PROVIDENCE – Whether it’s Betaspring introducing its latest accelerator cohort, the Slater Technology Fund announcing reinvestment in its portfolio companies, or the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition selecting its 2014 winner, startups get a lot of buzz in Providence – and the rest of Rhode Island.
What don’t always get as much attention are the stories behind these startups’ quirky, playful or practical names. The founders of these five local technology startups based in Providence, Pawtucket and Newport shared the rationale behind their companies’ names with Providence Business News.
Groove (Alex Turnbull, Founder/CEO)
What They Do: Provide a customer service and ticketing platform for e-commerce businesses.
To be honest, there was no brainstorming process or “aha moment” here; I’ve just always liked the name. In fact, I wanted to build an app named “Groove” before I even knew that I wanted to build a customer support business. It probably goes back to my surfer roots.
Over time, though, our customers have given the name meaning. Some of them assume that I’m a long-haired child of the 60s (I’m 32). Others have suggested that it has to do with being “in the Groove” when it comes to productivity. One customer even told me that his team uses “Groovin’” as a verb for working through support emails. But I don’t think anyone knows the real (non-)story. Until now, that is.
What They Do: Developed a secure platform for small and mid-size lottery operators in developing countries to move to mobile- or cloud-based lotteries.
We were looking for a brand name that not only conveys that we have something to do with gaming but also at the same time portray us being unique and different. Our long-term vision is to enable multi-channel distribution for diverse games including online casino and sports betting, just not the lotteries. Even though we came along the names like “Playlotto,” they were ruled out being specific only to the lottery.
We initially tried to carry out this exercise in-house, but later realized that we should take the service of a relevant agency that is experienced in doing this. We hired a company in the U.K. with whom we had a few sessions to explain our business and long-term objectives. First name that struck a chord with them was “let’s play.” However, this name did not carry the message “innovation for lotteries – play anytime and anywhere.”
Basically, we wanted to convey a message that we enable players to play lottery without any location barrier. After a few iterations and brain storming sessions, we realized that we should remain focused around Location + Play, as that should convey a meaningful message.
Eventually, we zeroed in on “LocusPlay” as it fits the best from quite a few options that we considered. The more we thought around it, we got excited with the fact that it strikes a chord with most people and they recall us more often than not. On top of that, we were getting a unique and plain domain name i.e. www.locusplay.com.
The origin of the word “locus” is from Latin, and it means “place.” The technical meaning of locus is the effective or perceived location of something abstract. Locus along with play means a place or location to play.
LocusPlay is a mobile lottery platform, a disruptive concept in the industry where established companies dominate with old-fashioned technology.
MojoTech (Nick Kishfy, Founder/CEO)
What They Do: Develop Web and mobile software applications for clients through an agency business model.
Way back in 2008, the group of developers that would become MojoTech were heads down and cranking away on client work, mostly working out of coffee shops and my patio. At one point we realized that we needed to give ourselves a name so we could go pick up some business cards. (Note to young companies: getting business cards should not be high on your list of priorities.) We came up with a handful of what we thought were good Fortune 500-sounding names and started looking for matching dot-com’s. Turned out that not a single one was available. Wanting to get back to working for the clients who were footing the bills for our noodle ramen, I went to a domain auction site and did a search for something really creative: “tech.” MojoTech.com was on the first page of results and was available for a steal. We liked the good vibe feeling that the word mojo brought up (who doesn’t need more mojo?), so I bought the domain and MojoTech was born.
I still have a giant stack of those business cards.
Splitwise (Jon Bittner, Co-Founder/CEO)
What They Do: Designed a mobile app for splitting expenses among friends or roommates.
Splitwise started out as a project called SplitTheRent, which was a way to divide rent fairly between roommates. When SplitTheRent became popular, we also created a bill-splitting app which replaces the apartment spreadsheet or whiteboard for tracking who has paid for which expenses. People were using the app to split all kinds of things, including group travel and dinners, so we started brainstorming a new name. We combined all kinds of adjectives and words related to bills and sharing, as well as cute animals. This resulted in a lot of ridiculous puns, such as splitbull.com and gerbill.com, as well as delightfully absurd suggestions like licketyspl.it and unbillievable.com.
Ultimately, we put our favorite ideas into a survey and asked friends to vote on how much they liked each name on a scale of one to five. Splitwise was one of our favorite ideas, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t choose something people would hate. Splitwise won the popular vote by a landslide among our friends.
We haggled a bit to get the name. Unfortunately, it turned out a fellow in the Netherlands already owned Splitwise.com. We made an offer for the domain name, and he asked for double our offer. We purchased our second choice name for $10 and wrote him a courtesy email to let him know, at which point he wrote back saying he would accept our offer.
They’re Using Tools! (Melinda Rainsberger, Founder)
What They Do: Builds promotional campaigns through video, design, animation and other media.
They’re Using Tools! was not our first business name or the first name I considered. For the business, I knew that I wanted it to be fun and reference some of my favorite things – Rhode Island and cheesy horror movies. What I centered on was two names: Tango Cat and They’re Using Tools! Both are references to a movie based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, the famous Rhode Island author. Looking back, Tango Cat is a terrible, horrible name and I’m glad that I didn’t go with that.
However, just as I was gearing up to graduate from college, and I got some differing advice. I was all ready to go onto fame, fortune, and running my own business when a teacher swooped in and declared “They’re Using Tools!” a terrible name. He suggested using my email address at the time – Melinda the Martian. Not having the confidence to explain my decision, I reverted to Melinda the Martian and what followed was a dark time for my business. Mostly, it created the idea in clients that I worked alone, only worked on cute/silly projects, and my work only emulated Warner Bros. cartoons. It put our work in a rut where we produced the same mediocre work over and over again.
In 2009, after I’d started gaining ground as a small studio, I decided to ditch the Martian and go back to They’re Using Tools! I wanted to make sure that clients knew it wasn’t just “Mel the Martian” but a whole army of other people working together to produce exceptional work.
What happened was remarkable. I was sure that clients would hate the name like my teacher did. Instead, they loved “they.” It became not only a business name but a work ethic. It stood for how we did things. What do we do? We use tools! We make things, usually video, using whatever is necessary, with more gusto than the other guy. We don’t let the how get in the way, because we know that our best tool is a smart mind. It’s lead to some great and diverse projects doing things that other companies would never tackle. We can mix animation and video or create video installations in a day. The excitement in tackling new ideas, projects, and methods is at the heart of what we do.