1 min read

Non-dotcom domains hurt startups

What do "zillow", "trulia", "figma", "mercari", "strava", "zapier", and "spotify" have in common?

Twenty minutes ago a VC emailed me:

Hey Darren - wanted to ask you if you'd heard of {company}.ai? We're looking at their round.

I spent a few minutes scratching my head as to why this particular investor would be looking at a company in the medtech space.  On a hunch, I googled the company name then replied.

Hey, I think {company}.ai is a different company; looks like they're actually {company}.io. Anyway...

It goes without saying that {company}.com is a third, unrelated company.

Don't settle

Don't settle for anything less than a short, memorable .com for your startup.

I've owned a few .com's wherein someone launched an alt-domain version. We received thousands of sensitive emails with bank statements, mortgage documents, and scanned drivers licenses meant for the other company's employees plus lots of free SEO juice and traffic intended for them.

$2,000 budget: domain squatters

There are many categorized directories of brandable domain names. Most were registered by professional squatters who make a living by dreaming up potential startup names to sell for $1,500-3,500.  Here's a sampling:

  • chipful.com
  • jasava.com
  • pantomo.com

You get the point... none of these domains mean anything.  But then, neither did  "zillow", "trulia", "figma", "spotify", "mercari", "zwift", "strava", or "zapier" before the founders made them famous.

$10 budget: Add digits

Let's say you've only got a $10 bucks to spend and the word "terminus" would perfectly describe your company.  Of course terminus.com and terminus.ai are other companies, but terminus.io is available!

Don't fall into the .ai/.io/.dev/.app trap.  Instead just add digits; they are always available as dotcoms:

  • terminus88.com
  • terminusfive.com

It's not as sexy looking as terminus.io, but you'll sidestep the user-confusion problem, while leaving the door open to maybe acquiring the "real" domain someday if you're lucky like getdropbox.com.

Startup name criteria

  1. Dotcom
  2. Unambiguous spelling
  3. Unambiguous pronunciation
  4. Three syllables or less

Before you buy the domain, verbally ask 10 people to "go check out my site at {name}.com".  If 10/10 don't type your future URL correctly on the first try, go back to the drawing board.

Building a startup is hard; don't make it harder by sending your users to the wrong site.