The StartUp podcast series entertainingly delves into Alex Blumberg’s attempt to launch a podcast network. The podcasts are entertaining and authentic, but podcast #5 offers something special; the founders try to name their company.

The narrator originally said the process sounded “like fun.” Like any copywriter who’s actually named a product or company, I laughed when he said it.

Naming isn’t fun. Naming is hard.

It’s a process burdened by the mistaken belief you gather a few people in a conference room to brainstorm, lubricate with beer, and 39 minutes later you’ve found the correct (and inspirational) answer.

No muss, no fuss.

I’ve got three whole notebooks — filled with good and bad ideas — that suggest otherwise.

The podcast — amusingly — tracks pretty much as predicted. For the founders, enthusiasm quickly gives way to puzzlement. Eventually anxiety takes over, which further gums up the creative wheels.

In the end, the founders seek professional help.

And yes, this is my surprised look.

Time For a Jolt of Humility

In the early 90s, I was tapped by an agency to name a networking products company (back then, networking was complicated stuff involving engineers, black magic and sunspots).

Like our podcaster, I thought naming a company would be fun. And I was excited by the scale of the thing; this company had backers.

Because I’d never done it before, I figured it would be easy. I’d need a day to absorb the facts. Then a couple days to swirl the information around in my head.

At that time, a list of killer names would simply emerge from my subconscious.

Less than a week, tops.

Needless to say, I was dead wrong.

Eventually (the kind of “eventually” that implies a great span of time), I crafted a solid list of names. I thought one was a winner.


The art director liked it so much she created a killer logo on spec for the pitch meeting — a kind of stylized Greek God of Networking.

Groundbreaking. Classic. Yet still modern.

We both swooned.

So did the clients. They loved it. Loved it. Astonishingly, it cleared the trademark review.

I was excited. I figured Articulus would become a household name on a par with Apple. For decades to come, it would serve as a bright, shiny totem of my creative brilliance.

Megalomania was already setting in.

Weeks went by. Then months. We eagerly awaited the launch. I readied my awards acceptance speech.

But the company never launched (funding issues and problems with the offshore manufacturer). And even if it had launched, word filtered back that the wife of an executive thought Articulus was… well… too gay (this was the early 90s).

Once again, a shot at marketing immortality eluded me.  (Once again, this is my surprised look.)

So What Happened to the Podcasters?

The podcaster behind the story — Alex Blumberg — originally thought his partners would hang out, drink a couple beers and knock out a new name.

After that predictably failed, they turned to friends and spouses for ideas.

After that failed, they went to Lexicon (a well-known branding company), and begged for free help.

So much for the power of beer.

Lexicon returned with a long list of names, from which Blumberg picked Gimlet. It was far from my favorite choice, but it nicely illustrated that part of the naming process where everyone gets tired and cranky, so they urge the decision maker to simply pick something and move on.

Like crafting a perfect tagline, naming a product or company is one of those endeavors that seems easy to everyone who’s never done it.

But it almost never is. Speaking as a card-carrying member of the professional class, professional help is not a bad investment.

A Plug For The Podcast

If you haven’t tuned into the StartUp podcast series, you’re missing out. Creator Alex Blumberg worked at This American Life and Planet Money (two of the biggest podcasts on the planet), but left his job (and salary) to launch a new podcast network.

He delves into his difficulties attracting partners, finding venture capital, naming his company — and all the other problems that pop up when you launch a startup.

He’s up to podcast #7 (podcast #1 is titled “How Not to Pitch a Billionaire”), and the series is worth a few minutes of your time.

Keep writing (and naming, though skip the beer), Tom Chandler.