How to choose a winning name for a global company

As more business takes place across borders, choosing the right company name is more important — and challenging — than ever.

This article and webinar is part of a new series in which Estonian citizens, residents and e-residents can offer each business advice based on their experiences, as well as the products and services that they offer. Along with the upcoming launch of a new e-Residency community platform, the aim is to let everyone learn more about companies in our digital nation and help facilitate business between them and beyond.

When starting a new company, there’s a lot of factors that are outside of your control.

“But not your name,” points out Kirill Soloviev, an e-resident from Moscow. He’s established Nimi to help startups around the world choose better names for their companies, products and services. “You are 100 per cent in control of this so choose wisely.”

Many entrepreneurs focus on the meaning when choosing names, but Kirill says that the fluency and uniqueness of the word must be carefully analysed too — and not just from the perspective of your own language and culture. On top of that comes the complexity of copyright issues, search engine optimisation, the price of domain names, and how distinctive the name is from competitors.

Kirill Soloviev is the founder of Nimi, a naming service for startups.

But how important is any of this really?

Soloviev cites scientific research demonstrating how a company name affects the willingness of customers, investors and partners to engage with your services — as well as whether they can even find you in the first place and remember you afterwards. This is significantly more important for early stage startups for whom a good name might be one of their only assets on show.

Choosing the right name can sometimes just make a 1% improvement to your company’s fortunes, but even that 1% improvement is valuable. A bad name however can stop a good business from ever taking off.

One good example is a startup that originally decided to call itself ‘Backrub’.

Backrub helped people find relevant web pages — partly by analysing ‘backlinks’ — so the name was meant to be a clever reference to this technical detail. The name didn’t translate well to anyone outside the company though and this severely limited their ability to attract customers, investors and other partners.

To help turn their fortunes around, the company picked a new name that combines fluency and uniqueness, but still contained a clever reference to their service within it. This time they chose a wordplay relating to a mathematical term that would indicate the vast amount of web pages that they are able to help find.

The rebrand was so successful that not only have you almost certainly used the company’s services, but you probably also use the company’s name as a verb in everyday conversation.

That company is Google. It’s unlikely that anyone would be talking about ‘backrubbing’ today if the name wasn’t changed.

As business becomes increasingly global for every type of entrepreneur, finding a good company names becomes even more important — and challenging. ‘Backrub’ suffered from a cultural misunderstanding, even though it was only between the culture of the office and the culture of the customers directly outside it. Companies seeking access to their widest possible audience will have far more considerations.

Kirill gives the example of a company in South Korea that planned to export a face cream called Zit — unaware that the word is also used as slang for face spots in the UK and US. These kind of stories are increasing as more small companies are able to access bigger markets with cultures they are less familiar with.

Soloviev has a background in software engineering and a deep interest in languages.

As part of his naming services, he meticulously researches all of the names that his clients are considering (both those created by Nimi and the ones proposed by his customers) across different languages and cultures, as well as the industry in which they are operating.

However, he believes that the time has come for Artificial Intelligence to make professional-quality, high-impact brand names accessible for every startup on the planet. Nimi is currently working on a AI that learns from vast amounts of existing company names and creates new, unique names based on the needs of each user — while also ensuring, among other things, that those names will work well across different languages and cultures.

Nimi offers a discount to Estonians and e-residents.

To turn this bold vision into reality, Soloviev not only became an e-resident in order to establish his company in the EU but also makes frequent visits to Estonia in order to find the support that he needs to develop the concept.

Soloviev originally came up with the idea at a hackathon in Tallinn organised by Garage48. He quickly brainstormed a range of names for his own proposed startup then selected Nimi, which means ‘name’ in Estonian. He hoped this would appeal to his Estonian audience, but scribbled a note to himself at the time that the word was “too frequently used in too many languages”.

He only later discovered that this is a major positive, not a negative, and so decided to keep the name.

Kirill Soloviev speaking at Lift99, a coworking hub in Tallinn.

Soloviev has also now started connecting with other e-residents too after joining the new community platform, which is currently being trialled by the programme. This led to his first offline meeting with an e-resident from Scotland who was visiting Moscow. They both now intend to start doing business together.

“This is what the programme is to me,” says Soloviev. “It’s not just a way to do business. It’s also a community and I want to help grow our community as much as I can.”

Join Soloviev’s webinar

Soloviev is offering a webinar for the e-Residency community about how to choose a winning name for a global company.

He’ll provide his top tips and reveal more about the story behind his own startup and how he uses e-Residency. You’ll also be able to ask your own questions and, if you are brave, see what he thinks about a company name you’ve already chosen.

The webinar will take place at 12 noon in Tallinn, which is in Eastern European Summer Time (GMT+3), on Friday 21 September.

Anyone can sign up using the link below.

Welcome! You are invited to join a webinar: How to choose a winning name for a global company – A webinar with Kirill Soloviev, e-resident & founder of Nimi.. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email about joining the webinar.

What about the name ‘e-Residency’?

Soloviev conducts business through his EU company as an e-resident of Estonia. E-Residency is a government startup so we were curious to hear what he thought of our name.

There’s a logic behind the name. The Republic of Estonia serves three groups of people, all of which are provided with a digital ID card that enables access to our country’s digital infrastructure and e-services. The first two groups are citizens and residents so the third group (who are provided purely digital rights to operate within our nation) are named e-residents.

Soloviev says that this kind of ‘descriptive name’ format is increasingly less common for tech startups where entrepreneurs usually prefer ‘invented names’ that are unique and attractive, but have little real meaning or ‘evocative names’ that rely on abstract words with powerful imagery that can be incorporated into the brand.

“However,” explains Soloviev. “It is a very apt choice for something that has never existed before (like the concept of government-as-a-service!) and needs to be made clear to the audience before they are likely to engage with the brand.”

Like many e-residents, Soloviev says that he first discovered Estonia’s offer of e-Residency and how that could help his business grow then discovered more about the country itself and since made valuable connections inside the country too.

“My only qualm with the name is that it’s too long at 5 syllables — this taxes people’s cognitive processing abilities and leads to less favorable initial reactions to the brand. However, all of this is usually negated quickly once they dig in and learn about all the benefits.”

Although not as fluent as Google, it is possible that ‘e-Residency’ and ‘e-resident’ might make it to the dictionary one day though. Perhaps soon.

The programme is growing at ever faster rates and there are now more than 40,000 e-residents from around 150 countries. In addition, several other countries are in various stages of planning or launching their own e-Residency programmes. Estonia welcomes this (and actively helps them develop e-solutions when possible) because every country can focus on their own unique online offering for the world through e-Residency and this provides new opportunities to integrate our e-services for the benefit of everyone.

If you’d like to become an e-resident then visit e-resident.gov.ee. Like Soloviev, you can then create an EU company and then manage it online from anywhere in the world. If you need any help with the name then you know who to speak to.

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