Tag Archives: products

Picking a Name

Now you’ve got a niche, and you’re ready to start a business, launch a product, write a book or a blog, or whatever.

What do you call it?

If you’re really good with names, you can skip this one. If you’re really good with names and can explain to the rest of us how to be good with names, please leave your tips in the comments.

I’m actually stealing this exercise from a church trip that I chaperon. The trip happens every year, and each trip gets its own name.

Naming exercise

Materials needed

  • Writing materials (it’s easiest if you have one that everyone can see, such as a wiki/online document, a whiteboard, or an easel).

  • At least 3-4 friends (works with at least up to 56; might work with more)


  1. Brainstorm possible names This is a purely-brainstorming activity, so no filtering or criticism is allowed: everything goes on the list. Keep going until everyone’s tapped out.

  2. First voting round Count up the total number of possible names, and divide by three. Everyone gets that many votes. Count the votes for each name, and discard the losers. This will usually cut the list down by 30% -50%.
  3. More brainstorming What do the names with a lot of votes have in common? Can any of them be combined into one? Did new ideas come to you during the voting? Write them down now.
  4. Advocacy Everyone has a chance to come to the front of the room (or the bus, or the chat room) and give a 1-2 minute explanation of why they think this name or that name is the best choice.
  5. Second voting round This time everyone gets fewer votes; somewhere between 3-5, depending on the size of the list.
  6. Optional: more brainstorming and more advocacy This is mostly for cases where you’ve generated a lot of names — in the 75+ range. Or if you’ve got a lot of contention in the group, and need to come up with compromises. In most cases, this won’t be necessary.
  7. Final voting round Everyone gets one vote. Whichever name gets the most votes is the winner.

Sometimes you’ll generate a list of names, and everyone in the room will realize that the third-from-the-last one is The Right Name. In that case you can skip the rest of the process and walk away happily.

And this process may not generate as good a name as you could get by sitting down with someone who’s really good with names and just taking their advice. But it will always get you a Good Name. And it’s better to have a good name for an existent product than a perfect name for a non-existent product.

Resources for Further Reading
How to brainstorm – Tips

Flickr used to be an MMORPG

Sometimes (what you want to do) and (what you think you want to do) are two separate categories.

For example, the people who started Flickr thought they were making a Massively-Multiplayer-Online-Role-Playing-Game, a la World of Warcraft or Everquest. They started building it, and added (as a nifty side-feature) the ability to upload and share pictures while you were playing.

Before long, they realized that (a) the MMORPG market was saturated (b) the photo-sharing market was underserved, and (c) their product was a lot cooler in the photo-sharing market than in the MMORPG market.

So they changed. In start-up terms, it’s called a “pivot” — you stop right where you are, and go in an whole new direction. And it’s totally OK.

Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going

Actually, a lot of the times you don’t know where you’re going. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start.

Sometimes you realize that you’re going the wrong way

This isn’t quite as common. But it’s no shame. Feel free to change what you’re doing if you find something better.

It’s still better to be going

When you were little, your parents told you that you should stay put if you got lost. That way someone could find you.

But you don’t do that now. If you get lost, you might pull over and look at your directions. You might drive around the block a few times, trying to spot your landmarks. But what you most definitely would not do is to stop in the middle of the road and hope that someone would point you in the right direction.

Business is no different. If you don’t know what you want to do, then make a guess and try it out. At least you’ll learn something.

What would you do if you could live forever?

Many people — almost everyone, actually — when they’re trying to encourage you to dream big, asks you what you would do if you had one day (one week, one month, one year) left to live. This is supposed to take away your fear of failure, because if you’re going to die tomorrow (next week, next month, next year) you failure theoretically doesn’t matter. And if that works for you, awesome. Keep using that, because their point (that failure actually doesn’t matter anyway) is spot-on.

But I’ve never found it particularly useful. If I knew I was going to die in 1 (unit of time), I would stop planning for the future — and that’s clearly not a good idea. I would spend my last (unit of time) doing crazy stuff I’ve always wanted to do — blowing all my money for a trip to Nepal to climb Mt. Everest, riding all of the scary roller coasters at the local amusement park, or whatever, depending on how much “all my money” constituted. And since I’m not (to the best of my knowledge) going to die in the next (unit of time), it’s a better idea to keep my savings built up.

And what I certainly would not do is to set off on a course to change the world by teaching people how to spend less time working and more time doing things they care about. That’s a mission I’m not sure I can accomplish in my lifetime. I know I couldn’t accomplish it in a day/week/month/year.

So here’s the question that inspires me:

What would you do if you knew you would have a century?

What if you knew that you wouldn’t die for another 100 years? Or another 200 years? What if you knew that you would live forever?

Well, sure, you’d stop worrying about your cholesterol and you’d gorge on sugar and caffeine, just like if you knew you were going to die soon. And you’d do all kinds of crazy dangerous stuff, just the same. But what about after that? I mean, how long can you really enjoy a life of chocolate cake and bungee jumping? I bet you couldn’t last a month, but let’s give you plenty of time and say it takes a year to get all that out of your system.

Now you’ve got 99 years. What would you do with them?

    What problem do you see in the world that you would work to eliminate, but know that it’s too big a problem for you to solve?

    What people would you like to reach out to and help up, if only you could find the time?

    Where do you see troubles that you could ease, but in such small amounts that it’s probably not even worth bothering?

The problem I see is that most of the world is focused on employment to the exclusion of everything else, but

    a) employment is becoming less and less viable
    b) most people hate employment

I want to let people know that they have other options, and give them the tools to explore those options, before they launch headlong into a job that they don’t want and that won’t fulfill their needs. And even though I probably don’t have another century in which to do it, even though it may not be completed in my lifetime, I still choose to start.

The downfall of big business

If you’ve been paying any attention to business discussion, you’ve heard something about how the rules have changed, business is different, blah blah blah. It’s kind of a required topic for a small business guru, so here’s my essay:

Once Upon A Time…

…communicating with far away people was very expensive, and only a few could afford to do it. And the more people you wanted to talk to, the more expensive it was, so that only a few big, very rich Corporations could afford to do it. And only a few, very rich Big Corporations could afford to pay those corporations for the right to use their communication ability. And so the era of Commercial Television was born.

In the era of commercial television, everyone wanted TV ads, because TV ads could sell anything, even if the product was terrible. Because communication was so expensive, “consumers” couldn’t afford to talk to each other, so they didn’t know the product was terrible until they bought it. This made Corporate Executives very happy, because their job was easy: make new stuff and buy TV ads! Small businesses couldn’t compete, because they couldn’t buy TV ads, so they went out of business. Corporate Executives liked that, too, because it left more “consumers” for them.

Then one day, a small pest came to the land of Commercial Television. It didn’t seem dangerous: it had a bright, colorful logo, not like the serious important-looking logos of the Big Corporations. And it had a silly name: Google. The Corporate Executives weren’t worried — no one would ever take such a silly-looking company seriously.

But they did! Google got lots and lots of money and sold its stock at really high prices and people bought it! And more pests came! Facebook! Twitter! YouTube! Blogs! Podcasts! Oh Nos!

Now “consumers” could talk to each other. And it turned out that consumers — all consumers, everywhere — are actually people. They do things that people do, like camping and laughing and procrastinating. They like things that people like, like connecting to other people, telling stories, and having their lives made easier. And they don’t like things that people don’t like, like being manipulated by Big Corporations into buying Stupid Stuff.

But the Corporate Executives weren’t worried. They knew the secret to persuading people: TV ads. Big Corporations spent more money on TV ads, so they could drown out the message from the pests, and run them out of business. Only it turned out that people had stopped being consumers buying stuff from the TV. It turned out that consumers liked being people, and talking to each other. They liked it so much that they turned off their TVs and talked to each other instead.

And so the Big Corporations sulked in the corner until they slowly starved to death, and everyone else lived happily ever after.

The End (for some)

The Beginning (for the rest of us)

Who’s the Best?

There are lots of things in life where you can clearly state what is “best”: in class, whoever scored highest on the test is the best student. In soccer, whoever won the World Cup is the best team. There are enough of them, in fact, that we frequently forget how many things in life cannot be clearly defined to be “best”.

Most pertinently, “best” can almost never be determined in business. When I was in college, “best” to me meant cheapest. When I graduated and got a “real job”, I was able to afford more expense, and “best” included durability and quality and price per unit (Now that my graduate student loans are coming due, “best” may go back to meaning cheapest.) If you’re handling neurotoxins, “best” means “safest”. There are lots of ways to define best, which means there are lots of ways to be the best.

If you can’t be the cheapest, can you be the fastest? If you can’t be the most insightful writer, can you be the funniest? Use what you do best.