Lessons from Amazon, Netflix and Apple

What is in a name? Everything. Very often, the first piece of information we have about an entity or a person is their name. Once you label a concept, you change how people perceive it. This perception can lean in a positive or negative direction. This is what makes naming important for everything, including your business.

Netflix co-founder and first CEO, Marc Randolph, writes in his 2019 memoir about the company, That Will Never Work, “By November of 1997, we had an office. We had a semi-functional website that we were testing. We had dozens of mailer prototypes. We had the beginning of an inventory. We even had a launch date: March 10, 1998. What we didn’t have was a name. This is often the case for early-stage start-ups.”

Choosing a name for their business can give founders more sleepless nights than anything else. And picking the right name is crucial and sometimes takes forever. Amazon was originally called Cadabra, intended as a reference to the word “abracadabra” (that is, magic). Twitter started off as Status. Netflix could have been CinemaCenter or

Considering starting a business or you have one already? Here are lessons from Amazon, Netflix, and Apple to get you started and keep you going, if already started.


Marc Randolph

·         Have a Beta Name

A beta name serves as a placeholder for your business name to come. Randolph writes that you have to allow for serendipity, for the right name to come along as you develop your service. Sometimes, that takes months. But in the meantime, it is prudent to have a beta name, a working title that you use to test your site, set up email accounts, and write on bank documents. And it can’t just be The Untitled Marc Randolph Project.

You should be careful when choosing your beta name. Steve Kahn, a member of the early Netflix team, while advising Randolph on picking a beta name for Netflix, recommended they should choose something so bad it wouldn’t be possible to use for real. “Six months in,” he said. “And you’ll be so fried that you’ll want to just say, ‘Screw it, let’s keep the beta name.’ Your sense of what’s good and what’s bad will be almost entirely depleted. But if you pick something so awful that it’s obviously impossible –, – you’ll be forced to come up with something new.”

“Our beta name was Kibble. As in dog food,” Randolph writes. “Our bank statements said Kibble. The website we were testing had domain name My email address was”

·         Identify Your Brand Identity

Your brand identity is made up of all components related to your product, service, your target customers, culture, and mission. Identifying your brand identity helps in picking the right name for your business.

When considering the best name for Netflix, Randolph writes that his team decided that the best name for their company would combine two words: one related to movies, one related to the internet. This move led to the birth of the word, “Netflix”, flowing from their understanding of their brand identity: customers requesting through a website (Net) to borrow DVDs (Flix).

·         Create Something Unique, Short and Simple

Forget descriptive names. Finding a name that is unique, short and simple is necessary for several considerations. These considerations relate to SEO issues, social media and domain name.

Create something unique. If your name is highly competitive with a company dominating SEO or social media, consider another name.

Avoid generic names. How many companies do you know that are ABC Services or XYC Technologies? If you just said the name, would you be able to tell what industry you are in? Being too generic will cause people to overlook you if you sound like every company out there. Get to the heart of what you do. What’s your story? (“15 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business,” Forbes, June 8, 2017)

Create short names. This is important for effective digital marketing. Create identical social media handles across all platforms, so your customers can easily find you by typing the same handle. 15 is the maximum character length for a Twitter username. Don’t forget that.

However, if you must use a long name, consider a name that can be easily shortened. For example, FCMB stands for First City Monument Bank, HP stands for Hewlett-Packard. You get the idea?

Keep it simple. Randolph observes that picking a name is incredibly difficult. For one thing, you need something catchy, something that rolls off the tongue and is easy to remember. One or two syllable words are best – and ideally, the emphasis should be on the first syllable. Think of the most popular website names: Goo-gle. Face-book. These names open with a bang. Too many syllables, too many letters, and you run the risk of people misspelling your name. Too few letters, and you risk them forgetting the name.

Jeff Bezos

·         Ask People for Ideas

Brad Stone writes in his 2013 bestseller book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, that in 1994, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, and his then-wife, MacKenzie Tuttle, started brainstorming names. During that time, they registered several web domains, including Friends suggested that it sounded a bit sinister. However, something must have captivated Bezos about the name. He registered the URL in September 1994 and he kept it. Type into the web today and it takes you to Amazon.

Todd Tarbert, first lawyer to Bezos, also pointed out that the magical allusions of Cadabra Inc. were too obscure.

The entire Netflix team of 15 people filed into Randolph office to brainstorm a name and came up with several names, including NowShowing, WebFlix, NetPix, CinemaCenter, among others.

The idea is, you shouldn’t do it alone. Brainstorm ideas with your start-up team. Consult your trustworthy friends on their takes on the list of names you already have.

·         Make it Easy to Read, Hear and Say

Adam Alter, an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department, notes that beyond their meaning, words also differ according to how easy they are to pronounce. People generally prefer not to think more than necessary, and they tend to prefer objects, people, products and words that are simple to pronounce and understand. (“The Power of Names,” The New Yorker, May 29, 2013)

He writes, “In 2006, my colleague Daniel Oppenheimer and I investigated the performance of hundreds of stocks immediately after they were listed on the financial markets between 1990 and 2004. We discovered that companies with simpler names that were easier to pronounce received a greater post-release bump than did companies with complex names.”

Tarbert also pointed out to Bezos that over the phone, people tended to hear “Cadabra” as “Cadaver”.

In picking a business name, it’s important you choose something that is easy to read, hear and say. It helps your customers to easily express and remember the name.

·         Research for Availability

“And then there’s the issue of what’s available. It doesn’t matter if you find the perfect name, if someone else already owns the domain or the trademark,” Randolph writes. “For the past several weeks, I’d invited anyone who had an idea to add it to the board. I’d already done most of the legwork about availability, trademarks, and the like.”

Start by checking out your naming ideas with Google. The second place to check with is the relevant authority responsible for the registration of business names within your state. In Nigeria, this would be the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). You could quickly conduct public search on CAC website, making sure the name is available for registration to avoid trademark issues.

Research the relevant laws of your state on registration of business name. Companies Allied Matters Act, Cap. C20, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 (CAMA) is the principal legislation governing the registration and management of business name in Nigeria. It makes provision for prohibited names (names that you’re forbidden from using); restricted names (names that you can only use under certain conditions); names that must be registered; and names that need not be registered.

Lastly, search for domain name availability. There are several hosting sites online, such as, where you could do this.

Randolph liked After conducting domain name availability, he realised somebody else already owned the domain, and it would have cost him $40,000 to buy it.

Learn from Randolph.


·         Check for the Meaning of Words in Other Languages

If you aspire to make your business global, you need to check the translation of the name in multiple different languages.

Co-founder of RotaCloud, James Lintern, says, “Something we only realised recently was that in Spanish, the word ‘rota’ directly translates to ‘broken’. So, in Spanish, we aren’t RotaCloud, we’re Broken Cloud. This isn’t ideal for a tech company, but we’re very fond of our brand name. We do operate globally, but we don’t have a huge number of customers in Spain.” (“The Art of Choosing the Right Name for Your Business,” Forbes, March 15, 2020)

Megapussi is a business name on bags of potato chips in Finland. It’s actually the Finnish word for “mega bag”.

Other product names that mean unfortunate things in other languages include Pee Cola (soft drink), Vergina (beer), and SARS (drink).

Just pause and imagine the distasteful public reaction should these businesses expand to Nigeria.

Steve Jobs

·         Have a Deadline

Walter Isaacson writes in Steve Jobs, the authorised self-titled biography of Steve Jobs that for Apple, the deadline for deciding what name to register for the company was the next day, when Jobs wanted to start filing the papers. He told Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, that if a better name was not found by the next afternoon, they would just stick to Apple. You know the rest of the story.

Netflix had several weeks.

Don’t ruminate for too long. Decide on a name and get on with it. Stone writes that, “In late October of 1994, Bezos pored through the A section of the dictionary and had an epiphany when he reached the word ‘Amazon’. Earth’s largest river; Earth’s largest bookstore. He walked into the garage one morning and informed his colleagues of the company’s new name. He gave the impression that he didn’t care to hear anyone’s opinion on it, and he registered the new URL on November 1, 1994.”

A business name is never set in stone and can be changed. Amazon was originally registered as Cadabra Inc.

·         Consider Branding and Timing

Remember the first sentence of this article? William Shakespeare asked the same question in Romeo and Juliet in 1595. “What is in a name?” he writes. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

While the business name is important, what matters most is the image you create around that name. Whether a name is perceived well or not mostly depends on perception management in the first six to twelve months. (“15 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business,” Forbes, June 8, 2017)

Apple, Netflix and Amazon are not perfect names, however, the value they give to the world makes them look perfect.

When Jobs proposed “Apple Computer” because apple was one of his fruitarian diets, Mike Markkula, who soon thereafter became the first chairman of the new company, declared, “It doesn’t quite make sense.”

Isaacson writes that the two words together – Apple Computer – provided an amusing disjuncture.

Jim Cook who ended up as one of the most important members of the Netflix team observed that “Netflix” just made him think of porno, as in “skin flicks”. Randolph confirmed the imperfection in the name when he writes, “It wasn’t perfect. It sounded a little porn-y. But it was the best we could do.”

When Bezos decided to use “Amazon”, he went straight ahead to register it without caring about people’s opinions on it.

Your branding is much bigger than a name. Always remember.


Paraphrasing one of Steve Jobs popular quotes, your business name is going to fill a large part of your business life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to find what you believe is the right name. The best way to discover the right name is to follow the above lessons from the eminent founders. If you have not found it yet, keep looking. Do not settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it.

Bezos found his true magic in the word “Amazon” and wondered, “This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away.”

Business Name in Nigeria

Special thanks to Oluwadunni Oni for taking the time out of her busy schedule to edit and review this article. I’m grateful.