16 Startups That Became Unicorns and What Their Domain Name Brands Teach Us
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16 Startups That Became Unicorns and What Their Domain Name Brands Teach Us

While there’s less than a 1% chance your startup
will become a Unicorn with a valuation of $1 billion, there’s a 100% opportunity for
you to learn from the 16 Unicorns of 2018 about their branding and domain name choices. Stay tuned. There’s less than a 1% chance your startup
will become a “Unicorn” with a valuation of greater than $1 billion, but there’s a 100%
opportunity for you to learn from the 16 Unicorns of 2018 about their branding and domain name
choices. I chose five of the most important characteristics
of a domain name and analyzed the latest 16 Unicorns to see what we could learn as entrepreneurs
and investors. This is my analysis. Before we get to the Unicorns, the five characteristics
are: 1. Top-level Domain (TLD)
2. Keyword Type
3. Character Count
4. Word Count
5. Plural vs Singular Before I get into the companies and their
names, I want to first apologize to all my Chinese-speaking audience members. I do not speak Chinese but I’m going to give
it my best shot at the four Unicorns from China. Feel free to correct my pronunciation in the
comments below. I would appreciate it. 🙂 The 16 companies, in alphabetical order, are:
Canva.com – graphic design website Cabify.com – ride hailing service in Spanish-
and Portuguese-speaking countries Caocaokeji.cn (cow cow keji .cn)- China-based
ride-sharing company DoorDash.com – food delivery service
Douyu.com (dow you .com) – live-stream gaming service like Twitch in China
Heartflow.com – medical imaging software Intercom.com – customer communication system
Medmen.com – retail marijuana dispensaries Meicai.cn (my ky .cn) – connects Chinese farmers
with restaurants Nubank.com.br – financial products like a
no-fee credit card OrCam.com – AI-equipped technology for the
visually impaired Samsara.com (sam sarah .com) – internet-connected
sensors Snowflake.net – store and analyze data using
cloud-based hardware and software Tempus.com – collects data for efficient cancer
care UIPath.com – automates mundane computer office
tasks Qutoutiao.net (qwa tau chow .net) – a news
and entertainment app in China Let’s take a look at top-level domains, or
TLDs, of these billion dollar companies. Of the 16 Unicorns, 11 are .com, 3 and country
code top-level domain names, and 2 are .net. Without surprise, top-level domain names are
dominated by .com, unless a company is operating in only one country like NuBank or Meicai
(my ky). There are a couple of .net TLDs: snowflake.net
for example is a great brand that likely couldn’t secure the .com version of their domain name
when they launched, but I’m not sure why Qutoutiao (qwa tau chow) went with the .net rather than
the .com…but they did. It’s funny, when I read about these Unicorns
they did not provide links so I initially — and incorrectly — assumed that all were
.com when I was researching them. I was correct 69% of the time. What did I take-away? Startups like .com. And as legendary investor Paul Graham of Y
Combinator said in a blog post, “The problem with not having the .com of your name is that
it signals weakness. Unless you’re so big that your reputation
precedes you, a marginal domain suggests you’re a marginal company.” (http://paulgraham.com/name.html) It will be interesting to see how many of
the non-.com domain named companies upgrade to .com, like Intercom.io did in 2016 when
it upgraded to Intercom.com. Let’s take a look at the 6 keyword types that
DNAcademy teaches. Keyword types include Generic, Exact Match,
Brandable, Acronym, Numeric and Alphanumeric. I’ve done a video on the difference between
these 6 types of keywords, and will link to it below this video (https://www.dnacademy.com/six-types-of-domain-names-and-what-they-sell-for)
so you can watch it next. Here’s what I learned by analyzing these 16
Unicorns: 13 were brandable, 2 were generic, 1 was exact
match, and zero were acronym, numeric or alphanumeric. I believe that every founder would love to
have a generic domain name, like Amazon.com, but few have the resources to go big from
the start. Even Amazon.com was originally named Cadabra.com,
but changed to Amazon.com a year after launch. Brandables domain names can be acquired relatively
inexpensively and allow startups to get going and prove a business model before investing
heavily and upgrading to a premium domain name. For example, NuBank may prove their model
in Brazil before expanding to other countries and trying to purchase NuBank.com. And OrCam, an Israeli startup, combines a
word of Hebrew (“or” which means light) with a acronym of English (cam for camera) and
likely only cost them $10 to launch. And in most cases, a domain name upgrade isn’t
necessary down the road. Tempus.com and Cabify.com may never need to
upgrade. But in other Unicorn cases, like TheFacebook.com
upgrading to Facebook.com and GetDoorbot.com upgrading to Ring.com, upgrades were necessary. It depends on the brandable domain name selected
to start. And I don’t speak Chinese, but I’m going to
guess that meicai (my ky) is an exact match domain names since I’ve read online that it
translates to “buy vegetables” (although another article I read said it translated to “beautiful
vegetable” which would make it a brandable domain name). If it is exact match, it is the only exact
match domain name of this Unicorn list. Like hotels.com or storage.com, the brand
and domain name explains exactly what they do but the past few years most startups have
chosen the brandable path, perhaps because they want more flexibility if their business
model needs to change, perhaps because exact match domain names in large industries and
segments are costly to acquire, or perhaps a combination of the two reasons. None of these Unicorns have selected an acronym,
numeric or alphanumeric domain name. So, in summary, brandables — which include
both made up and combinations of words, are the top pick, followed by single, generic
words you can find in the dictionary, followed by exact match domain names with search volume. Now let’s take a look at the character count
for each of the 16 Unicorn domain names. We’ll count left of the dot, or in other words
just the length of the second-level domain name. There were 3 companies with a character count
of 5, 6 companies with a character count of 6, one of length 7, two of length 8, three
of length 9 and one company with a character count of 10. The most common length is 6 characters. What do we learn? In general — shorter is better, within reason. These companies may argue that they’d never
go with a three character domain, because their brand benefits from the impression their
brand leaves with customers. For example, HeartFlow means something, it
helps doctors analyze and diagnose patient heart flow problems. Would they prefer to go with hf.com or heart.com? I’m not sure, but I’d guess no in more cases
than not. So, in summary, shorter domain names are better. Let’s take a look at word count. 7 companies have a single word as their domain
name, and 9 companies have two words as their domain name. What isn’t clear on the graph is that zero
companies have three word domain names. And I want to add that no companies have four
word domain names. 🙂 Shorter is better, again within reason. There are no Unicorns with three, four or
five word domain names. That’s important to understand. That’s not to say that three and four word
domain names have no value. This is a sample size of 16 Unicorns of 2018. In summary, one and two word domain names
are the way Unicorns are heading. Finally, the last metric I wanted to analyze
is plural versus singular. It’s a characteristic that many entrepreneurs
wrestle with. Let me put it to rest. If you’re not selling hotel rooms or cars,
then don’t brand as hotels.com or cars.com. Go with a singular. 100% of the 16 Unicorns of 2018 are using
singular domain names with no S at the end of the second-level domain name. Although I will put an asterisk on that statement
in that Meicai.cn (my ky .cn) could translate to “buy vegetables” which could technically
be considered a plural. But if I did that, my point of singular versus
plural would be lost so I’m sticking with the “go with singular” to find more value
in your domain name branding. That’s it. I hope you found this video, podcast or article
— however you’re consuming it — valuable. If you did, would you do me a big favor? Would you please go to DNAcademy.com/itunes
and leave a review? It helps other entrepreneurs and investors
discover our podcast and I would greatly appreciate it. Finally, if you want to learn a methodology,
master a set of tools, and think more analytically on your journey to become a more profitable
domain name investor or more effective entrepreneur, consider signing up for DNAcademy. If you don’t have the funds for tuition, consider
buying me a cup of coffee using the link in the right sidebar of this webpage or by visiting
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see you in the next episode.


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