What are the Best Startup Name Changes in History?

The tech industry has a rich history of startups that started with a pretty awkward name, and rebranded over time to the big brands we have come to know. Some of those changes are plain fun to remember.

A few days ago, I tweeted this, and it led to a cool thread with plenty of examples and suggestions (Twitter at its best), so I thought I’d compile the results here for easy reference.

This post is mostly frivolity, and *not scientific research*. In particular, there are nuances to a lot of those stories (e.g., Backrub was the name of the original Google algorithm, as opposed to the actual company name – still one of my favorite examples!).

Having said that, a few semi-serious (althouh perhaps obvious) thoughts on the topic of startup names:

  • Just like design, company names do matter – inspirational and/or cool names create a raw emotion, and make it that much easier to attract customers and talent to the company. I also have a theory (completely unprovable and possibly entirely wrong) that a bad name, or a very bland, literal one, negatively impacts a company’s ability to raise capital (everything else being equal).
  • Brands can also be a deliberately gutsy statement – see CockroachDB, for example
  • If there’s one thing this post illustrates, it’s that the intial company name doesn’t matter that much… it can be changed over time (although that’s not a trivial exercise to go through – can be time consuming and divisive)
  • In this day and age, having the exact “.com” (or “.io” etc) doesn’t matter that much either, at least initially – adding “get” or “go” before the company name does the trick nicely
  • However, a very common or generic name will be a real pain from an SEO perspective
  • In this era of global brands, it’s worth paying attention to whether a brand is easily pronouncable in other languages and culturally appropriate — I’ve heard over the years that “MongoDB” was a tricky brand in some countries (where the term Mongo refers to a mental disability).
  • A small hack: everything else being equal, it helps a little bit initially to have a company name that starts with an A, B, C, etc. Many company lists are organized alphabetically, and those names naturally surface towards the top. Obviously, that’s marginal stuff, and none of this stopped Stripe, Uber or Zenefits from becoming very successful companies.

Now here’s the compiled list of examples from the tweet, loosely organized (a few non-tech examples made it to the list).

Original NameNew NameCategory
BackRubGoogleConsumer/B2C
The FacebookFacebookConsumer/B2C
twttrTwitterConsumer/B2C
Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide WebYahoo!Consumer/B2C
Cadabra / Relentless.comAmazonConsumer/B2C
Quantum Computer ServicesAOLConsumer/B2C
ConfinityPayPalConsumer/B2C
Palo Alto DeliveryDoorDashConsumer/B2C
‘snewRedditConsumer/B2C
AirBed & BreakfastAirbnbConsumer/B2C
TotePinterestConsumer/B2C
justin.tvTwitchConsumer/B2C
ClasstivityClassPassConsumer/B2C
PicabooSnapConsumer/B2C
MaplebearInstacartConsumer/B2C
ThinkStacheDegreedConsumer/B2C
YocalYelpConsumer/B2C
KibbleNetflixConsumer/B2C
zimridesLyftConsumer/B2C
UbercabUberConsumer/B2C
ShoesiteZapposConsumer/B2C
NewTVQuibiConsumer/B2C
DoorbotRingConsumer/B2C
MoxieBumbleConsumer/B2C
kaChingWealthfrontConsumer/B2C
BodegaStockwellConsumer/B2C
Auction WebEbayConsumer/B2C
BurbnInstagramConsumer/B2C
Savage Beast TechnologiesPandoraConsumer/B2C
StickybitsTurntableFMConsumer/B2C
MrchewyChewyConsumer/B2C
Blue Ribbon SportsNikeConsumer/B2C
Dimension SixNikeConsumer/B2C
United FruitChiquitaConsumer/B2C
PC’s LimitedDellConsumer/B2C
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing3MConsumer/B2C
Research In MotionBlackberryConsumer/B2C
DrivUrSelfHertzConsumer/B2C
Goodfellow’s Dry Goods CompanyTargetConsumer/B2C
Amazin’ SoftwareEA SportsConsumer/B2C
BankAmericardVisaConsumer/B2C
Master Charge: The Interbank CardMastercardEnterprise/B2B
National Biscuit CompanyNabiscoConsumer/B2C
Software Development LaboratoriesOracleEnterprise/B2B
SaasBeeZoomEnterprise/B2B
/dev/paymentsStripeEnterprise/B2B
SaaSureOktaEnterprise/B2B
SquirrelSquareEnterprise/B2B
10GenMongoDBEnterprise/B2B
North Tahoe Power ToolsWorkdayEnterprise/B2B
eSharesCartaEnterprise/B2B
PlanktonFirebaseEnterprise/B2B
DaPulseMondayEnterprise/B2B
ZenPayrollGustoEnterprise/B2B
SWsoftParallelsEnterprise/B2B
SMTP APISendgridEnterprise/B2B
Elance+odeskUpworkEnterprise/B2B
Jomax TechnologiesGoDaddyEnterprise/B2B
Tiny SpeckSlackEnterprise/B2B
DistroBotKiva SystemsEnterprise/B2B
Jbara SoftwareGainsightHQEnterprise/B2B
dotCloudDockerEnterprise/B2B
37signalsBasecampEnterprise/B2B
Computing Tabulating Recording CompanyIBMEnterprise/B2B
zStackParseEnterprise/B2B
Cymitar Technology GroupRackspaceEnterprise/B2B
ShowWebGLSketchfabEnterprise/B2B
TriggerMailBluecoreEnterprise/B2B
Developer AuctionHiredEnterprise/B2B
ChubbyBrainCB InsightsEnterprise/B2B
CarbonAIKedroEnterprise/B2B
ZenProspectApolloEnterprise/B2B

Feel free to add any other example in the comments!

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