My co-founders and I were ecstatic — we had just closed our $10m Series A round with top investors. Our two years of developing a great product in stealth mode and achieving profitability with key customers had culminated into a fantastic financing milestone. We finalized a launch date and put the wheels in motion for our first press announcement and coming out party. Little did we know we were about to begin a whirlwind roller coaster ride, during which we re-branded our company in just four weeks – naming, logo, website and all.
During my startup’s early days, we had little time to prioritize branding. In fact, we initially incorporated the company as “Party On Data,” which in introductory meetings would always result in ten minutes of questions about why. Soon after, we renamed our company to “Slice Data” and purchased slice-data.com (because slicedata.com wasn’t available). During our preparation for launch, it occurred to me that we should get the hyphen-less URL now that we had the funds, so I checked the domain again and it looked like a ghost town owned by two young guys in India. I figured the U.S. dollar would go far there, and we’d be able to purchase it fairly easily and quickly. Boy was I wrong.
Saying Farewell to Slice Data
I started with an offer of a few grand and gradually increased it up to the low five-figures. After waiting three long hard days for a response, I’d heard nothing and started to worry. We were thinking about other company names, but didn’t want to go down that path because everything from our logo to product integrations with customers used the Slice Data name. We knew we had to go big or go home.
I pinged Aaron Levie who I knew had a similar experience getting box.com, and in general, always has amazing advice. He told me “Your brand is hugely important, and that you should be willing to drop six-figures for a name even at this early stage for an enterprise play.”
I went for it, and sent an email offering the big bucks. Surprisingly (and thankfully) they declined, forcing us to come up with a new name. We did naming brainstorms daily, and I spent several nights in bed just looking up domains and making bids or feelers from my tablet. We initially focused on names stemming from “Slice,” but one of our concerns was being confused with slicedata.com or slice.com, as both companies are also in the intelligence space.
One night, the name “infer” came to me. It stems from “inferences,” a common term in machine learning work. I looked up the domain and it was of course taken, but appeared to be a squatting site. I chatted with my team the next day and we narrowed it down to three options: infer, greenlight, or topline. We liked infer but at first worried about inconsistent pronunciations, spelling, whether it would sound crisp over the phone, etc. You really do and need to overthink your name like this.
Time was of the essence, so I figured I’d let time and money help narrow things down further. I started up the domain negotiations (again). I made substantial starting offers to show that we were serious. The domain owners for topline and greenlight were overmilking their price. Meanwhile, the China-based owner of localhost/crossover/infer was slow to respond. I was also concerned about how the transfer would happen and whether our legal docs would even be enforceable if he did sell.
He finally responded as my starting offer was one to respect, but didn’t come back with a price. I tried to read between the lines and made an offer $15K higher – saying take it or leave it in 24 hours. My heart was racing … did I just blow it? The next day I constantly refreshed my inbox until later that night when his response rolled in. I paused for a good 30 seconds before opening it, and to my surprise, he accepted the deal. Remarkably, we got the domain for less than what we offered for slicedata.com (and this one was a five -character dictionary word!). I couldn’t believe it.
Giving Rise to Infer: From Trademark to Logo, and Everything in Between
Now we had two weeks for escrow, legal, trademarking, and of course rebranding everything starting with our logo. Lots of people recommended using 99designs.com to crowd source the logo design via a contest format. We were tempted by the idea of having multiple logo options to choose from, but ultimately decided against it. Even a one-week turnaround would be too short if we didn’t find a logo we liked, so we needed to maintain control over the process.
Our big team of five and a designer (who agreed to help out for a few days) all went home and drew up different logos, which we then reviewed together before selecting a few to polish. Most of our rough logo ideas used all caps for INFER, and they just felt too generic. We played with the typography and switched to lower case to bring in more of the contours and varying shapes of the letters in order to convey more character.
The dot of the “i” felt like a point in a graph, so I drew a wave through it and we started to get somewhere with our paper drawing. We added a second wave fitting to the first wave in our i – like a machined learned function fitting to data (the core of our technology) – and it worked perfectly. Our designer helped us finalize the logo, and revamp our website and homepage in less than a week before our planned launch.
Lessons from a Branding Roller Coaster
It was a mad rush to the finish, but fortunately, we had a very successful launch and couldn’t be happier with our new name and logo. Looking back, it’s easy to see that it was all worth it. I now realize that Slice Data, just by virtue of ending with “Data,” led investors, customers, and prospects to automatically call us a big data analytics company (which is too broad). With a broader name like Infer, people tend to look more to our description of “helping sales and marketers predict hot prospects” to define us – which is much more powerful strategically.
What did I learn? One, always be launching, as you can ship amazing things under time pressure with a great team. Secondly, don’t let go – I’m convinced if we hired a branding agency or domain negotiation firm, we wouldn’t have gotten a name or URL we liked in time. And finally, start working on your brand earlier rather than later!