How to find a domain and name for a startup


The hardest part about finding a name for a startup is finding a decent free domain. In most cases,  the available domains is one of the main determining factors for which name you choose. With an awesome domain normally going for over $10 000 US it’s no wonder why startups are looking for variations away from the norm. The global village doesn’t help much either…

The most common alternate spellings are to use an ‘r’ (Flickr) or a ‘y’ (Gyft) or something completely random  (Yahoo! or Zuora). The second tactic is to combine 2 words like Dropbox, Facebook, or Groupon. But whatever tactic you use, finding the ‘free’ domain is a big problem. Nowdays there are many domain squatters which is completely legal and can be very lucrative and it’s almost a guarantee that what you’re wanting s taken.  In this post, I’m going to run you through the steps I took to get to (for $1000 instead of $12000) and hopefully make this a slightly less painful process for when you need to do it.

The basic process is simple. First you brainstorm as many names as possible, then select you top 10 free domains and email the owners with an offer. Rinse. Repeat.

 The Brainstorm

Start by throwing as many names as possible onto a page for about 30 mins. Then take a break and do some reading like these: TNW and OnStartups. Then you want to continue adding names to you page until you cant think of any more.

Remember: your name should ideally be short, spelt as you say it, memorable and somehow related to what you do – but ideally not too closely so that you have room to ‘pivot’.

Not being particularly creative, I cheated and used some tools like:
Wordoid – throws out random natural sounding words from a search)
– Visual Thesaurus – an interactive tree structure of words and associations
Google Translate – this can be used to look for translations of names into different languages. (like Umbono means wisdom in Swahili)

 Select the top 10

Great, now that you have a list of over 100 names (if not go back) run through your list crossing off anything that is just plain stupid or is an obvious NO! Then out of whats left, pop them into a browser and check that they are not being used by a company that would obviously keep the domain. If it’s not actually actively being used or you’re not sure, keep it on your list as you never know…  This can also be done during the search, but be sure to make a mark next to the available ones and cross off the others.

Almost any domain registra will let you search for available domains. I like to use as it is completely unbiased. Do NOT use godaddy for searching domains, as they are known to automatically register your search and then sell it back to you later.

Now pick your top 20 out of whats left. Then rearrange that list so that you favourite are on top. You now have your top 10 ‘available’ names.

Remember: If there are any half decent names are not taken – BUY IT!!! (You don’t have to go with it, but it is handy to have in the bag)

Email the owners

Here comes the interesting part. Basically, you look up who owns the domain on there should be an email address associated with the domain, although some may have a domain protector or ‘whois guard’ on them. You can’t get around this and they will still get the emails.

Try research the person or company as much as possible and in your intro speak to that. Remember that they want to get as much money as possible for the domain, so try and coma accross small and poor. Here are some pointers that worked for me:
– Always set a really low first offer. Whatever you say will be the lowest boundary.
– Be personal and friendly and try not to use ambiguous email addresses. It’ll make them not trust you from the start.
– Work an angle. Mine was “I’m a first time entrepreneur from Cape Town South Africa wanting to bootsrap a startup…” Basically you want them to think do don’t have much cash.
– FFS don’t send them a lawyers letter or make a large formal request. Thats just silly as immediately they’ll try take you for a ride.

Send off all the mails then wait. Then send them off again. I’ve found it sometimes helped if you come across as tenacious, eventually they’re going to respond and that starts the negotiations – even if they say no.

Rinse and repeat this process until you have a name you’re happy with. Make sure you also run it past Urban Dictionary, just in case. But at the same time, don’t spend weeks on this. Just pick one, name the company and move on. You can always change your name later once you’ve got funding and then the price will be less important. [“” started out being called “/dev/payments/” for their first 18 months]

My top 10 names were all going for between $8000 and $20 000 when I started looking. Some just refused to respond. It’s not an easy game but keep at it. I’d love to hear your stories of trying to find a name. NAy tricks I’ve left out?


2 thoughts on “How to find a domain and name for a startup

  1. I’m one of those evil domain squatty people. Recently I ran into a great tactic. Most domains will either have an abandoned looking blog (if you are buying from someone smart who knows what they are doing SEO wise. Indexed domains and aged are more valuable. ) or parked.

    Write the email offering to take the domain off someone they aren’t responsible for registration fees. Totally ridiculous but it did get the negotiations started with an effective opening offer of 0$. I’m going to use it if I ever need to acquire a domain.

    Also there are sites that have catchy brandable domain collections with a logo. A good benefit is there is a price listed. Also, always go to the whois and contact through the whois email not a third part site the domain may be listed on which will charge a 10-30% commission rather than going through for 4%.

  2. Pingback: How to find a domain name for your startup – Silicon Cape

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