What’s in a Name?
It was the Fourth of July, and I was sitting at a bar in San Francisco with my housemate, Payton, and her friend Amy. In only a month I was to present a concept to 60 friends and family members at a party to kick off my new company. After six months sweating over it, the company still had no name.
I’d advertised the kickoff party as a presentation of the Elevate concept with a request for feedback, but for me there was another reason too. I knew that telling everybody about starting a company would light a fire under me, there would be no backing out.
It was an insanely intense time. Looking back, I have to believe a lot of hardware startups go through something similar at the beginning: I was working solo with hardware prototypes to finish, a provisional patent to write before publicly disclosing the subject—and that small matter of giving the company a name.
The three of us sipped our beers in that bar while I fielded a stream of questions from my friends: “What does your company do? What does it symbolize?” This was easy—the first product would provide two ways to move: Human power or electric power, letting the user quickly switch between the two.
As the conversation went on, we focused on “two modes of movement,” and the different ways of saying this. The word “Bimodal” came to mind. Typically it’s used in statistics for two clusters of high-probability occurrences in a distribution curve. Also, it neatly describes dual modes of transportation. After several months’ trying out different names, at last thought I’d found one I felt was right, I thought I’d nailed it.
Name Your Price
It turns out I hadn’t. Of course the domain name “bimodal.com” was already taken, and the owner wanted $20K for it. So that was that for “Bimodal.” I’d already put $25K of my own funds into making prototypes, along with about $20K from early board members. Spending $20K on a domain name was out of the question: that was 50 percent of the company’s runway capital at the time.
For about a week, I asked myself, “What sounds like ‘bi-mo-dal’?” And then it came to me: Here in the US, in normal speech the “d” in bimodal could just about be a “t”. This was the light bulb moment: Just switch the “d” for a “t” and a name is born. The final piece in the company’s name puzzle, solved. To top it off, the Bimotal.com name cost a mere $12.
Soon I started spotting benefits besides saving $20K. For example, made-up names perform much better in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), since they are unique and thus not easily mistaken for something else. Linked to this, branding and trademarking are more effective when using a completely original name.
The name “Bimotal” started revealing its hidden gems. One was the fact that “M-O-T” is the root for motion or motor, a perfect fit for a mobility company building motors. The name can also be used as a symbolic abbreviation for “BIke MOTors for ALl”. But the real gem is the link to the dual functionality of Elevate and the application to our future roadmap in Micromobility.
Everything our company does surrounds decreasing the mass, and increasing the performance, of small electric vehicles. Bimotal vehicles are easier to carry onto trains and buses, up and down staircases and to mount on car racks. We make multimodal transportation easier, it’s as simple as that. And here’s my bet: Bimodal trips will represent 90% of the traffic in the future, and only rarely will Trimodal trips make better sense.
Having landed on a name, the next step was creating a logo to go with it. You remember that bimodal distribution curve from statistics? That seemed to be a reasonable starting point. Then there is my love of skiing and mountain biking, and our first product Elevate which was inspired by the need to add electric power to a mountain bike. Lastly, the precise shape is derived from the gear tooth profile that made the first Alpha generation prototype of Elevate feasible, which in turn kept the company alive.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, I’d gotten accustomed to the idea that firms spend eye-watering sums on logos, names, and branding. When it came to starting my own company, and looking at what was out there, I couldn’t see the rationale. So I sat down at my computer to see what I could do with graphics applications I’d been using for designing Elevate parts. I did some general sketching with Fusion 360 by Autodesk. I pulled in DXF’s and modified lines with very basic CAD sketch tools. The Bimotal Peaks taller peak profile is the actual profile of a “Recess Action” gear tooth that was used on our prototype, the shorter wider peak is a cutout of the taller peak, as you can see in the Peak Hardware logo. These sections were—of course—created by dividing the gear according to the golden ratio.
A designer, Arian Tokuda, was referred to me through a Berkeley Skydeck contact. We hit it off, and he took my CAD DXF’s and turned them into a professional looking logo in just a few hours with Adobe Illustrator. Only a few hundred dollars worth of time went into our logo—we like to be efficient.
Doing it Over
Don’t rush the name, give it time. Preferably, only change the name immediately before you incorporate, and use incorporation as the milestone that locks the name in place. Whatever you land on, realize that you and the people who see the name and brand will learn to love it more and more as they see it and become familiar with it. Think about the most famous brands: Some of the names and logos are actually weird and obscure when you see them for the first time or detach them from what you know about the brand. Pick a few and study them in close detail. You’ll notice quirks, oddities, or at minimum the fact that there’s nothing magical or alien about them. It’s the repetitive exposure and messaging that top brands such as Apple, Tesla, etc. have in their back pocket that make them so powerful.
Pick a name and logo and move on to making the best product possible. Continue to associate your name and markings with an excellent product and service and repeatedly expose the public to your name and logo. This is the recipe Bimotal is following as we work to reduce barriers to car-free mobility.