission? What are the problems you’re solving? Your company name should grow out of that, not what sticks on GoDaddy. Look no further than Tesla. The company still doesn’t appear to own Tesla.com but that didn’t dissuade Elon Musk and Co. to do away with his homage to Nikola Tesla. Better to find a great name and a good domain than a great domain and a good name.

Pick a broad name or be prepared to rebrand

Many of today’s most successful startups owe their current status to a pivot somewhere along the way. Yelp, Odeo, and Instagram all changed course at one point in time. Inevitably, your vision will evolve and you might find yourself undertaking a pivot. For this reason, picking the perfect name for your MVP or V1 product could end of being a recipe for disaster. Instead, choose a name that has the ability to evolve with your company.

Consider a naming agency

Naming is both an art and a science. As with any part of branding, there is an intricate process that needs to take place in order to settle on a name that favorably positions and differentiates you in the market. Using branding and naming experts to help remove any inherent bias or emotional investment from the process can be worth the cost and may lead to a better outcome.

Don’t overreact if people don’t swoon

While you should weigh outside opinions of experts, overreacting to naming feedback can be an exercise in futility. Outside of your team, most people don’t know your long-term vision or aspirational brand values and need to see the name in context. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise if friends don’t instantly go gaga when first hearing the name you’ve chosen in conversation. A lot of people hated the name Virgin for an airline, Amazon for a bookstore, and Apple for a desktop computer company.

Invest in trademark research

If nothing else, our story should serve as a cautionary tale. After having found what we thought was a great name in Poachable we ended up having to start the process over again. Fortunately, we’ve settled on a better name that aligns with our bigger vision. However, if there was one piece of advice I’d offer to startups when it comes to naming it would be this: spend as much time searching for clean trademarks as you do looking for a domain.

Published on: Aug 4, 2015