Startups 101: How to Bootstrap Your Brand

by Curt Prins

Bootstrap Your BrandOver the years, I’ve meet too many entrepreneurs who spent unnecessary cash on crappy company and product names. They hired ‘branding gurus’ who didn’t understand their target market, the tech industry, your company vibe — or worse, they really didn’t care.

There’s no excuse for a half-ass brand, no reason to settle for something that doesn’t excite you and your customers.  Let me be clear: brands matter, even in the B2B tech world. With all of the noise that distracts your prospects, you need a strong brand that cuts through it all while aptly capturing your essence.

And yes, this is something you should do yourself, for few others know your products and prospects better than you.  In other words, bootstrap your brand before you pay money to someone else.

A few weeks ago, an Israeli entrepreneur asked for my help dreaming up a product name. Knowing his nonexistent budget, I gave him the following 5-step, quick-n-dirty branding process:

1) Pull together 25-50 keywords tied your industry or where your product will be used.

2) Split them in half and join them up to create new names for starters. Let your mind wander on tangents. Have fun with it, and create at least 50 words or combination phrases.  Whatever you do, DO NOT waste time criticizing names at this point. Photographers take 1000’s of pictures before they capture the perfect one. It’s meant to be a messy and creative process, so don’t scrutinize just yet.

3) Step away. Let the words and phrases digest a few days or at least overnight.

4) Pick the 10 that you feel best about. Check them against the US Trademark Office database, domain search and social media availability.

5) Pick the five that are most passable and share them with your family, colleagues, mentors, investors and maybe even a few customers and prospects. Don’t be afraid of this last group–they often provide the best feedback and brutal honesty is what you need.

Look at what you produced. If you’re happy, you just saved yourself some real money. If not, go back to step 1 -or- now consider outsourcing the effort.

Keep in mind your time investment in this brand development process was not wasted; if you’re bringing in someone to help, you’ve given them a significant head start.


  • Jim Swanson

    Great advice. I've seen more than a few startups skip step 4. Kind of funny seeing that happen.

  • Ben Damman

    Great post, Curt! Here's a good acronym-based rubric for judging names I hadn't heard of before: The SMILE & SCRATCH test:…/

  • Adam Schepis

    This is a great article. I really believe that names are something that have to come organically out of your team rather than being fit onto your team and product by an outsider. Your steps definitely reinforce that. At Cloud Assault we faced a similar problem when it came to creating a logo on a budget. Here's how we accomplished it: