Photo: Bismarck Lepe//Ooyala
A great company name should differentiate your business from your competitors and stick with your customers. A lot of emphasis is placed on the name, which may be why some companies go to the trouble of changing their names down the line.Like a tattoo, your company’s name should be one that you won’t tire of in a year or two.
Bismarck Lepe, Co-founder and President of Products at the online video tech company Ooyala, shares the story of how the name Ooyala came to be, what it means — to the company and its customers — and his advice to other entrepreneurs.
Below is a slightly-edited transcript of our conversation:
Could you tell me the story behind the name “Ooyala”?
So there are two stories. The first one is that we were obviously trying to find a name, where we could find a dot com. We tried initially to buy zamba.com, but couldn’t get it. Then we tried to go after kiwi.com, almost got it, and then the guy changed the price at the last minute. And so at that point we just delegated the name to Sean, our CTO, to his girlfriend, and she looked at the team and thought, “well, they’re code monkeys, what do monkeys do? They swing on trees.” She liked the word ‘swing,’ and found this word Ooyala which means ‘swing bed’ in the Indian language Telegu. And we said, “Ooyala’s a horrible name, can you imagine sales guys trying to pronounce it?” But then she told us it means ‘cradle,’ and we liked the idea of cradling innovation, fostering something new. And we kept it, but from a sales perspective it is incredibly difficult to say. But I think because it’s so difficult to say people actually remember it. Early on I remember having a meeting with a brand manager at an agency, and she stopped me mid-presentation and told us we’re only a couple months in, it’s not too late to change our name. She stopped the presentation, and gave me a colour commentary on our name. And then two or three days later she called me back and she’d changed her mind because everybody could not stop saying Ooyala. So it’s worked. The second story is one that our marketing team came up with, that Yahoo had double-O’s at the end, Google has double-O’s in the middle, we’re the progression of a successful Silicon Valley company, and we tossed them out front.
Do customers ask about the name often? What do they think?
Sometimes they do. Usually they’ll mispronounce it. The most popular mispronunciation is “Yoo-wah-lah,” but in general, eventually it grows on them. And they love our logo, and they love our schwag when we send it to them. It’s colourful, it’s playful.
Has the significance of the name changed as the business changed?
Well, I think in our industry at this point, if you’re going to do a big video implementation or if you’re a big broadcaster and you’re evolving your business, you’re going to work with Ooyala. And so the significance has obviously increased in importance as the business has scaled. Today we have eight offices worldwide, and we’re in eleven different countries, and over 200 million people watch video on an Ooyala-powered solution. So, again, the name has gained some prominence as the company has gained prominence.
How important do you think the name is in terms of drawing customers to the business? How important do you think the name is in general?
I think names are actually very important. And the nice thing about Ooyala is, if you type in “Ooyala,” you’re only going to find information about our company, because it’s actually a pretty obscure term. If we had picked “Kiwi,” it would have been much harder, especially in the first couple of years, to really monopolize the search results around the term Kiwi, like the fruit, or New Zealanders. But what’s been interesting about our name is that as we’ve grown we’ve actually been able to build a brand around it, so the culture, the association with video, and the association with our being a leader in the space [is there].
Did the newness of your business in its industry have any impact on the significance of the cradle image?
When we first started, a little over five years ago, there were actually hundreds of companies in the industry. A lot of the companies that had competed with YouTube, and then realised that YouTube was just acquired by Google and there probably is another big exit, and decided to become video platform companies. And so, we had a lot of competition, and maybe because we had a weird name we were able to stick out. We like to think and say that was obviously our technology and the quality of our services, but the name has definitely contributed to our being able to stick [it] out, especially in a place that was incredibly crowded. Now, the nice thing about when we got started was it was really the beginning of a very significant transition. People had been talking about online video and the evolution of TV and connected TVs for a really long time, but if we really think about the last five years, the iPhone went on sale, the iPad went from not even a rumour to a rumour to one of the lead computing products out there, and Netflix launched, Hulu launched, BBC iPlayer launched, and so in the last five years the industry has grown up from a little flash player to what television is going to be like in the future. So we’ve been able to really get a foothold in not necessarily online video, but the evolution of television.
Having a name that’s difficult to pronounce, it usually becomes “that company with the double-O’s that has a weird name.” And so, early on our inside sales guys — you could hear them spelling out the name on the phone, so yeah, I think it added a bit of friction, But again, I think we’ve actually been able to grow out of that and because the industry’s been growing so quickly our customers, the people who are looking to buy our solutions, do know our name at this point in time. But I do think a name is important; back to your earlier question, I work with a lot of startups and as far as I’m concerned one of the best company names that was ever created or branded was YouTube. And I think a significant part of their success can probably be attributed to the name YouTube. You had the association with “tube” like “boob tube,” your TV — that was something that people could draw on, but it was also very personalised. It was all about “you.” Even YouTube, when they came around, already had hundreds of video sharing competitors but people could latch on to YouTube.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs when picking a name for their business?
Make sure it’s easy to say, and make sure that you have as few syllables as possible. Don’t spend too much money on your name, because you may end up changing the name of your company. One of the former Googlers who started a company initially called it Weatherbill, and no one really understood what it was, so now they’ve changed it to the Climate Company, or the Climate Corporation, which is more in line with what they’re doing, and a customer can draw a clear association between what the company does and the name.
Should entrepreneurs take the significance of the name into consideration when picking a name?
I think you should do a basic search for the meaning, but if it isn’t immediately offending to the vast majority of people who you think will be your customers, I think you’ll be OK.
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