Protocol | Workplace

From BackRub to Google and Facebook to Meta: Here’s what happens when your company decides to change its name

Change your name, they said. It will be easy, they said.

Appify CEO Jen Grant

Jen Grant has led company name changes at Box, Elastic and Appify. "Every time I get to a company, I end up changing the name," she told Protocol.

Photo: Caroline Shearer

A decade ago, Anand Sanwal nearly lost an investment bank's business over his company name. He and his founding team had thought the name they'd come up with was "edgier" and that it "would make you look up if you saw it," but Sanwal now admits that it was "somewhat, potentially, not safe for work."

And that's how Chubby Brain became CB Insights.

Silicon Valley is built on a heap of discarded company names. Before Facebook became Meta, Burbn became Instagram, BackRub became Google, Snew became Reddit and Saasbee became Zoom. So, how do these name changes happen?

Jen Grant has been through three company name changes, at Box (formerly box.net), Elastic (formerly Elasticsearch) and her current company, Appify (formerly Turbo Systems), where she's CEO.

"Every time I get to a company, I end up changing the name," Grant said.

The process takes at least five to six months, and likely a year or more at a huge company like Meta, Grant said. She and Sanwal walked us through what it takes to rename a tech company.

Brainstorm several names. Duke it out with your leadership team.

If you have the cash for it, you'll probably start by hiring a brand agency. Otherwise, the first step is for your leadership team to come up with several possible names right away.

For tiny startups, this may only take an evening. Sanwal and his team — at that point, there were only four or five of them — decided on CB Insights over drinks the same day the investment bank said it couldn't use a product called Chubby Brain.

Initially, Sanwal, the company's CEO, thought the investment bank was being overly conservative, but he ultimately understood why the bank didn't want to have to cite a company called Chubby Brain in client presentations. (The change was worth it: That bank is now a $750,000 client of CB Insights.)

"We didn't want to lose this deal over a name," Sanwal said. "It felt like one of those moments where, 'Hey, if we get these folks, we will have arrived,' so we didn't do a lot of analysis on what name to pick."

But for more mature companies, agreeing on a name will take some negotiation.

The hard part here — especially for chief marketers — is managing team politics, Grant said. Legal may put the kibosh on a name that your founder-CEO loves, for example. Even worse, your founder may fall in love with an awful name, Grant said.

Solving a disagreement like this may require some outside feedback.

"You kind of have to rely on data, at some point, to say 'Hey, this name you love is terrible,'" Grant said. "But I can't just say that to you, so let me see if I can prove it through some sort of survey or focus group or something."

This can be a long process. At Elasticsearch, for example, it took work for Grant to convince her team that as an open-source product with more than 10 million users, it made sense to choose a new name that didn't stray far from the original.

She eventually won out when the company officially changed its name to Elastic in 2015.

"It does take time to get people to get there with you," Grant said.

Check social media handles and domain names. Pray for a .com address.

This likely happens in parallel with the brainstorming process.

"Everyone starts jumping on GoDaddy: Is there a domain?" Grant said. "Is there a .com in particular, or do we have to go .co?"

Elasticsearch, for example, had to take the elastic.co domain, which Grant remembers as "kind of a bummer." She had more luck with Appify, where she was able to snag appify.com.

Hopefully, your team's dream .com domain name doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars, Grant said.

Box — which decided to change its domain to box.com because, as Grant put it, "no one has ever IPO'd on a .net" — had to lease the box.com domain for a while before buying it.

Then, particularly for software-as-a-service companies, there's the question of whether to redirect users to the original domain name.

At Box, for example, Grant and her team had to decide whether to redirect from the new domain, box.com, to the original box.net, or to send them to app.box.com.

"That's a huge thing. That means the whole entire product needs to move to a new domain, which is a whole engineering cycle," Grant said.

Sometimes, the company name can be in the code itself, which can be yet another engineering headache.

"It usually shouldn't be, but it happens," Grant laughed. "You may have missed that somewhere, someone hard-coded the name of the company by accident."

Don't wait to consult with legal.

Preventing potential legal issues are the "long pole" when it comes to a company name change, which means it's imperative that the process gets going right away.

As soon as possible, share your list of potential names with your attorneys so they can run a trademark search and assess whether any other trademark holders may put up a fight over the name.

Brainstorming and running a trademark search will likely take at least a month and a half to two months, Grant said. This is more complicated for companies with an international presence.

Even Google couldn't offer its German users @gmail.com email addresses until securing the Gmail trademark in Germany in 2012.

Before that, the web giant could only give Germans @googlemail.com addresses because the venture capitalist Daniel Giersch owned the Gmail name.

Tiny startups might be too distracted to take trademark issues seriously. CB Insights didn't run a trademark search until long after adopting its new name — once the company was established enough to have an in-house attorney, Sanwal said.

"We were bootstrapped. We were so revenue-focused and revenue-funded that that was not a thing we worried about until much later, until once we were what I would call a real company," Sanwal said.

So you've picked a name. Now what?

Once you've settled on a name and gotten approval from legal, you'll have some administrative work ahead of you: for example, changing your name with your bank and with the state where your company is incorporated by filing an "Articles of Amendment'' document.

It took several months to confirm Appify's name change with the IRS, Grant said — after the company had already announced its new name.

But these tasks may be less of a headache than the external communication involved. All of these pieces together will take at least three months and likely longer.

Of course, notify your team as well as any clients, prospective clients and job candidates you're thinking of hiring. Brief any partners, the press and industry analysts in advance, Grant said.

Make sure you've updated sales and marketing materials, proposals, contracts and business cards.

"When you're a startup, there's not some central system that you could say 'Show me everything that has our logo on it, and our old name,'" Sanwal said. "For a year, we were probably still finding Chubby Brain randomly in presentations and documents."

Then there's the online piece: Update your social media profiles and any newsletters and use search engine optimization to your advantage, from Google site mapping to Google tagging.

Sanwal's team was able to redirect Chubby Brain links that appeared in external media to "pass the SEO juice" to the new CB Insights website.

And to solicit press attention, don't just write a press release about the name change. Grant's advice: Pitch it to reporters alongside some more newsworthy announcements.

"(Reporters) don't want to write an article about 'some silly company changed their name,'" Grant said. "You want to write it about 'They did this, this, this — and they're changing their name."

Protocol | Workplace

CTO to CEO: The case for putting the tech expert in charge

Parag Agrawal is one of the few tech industry CTOs to nab the top job. But the tides may be shifting.

Parag Agrawal’s appointment to Twitter's CEO seat is already alerting a new generation of CTOs that the top job may not be so out of reach.

Photo: Twitter

Parag Agrawal’s ascension to CEO of Twitter is notable for a few reasons. For one, at 37, he’s now the youngest CEO of an S&P 500 company, beating out Mark Zuckerberg. For another, his path to the top as a CTO-turned-CEO is still relatively rare in the corporate world.

His leap suggests that CEO succession trends may be shifting, as technology increasingly takes the center stage in business and strategy decisions not just for tech companies, but for the business world more broadly.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

Keep Reading Show less
Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Protocol | Workplace

Google contractor says she was fired for 'ungoogley' behavior

According to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, "ungoogley" is Google's term for having a bad attitude.

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job after asking about pay.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job for "ungoogley" behavior after asking about holiday pay at a meeting with management, according to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a lawyer for the Alphabet Workers Union.

Tuesday Carne said in an interview with Protocol that she was fired after just nine days of working in the data contracting facility in South Carolina. Carne's termination letter (which Protocol reviewed) called her behavior at the meeting "unacceptable and 'ungoogley'" and claimed that her behavior was the reason for her firing.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Protocol | Policy

Biden FCC nominee Sohn is walking a tightrope with Republicans

Gigi Sohn faces plenty of GOP opposition, but the longtime net-neutrality advocate is hoping to pick up a little Republican support as she deals with Democrats’ narrow margins.

Gigi Sohn’s work for net neutrality has become an issue in her confirmation hearings for the FCC.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gigi Sohn wouldn’t mind getting support from a Republican or two, and it’d certainly make her path back to the Federal Communications Commission easier.

During her Senate Commerce Committee confirmation on Wednesday, Sohn, a progressive favorite and longtime net-neutrality advocate, touted her commitment to ensuring a diversity of voices on the airwaves, her past fights for small conservative networks she personally disagrees with and her habit of socializing with those she battles on policy.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

Microsoft Teams is going after small businesses

Microsoft Teams Essentials offers longer, bigger meetings for a relatively small price tag.

Companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams.

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Microsoft announced Wednesday that companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams — one of its most important products and a major player in work messaging and video chat, alongside Slack and Zoom. The product, called Microsoft Teams Essentials, aims to give small or medium-sized businesses a communication hub that costs less than its competitors'.

Microsoft will charge small businesses $4 per user per month for Microsoft Teams Essentials, while Zoom’s cheapest paid plan is $14.99 per user per month and Slack’s is $6.67 per user each month, when billed annually. The free version of Microsoft Teams still exists, as do the various other Microsoft 365 plans that include Teams. Teams Essentials offers longer meeting times, larger group meetings and more cloud storage.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Latest Stories