Launching a Business on a “Quirky” Domain Name? Think Twice!

While browsing the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks back I came across an interesting article: Why Startups Are Sporting Increasingly Quirky Names. Basically the article details a trend of startups choosing misspelled word mash-ups (think Mibblio or Zaarly) because so many domains are registered by domainers who demand huge amounts of money.

I understand the issues these entrepreneurs face while trying to name their startup. However, settling for a crazy misspelled word is a mistake. Here’s why:

  • Traffic Leaks: Hard to spell names are always going to experience issues with traffic leaks. People are going to type incorrect spelling variations resulting in user frustration, potential trust issues (“Jeez these guys have a crappy name”), and a serious potential for customer defection.
  • Potential Funding Issues: Does a hand registering crappy name for your startup show potential investors that you’re serious about your business. Does it show you have a solid understanding of marketing? The answer is to both questions is a stark no. A solid marketable domain helps investors see your vision, which can help close your funding deal.
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  • Word of Mouth Issues: In the early life of most startups word of mouth referrals play a huge role in terms of traffic generation and general growth. Users will commonly say “I got these shoes on” and leading others to type in directly in their browsers navigation. However when someone says “I went on Mibblio” it’s very easy for potential users to type in or (among hundreds of others variations).

One thing the article fails to mention is why Flickr was able to flourish with their quirky misspelled name. At the time Flickr had a revolutionary service that was completely free to use and targeted to a highly technical (i.e. Internet savvy) audience. Flickr service was so awesome/useful/unique that it enabled it to quickly brand itself and powerfully even with the missing “e”. Hell the service was so good it created a trend of other copycat names.

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I would argue that unfortunately the other startups featured in the article do not have all these “perfect storm” elements that were inherent in Flickr’s success. That doesn’t mean the startups featured in the article will fail (far from it, I think the startups in the article are very cool). I just think that potential naming problems can be thwarted by having a recognizable easy to spell .COM right out of the gates.

In the end brands buy the correctly spelled name at a huge premium (the launch of the startup with the misspelled name will automatically increase the value of the correctly spelled name) as they never overcome the negative results of their quirky misspelled name. It’s the reason why Flickr bought Flicker.con and Zaarly owns So why not just own a great name to begin with? Consider pursuing a domain lease, seller financed sale, or partnership to get your project off the ground with a great name.