How Not to Name a Startup: The Curse of the Camel Case

What’s in a tech startup name? More specifically, is there a correlation between the type of name a company has and its success?

That’s a question every startup founder and investor should be interested in. Because if there is a correlation, then using a name-based strategy for picking winners would be, well, about as good as any other strategy. And much faster.

Consider the following companies: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle. And more recently, Groupon, Twitter, Zynga. Or how about these biggies: Facebook, Salesforce, Qualcomm. These are all top companies, no doubt about it.

Notice anything about their names? None of them has a capital letter in the middle of its name—sometimes referred to as “camel case,” because an upper-case letter in the middle of a word looks like a hump. (Of course, there’s also plenty of startup name-ology around whether to use real words, made-up words, misspelled words, acronyms, and so forth, but we don’t have all day.)

Maybe I’m getting punchy as the holidays loom, but as an end-of-year exercise, I thought we’d play the name game and see where it leads. So let’s drill down into some specifics. What I’m really talking about are company names that are two words mashed into one, where each word or part could stand on its own. Because there are so damn many of them these days. Not just Facebook, Salesforce, Qualcomm, and Rackspace, mind you, but also Admeld, Airbnb, Dropbox, Foursquare, Zipcar, Wayfair, Redfin, Evernote, Flipboard, Shopkick…and the list goes on.

Note that the above companies—all of whom are doing reasonably well, I think—spell their names without the camel case. It’s Facebook, not FaceBook. Salesforce, not SalesForce. You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Historically, camel-case companies have had their share of difficulties. Consider the plight of AltaVista, the early search engine that lost out to Google. Or of struggling MySpace, which seems to have actually changed its moniker to Myspace—exactly my point, of course. More recently, GlassHouse, the cloud computing and virtualization company, withdrew its plans for an IPO earlier this month (for the second time). BlackBerry hasn’t done much to … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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