Category Archives: Ideation

Coming up with an idea is not easy. And even though you have an idea, there may be a need to innovate and iterate to make it even better. This section provides guidance on brainstorming and creative thinking.

The Pros and Cons to Being a Green Organization

After having worked in and with green organizations for over 20 years, this is how I see it:

Pros of Being Green

  • Green is hot: is it a fad or is it here to stay? The answer is “yes”. It is a fad and it will stay. Mostly because it must stay. These days everyone wants to be seen as being green. If you have something that people need that is superior to non-green alternatives, you can do well in certain situations.
  • Solid business opportunities:If you have a product or service in the energy, clean tech or green tech sectors, or are dealing with everyday challenges people face AND are competitive in your product/service, you are in a good place.
  • Marketability factor: Since the media is still hot for green, businesses can definitely find unique ways to milk this one. Just make sure you do it authentically, otherwise you risk getting busted for greenwashing — claiming you are greener than you really are.
  • Easier to compete: As long as your product is just as good as or better than non-green alternatives out there you’re in good shape. Even if you cannot compete on price, there are solid strategies to position your product/service to be quite desirable.
  • Strong feel-good component:If your product/service really makes a difference for the planet and society, you can certainly leverage this in your branding and marketing. People like knowing that what they purchase is going to help more than just themselves, with everything else being relatively equal.
  • More stable: Organizations that build not only a profitable business but that integrate the social and environmental components that surround it, usually do better than their “non-green” competitors.

However, becoming a green organization is not always rosy. See why there may be cons to being green.

Cons to Being Green

Despite the positives for greening your organization, here are some of the negatives that can come up:

  • Green is hot right now: those green organizations that market, position and brand themselves as “green” as the main message will struggle when the green wave subsides. Knowing how to stay hot without relying on “green” as the key differentiator is crucial.
  • Keeping up: since green business is here to stay (not to be confused with the “buzz” or fad of being green), keeping ahead of the competition in new green technologies and strategies can be quite challenging at times. For example, it is so ‘90’s to say, “We’re green because we use recycled paper and soy based inks in our materials….”
  • Complex business model: it’s hard enough to focus on one bottom line: profits. Try focusing on three! True green enterprises not only focus on being profitable, they also take responsibility of the impact their organization has on people and the planet (known as the triple-bottom-line or the three p’s.)
  • Juggling hats: most green enterprise owners I know are traditional business people OR environmentalists, but rarely both. To thrive as a green business owner, you must be great at both!
  • Play By the Same Rules For Now: many green enterprise owners expect people will come flocking to their product or service because of how green it is. They usually are in for a rude awakening. If it does not compete on the traditional business components of functionality, quality, fashion, and/or price, it will not succeed. Guaranteed. This may change, but not yet.

And while we’re light-years ahead from where we were 20 years ago, the green business model is quite new and we’re still ironing out the kinks.

Green businesses, just like traditional businesses, must still pay rent, make payroll, figure out marketing and branding strategies and so on.

But there is one major difference: when a green business is done really well, you will see the positive social and environmental impact it has… while making a solid profit.

And when that happens, it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted by The Pros and Cons to Being a Green Business

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Startups Needed For Cloud Computing Gray Areas

Cloud computing is still all the rage these days. Yet I find that most people don’t understand and fully trust it, and I defy even the technologists to define it in ten words or less for business people. Many say it’s just marketing hype applied to old principles that have been around for a long time.

A typical definition (from Wikipedia) is that “cloud computing, is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand, like a public utility.” That’s about 25 words which I’m certain doesn’t paint a very precise picture to the entrepreneurs I know.

Putting aside the acronyms and technical jargon, I think I can distill the essence of the cloud computing vision to the following five key points:

  1. Buy service from a central utility, rather than buy assets. Now you can pay for a metered service delivering compute power, data, and storage, based on your business demand, through the Internet. No need to buy and manage these as assets. This is a great cost leveling advantage to businesses, which used to be called time sharing.
  2. Maintenance and support are provider responsibilities. Small companies no longer need an IT staff, with the inherent costs and management responsibilities. That allows them to focus on their core competencies, reduce overall costs, and be more agile in responding to market changes.
  3. Access to new services and data is instantly global. Employees don’t need to come to an office to do their job, and customers don’t need special software installed access a new application. International standards and localizations are assumed from the beginning, rather than added much later.
  4. Availability is 24/7, just like your electric utility. No more down time on weekends, or during the nightly backups. The Internet is a huge power grid that services computing needs (cloud computing) of businesses and consumers, just like the electricity grid services power needs (cloud power).
  5. Easy integration of customized applications. People have traditionally bought their own computers simply to provide a common platform where all their applications could talk to each other, even though customized, and share data. The cloud provides these transformations with security and integrity.

Make no mistake about it, these are the dreams, not the reality today. Even the pundits agree that cloud computing is still for “early adopters,” meaning it’s not all there yet. Many people can quote cloud computing successes, like businesses using Amazon Web Services for huge scaling, or failures, like the Google App Service major outage a while back.

Other gray areas include how to do secure credit card transactions in the cloud, tax considerations for international operations, multiple virtual machines in one cloud, and properly addressing differing geographic regional requirements in a single cloud. Then there is the connection problem of sharing data with standard applications not in the cloud.

When a vendor starts talking about his paradigm shift to a dynamically scalable and virtualized solution in the cloud, with SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), MSP (managed service provider), or web services in the cloud, tell him to skip ahead to the chart which shows you how well he does on the five points above, and the five gray areas outlined.

Even though “the cloud” is a familiar cliché for the Internet, cloud computing is still very much an opportunity for startups, with lots of room for innovation and better solutions. Now is the time to jump on board, but a cloud usually means you should expect a few storms ahead before you see the sunshine.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from Startups Needed For Cloud Computing Gray Areas

Image courtesy of ponsuwan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tips to Avoid the Opportunity Bubbles Ready to Burst

In finance, a bubble is too much money chasing assets, greater asset production and a herd mentality. In startup business plans, a bubble is too many entrepreneurs and too many investors chasing the latest “next big thing,” like Google search engine, Facebook social network, or Amazon e-commerce site. In all these cases, a bust is inevitable, and everyone loses.

The big question is how to spot these bubbles and jump to a better alternative, rather than get sucked into the vortex. Vikram Mansharamani’s book Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst gives some insight on the financial side, but I believe it can be equally applied to bubbles for startup ideas as follows:

  1. Avoid the herd mentality. In theory, this is called the “emergence of group order” or swarm mentality, where everyone rushes in without regard to whether there is enough food to go around. For startups, investors usually toss business plans with ten or more real competitors, especially if a couple have the penetration of a Facebook or Google.
  2. Overconfidence. In finance, “this time is different” is the beginning of a new bubble. In startups, it is the idea that “this solution is different,” without sufficient analysis of base anchoring features, differentiation features, or no new early adopters. Change is always hard, so people already on Amazon are not easy convert to another e-commerce system.
  3. Supply and demand ignored. We all believe that supply and demand meet to create stable prices (reflexive). But sometimes higher prices create higher demand, causing a boom. Busts result when lower prices stimulate more supply. In startups, a great success like Google causes busts by stimulating more supply, without regard to demand.
  4. Cheap money. The Austrian school of economics asserts that “cheap money is the root of all evil” as an explanation for all boom and bust cycles. This also works for startups, where cheap money occurs when too many investors jump on a bandwagon. Experts argue that a higher percentage of startups fail with too much money, rather than too little.
  5. Policy-driven distortions. Government actions sometimes meddle with normal supply and demand equilibriums, or money allocations. In startups these days, governments are incenting green and alternative energy solutions, to intentionally create a bubble. All too often, that leads to a bust for startups who have not adequately prepared or executed.
  6. High valuation, low profit. A sure sign of a bubble is when assets are artificially valued high, without a corresponding intrinsic value or cash flow. Social media darling Twitter is the most fragile of these bubbles. In my opinion, now is not the time to bet your startup on a Twitter clone.

Every startup wants to be the one to start the next bubble, but these are impossible to predict. It’s much easier to spot current bubbles, and resist the urge to build a “me too” product. The focus should always be on execution, revenue, and profits. Vision, growth over profit, and eyeballs won’t do it this time. Startups that master iteration, momentum, and the ability to pivot will win.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from Avoid Startup Opportunity Bubbles Ready to Burst

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Eight Most Underrated Startup Opportunities

A few years ago, I was quoted by a Wall Street Journal reporter in an article, the inverse of this one, titled “The 7 Most Overrated Businesses”. Several people suggested that it might be more productive to list some positive opportunities, rather than problems, so it’s time for me to take another look into the crystal ball.

Generally, my picks lean toward “investor friendly” high technology ones, but since these are not so cheap and easy to start, I’ll add a few more, like Internet website and software products, that can be started on a shoestring these days:

1. Smart-phone applications. People are buying iPhones and Droids in phenomenal numbers, and they want to see and do everything that they can do from their desktops, and more. Lots of existing applications are being “kludged” to work, but I see a great opportunity to offer innovative new solutions, and new applications.

2. Social network marketing. Everyone tells me that the social networks have changed marketing and public relations drastically. I believe it will happen, but it hasn’t yet. I see the backlashes from early efforts, like Facebook’s “privacy train wreck” which tells me the new norms haven’t been set yet, and there is still a big opportunity for innovation.

3. Green. For those of you looking for startup ideas that are hot today and recession proof, consider anything to do with saving energy, sustaining the environment, or solutions to the global warming problem. True, there are many players already in this space, but there is room for many more, and room for some big winners.

4. Biotech. In its most general sense, biotech is used to refer to any sort of technology that uses biology or other medical technology to accomplish its end. It includes the use of microbes, or life processes, to produce products that are useful to mankind. Even in tough times, people will spend big money preventing and treating illness.

5. Sustainable energy. Renewable energy is a source that can be produced cleanly from natural sources. It will not disappear like fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and is less polluting. Leading examples are solar power, wind, ocean, biomass, hydro, and geothermal. I also see renewed interest in hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

6. Health and wellness support. People are crying for more health and wellness information, and support groups. Something like 34 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and over are obese, and the solution is probably not a magic pill, but a credible regimen that can be delivered and monitored via the Internet. All the spam probably means there is a real market.

7. Finding jobs and recruiting. Finding a job with a creative resume and blasting it to all comers hasn’t changed in 40 years. I think it’s time for job sites with real matching algorithms, to proactively “txt message” you in real time about perfect company matches. It can’t be as hard as dating sites, and it’s at least as important to your future. Where are the video and interactive elements in Monster.com?

8. Medical devices. Today’s aging boomer generation and new healthcare legislation guarantees an ongoing demand for innovative medical devices that are less invasive, reduce costs, and otherwise enhance the quality and economics of healthcare delivery. These products are also considered “recession proof,” since treatment problems have been shown to actually increase during high stress periods.

Despite all this, the best opportunity for you is still the one you know the best. Don’t try to implement someone else’s dream. If your startup dream is not on this list, think twice about it, but don’t give it up. The best opportunities are still the ones that no one else has even recognized as a possibility. Those possibilities are endless.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from Eight Most Underrated Startup Opportunities

Image courtesy of sdmania / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Renewable Energy Sector

My picks for favorite startup sectors to improve your fundability include green, biotech, and renewable energy (also called alternative energy or sustainable energy). In previous articles, I’ve put some definition around the green and biotech investment categories, so I’ll try to do the same here for renewable energy.

Renewable energy is any source that can be produced cleanly, will not disappear like fossil fuels, and is less polluting. The Clean Technology venture capital sector, which includes alternative energy, soared 68 per cent year-on-year during the first quarter of 2010. Here are the key components, as summarized by the New Alternatives Fund:

1. Solar power. Solar cells produce electricity from the sun. Conversion efficiency of silicon cells has increased from 4% in the early eighties to over 20% for the latest technologies. The cells create no pollution when they generate electricity. They are not yet as cost effective as coal-generated electricity, but costs keep declining and efficiency is increasing.

2. Wind power. The latest turbine technologies have resulted in wind-produced energy becoming more cost efficient, and more widespread. New wind energy development is essentially cost-competitive with conventional energy technologies.

3. Hydropower. This technology is clean but limited by geography. This is already an important source of renewable electricity. More attention is going to low-impact and “run-of-the-river” hydropower, which does not have the ecological problems of older dams.

4. Ocean energy. Technologists predict that wave action, current, tidal movement and temperature differential will become an outstanding form of clean energy. Ocean energy has a big advantage because the timing of currents and waves are understood and reliable.

5. Geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is produced by heat from sources below the Earth’s surface. Steam created by these underground heat sources is used to spin turbines for electricity generation.

6. Biomass energy. This is a broad category encompassing a variety of fuels produced from biological sources.

• Bio-diesel can be created from used or virgin plant oil. Production and testing today center around rapeseed oil, soybeans, sunflower oil. Overall, bio-diesel works cleaner than petroleum-based diesel fuel.

• Ethanol is derived from agricultural products, including corn, wheat, fruit, wine, and various kinds of cellulose stalks and wood chips. The techniques are steadily improving. Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to minimize engine changes.

• Waste gas (methane), emitted from landfills, breweries, waste water, animal sewage and coal mines, provides almost free fuel for stationary fuel cells and conventional gas generators.

• Hydrogen is the ideal alternative fuel, since it releases no toxins into the air. It can be derived for waste gas, or mixed with natural gas in hybrid fuels. Liquid hydrogen, the preferred form of hydrogen, still requires more storage space and pressure than other fuels.

There are many other technologies which may be lumped into this category, including combustibles, municipal waste, and even nuclear energy. There is overlap between this category and the green category, as it relates to global warming and environmental impact.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for a hot sector to help you recover from tough economic times, get you tagged as a world leader, and increase your probabilities for funding support, put some energy into this one.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from The Renewable Energy Sector is Fundable in 2011

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Try Biotech for Blockbuster Opportunities

In addition to the “green” sector, I see biotech as one of the places where startups can always go for real opportunities. Recession-proof products with innovation continue to come from the biotechnology industry. Plus, it was the top industry attracting VC money in the most recent quarter of 2010, with a total of $944 million.

In its most general sense, biotech is used to refer to any sort of technology that uses biology or other medical technology to accomplish its end. It includes the use of microbes, or life processes, to produce materials and products that are useful to mankind.

Two top-notch analysts in this area, Eric Schmidt and Ross Muken say inForbes “True innovation and products with a more durable revenue stream are coming from the biotechnology side of the industry,” They argue that biotech drugs treat life-threatening diseases – so recessions barely dent sales growth.
The hot areas of research today are cancer, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, neurological diseases, immunological diseases, viral infections and tissue regeneration, where there is a high degree of incidence in the population.

Success in these areas will ensure a faster return on investment in R&D and licensing efforts. An alternative is to start a niche company with an orphan drug that, if successful, is protected from competition for several years. There is always money around for the right team and the right plan, and I believe biotech is a good area to start from.

If you are looking for the ideas on top of the list, I recommend you start with one of the following hot areas of biotech. Each one has the potential of annual sales more than $1 billion, which puts it in the new “blockbuster” drugs category:

• Metabolic disorders. “Metabolic syndrome” is the politically correct term for patients who are obese, diabetic, and face increased risk of heart disease. Now that half of the U.S. population is technically obese or overweight, an effective diet pill has become the Holy Grail of drugs.

• Vaccines. With new products to prevent cervical cancer, avian flu, and the common cold, vaccines are back in vogue. There are many other novel vaccines now on the table for development, ready for entrepreneurs who can license and commercialize them.

• Infectious diseases. Now that HIV has been transformed from a death sentence to a chronic disease has turned the infectious-disease-drug market into a multibillion-dollar industry. The next frontier is an effective treatment for Hepatitis C. Current drugs have terrible side effects and only “cure” 50% of patients.

• Lowering blood cholesterol. Drugs in this category are commonly called “statins.” They not only control blood cholesterol, but also stabilize plaque and prevent strokes through anti-inflammatory and other mechanisms. This is a huge need as the population ages.

Another biotech subcategory with opportunity is new medical devices. A friend of mine, a distinguished physician and surgeon, happens to manage a small private investment fund seeking early stage companies with new medical devices that have an established market. If you know a hot new startup in this area, I’m interested.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a biotech startup. People tell me that “Big Pharma” companies have nearly $100 billion in cash that will keep buyout offers large. There are plenty of Holy Grail areas to focus on. How can you argue with this logic? Now is the time to jump in.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from Try Biotech for Blockbuster Startup Opportunities

Go Green with Ten Start-up Triple Bottom Line Ideas

For those of you looking for startup ideas that are hot today and recession proof, consider anything to do with saving energy, sustaining the environment, or solutions to the global warming problem. These are especially good for Gen-Y (millennials) who have the passion, or every Gen-Y “wanna-be” (over 25 but not yet fulfilled).

Especially during a recovering economy, these will get you extra attention with investors, as long as basic business principles are not forgotten. Doing the right thing has to be profitable and competitive if it is to be sustainable.

Here are ten themes to get your mind rolling:

1. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Figure out how to recycle profitably your old cell phones. Come up with a responsible way to dispose of old medicines. Generate energy from the stuff you recycle.

2. Sustainable agriculture. Eliminate poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture, and reduce dangerous chemicals in the food source.

3. Wildlife and resource conservation. Replant deforested areas to improve air quality, and restore indigenous forests. Protect wildlife to restore natural selection and the natural environment.

4. Renewable energy. Harvest renewable energy sources to power your home; sell that renewable energy back to your utility company site and build your dream eco-home; minimize your fossil fuel use; and more.

5. Alternative transportation. The alternatives here range from wind-powered battery-electric vehicles, to concentrated solar powered, geothermal-powered, tidal powered, wave-powered, to nuclear powered vehicles for different roles across the world.

6. Hyper-efficient appliances. Residential technologies – heat pump water heaters, new air conditioners, programmable thermostats, lighting, electronic appliances.

7. Organic food. This can be done both as big business and on a relatively small farm; and the third, help in hunting and gathering food for oneself.

8. Healthy fast food. Make visits to fast-food restaurants that are healthy rather than the culinary equivalent of “impulse buys.”

9. Save the global environment. Global warming, air and water pollution, and reducing energy usage are just the beginning.

10. Green construction. I’ve heard many ideas for greening your house and your business, from minor improvements – such as what paint to use – to major ones, such as how to choose and install solar electric panels.

There are programs out there to help businesses green their practices in a way that works with, and often enhances, the bottom line. There’s a phrase in green-talk, “the triple bottom line” which encapsulates what it takes for a business to be truly sustainable – economy (profits), ecology (resource management), and equality.

The last refers more to the social issues of green businesses today. It’s all about how a thriving business can enhance the community it is located in. Go green, and make it a triple bottom line – for your business, the economy, and the environment.

Written by Marty Zwilling
Adapted from Go Green with Ten Start-up Triple Bottom Line Ideas

The Need for Creative Thinking After the Idea

Most aspiring social innovators and entrepreneurs believe their initial idea and inspiration requires the most important creative thinking. The experienced ones will tell you that the initial idea is the easy part and it’s the later implementation and the competitive marketing that are the real creative challenges.

There is a tough balance here to achieve, since a large portion of starting and running an organization requires analytical, logical thinking. In fact, our education and training to logically associate related concepts reduces our ability to add the creative side, even though we were all born without that bias. Maybe that’s why “thinking outside the box” is so rare.

While looking for guidance on how to be more creative in growing an organization, I came across Michael Michalko’s most recent book, Creative Thinkering, which clearly applies to ventures as well as personal environments. With his insights, I offer the following recommendations on how to nurture and build your creative business capabilities:

  • Look for familiar patterns in unrelated subjects. Due to learned habits and routines, new ideas default to be similar to old ones. Creative thinkers get results by combining dissimilar subjects, like investors and competitors. I find that startups looking for funding often never even think of asking strategic partners.
  • Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change. Stereotyped notions block clear vision and crowd out imagination. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine contradictory approaches or working with opposites.
  • Think the unthinkable. We all need ways to unstructure our imaginations to explore the outer limits of alternatives, so that we can go beyond the typical solutions.
  • Intention is the seed of creative thinking. Intention has a way of bringing to our awareness those things that our brains deem important. One way to prime for creativity is to generate an awareness of what you want to accomplish.
  • Change the way you speak and you change the way you think. Many entrepreneurs focus on deficiencies, and phrase their thoughts and ideas with negatives, such as “no,” “never” and “don’t.” Make a conscious decision to become a positive-thinking person by creating positive speaking patterns. Ten referrals is better than “no complaints.”
  • You become what you pretend to be. Attitudes influence behaviour, but behaviour also influences attitudes. Reality has often been shown to conform to beliefs, whether they be positive or negative. On the Internet today, it’s easier than ever to pretend to be a large and mature organization and successful startups don’t have to pretend long.

Brainstorming, ideation, thinking outside the box, disruption, creative thinking – whatever you want to call the process of developing successful new organizational approaches – is something that must explore every day in your project. You have to let go of things that are holding you back and take chances in your venture, especially after that first great idea.

You cannot will a new idea, but you can train your imagination, like a muscle with regular exercise, to conceptually blend dissimilar concepts from different contexts, leading to original ideas and insights. How long has it been since you have conceived and implemented a really creative idea in your project?

Written by Martin Zwilling
Adapted from Entrepreneurs Need Creative Thinking After the Idea

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Structuring a Brainstorming Session using Scan Focus Act

MG Taylor’s Scan Focus Act model can be used to help structure the overall flow of a brainstorming session or meeting.

Scan means just what you’d imagine; looking about for different options, or to gather information in a broad sort of way. Scan also implies a vantage point of some sort from which to view. The original meaning of the word means to climb or mount. In the Scan phase we build conceptual, mental models. Keep in mind that while the scan phase may appear to be extraneous or whimsical, it is often the most important phase – don’t overlook the value of a good, wide scan.

When scanning, you explore the possible, stretch people’s thinking, and learn from seemingly unrelated disciplines.

Focus implies choice. The majority of the opportunities presented by the scan are discarded in favor of only one or several, which are scrutinized and evaluated more rigorously. The models we build in Focus are more tangible expressions of the conceptual models we built in Scan.

When focusing, you begin to prototype and test ideas, break models and build them, and explore the possible in context.

Act! This is the opportunity to see whether the models will pan out as they become viable systems in their own right. If discipline and imagination have been brought to the two preceding stages, this stage should be successful.

In the act phase, ideas that survived the focus phase get broken down and worked into action plans and practical steps forward.

This model can be applied in a variety of different contexts and in no particular sequence. Depending on the situation, it might make sense to test out the act first, focus on alternatives and then scan to see what is going on in the surroundings.

Use the model as a tool to support your understanding of past events or your projections of future ones, and don’t worry if you’ve got it “right” or not.

Adapted from Scan Focus Act, written by MG Taylor and The Design & Process Facilitation Coaching Guide, written by The Value Web.

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Creating a Name for Your Venture

It is easy to get caught up in the delicacy of choosing the right name to represent your project or idea. A great name clearly tells people who you are, what you do, and what you are all about. It evokes a feeling that connects and is memorable. A fantastic name is an excellent start to building your brand, while a horrible name can cripple you at the starting gate.

Some important things to consider when creating that name or brand for your venture?

1. Keep it simple

Your brand name should be short, easy to pronounce, spell and understand. Too often, individuals feel the need to have an overly descriptive title to their company. A name such as “Srivasnanamians’ GTA Business to Business Advertising Services” breaks several rules at the same time. Ideally you want one word and minimal syllables. If you want to add another word, do it only if you absolutely have to. Alternatively, you can try to think if there is another single word that works better. The world’s most powerful brands such Nike, Google, Apple, and Facebook, have a simplicity that is elegant and powerful.

2. Make it relevant and memorable

Your brand name is more relevant if it lets clients know what you do, if it stands for something, or has a call to action. But even more important is to make your name memorable. This can be done in several ways. Try to come up with something catchy or distinctive. If your name can creatively stick in people’s minds or is one of those words that are repeatable, that sizzle can spread. If you’re business has a completely new offering or has limited competitors, you can be a bit more bold with selecting a name. Something entirely unique or weird can also work. You can use a dictionary and thesaurus, but sometimes a made up name can set you apart from your competitors. Just make sure you follow most of the other rules, as it is impossible to follow all of them.

3. Think long-term

You may be starting out locally, but any forward thinking entrepreneur should set a growth goal that goes much further. Names based on location (e.g. Yorkville Cleaners) or geographic area (e.g. Ontario Paper) severely limits you if you start to have major success. Having to re-brand a name or image costs money and time. The other aspect is your product/service offering. Perhaps you may plan to extend your offerings and your brand name limits you (e.g. Just Lamps!). The stronger a brand name becomes, the better it can offer a broader range of products (e.g. Virgin)

4. Use pro-active language

Language is a tricky thing. Certain words generate an emotion or perception that is either good, bad, or neutral. Whatever branding you pick, the language has to be carefully thought out. Choose words that are positive, pro-active, forward-thinking, inspirational, and engaging. Be also cognizant of current cultural trends that are hot and avoid the ones that are blasé (or over-used) (e.g. Synergy).

5. Research & Brainstorm names

There is nothing like solid research to determine what you like and what you don’t like about both names in market and what your competitors choose for names. Don’t try to pick something similar to your competitors or else you will confuse your customers. When you find a name you love, figure out the root of that name, how the company came up with it or what is so appealing about it. When you brainstorm names, do it first without judgement and then try to springboard off ideas you like. It’s better to have a nice exhaustive list to start before you close in on the names are true winners. This also helps you to avoid names that are so similar that end up with a lawsuit (e.g. McDowell’s vs. McDonald’s)

6. Focus on your Market and not yourself

I’m sure your name sound lovely or it sounds pretty cool to you. But do your customers (users, clients, individuals you are serving) care? Unless your name IS the brand (e.g. Martha Stewart), try to avoid brand names that use your name, or something relevant/funny only to you and a few others. Similarly initials can be quite appealing, but the best initialled brands in the market have been around forever. If you become as big as RIM or IBM, (and I hope you do!) feel free to change your branding then. Lastly, to avoid your bias, be sure to get tons of feedback from family, friends, potential clients and suppliers.

7. Think Visually

When someone hears your brand, what do they envision? Hopefully the same thing you do! A name that creates a visual image in someone’s mind can be a great connector and incentive. At the same time, how does your name look on paper or in a logo? It needs to be clean, clear, and visually appealing. If you want to come up with a logo too, then the image needs to work well with the brand name. (e.g. Nokia: Connecting People) The visuals must conjure up positive and relevant associations.

Whatever brand name you choose, make it sure it boldly delivers what you want for your business. Ideally your brand will engage your customers and everyone else and you’ll have them begging for more.

Written by Bobby Umar
Adapted from Let your Brand Name Engage and your Business Soar

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