16 Startups That Became Unicorns and What Their Domain Name Brands Teach Us
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.
5 Important Domain Name Characteristics of Unicorn Startups
Before we get to the Unicorns, the five characteristics are:
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 2018 Unicorn Startups
The 16 companies, in alphabetical order, are:
TLDs of Unicorn Startups
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 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.”
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.
Keyword Types of Unicorn Startups
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 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 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.
Character Length of Unicorn Startups
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.
Word Count of Unicorn Startups
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.
Plural vs Singular of Unicorn Startups
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 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.
2018 Unicorn Startups Domain Name Summary
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