11 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Sean Ellis, Founder of Qualaroo

Sean Ellis Startup QuotesSean Ellis didn’t plan on founding a startup. But  when he “was hit by an epiphany that [he] was perfectly suited to execute,” he decided he had to start the company that became Qualaroo. Before becoming a founder, Ellis held critical marketing roles at Dropbox, Lookout, LogMeIn and Eventbrite. Not a bad resume for a startup founder.

He is also the guy who coined the term “growth hacker,” long before it became popular. A growth hacker is someone who hacks together programs, code, promotions, tests and anything else (generally not including traditional marketing channels) that might help a startup to grow. Today the term is almost a cliché, but the role is still a critical one in most companies just trying to get off the ground. To help spread the growth hacker gospel, Ellis also founded growthhackers.com—a community dedicated to growing startups any way possible.

Mr. Ellis has written (and spoken) often about his experiences in marketing and entrepreneurship. Here are a few things he’s said that we find most inspiring:

“Growth is not just a concern of sales and marketing, but of product, engineering and support too. It is this organization-wide commitment to growth that ultimately sets these companies apart.”

“For at least the first year or two, online consumer/prosumer/smb targeted startups should focus 100% of their non-PR media budget on acquiring customers.  Rather than buying a microsecond of awareness, you can actually use your limited funds to engage users in a real brand experience. Even for users that don’t convert to paying customers, you create a deeper impact by engaging people on your website.”

“We’ve learned it’s much better to ship it now and fix it later, once you can see how people are using it, than it is to let it linger in development forever. Just ship it.”

“‘Tweet’ and ‘Like’ buttons isn’t word of mouth. Rather, word of mouth comes from content, thoughtfulness, solved problems, and ease of use—in short, the whole experience of a product or service.”

“Companies that realize that their growth opportunity goes beyond the surface level marketing and focus inward at the opportunities presented within their own product are the ones who will find outsized results.”

“For meaningful growth, startups must completely change the rules of traditional channels or innovate outside of those growth channels. They are too desperate and disadvantaged to adapt to the old rules of marketing. They have to dig deep creatively, and relentlessly test new ideas. If they don’t figure it out quickly, they will go out of business.”

“It is important to remember that the best freemium businesses have a valuable free version that inspires user evangelism. This user evangelism is the growth engine that makes freemium work. Without strong user evangelism, freemium generally fails.”

“I ask existing users of a product how they would feel if they could no longer use the product. In my experience, achieving product/market fit requires at least 40% of users saying they would be ‘very disappointed’ without your product. Admittedly this threshold is a bit arbitrary, but I defined it after comparing results across nearly 100 startups. Those that struggle for traction are always under 40%, while most that gain strong traction exceed 40%.”

“What separates great teams from weak teams? I believe it’s the team’s ability to ‘figure stuff out.’ Founders figure out potential customer problems that are worth solving.  Engineers figure out how to build a well functioning product that meets this need.  Marketers figure out how to reach people who really need the product and how to convert them into customers…”

“Today most entrepreneurs understand that brand awareness campaigns are a waste of money for startups. Instead, it’s much cheaper and more effective for startups to focus on creating a fantastic brand experience.”

“Since most growth ideas fail, it becomes critical to test a lot of them.  The faster you can hack together an idea, the sooner you can start testing it for some signs of life.”

—Sean Ellis, Founder of Qualaroo and GrowthHackers

Photo credit: PolarisVC.

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Logo Design News This Week (5.33)

Every Friday (with a few exceptions) we take a look back at the logo design news from the previous week and share a few thoughts about what’s been going on. This week, we saw a bunch of new logos for small towns. We’ve shared our thoughts about this subject a few times before, but it never hurts to do it again… after all, nobody seems to have listened the first times, maybe they’ll listen this time.

Forsyth County Logo DesignLet’s start with the new logo for Forsyth County, Georgia. This is pretty typical of the kind of design small governments go for. Simple depictions of life away from the city. They often include trees, water and mountains. Colors tend to be blue and green. This particular design includes all of the above, plus a small family in silhouette. It’s exactly the way the residents envision their community. So when they see the logo on county trucks or the water bill, they think, yeah, that’s my county. This logo isn’t awesome, but it does the job it’s supposed to do.

Orlando North Logo DesignThe trouble happens when a community unveils a new logo for the purpose of attracting visitors as Seminole County commissioners did this past week. With just a few exceptions, logos simply aren’t powerful enough on their own to attract tourists. In this case, Seminole County is adding Orlando North to their name in order to associate themselves with their more famous neighbor to the south. When a government official says something like, “With the new logo, Seminole’s goal within the next three years is to lure an additional 62,000 annual visitors into the county.” Um, no. That’s not what logos do. Especially when you tick off your residents who like being part of Seminole County and don’t think of themselves as part of Orlando.

Bono Arkansas Logo DesignWorse, some small town mayors seem to think a new logo can change a bad reputation. Mayor Danny Shaw of Bono, Arkansas unveiled a new, poorly designed, logo this past week and in the process said, “Bono has had some bad press in the past. Some unfortunate things have happened that have made it on the news, and I’m trying to do anything we can do that would put Bono in a better light, positive light, and make the citizens more proud of their town.” That’s like putting a new coat of paint on a rusty truck. And this lousy logo isn’t going to help anyone get good press.  The logo may be new, but the town (and more importantly, the town’s reputation) hasn’t changed. If the problem wasn’t the old logo, a new logo won’t do much to fix it. And this logo in particular won’t help.

Made in Santa Maria Valley Logo DesignOn the other hand, there are example of community logos that are better than others. Take the new “Made in The Santa Maria Valley” logo. Intended for area businesses that make products, this is a good way to use a logo design to bring attention to a particular area. Residents may be more inclined to purchase local products—and outsiders who have a positive opinion of the area may buy too. No outsized expectation of new visitors. No attempt to cram every local attraction into the design. Just a simple design with a very distinct purpose—state where the product came from. We can live with that.

Quenestown Logo DesignWhen it comes to destination branding, larger communities have a big advantage. Besides already being better known (and attracting more visitors) they also have bigger budgets. Compare the new logo for Queenstown New Zealand, which cost $59,000 to Santa Maria’s $400 design. Money buys you professionalism and sophistication. Does that mean people will visit Queenstown because the logo is so nice? Not at all. But a good logo does act as a memory device to which people can attach positive feelings associated with the town. Then, when they see the logo later, they remember those feelings.

Legal Aid Logo DesignOkay, enough of that rant. What else did we notice? How about this clever logo design for Legal Aid of Western Missouri. Attorney logos are typically boring and traditional. This logo walks a nice line between clever and creative and lawyerly, using the LA to create an icon balancing the scales of justice. And a very simple typeface to go along with it. We like.

And one of the lamest logo stories of the year. Incredibly lame art teacher copyrights the logo he designed for the school than demands $65,000 for the rights. Jerk.

Swamp Rabbits Logo DesignOver the years, our favorite new logos are undoubtedly for minor league baseball teams. And every once in a while a lower league hockey team joins the ranks with an interesting logo design. This week we saw a new logo for the Swamp Rabbits (formerly the Road Warriors). The name and logo are great improvements. We really like the carrot/hockey stick. A nice detail.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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12 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt

Ryan Hoover Startup QuotesRyan Hoover is the founder of Product Hunt, a website that caters to early adopters who share their product discoveries—everything from their favorite books to business applications. The first iteration was built in just four days near the end of 2013, and has grown incredibly quickly. More than 200,000 people receive their daily email noting the latest products featured on the site (there are nearly 15,000 products listed). The site had 20 million unique visitors last year. And Hoover has raised more than $7 million in seed and venture funding. That’s as close to rocket ship growth as you’re likely to find anywhere in Silicon Valley.

While Product Hunt has been enormously successful, it’s not Mr. Hoover’s first attempt to create something useful. In high school he built his first website and tried to monetize it—making about $10 for his effort. After college he was working for PlayHaven, a business app for game developers, when he started an email list called Startup Edition which eventually became Product Hunt. And the rest is history.

Ryan has been interviewed many times and has offered plenty of advice to other would-be entrepreneurs thinking of doing their own thing. Here’s some of what he’s said that we find more inspiring:

“The best advice I can give is to build a product people want and clearly communicate what it does. Far too many makers invest their time building before validating assumptions. In many cases, you can save a lot of wasted effort by simply talking to users and testing hypotheses.”

“We still are really focused on the tech industry. Over time we’ll broaden out. But it’s a lot easier to build a strong community when it’s more focused than if it’s too broad.”

“Don’t be too clever… whether it’s your copy or landing page or product design.”

“I know it sounds cliché, but I was sick of building things for other people. It’s far more rewarding and easier to create something when you are the consumer.”

“Not everyone should start a company and not every idea needs funding.”

“It’s never been easier to build a product, but, as more are created, it becomes increasingly difficult to get noticed without a massive ad budget, pre-existing user base, or relationship with reporters.”

“Revenue is just a matter of figuring out how to do it right, not whether it’s going to happen.”

“Side projects give makers a blank slate to try out new technology, experiment with new design patterns, and market to a different audience without disrupting their existing product. Sometimes these learnings are transferred into their main product.”

“Almost every entrepreneur I know loves to brainstorm new ideas, often reminiscing the early days when they were still figuring out what to build. Side projects can ignite this entrepreneurial spirit and get a team excited.”

“The hardest thing right now isn’t building a good product or the product itself—the hardest part for some is getting attention. And if you can’t describe your product very simply, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I think one of the biggest mistakes that I see often times is people try to change behaviour too much or they try to introduce something that is too unusual for people. For us, it’s what behaviours exist out there and how can you improve upon those?”

“Before choosing to join YC and raising money, I asked myself, ‘Can I see myself working on Product Hunt for 10+ years?’ Once you take money, you’re committed for several years and owe it to your investors and team to give it 100.”

—Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt

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Logo Design News This Week (5.32)

It’s the end of the week and it’s starting to look like people are getting back in the swing of things. Kids are returning to school (at least in our part of the country) and companies are updating their brands. Here’s our Friday wrap up of all the logo design news we saw over the past seven days. Check them out:

2015 ESPN College Football Logo DesignThe start of college football is less than two weeks away, so there’s no surprise that ESPN, the unofficial home of college football, unveiled a new logo to accompany their weekly college football show. It’s a step down from last year’s design. We liked the old design’s use of the football within the shield and while it was a bit of overkill, the iron works says stadium. (Click the link to compare them.) The new logo loses all of the design references to the sport and feels more terminator than sporty. We don’t like this new logo, but we’re still looking forward to the start of the season.

This has got to be a mistranslation: A Serbian utility company is spending 42 million dinars or nearly € 350,000 ($395,000) on a new logo design. Seems a bit steep when there’s such a great option for creating a new logo for just $49. On the other hand, it’s not as expensive as Icon Water’s new $574,286 logo. But those are Ausie dollars…

New Ireland Basketball LogoThe new logo design for Basketball Ireland doesn’t quite work for us. Yes, the icon includes a basketball. And the iconic Irish shamrock. It’s the kind of idea that works in theory, but in practice falls flat. And the typeface is poorly kerned. It’s not a great design. On the other hand, who knew that Ireland even had basketball? So maybe the new mark is working.

The Daily Show sans Jon Stewart announced a new logo design this week.

Jacksonville Symphony Logo DesignHere’s a logo we like. To go with its new CEO and new music director, the Jacksonville Symphony unveiled a new logo this week. The icon is made from the five lined staff associated with printed music. The form is a combination of the letters J and S and is said to be in the shape made by the conductor’s baton. Add a professional looking font and you’ve got a nice design. One small issue—when printed at small sizes, the lines of the icon tend to moiré. But that’s a quibble.

State of Victoria Logo DesignThe State of Victoria has a new logo. We like it. The old logo had a V-shaped spotlight shining from the I in the name and illuminating the southern cross, which doesn’t really make sense. Stars shine by themselves, they don’t need a spotlight. The new logo is better. It uses a large V-shape icon and a simple type treatment. Unfortunately someone else who uses similar (though different) colors and a diagonal line for their brand is making noise about plagiarism. Seriously? Colors and a slanted line do not a trademark make. The new Victoria logo is not a rip.

Park City Credit Union has a new logo that might suggest to some that money grows on trees.

KraftHeinz Logo DesignWhen companies merge, it often creates a dilemma as to what to do with the old logos. Choose one or the other or do something completely new? If you’re the recently merged KraftHeinz company, you strip the enclosures off the old logos and jam them together. The result is recognizable, but the new mark isn’t as strong as the two older designs.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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9 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Natalie Sisson, Founder of The Suitcase Entrepreneur

Natalie Sisson Startup QuotesIf you’re in the process of starting a businsess, chances are, you’re not thinking of traveling the world at the same time. But then you’re not Natalie Sisson. Sisson, who co-founded the crowdfunding website FundRazr before working on her latest startup, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, asked why not do both? And she has. In the process of building a location independent business (she can work from anywhere), she’s travelled to more than 70 countries around the world.

Sission knows her stuff. She worked a corporate job in London, before moving to Canada to co-found her first startup and start a blog to write about her experience as a woman in the tech world. That blog eventually became the Suitcase Entrepreneur. She’s also a world-class athlete and was on the team that holds the world record for Dragon Boating and won the gold medal at the World Beach Ultimate Championships.

Her business is very different from most of the entrepreneurs we’ve profiled on the blog in the past—it’s entirely web-based and mostly made up of information products and coaching. She teaches would-be entrepreneurs how to escape the drudgery of the 9-5 job, build an audience and create unique products people want to buy. And she’s written a book, appropriately titled The Suitcase Entrepreneur.

Along the way, she’s said a lot of things to encourage others to start a business and live the life they want. Here are a few of the things she’s said that we find most inspiring:

“If you’re acting in isolation and doing everything yourself, that’s just not the route to success. You really, really need to be working with other people, whether that’s joint venture partners, whether that’s freelance contractors who are part of your team, or whether that’s just one other person who holds you accountable to what you’re doing and mentors you along the way… I’ve come to realize that it’s the way that I do my best work.”

“I don’t know why people are obsessed with growing so big all the time. It’s never been my idea to just grow so huge that I need a staff of 50. I love being nimble. I love the light, lean startup model.”

“You’ve got to have self-belief in yourself. Nobody else is going to back you up at the beginning apart from you. So you absolutely have to be your number one fan, and just believe in the work that you’re doing, even on the days when it feels pretty crappy.”

“So many people hold off on just taking action today. Life is short. It’s very easy to set up an online business and get going initially. You’ll learn so much along the way, and it will be an absolute blast. There will be great challenges, but yeah, just get started. Stop putting off. Stop being a perfectionist. Stop thinking you have to have all your ducks lined up in a row. Just get started.”

“Every single thing that you do every day always comes back to you in some way. The person you helped out yesterday, the person you’re reaching out to today, the person you’re mentoring, the person mentoring you. It’s just always about nurturing and building the key relationships.”

“You are your best asset. You can do it at any time, and you always know something that somebody else would really like to know.”

“Go and do that crazy thing that you’ve always had on your mind. Go after the very biggest, boldest thing that you’ve ever done because even if you fall flat on your face, you’ve still got foundations that you can build on. You’ve still got people who love you no matter what, and you’ve still got the skills and talents to go out and do it again, and do it again, and do it again, until you hit on that formula for success.”

“I love being a learner. I think you should always be learning, applying, and implementing. But that’s where a lot of people stop. They’ll buy all the courses and programs in the world. They’ll do all the self-study and they’ll never actually take that step to apply it.”

“Don’t ever stop having fun. It’s too easy when you’re an entrepreneur to just get bogged down by all the details and things you think you have to do, but if you went into business, you went into it because you were passionate about what you were doing. You loved it and you wanted to have more fun. So don’t ever, ever forget the fun.”

—Natalie Sisson,  Founder of The Suitcase Entrepreneur

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Logo Design News This Week (5.31)

After nearly three weeks off for some time at the beach, we’re back with another round up of logo design news. Here are the biggest news items we saw from the last 20 days or so.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Logo DesignTokyo is the host for the 2020 Olympic games. And five years before the opening ceremony begins, they unveiled a quirky geometric logo with a catchy video. It’s a significant departure from recent Olympic logos we’ve seen, which tend to be curvy and colorful. Rather it’s more like the Mexico City Olympic logo from the 60s. First impressions are mixed. Wired calls it “a confusing geometric mess”. Others note that the while you can see a T, you also see a L, which doesn’t seem to represent anything. Overall, it’s a pretty daring design. We suspect that this mark will get more popular as the games approach (unlike the dreadful London Olympic logo design). And, it’s not plagiarism. In other Olympic logo news, the Australian Olympic committee got a new logo this week too. We like it.

More sports logo news: The University of Akron is changing its logo from an A (for Akron) to a Z (for Zips, the teams’s mascot and name). And the University of Hartford has a new logo too.

Miami Football Club Logo DesignKeeping with the sports motif, Miami Football Club (or FC as soccer fans like to say) announced their new logo this week. The club will play in the NASL which is the US’s minor league. Like so many other soccer clubs, Miami’s design is shaped like a shield. And it appropriately includes design elements that suggest a hurricane, although the team suggests that these are really swaying palm fronds. The design also features a soccer ball globe and the most Miami color, orange. One thing is for sure, this mark is eye-catching. If you’re a soccer fan in South Florida, you probably like this well-designed logo.

US Soccer is reportedly going to announce a new logo sometime next year. But someone leaked it early (or at least, people think they did). Given how long until the logo is supposed to be announced, we’re skeptical.

New StubHub Logo DesignTicket Reseller, StubHub, has a new logo, its first redesign in 15 years. The old logo was dated, so the redesign is intended to give the brand a more modern look and feel. The company’s PR director said the new look is a reflection of the company’s evolution. But we’re at a loss as to how the same basic logo (now with simpler lines and admittedly a cleaner, better look) reflects anything new. Regardless, it’s a nice update.

It appears that Marvels’ upcoming made for Netflix series, Jessica Jones, has a new logo.

New Penn State Logo DesignPennsylvania State University, or Penn State as they are better known, updated their logo and it’s nice improvement over the old design. But fans get very attached to the school’s existing designs and a lot of Penn State fans don’t seem to like the update as much as we do. Some are upset about the cost. Others that the process didn’t include students or alumni.

SF Weekly has a new logo. Some people see a swastika. They’re seeing things. On the other hand, this lion logo is a bit of a problem.

Google Alphabet Logo DesignWe usually wrap up with the latest Google logo. This week Google announced its reorganization and a new holding company, Alphabet, and a new logo to go with the company. Compared to the amateurish logo for the search site, this holding company logo is well done. It’s not perfect, but it shows the company has improved its design chops.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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10 Inspiring Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Ayah Bdeir, Founder of littleBits.

Ayah Bdeir QuotesWhen Ayah Bdeir created the first prototypes for littleBits, she wasn’t thinking of starting a company. But the toy that she created—made up of interlocking building blocks (like Legos) that can be made into all kinds of different machines, robots and other things—found a market almost from the beginning. So after three years of perfecting the product, she launched her startup.

She went through 22 different prototypes before she found a version that could be manufactured in quantity. From humble beginnings, littleBits has grown to more than 40 employees and has raised almost $16 million in venture funding. And littleBits continues to grow. Customers love the kits that encourage creative play.

Ms. Bdeir has been named to Inc Magazine’s 35 under 35, she is a TED Senior Fellow, and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. And, fortunately for us, she has had a few things to say about the process of creating an innovative product and starting a new business. Here are a few things she has said that might inspire you:

“Making something that never existed before is really hard. I almost gave up many times. But maybe the hardest one was getting the first products manufactured before I had money or a company.”

“Don’t give up. Developing something new that never existed before takes time. And solving real problems takes time. Devote time to your passion.”

“Pick the right investors. Sometimes in your rush to want to do things, you start to see all investors and all money as equal. I was given the advice that it was really important to pick the right investors because they’re partners and it’s essentially like you are getting married. You need people who become family, that you can rely on, that can help you build the business and not just give you money and disappear.”

“I didn’t start out to create a company. I wanted to solve problems. To do that I had to create products, then I needed to create a company to distribute the products.”

“Be thoughtful in what you do and be thoughtful in what you develop, and don’t just copy other people. You have to bring innovation to it.”

“I’ll see something that inspires me and I’ll email it to everyone in the company. We all do this, so I’d say our innovation is a combination of people and process. We inspire each other and iterate. One of the most important truths we live by is that disciplines are dead, and the most interesting ideas are often at the intersections.”

“I love crowdfunding; I think it’s great. It’s given rise to a lot of great companies. I’ve also seen a lot of hardware companies fail and try to launch too fast because of crowdfunding. They put a campaign up and then they say they’ll start shipping within three to six months, and hardware is hard. It takes a lot longer than three to six months to make a product, and to manufacture a product.”

“Startup life is intense. You should be ready for it. You run fast and never feel like you’re running fast enough. But the awesome thing is everyone is passionate and energized, it’s really fun.”

“Parents should expose their daughters to toys and events and movies that are science related and inspire them to take part. The worst thing we can do is say at a young age: ‘girls dont like this or that’. You never know.”

“The best of advice I’ve gotten over the years is to not start a company unless you are obsessed about that product or that idea or that problem, because starting a company is very difficult. It’s very difficult every day. It has high highs, but it also has a lot of lows. If you are not really solid and passionate and obsessed, you won’t make it through.”

—Ayah Bdeir, Founder of littleBits

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Logo Design News This Week (5.30)

Welcome to another Friday, the day each week when we take a look back at the news from the world of logo design. Here are the news items that caught our attention this week:

Howard Bison Logo DesignHoward University, based in Washington D.C.,  unveiled a new logo this week. The school’s old logo looked an awful lot like NFL football team Buffalo Bill’s logo. The new one doesn’t. Development of the new design began in 2014 and solicited input from students, faculty, alumni and other stakeholders. The horns on the logotype is a bit cheesy, but effective—and not inappropriate for a college like Howard. But that icon is nice.

Derry City and Strabane council in Ireland has a new (and very expensive) logo. Town residents are upset that it cost £30,000. Yeah, that seems a bit high, but it’s a well-designed mark.

Kasich Campaign Logo DesignIt seems as if we post a brand new logo for a Republican candidate each week—sometimes more than one a week. And today is no different. On Tuesday, Ohio Governor John Kasich became the 16th person to enter the race and introduced a new campaign logo to inspire voters to listen to him. Or something. We like the bold, trustworthy font treatment. And the icon isn’t bad. This logo differs from most of the others already unveiled in its simpleness.

Runkeeper Logo DesignRun keeper, an app used by millions to track their physical activity, made a big change to their logo this week. Dropping the very fit and competitive running man icon, the company has adopted a new friendlier R icon that looks like it’s meant to be a jumprope or a shoe lace. The change is likely to appeal to the company’s core customers—women. We like the updated font, but that icon is horrendous. The way the lace is broken with odd angle cuts (where it intersects with itself) is annoying. And the orange handles on a blue rope just doesn’t work for our sense of style. And the icon doesn’t go with that font. Not a great update.

A nice write up of the recent change to the Mr. Coffee logo.

2016 All-star Game Logo DesignThis week the San Diego Padres unveiled the new logo for the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Compared to most all-star game logos, this one’s not bad. But it is crowded with all of the required elements: the MLB logo, the game’s name, a visual or textual reference to the stadium where the game is played, plus the host team’s logo and a date. This one’s got it all. And yet, we still like it.

And in other sports logo news, the Hartford Hawks have a new logo. So do the Milwaukee Admirals.

Did we miss anything you saw? Let us know in the comments.

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Start a Business: How to Name Your Startup

No doubt you’ve heard the amusing story about Chevrolet’s launch of a new model in Latin America. The car was popular in the US, so the launch team simply used the same model and name: Nova. In the states, a nova is an intensely bright star. But in Latin America, nova (or “no va”) means (doesn’t go).

A great story. But it isn’t true.

The Nova was launched in Mexico, Venezuela and several other Latin American countries and actually sold very well. And Pemex (Mexico’s gas company) sells a gasoline with the same name: Nova. No one associates the name with the idea “doesn’t go” (which they would actually say: “no funciona”).

But that doesn’t mean bad names don’t happen.

Name Your Startup Reebok IncubusIn 1997, athletic gear company, Reebok, launched a new women’s running shoe called the Incubus. When it was pointed out that an incubus is a male demon who visits women in their sleep to rape them, Reebok recalled 18,000 boxes of shoes and apologized for the mistake.

Worse, in 2002, Umbro, another sportswear brand, launched a new shoe called the Zyklon, completely unaware that Zyklon B was an insecticide used by the Nazis to exterminate millions of Jews. The company apologized and explained that the name was selected by a designer who didn’t know about the connection to the Holocaust (and apparently didn’t do the appropriate research).

Naming a new product is a process fraught with danger. And while you might not make a mistake as glaring as Reebok or Umbro, you might make one of these much more common mistakes when you brainstorm names for your brand:

Brand Naming Mistake #1: Picking a name that won’t grow with your brand.
Too often a company chooses a name that limits what they can do in the future. One example that hits particularly close to home around here is Logomaker, the name of our company. It’s a great name as long as our product is a logo. But if we want to also offer websites and business cards, it’s not a name that stretches to cover those products. Customers expect a company called Logomaker to make logos, not business cards.

The brand name Hot Point worked really well for the first electric iron patented in 1882. It also worked well when the company created the first electric ranges, changing the way people cooked in their homes. But the name works less well for the brand’s other products: washers, disposals, and freezers. A Hot Point freezer?

You’re better off choosing a name that suggests a positive attribute and can expand into other areas if needed. If you were starting a bus company, a name like Greyhound which suggests speed is better than USABus or LeBus. Another good bus brand name: Vamoose, which suggests escape. Names like Greyhound and Vamoose could be expanded more easily into other areas like air travel, taxis, or even overnight delivery. But USABus means just one thing: buses in the United States. It’s a name that limits location as well as expansion.

Choose a name that will grow with your brand.

Brand Naming Mistake #2: Choosing an abbreviation for your brand name.
KPMG LogoCVS. HTC. ATI. NCR. BVD. MBNA. BASF. LVMH. HBOS. DHL. KFC. HSBC. YKK. JVC. IMG. AMD. TMC. IKEA. JBL. KPMG.

Do any of those companies mean anything to you? The problem with abbreviations is that they don’t have an inherent meaning. If you know one or more of them, it’s because you use their products—though it’s more likely that you use one of their products and don’t even know it.

You probably recognize IBM in part because of their massive advertising budgets and products in the workplace. But what about NCR or EDS—both of which have been competitors of IBM. Those names simply don’t tell you anything about the company or its products. Does BSA stand for Boy Scouts of America or Birmingham Small Arms company? Is CVS a better name than Consumer Value Stores? Did you know QVC stands for Quality, Value and Convenience—all great brand attributes, but who knows this?

Choose a name that means something, not a name you have to add meaning to.

Brand Naming Mistake #3: Naming your brand for a list of partners.
This is a popular naming convention for law firms, accountants and advertising agencies. So what the difference between Scadden, Arps, Slate Meager & Flom and Freshfields Brockhaus Derringer? The names don’t give you a clue as to why you should choose one firm over the other. What kind of law do they specialize in? Would they even take my call?

Ad agencies are in the business of helping brands distinguish themselves from each other. And yet, many agencies simply take the names of their founders, rather than choose a name that might mean something. Can you tell by the name what kind of marketing service these agencies provide (they’re not all the same): Edelman, Grey, Weber Shandwick or Wunderman? Or even worse: JWT, FCB, TBWA, and R/GA?

You and your partners may have lovely names, but they’re not a good starting point for building a brand name that can stand on its own.

Brand Naming Mistake #4: Choosing a generic sounding, made-up name.
XypexChoosing a made up name for your brand isn’t always bad. If the word roots suggest a product benefit, go for it. Names like Blistex, Clearasil, Drano, Raisinets, Slurpee, and Terminix all suggest a brand attribute that customers are seeking (no blisters, clear skin, drains that work, raisins, a noisy drink and dead bugs). If you can come up with a made up name related to your brand benefits, go for it.

But then there are names like: Afrin, Altria, Brava, Clairol, Claritin, Clarinol, Detrol, Encana, Evora, Midol, Nexen, Onex, Plavix, Victrex, and Xypex (among hundreds of others). None of these names suggest anything, which means it will take a lot of marketing and time to attach your brand attributes and story to the name before it will mean anything to your customers.

Worse, you might end up with a name that sounds like all of the other made-up sounding names: like Atavis, Actos, Advaxis, Alimta, Amalthea, Anavex, and Atripia. Or Claris, Clarins, Claritin, and Claria. With a name like these, even if you spend the time and money to build a solid brand around your name, you still risk confusion with similarly branded names doing the same thing. It’s best to avoid names like this altogether.

Brand Naming Mistake #5: Choosing a name your customers can’t (or won’t) pronounce.
You may have heard of the brand, French Connection United Kingdom or as it cheekily abbreviates itself: FCUK. This kind of name is far too clever. Many publications won’t print the name and some potential customers will be offended by it. Most startup owners intuitively understand that names like this are risky.

But what about these brand names: Derecuny, W3LL, Xoom, L’Occitane or Xyience? Do you know how to pronounce them? If you heard them, could you spell them correctly? A name that is difficult to say or spell can be a challenge when customers search for you online. The fashion brand Hermés is pronounced air-mehz. The yogurt brand Fage is pronounced Fa-yay. Is it Lulu-lemon or LuLu-lee-moan?

Don’t make the mistake of choosing a hard to pronounce word when you name your startup.

Brand Naming Mistake #6: Choosing a name you can’t own.
McDonald Plumbing Logo DesignEven if your last name is McDonald and you are starting a business completely unrelated to fast food, you will always come second (or a hundred and second) to the hamburger giant. McDonald Construction. McDonald Plumbing. McDonald’s Rental Cars. All these are real businesses, but you’ll never find them online searching for McDonald. The fast food brand is just too big. Pick a name you can own.

Brand Naming Mistake #7: Choosing a name too close to your competitors.
In a crowded market, this can be a significant challenge. Take pizza brands for example. Papa John’s and Papa Murphy’s offer a different product, but a very similar name. (And we didn’t even mention Big Mama’s and Papa’s or Papa Gino’s). Then there are names like: Pizza Hut, Pizza Corner, Pizza Inn, PizzaExpress, Pizza Ranch, Pizza Studio and The Pizza Company. Or chains based on locations: Boston Pizza, California Pizza Kitchen, East of Chicago Pizza, Old Chicago and Rocky Mountain Pizza. Or Pizza companies that take the name of the owner, like: Ray’s, Gino’s, Jerry’s, Sammy’s, Porky’s, Dion’s, and Pat’s. We could go on.

Now think of a few battery brands. Each wants a name that suggests energy, power, and durability. Despite wanting to convey very similar brand attributes, there are some very different names: DieHard, EverReady, Energizer, Duracell, and PowerKing. Suggestive but different enough to create space in a crowded market.

When you name your startup, choose something that doesn’t sound like your competitor.

Need help with your brand’s naming project?
Avoiding mistakes is a start. But coming up with a great brand name takes time and work. If you need help, or just want a second opinion on the names you’re considering, ping us at support@logomaker.com (ask for Rob) and we’ll give you an opinion/or quote on a naming project.

For more tips on naming your startup, click here.

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12 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Tom Preston-Werner, Founder of Github

Tom Preston-WernerTom Preston-Werner is the co-founder and CEO of the popular code repository, GitHub. But that wasn’t his first foray into starting a new small business. He also started Gravatar, a program for allowing users to create a unique avatar that would follow them on the web from site to site. The service was popular, but struggled to make any money, so Preston-Werner sold the company to Automatic. It was a successful exit, but he didn’t exactly walk away a millionaire.

Preston-Werner’s next company has been more successful, both in the number of users and its revenues. GitHub provides both private and public repositories and today has more than 9 million users and more than 21 million repositories. They claim to be the largest code host in the world. And despite being profitable, they’ve raised more than 100 million in venture capital to help the company grow.

Preston-Werner left the company after accusations of harassment and nepotism. However, he has said many things that are both inspiring and helpful to others who might want to start their own small business. Here are a few of our favorites:

“When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say wow that was an adventure, not, wow I sure felt safe.”

“Here’s another thing that’s interesting about not making a lot of money on something. It makes you a more clever person. When you don’t have money to throw at a problem, you have to come up with an intelligent solution to solve the same problem.”

“It wasn’t like we sat down and were like, ‘We’re going to quit our jobs and we’re going to build this company, and here’s who the clients are going to be, and here’s the revenue split, and here’s how the equity’s going to be.’ It wasn’t like that. It was just like, ‘Hey, let’s just do this cool weekend project, and maybe it will be awesome.’”

“We can all come up with great ideas and everyone has a million ideas for mobile apps that are going to change the world. The hardest part is sitting down and saying, ‘I’m going to do this, and it’s going to be hard but I’m going to keep doing it.’ So that’s the thing, it takes a large amount of mental fortitude to do it.”

“[This is] what I learned from Gravatar: If you’re going to do a side project that you think might become popular, then you’d better damn well be able to make money from it.”

“When you hire someone, ask how they are going to push the company forward. Because companies don’t do things, people do things.”

“When you sell a company, there’s four levels of money that you can make from it. When you sell a company, you can get new shoes, a new car, a new house or a new life.”

“Do it. You’ll learn more in a year as a founder than you will in a lifetime of working for a big corporation. Joining a young startup is similar, but not quite as wild a ride as being a founder. In either case you’re at the leading edge of the company defining what it will become. You have your fingers in a hundred different pies and get to work on the most interesting thing of all: something you’ve created.”

“Learn web programming. You can start with simple web pages written in HTML and then as you learn, start adding dynamic functionality with JavaScript. With this foundation you can branch out into web frameworks or graphic design or usability and have a really solid foundation for an entire lifetime of learning and making a living for yourself. At the same time, these skills lend themselves very well towards being an entrepreneur and helping to define what the future looks like. That’s pretty powerful.”

“As the solo founder of Gravatar, I didn’t have anyone to act as a sounding board for ideas. Because of this I made stupid decisions… without a second person to motivate me and contribute time to the project, I was constantly struggling to keep ahead of the traffic curve.”

“On raising VC money: Being a bootstrapped company, we were making money. We were hiring really well. We weren’t constrained so much by money but the ambitions that we had. What we wanted to achieve we felt could be done more quickly if we removed money as a limiting factor.”

“I think a vision statement should be one sentence and probably not more than about 10 words. That’s when you get a really compelling vision. It has to be simple enough, broad enough to be big, so big enough that it’s hard to do but narrow enough that you know what it means and how you can apply it.”

—Tom Preston-Werner, Founder of Github

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