folder Filed in Branding tips, Domain tips, Naming tips, Tips
How to Name a Unicorn?
By Tatiana Bonneau access_time 11 min read

Unicorn companies – privately held startups valued at over $1 billion – are a rare breed in the business world. Born from innovative ideas that disrupt industries, these companies often begin with high ambitions and uncertain futures. There is no way for entrepreneurs to know whether an idea will become a unicorn or not. Initial naming and domain choices for startups are typically made under budget constraints or limited foresight. As the startup grows, these choices can become restrictive.

As we explore the journey from an idea to a unicorn-status company, let’s see how naming and domain choices evolve at each stage, addressing trends and challenges that can influence a startup’s trajectory.

Idea Stage

At the idea stage, a well-chosen name sets the tone for the brand’s identity and values. It is important to select a name that embodies the business’s core idea and potential. This helps in attracting the company’s first clients, and potentially investors. 

It is important to remember the chosen brand name significantly influences company culture. It reflects the values and ethos that the founders wish to instill in their team. A name that resonates well can foster a sense of unity and purpose, serving as a rallying point for employees and helping to attract talent aligned with the company’s mission.

Domain choices at this stage are often challenging. With limited budgets and an evolving business concept, startups often compromise on their initial domain names. They might opt for less popular top-level domain extensions, or use modified versions of their ideal name because the Exact Brand Match domain is too expensive or not available. This is a practical short-term solution that allows the business to proceed with minimal upfront investment. As the business concept is proven and funding becomes more accessible, these companies frequently upgrade to better domains. 

We actually started with “” – was just the cheapest among all the options we plugged into a spreadsheet during a brainstorm. But they don’t call it “internet real estate” for nothing. Just like it matters for your brand whether your store is on 5th avenue or in a random alleyway – it matters what your domain is.

Jannick Malling, Co-founder & Co-CEO of

Common Mistakes at the Idea Stage

Many startups encounter pitfalls in naming at the Idea Stage. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Being Too Descriptive: Names that are overly descriptive of current products or services can limit the scope for future expansion. It’s beneficial to choose a name that is flexible enough to accommodate growth and diversification.
  • Overlooking Trademark Research: Failing to conduct thorough trademark research can result in legal issues if the name infringes on existing trademarks, potentially necessitating a costly and disruptive rebranding process later.
  • Choosing Hard-to-Spell Names: Names that are difficult to spell or pronounce can impede word-of-mouth marketing and hinder online searchability, reducing overall brand reach.
  • Ignoring Domain Strategy: Even on tight budgets, startups should check the availability of the Exact Brand Match (EBM) domain and plan for its future acquisition. Neglecting this can cause brand fragmentation, security risks, and costly rebrands. If immediate acquisition isn’t feasible, consider strategies for eventual ownership to maintain brand integrity.
  • Neglecting Cultural Sensitivity: Without considering cultural and linguistic implications, a name might carry unintended meanings or connotations in different markets, affecting brand perception negatively as the company grows and expands to new markets.

We didn’t have much cash at the time, we’ve just raised a little round of capital but what I knew was that this name would allow us to be taken a lot more seriously by future investors because it is a lot easier to raise venture capital when you’ve got a domain name like we have because the first thing you see on the deck is the title, and if it says it is making them turn to the next page.

Charlie Bullock, founder of 

Startup Stage

As the company enters the market, its name and domain begin to function as key branding tools, helping to distinguish the new brand from competitors. The domain becomes a primary point of interaction for customers online, influencing their user experience and perception of the brand. It also serves as the sole online space where the company can fully control its image, offering a direct connection to customers, investors, and business partners. 

This control is vital as it shapes the first impressions and establishes the brand’s digital identity. Investing in a strong domain at this stage offers entrepreneurs with ambitious visions a critical layer of independence and strength in their branding strategy. It protects the brand from external risks associated with the volatility of third-party platforms, ensuring a stable and controlled environment for growth. For entrepreneurs without such expansive visions, while still beneficial, this level of control and risk mitigation may not be as critical to their immediate business objectives.

For investors evaluating startups at this stage, the commitment to securing and developing a strong domain can be a clear indicator of the entrepreneurs’ long-term vision and their dedication to building a resilient and scalable business. 

You made a big investment getting that domain name, which means you have a big idea. This makes you serious in the eyes of an investor. When I see that I think this person has got it together.

Jason Calacanis, interview with co-founder Alex Tew

At this stage business owners can greatly benefit from feedback from their existing customers, business partners, investors and team members. How do they find the brand name? What about the domain name? Does the team have to repeat and spell out either of those often on the phone? Can people easily refer to the business’ website? 

Common Mistakes at the Startup Stage

Progressing to the Startup Stage, these are some of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make with their naming choices:

  • Underestimating the Value of Feedback: Startups often skip soliciting feedback on their brand name and domain name from customers, investors, team members, and other stakeholders, missing out on valuable insights that can directly affect their success.
  • Relying Too Heavily on Trends: If the business has started with a compromise name or/and domain name, a common scenario at this stage is to go for names that are trendy.  This can seem appealing initially but might quickly become dated as trends change and cause long lasting issues.
  • Not Planning for the Future: While testing their offering in the market, brands must consider the scalability of their name and domain. Failing to secure related domains, social handles, or common misspellings can limit growth and harm the brand’s image and marketing efforts as it grows.

Growth Stage

As companies transition into the Growth Stage, their brand name and domain continue to be pivotal assets. Now established in the market, these elements must effectively support and propel the business’s expanding operations and entry into new markets.

The domain name at this stage serves as a primary customer touchpoint and evolves as a vital tool for broader marketing strategies, enhancing both customer acquisition and retention. Companies that understand and implement strategic domain use have a much stronger presence, create enhanced user experiences and improved customer engagement. 

It is very common for businesses to upgrade to an Exact Brand Match domain at the Growth Stage, as they have built considerable brand equity and have a clearer understanding of their market position and future direction. This clarity, combined with more robust feedback from customers, partners, and the market, along with healthier cash flows, allows entrepreneurs to invest confidently in their branding. 

Acquiring a better domain aligns with their expanded vision and results in significant returns by improving the marketing efforts of the brand, and reinforcing its strength and visibility in a competitive marketplace. This strategic investment in a domain can be a catalyst for sustained growth and market leadership. 

This is the company’s most significant evolution in a nearly 50-year history of serving the rental industry. This is much more than a name change. It is the outward signal of our evolution from an advertising company to a technology and software driven company.

Jon Ziglar, CEO of

Common Mistakes at the Growth Stage

Even as companies enter the Growth Stage with a solid foundation, there are still common mistakes that can hinder their progress. Here are some of those:

  • Failing to Reassess the Brand Fit: As companies grow, their initial brand identity may no longer reflect their expanded range of products, services, or geographic reach. Not reassessing and updating these can lead to a misalignment with market perception and customer expectations.
  • Underestimating Market Differences: Companies expanding into new geographic or demographic markets may fail to consider cultural nuances that affect brand perception. A brand name and a domain name that work well in one region may have negative connotations or be difficult to pronounce in another, impacting brand reception and even hurting the brand’s reputation.
  • Neglecting Digital Assets Security and Management: As the value of the brand increases, so does the risk of cyber threats. Companies often overlook the need to secure their domains, social handles and other digital assets, and manage them effectively. 
  • Delayed Domain Upgrades: Delaying the upgrade to an Exact Brand Match (EBM) domain due to cost concerns or logistical issues can prevent a company from capitalising on its established brand equity. This hesitation can limit marketing effectiveness and brand recognition and result in security risks and lost opportunities.

Unicorn Stage

As companies achieve Unicorn status, their brand name and domain become vital assets that showcase their maturity and vision. Many visionary business leaders understand the significant impact of a great brand name matched with the perfect domain. These companies often have sophisticated domain strategies, actively managing a portfolio that includes their main brand and possibly multiple sub-brands. They register domains creatively to boost their marketing efforts and secure various defensive domains to protect their brand integrity across different markets.

We’ve grown over the years – and we’re now much more than a taxi app. This new brand is an important evolution that represents our goal to outserve our customers. We are not only providing passengers with a transport service, we are saving them time and ensuring they have a safe ride.

Anthony Tan, Group CEO & Co-Founder of

Common Mistakes at the Unicorn Stage

  • Complacency in Brand Innovation: Sometimes, unicorns become complacent, relying on their established brand rather than continuing to innovate. This can lead to stagnation that savvy newcomers can exploit.
  • Underestimating Brand Dilution: Expanding into too many areas without a clear brand connection can dilute a unicorn’s brand identity, confusing customers and diminishing brand equity.
  • Neglecting Domain Management: Failing to manage their domain portfolio actively can lead to missed opportunities and vulnerabilities, including losing control of important domains to competitors or cyber squatters.
  • Failing to Use Domains Creatively: Companies often miss the opportunity to utilise their domains creatively to enhance branding and marketing efforts. Innovative domain strategies can significantly impact customer engagement and brand perception. 

Mature Company

For companies that have reached and surpassed unicorn status, their name and domain become integral parts of their legacy, continuing to reinforce brand loyalty and market position.

Even at this stage, it’s important to maintain a brand and domain strategy that supports new ventures or pivots, ensuring the name and domain remain as dynamic as the business.

Common Mistakes at the Mature Company Stage

  • Complacency in Brand Evolution: Failing to evolve the brand alongside business growth and market changes can make a company seem outdated.
  • Ignoring New Market Trends: Mature companies sometimes overlook emerging trends or technological advancements that can significantly impact their brand.

Final Thoughts

It’s common for startups to initially opt for compromise brand names and domains, refining their choices as the business matures. Seasoned entrepreneurs, having learned from prior experiences, often prioritise securing optimal names and domains from the beginning. Regardless of initial resources, the selection of a name and domain should align with the long-term vision and aspirations of the company. These elements need to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate growth and change. For assistance in navigating these decisions, feel free to visit

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