Oli Christie is founder & CEO of Neon Play a mobile games studio in Cirencester. The company launched in 2010 in Oli’s kitchen using all his life savings. He’d never made a mobile game before and had only just bought his first iPhone. He didn’t really know what he was doing. It was all rather risky and stupid.
This is the second of Oli’s columns on how he started his business. You can read his first which we published last month here. Oli’s story of how to start a business, and his sage advice for all those doing the same this year, is required reading for entrepreneurs everywhere.
It’s the name of the game
One of the first (and fun) things you tend to do is try to come up with your company name.
Clearly many good names have already been taken. Many professional services companies seem to like using the founder(s) surnames so that makes life very easy (if you can agree the order as the first name is normally what it gets called).
But many other people will want to come up with a name that represents the very essence of your brand. It is though a bit like choosing your baby’s name – you want to love the name and you’ve got to live with it for the rest of your working life.
The first thing you should do is just write a brain dump of words about your company and what it does. Anything goes, just write it down. Blah blah blah.
Short is sweet
It will make your life easier if the name is short. It’s amazing how many thousands of times you will need to type your company name in emails and forms. Plus if you are telling someone the name, the shorter it is, the easier it is to remember. And on social media, your company name uses up character counts, so that limits what you can write, or what is visible above the fold.
Also consider that the more unique it is, the higher the chances of it appearing further up the rankings on Google, which all helps.
Make sure it has longevity – something that seems cool today (ie, lots of tech companies ending in a R – flickr, tumblr, grindr), might not be so cool in 10 years time. Having said that, abbreviating a word by missing vowels is something to consider as it makes getting the URL more possible.
In my case with Neon Play, we were a games company, so I wrote down loads of words to do with games, playing, mobile phones, how you use them, etc.
Then I thought of words which felt a bit scientific and modern, so I wrote down lots of metals and chemicals.
You can see below my train of thought.
I also was thinking ahead to a logo and an icon. I wanted two short words, ideally the same length each, that would work in one long line, but also stacked on top of each other. And it didn’t take too long to actually come up with NEON as I love bright colours (it was also part of the chemicals line of thinking, via ARGON and RAYON) and PLAY (because durr, that’s what you do with games).
The key thing then was to ensure that the URL is available. Personally, I think you have to have both the .com and the .co.uk. You may think that having just the .co.uk is enough, but you’ll find it a real bore not to have the .com as that is what people will search for first if they are guessing your URL. And if you grow out of the UK, you’ll need the .com.
Try and have an address without any hyphens because people won’t remember if you told them that at a networking event. You-know-what-I-mean.
None of your .biz
If the .com and .co.uk are not available, I don’t think getting the .biz, .org, .info and dot anything else is a good substitute. No one really uses those suffixes and it cheapens your company. You may want to buy all those other suffixes, but really, I think it’s a waste of start-up money. Don’t forget, you’ll need to keep renewing those URLs every 2-3 years. It all adds up.
You’ll obviously need to check with Companies House to ensure that your company name is available and possible to use – your accountant can help you do that.
Beware the URL
You do need to be careful if your company name has 2-3 words, because when they are written in lowercase as one word, it can sometimes say something rather rude.
There are some funny examples of totally innocent company names that become rather fruity or inappropriate website addresses. Famous examples are:
Pen Island – www.penisland.com
Therapist Finder – www.therapistfinder.com
Powergen Italia – www.powergenitalia.com
Who Represents – www.whorepresents.com
La Drape – www.ladrape.com
So just be careful out there…
Keep it social
You also these days need to not just have the website address, but of course all the social media handles. So you’ll need to get Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and maybe others depending on your industry. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them, once you have your company name agreed, just nab everything.
Your logo and brand
Once you have a company name, you will probably next want to think about designing a logo and your brand look and feel. Unless you are a designer, don’t bother trying yourself. It is so important to get it right, so find a local designer who has a portfolio of work and logo designs that you like the look of.
Give them a clear brief about the sort of company you want to be, maybe some adjectives that might describe it. I think it helps to show them examples of other logos that you like too, as it will give an indication to the designer of what you might want or expect.
When they show you some initial ideas, do be honest with them if you don’t like something. Designers can be quite precious sometimes and railroad you into choosing a logo you might not like. But be clear and firm if you’re not a fan. After it’s finished, they will move onto another project, but you have to live with your logo for a very long time.
Think about how your logo will fit into a very small square icon for all the social media channels as that is often where it will be seen the most. It’s not just on a website or business card or outside your front door.
I met Martha Lane Fox once (that’s a namedrop). She started lastminute.com back in the dotcom boom. She is now Lady Something-or-Other in the House of Lords. Clearly it was great to meet one of the original dotcom success stories, so I wanted to try and get her business card. But she said she didn’t do business cards as she just uses LinkedIn.
That might be the case now, but I’m sure when she was starting out, she had a business card. And it also gives you a sense of pride in your business to have an actual card. Networking is important and we’re not all Martha Lane Fox.
Make sure you use the best quality card you can afford. Your business card reflects your company. So try not to go for the cheapest white card. It will be floppy and the corners will bend. It’s not a good look.
Back for good
And also, think that a business card has two sides (thanks Sherlock). So as Neon Play was a games company, we thought it would be fun to have a little anagram game where you have to do the most words from the letters NEONPLAY. We then had a link to the website where you can see all the possible words. So what we were actually doing was trying to drive people to our website in a slightly different way. Genius!
The email of the species
Your email will be used a lot of course, so you need to make the decision to be either:
Personally I prefer the last one – short and sweet, easy to remember. Also I think it feels more personal if it’s just a Christian name. But for some more grown-up companies, maybe the surname helps as well.
Your tone of voice
When you’re writing the copy for your website (assuming you are not terrible at writing), you need to decide how your company comes across. For some, it will be very matter of fact, not trying to be clever or funny, just plain descriptive and professional. The challenge I think with that is that you don’t stand out from other competitors in your space.
I believe that your company needs to come across as human. Speak like people speak in real life. Write your words as if you were talking to me. Don’t bore me or write industry cliches and gobbledygook. Be brave, be different and you’ll be more memorable.
As an example, see what we have on our Neon Play website “About Us” page – here it is. Hopefully it comes across that we’re normal people who enjoy what we do. People often comment about how they love the tone of voice and how we don’t take ourselves seriously.
When you are trying to recruit your first employees, your company will probably be young, so you’ll be either talking about what you offer, who you’ve worked for, your experience or whatever it is.
But what you can demonstrate is the sort of company and people you are. You can get across your culture, your DNA, the vibe of your office, the sort of people you want to work for you.
I haven’t looked at our old website for yonks, but this is the first two paragraphs I wrote:
Hopefully you can see I wanted to show how important people are to Neon Play, but at the same time showing the reality of an office (“manky paper bins, curled up Post-its”). And all along with a bit of a sense of humour (you be the judge of that). Here’s the full page if you want to read it.
What do people remember most?
The one thing that people nearly always remember from our original website was our “10 reasons to work at Neon Play”. It was just a fun idea – I had to try and make us sound like a great place to work. I mean, in reality, we had a small, bland office above a shop in Cirencester, four desks from Ikea, four second hand swivel chairs and four beanbags.
So I came up with a list that included:
- the company giving you the employee, £100, so that you could buy a present for us, the company.
- Beer Friday – free beers (or white wine spritzer) in the pub on Fridays.
- Free driving lessons – you learn, we’ll give the first two lessons free.
- A posh bog roll guarantee – we only have Andrex loo roll.
And that last one is THE one thing that everyone remembers from our website. Not the amazing games with 100s of millions of downloads and not Queen’s Awards and going to Buckingham Palace. Nope, they remember that we have Andrex to wipe our bums. Quite ridiculous. But actually quite interesting…
Because it shows we’re human, we have a laugh and we sound like the sort of place you might want to work (if games are your thing).
Every little helps
And what this all did was to help us recruit our first two members of the team – Matt and Glenn. They had proper jobs in good companies and for them, leaving their safe salaries and growing careers for a tiny new start-up in the back streets of very unsexy Cirencester was a big risk. But the website sold them the dream. Our values and DNA shone through. They wanted to be part of it and were prepared to take a risk and go for it.
I’ll never forget when those two first joined. They really were “GET IN!” moments as it meant we were on the way – we could start to grow and release more games.
I thought it would be interesting to write about business partners – do you need one or not? Or maybe there are three or four of you? And equity and staff incentives – who gets what? And I’ll also talk about knowing what to outsource and when – accountants, lawyers, designers, etc.