It’s hard enough to set a name for your startup. But it’s much harder when you sweat the domain name too much and let it clog the creative process.

Thank goodness, when we renamed Infoplan Inc. to Palo Alto Software, Inc. back in 1988, we didn’t think about the domain name issue. My familiarity with the internet at that point, to be honest, was as a group of weird AppleLink addresses, associated with academics, that had the @ right in the middle of them. Instead, as we decided that Infoplan was too hard to market and we discovered that Palo Alto Software was not in use as a corporate name in California, we just did it. It said Silicon Valley, it said Stanford University, and we lived in Palo Alto and had offices in Palo Alto. So that’s what we named it.

I say thank goodness because we weren’t confused by the domain name factor. We just named the company. It took us until late in 1994 to catch on with the Internet. When we did, paloalto.com wasn’t available (we bought it years later, so it’s ours now) but we made do with pasware.com, bplans.com, bizplans.com, and a few others. I’m very glad I also registered timberry.com at that time too; and some of my kids were glad I registered their names, too.

This comes up because I watch more startups these days, and I see them sweating over making the company name and the domain name both work, both be exclusive and also be coordinated. That’s really tough. And then there are product names and service names, too, which makes it even harder.

My suggestion is that you separate the two problems. Get a company name that works–more on that in who owns your business name on my other blog–and leave the domain name for a while. Factors that make your company name work include practical legal ownership, ease of use, ease of marketing and branding, and simplicity, to name a few. Then get a domain name that works. Factors that make a domain name work are ownership, of course, and a different kind of ease of use (is it easy to type and hard to misspell, for example), and a different kind of marketability (easy to remember, easy to defend).

I’ve been in some naming sessions in which we forgot some of the basics. Amazon.com isn’t books.com, and Yahoo! and Google meant next to nothing when they started. But they were short, easy to remember (well, sort of–I had trouble with Google for about half a minute) and, essentially, easy to market.

When the Internet became important, Palo Alto Software started on the Web as pasware.com, because paloalto.com wasn’t available, and we decided pasware.com was better than paloaltosoftware.com (too many letters). Palo Alto Software was a given; we had already been using that name for eight years. We did evolve, though, to paloaltosoftware.com for a while, and palo-alto.com for a while and, eventually, after buying the domain name, paloalto.com.

As long as the domain name is memorable and marketable, you can make it work.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.