What's in a company name?
If you're an idealistic start-up CEO, you want the name to be hip, encompass your vision and, most important, not already be trademarked or registered as a Web domain name.
But as new companies are being formed at record speed, it's getting tougher to come up with that unique moniker.
Some of the latest start-up technology companies in the area are called Roku Technologies Corp., 2Wrongs.com and Stuffofthemonth.com.
All have their own personal name tales.
Executives at Artesia Technologies Inc. of Rockville, which was launched in July, found their naming experience intensely traumatic.
Chris Veator and Scott Bowen led a management buyout of a division of Thomson Corp., raised $25 million in funding from Warburg Pincus Ventures and hired a staff of 60. But they couldn't figure out what to call their creation.
They were facing a deadline to issue a news release announcing the new business; a series of X's replaced each mention of a company name. Artesia creates storage and search capabilities for electronic information--what it calls "digital nervous systems." (Its clients have included General Motors Corp., the Library of Congress and The Washington Post Co.)
Veator, chief executive of Artesia, started the process by hiring a firm in Ohio that specializes in naming and branding companies.
The firm listened to Veator and Bowen outline their vision. Veator says the naming company came back with cardboard flip charts and a caveat: Some of the names just might seem off the wall at first, but people probably hated Yahoo when they first heard it, too.
They offered 50-some suggestions, including Zing, Tasmania, Catch and Digger, says Veator. Veator and Bowen were, well, underwhelmed, and they sent the firm back to come up with more. The few chosen from the second go-round turned out to be already claimed, either by trademark or on the World Wide Web or both.
So they turned to drastic, though less expensive, measures.
The Friday before the Monday when the news release was to come out, Veator brought 10 senior managers into a room along with a case of beer, a bunch of Nerf balls and a couple of dictionaries and thesauruses. "For seven hours we threw the ball around, drank beer and threw out names," Veator says.
They had their lawyer, Ned Martin of Piper & Marbury, on call all weekend to do trademark searches, and their friend and former boss at Thomson, Jim Rutt, now chief executive of Network Solutions, ready to register the domain at a moment's notice.
One of the options was Rhubarb.
"Rhubarb was wide open," says Bowen.
But it didn't win. Someone brought up Cartesian, and it was transformed into the name on the books today. "What we finally concluded is that we needed a brand that wasn't a word," says Veator. Worst case, he says, it will mean nothing to people. Best case, it will suggest water finding its way to the surface, like information.
Robert Haft is back in the book business, this time as an angel investor.
The former Crown Books executive, who was ousted from the business by his own father, invested $2.25 million in VarsityBooks.com, a Washington company that sells college textbooks online.
How he came to invest in the company, which recently filed for an initial public offering, is a lesson in the effectiveness of logo-wear. And luck.
Haft was working out at the gym in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown earlier this year when he noticed a guy with "VarsityBooks" on his T-shirt. Haft asked Eric Kuhn, chief executive of VarsityBooks, what the company was all about. "A day later I invested," says Haft.
He's into this Internet thing now himself, having recently launched Vitamins.com. Haft has raised $37 million from five venture-capital firms and looks to be on the road to an offering as well. His father, Herbert Haft, also started an online vitamin store this year.
Over sukiyaki recently at Georgetown's Japan Inn, Robert Haft revealed what vitamins he personally takes: a multivitamin, B complex for stress, E for heart, gingko biloba for brain circulation and C for antioxidants. Every day.
A soccer field in Great Falls has become an unlikely but popular meeting place for area technology executives.
Great Falls has long been a neighborhood of choice for tech CEOs. Now it turns out that a number of players on competing teams of the elementary-school-age Great Falls Soccer Association have parents who run in tech circles.
"The parents are multi-tasking, they're cutting deals," says Harry Glazer, tech lawyer for Greenberg Traurig and coach of a team called the Chubby Muse. "You see people from AOL, UUNet, they're all out there."
The Great Falls soccer contingent includes UUCom Inc. chief executive Lou Ann Scanlan, CyberCash Inc. President Jim Condon, and Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. President Russ Ramsey.
The Muse's coed team practices on Friday nights and plays games Saturday mornings.
When the kids aren't looking, said Scanlan (who met Glazer, her lawyer, on the sidelines), the grown-ups talk business. "We try not to, but we do anyway," she said. "We can't help it." In fact, Scanlan said, she debuted her company's first marketing brochure on the soccer field, bringing it one Saturday morning to show all the parents.
The newest band of angels in town, the eMedia Club, has made its first investment.
EMedia is a group of 75 wealthy individuals--including former MCI president Gerald Taylor, SkyCache Inc. chief executive Doug Humphrey and Mitch Praver of National Geographic Interactive--who gather regularly to consider funding technology ventures at their earliest stages.
Along with Washington venture fund Rowny Capital, the club has put $685,000 into Step 9 Software Corp. of Falls Church, which makes software that manages services such as billing and inventory for telecommunications companies.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAPTION: Artesia's Chris Veator, left, and Scott Bowen spent hours in a group trying to come up with a name for their new firm. "What we finally concluded is that we needed a brand that wasn't a word," says Veator.