Misspelled names

I was speaking with a startup founder yesterday who’s launching a new product under a new brand name. Since the correct spelling of the name is already being used by another company, he’s proposing using an incorrect spelling to avoid trademark issues and the cost of a very expensive domain. Although this isn’t the actual example, you can think of it as using the name Gamr rather than Gamer.

My first reaction to the idea was that he shouldn’t use a misspelled name. This is because it will create problems when trying to achieve the word of mouth growth which will be key to this brand’s success. Users will talk about the brand to their friends but these friends may be unable to find the brand when they search for it under the correct spelling. Although a smaller concern, a fraction of existing users may also eventually forget that the brand name is misspelled. This would make them less likely to return to the brand.

However, after our talk, I researched the web to see if there were any examples of companies that became successful despite launching with a misspelled name. And indeed there are. Twitter, which originally launched as Twittr, and Flicker, which started out as Flickr, are two examples. There are likely many others.

As these examples show, it’s possible to be successful with a misspelled name. However, once you’ve hit the mainstream, you use your new resources to buy the correctly spelled name. Although this may come at a higher price than buying it when you’re launching, you have more resources after you’ve become successful. This makes it a much smaller fraction of your resources at the time.

It therefore makes sense to launch with a misspelled name to avoid using valuable resources as a startup, and to buy the correctly spelled name in the event where you’re successful. My first reaction during our talk was wrong and I’ve shared this post with the founder to make amends.