How do startups name themselves, and what is the trend behind their names?

A closer look at startup namesThe Wall Street Journal recently noted that startups are increasingly running out of available URLs and are resorting to using intentional misspellings (did you know that Twitter was originally spelled Twttr?) and made-up words (such as Mibblio and Zaarly) in their company names and web addresses as the number of viable domain names runs dry.

This investigation was inspired by a post on the blog of venture capital database ChubbyBrain about American startup names. (ChubbyBrain is affiliated with CB Insights, another venture capital database.) That research analyzed over 1,000 fledgling companies and noted that 7% of American startups’ company names incorporated .ly, .sy or -ify.

So that got the MaRS Data Catalyst team wondering if we would we see similar trends in the Canadian startup landscape.

There is no single repository of data on Ontario startup companies, and indeed the term “startups” itself can be difficult to define. We opted to query the database at AngelList through their open API.

Our resident expert in scraping and data extraction, Joseph Lalonde, wrote a script in Python that connected to the AngelList API, which contains information including the name, URL and location of each listed company. Although AngelList is far from comprehensive, it was the best available source and offered us a reasonably large sample size of over 600 companies seeking funding from angel investors. We then connected to the data in Tableau, one of our favourite analysis tools, and created a few visualizations to understand the trends.

In terms of URL endings, the standard .com web address dominates in our sample. The .com URL ending was used about nine times as frequently as the .ca URL ending despite the fact that all of the companies we looked at were centred in Ontario. Because the AngelList data contains a lot of speculative projects, some listings only included a social media website, such as a Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile, rather than a company URL; these were the most common URLs after .com and .ca. The endings that were hot in the United States – .ly and .sy – barely registered in our sample.

What about the names themselves?

We looked at the distribution of first letters and found that the letter “S” was by far the most likely first character for startup names, accounting for 13% of all startup names. Some examples include Sandbox (business consulting), Scolaris (crowdfunding for scholarships) and Sazua (English/Chinese bilingual e-commerce platform).

Do these startup names just reflect the most common first letters of words in general? Interestingly, no. The letter “T” is by far the most common first letter of English words, followed by the letter “A.” The letters “S” and “C” are less common, though they are both still in the top half of the alphabet.

It appears that Ontario startups have a different trend from the groups profiled by ChubbyBrain. Unusual URL endings such as .me, .ly and .sy are extremely uncommon, losing out to the standard .com address. We do not have an explanation of why startups in Canada tend to use the letters “S” and “C” as their initial letters, but we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photo credit: Hello My Name Is by Robert Occhialini CC BY-NC 2.0

Dr. Adam Jacobs

Adam is an analyst, statistician and data designer for the innovation economy team at Data Catalyst. He is interested in new data visualization tools and open source tools for research. Adam joined MaRS in 2013 after working in data development at a geographic information systems (GIS) software company in Toronto. See more…