Naming a Business is Hard

Jordan and I are starting a business, inspired by the response to our Improv for Everyone session at SXSW. That is, if we can come up with a name for ourselves without losing our minds.

It All Started When…

We started thinking about launching a company related to improv applications for business after our “Improv for Freelancers” session at SXSW 2010. We were astonished by how many people showed up (we were expecting maybe 10 people, and ended up with more like 40-50), and then we were blown away by their response. We’ve both taught improv, but still, we underestimated how powerful people would find it to be introduced to the principles of improv for the first time…not to mention, that powerful “aha!” moment when they saw how it applied to so many facets of their life and work.

We realized we were onto something. We thought about starting a company, or writing a book, but then we got swept back up in our “regular” jobs. Meanwhile, Improv for Freelancers was voted a SXSW 2010 audience favorite, and we did our happy dance. When SXSW 2011 rolled around, we decided it was time to go for broke, and proposed a session called Improv for Everyone, which the fabulous people at SXSW approved. We started gathering ideas for a book.

And Then, One Day…

The session was a hit. Again, we were just blown away by how strongly people reacted to the material we presented (I posted some sample feedback here). Then, last week, two people who’d attended our session emailed us to see if we were available to do custom workshops for their respective companies (both of which happened to be here in NY). Yes, we replied – yes we were available. I threw together a web page about Improv for Everyone (our placeholder name for our fledgling biz), intended as a step up from our very amateur Team Hirsch site (hey, we aren’t designers!), and we began business planning in earnest.

Meanwhile, in response to one of those emails I mentioned getting from SXSW attendees, we booked our first workshop… for this Thursday. What was that about constraint breeding creativity?! Let’s hope so. We were off to the races.

Panic Sets In

We have spent the better part of a week brainstorming a name for this company of ours. We are creative people, and we have named other things well, in our time… Creative DC, for one; Wired for Music, for another. But when it comes to naming this company… oh, the trials and tribulations!

My friends, we have spent HOURS at this task. We’ve done naming exercises, filled page after page with synonyms, antonyms, idioms, rhymes. We have walked away to let things marinate, giving our ideas the space they might need to flourish and grow. No matter: inspiration, she has not struck.

In our mission statement, we just refer to “Company X”:

Company X teaches creative businesses and professionals how to unleash their full potential using the principles of improvisation.

This is a sad state of affairs. And meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

What’s in a Name

Here’s everything we want out of a name:

  1. The .com web address for our name is available. (I put out feelers on Twitter, and to a few people in my personal network who advise start-ups, and word came back that while SEO and social media can help people find your company no matter what your URL, having a .com address conveys a certain level of professionalism and polish that we think is important, given our target audience. Speaking of which…)
  2. Our name appeals to our target audience: businesses that rely on creativity to succeed + individual creative professionals. We recognize that some of the most creative businesses are in unexpected sectors. That said, most of our clients will come from industries that put an explicit premium on creativity, such as: media production; social entrepreneurship; advertising, marketing and public relations; technology; and design. Our name should evoke something positive and desirable for this slice of humanity.
  3. Our name should ideally convey that our company ties improv to a larger concept — we don’t just offer traditional improv classes, we apply the principles of improv to help creative people and teams work better. (This one’s HARD. We’ve informally focus group tested a few names, and people always think we’re talking about a comedy or performance group.)
  4. Our name should sound good to the ear; it should roll off the tongue.
  5. Shorter is better – shorter names work better in social media land (e.g., choosing a Twitter handle).

Well folks, we are finding it nearly impossible to meet all of these criteria. We’ll come up with a name we love, and then we’ll find out that the .com web address isn’t available. Or we’ll think we’re onto something, and then we’ll poll some friends on Twitter, and ask them what they’d think if they came across a company with that name… and they’ll think we’re starting a comedy club for dogs (we were considering the name Improv Unleashed :/). 

Part of the problem is that we aren’t the first people with this business idea. For example, one name we were playing with was improVocation – we liked how it tied improv to “vocation,” and also sounded like “provocation,” since we’re hoping to provoke new thinking… anyway, not only was the URL not available, but we realized people would be likely to spell it as “improvication,” and that’s the name of an improv corporate training group in Colorado. BOO. I definitely think there’s room for our company — we have a different style and target client than the groups I’ve seen, we’re in New York, we have a certain brand recognition established via SXSW — but this little fact of life hasn’t made the naming process any easier.

Wish us luck

Did I mention our first workshop is this Thursday? Yeah. And our bios are due tonight. So we need to finalize a name tout de suite, so we can finalize a simple web presence, and get some business cards made…

I’ll tell you, I’m a believer that constraint breeds creativity, but I may have found an exception to the rule.

My latest idea: go more abstract. Come up with a pleasing name that evokes the feeling we’re going for, without being so literal — since all the literal names either suck, or are already taken (or both… sorry!).

Wish us luck! And I hope it goes without saying that if you have any advice, then please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, let us know!

…What are you waiting for?!


“No Name” photo above by Giant Gingko on Flickr; “Hello My Name Is” photo by Emily Rose.



7 thoughts on “Naming a Business is Hard

  1. Or, you could just let the people in your workshop know that you guys don't have a name yet, and that you're improvising this experience and they're improvising it with you. Stop trying to script out a name for your company and embrace the journey. The proper name will come in its due time and will be provided by being in the moment. Yes, you guys can do this, *and* you're going to kick ass at it.


  2. Excited for you! The name will come and you will just know it is perfect. Idea – the word "esque" means – in the manner of – so what about -Improv-esque You'll find something. Your company sounds amazing. Keep us posted!!


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