As a startup founder, getting the right domain name may be the last job on your list, but it could be the most important step to branding yourself online. By April 2020, 4.57 billion people were active online, encompassing around 59% of the global population.
This means that for most companies, your interactions with existing and potential customers will have some sort of online basis. Whether you offer a digital service or a physical product, you will likely have some kind of online interaction.
For many companies, this interaction is either via social media or your website.
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Types of domain names to consider
Here are some popular types of domain names that you, as a founder, may look to consider. Each comes with its own drawbacks and advantages that I’ve written below.
Exact Match .COM – the best you can get, but they can be pricey
The best you can get, an exact match .COM domain name for your brand. This means that if your brand is called “Example”, then you own Example.com.
Why? .COM is the number one extension in the world. Out of over 364 million domain names registered, over 147 million of those are .COM. To put this in perspective, the next domain extension (discounting .TK, which is a free extension) is .CN with over 16 million registrations, almost a tenth of .COM.
Its international adoption rate and the recognition rate is why .COM will be number one for a long time to come. Some companies have tried switching from a .COM to another extension, but usually with disastrous consequences.
A prime example of this is Overstock’s rebranding from Overstock.com to O.co in 2010. A short while later, Overstock’s CEO called this “my bad call” after the company lost 61% of traffic to the O.com domain – a name that isn’t even in common use.
Unfortunately, there’s often some competition for exact match .COM domains, especially common dictionary words or phrases. This is why it’s not uncommon for an exact match .COM domain to cost a significant amount of money.
Take Eko as an example. This media company started life on HelloEko.com, which isn’t ideal. Unfortunately, Eko happens to be a very short name, and the exact match .COM (Eko.com) was highly sought after by investors and other companies called Eko.
This is why Eko ultimately paid $1.5 million to acquire Eko.com eight years after the company was founded.
I know, this isn’t possible to achieve for the majority of companies. But, if you can get your exact match .COM, then it’s certainly advisable.
Exact Match in Alternative Extensions
If you can’t get your exact match .COM domain, using an alternative extension is the next best thing. For startups, especially those in tech-driven industries, the .IO domain extension is particularly popular.
Aside from .IO, the .CO, and .AI extensions have all been popular alternatives. These are popular thanks to the relatively low cost of acquiring them compared to their .COM counterparts. It also helps that these are established extensions that are widely recognized online.
Other extensions include .NET, the classic alternative to .COM that has fallen out of favor recently, but should still remain a contender if you’re looking for a choice.
Exact Match in a Country Code Extension
Typically used if your company is initially offering products more specifically to one country or region. For example, if you’re a German company primarily offering a product or service in Germany, using the .DE extension is a viable alternative to the .COM.
Prefix + Company Name
Less desirable, but still a widely popular alternative to using an exact match .COM is the use of a prefix in front of your company name. Domains in this category could include MyExample.com or GetExample.com.
Generally, this type of domain name is cheap to acquire, with options usually available to hand register for $10 apiece. This type of domain is what I’d call a traditional stepping stone domain.
A stepping stone domain is a name that will fit the purpose of the company temporarily, but the ultimate aim will be to upgrade to that exact match .COM.
A prime example of this is July, a luggage maker that was founded using the GetJuly.com domain name. Ultimately, after funding, the company upgraded to July.com.
Company Name + Industry
Company Name + Suffix
How to find available domains
How to see if the domain you want is available to acquire
Consider a Buyer Broker
If you have the budget and motivation to acquire a domain that may cost anywhere from five-figures upwards, you might consider using a buyer broker.
A domain buyer broker essentially helps an entrepreneur, startup, or established company to acquire a domain name. The broker will likely have significant experience working with domain names and can give advice and digital strategy input.
The domain buyer broker doesn’t represent a domain name seller, like most typical domain brokers. A domain buyer broker is employed by the buyer to help them buy one or more domain names within their budget. They should act with the buyer’s best interests in mind. That means no kickbacks or commissions from the domain seller for closing a domain sale at a certain price point, which has been known to happen.
Domain buyer brokers are especially helpful if you’re thinking of upgrading your domain name after you launched.
Examples of Companies that Upgraded Later On
Stash is a New York-based digital investing and banking platform that was founded in 2015. The company started life on the StashInvest.com domain name. Stash.com was owned by an investor and was likely deemed too difficult or expensive to acquire.
In April 2020, the company raised $112 million in a Series F funding round that took them to a valuation of $812 million. At that point, the company opted to acquire the name and paid an undisclosed fee to purchase the domain.
In a similar way to Stash, View existed for years without their exact-match .COM domain. They used a “company + industry” type domain name, ViewGlass.com. The intelligent glass company has, to date, raised $1.8 billion with the latest round coming in November 2018, a Series H round worth $1.1 billion.
A month before this, the company acquired View.com from its former owner as View shifted from purely making intelligent glass to creating beneficial human environments using natural light.
Orchard started life as Perch. The company managed to acquire the Perch.com domain, but after rebranding, the company relaunched Orchard using OrchardHomes.com. This name was far from ideal, but a few months after launching, the company managed to upgrade from OrchardHomes.com to Orchard.com
Extend is a company that offers extended warranties online. The concept is simple, but it took a coincidence to allow the company to acquire their exact match domain. After starting life on HelloExtend.com, it took an employee’s typo (using Extend.com rather than HelloExtend.com) in a prototype to prompt the company to acquire the domain Extend.com.
I interviewed the founder of Extend.com for Media Options’ “On the Record” series.
Even Elon Musk upgraded. Founded in 2003, Tesla Motors started out using TeslaMotors.com after Tesla.com was taken. Even after Tesla’s IPO in 2010, the company still wasn’t able to acquire Tesla.com. That only happened in 2016.
According to Elon Musk, it took over a decade and $11 million to acquire Tesla.com. The change of name was vital as Tesla started to offer more products than just cars.