Darpan Munjal is the founder of Squadhelp.com. Squadhelp, the world’s largest platform for company naming and branding, helps users come up with a great name for their business by combining the power of crowdsourcing with sophisticated technology and Agency-level validation services.
Mike: Squadhelp is more than a brandable domain name platform, you also provide crowdsourced naming contests and other services. How has this differentiated your business from your competitors?
Darpan: One of the core aspects of our platform is our amazing creative community of 300,000+ creatives. While several of our creatives are also domainers, many are not. One thing that is common across our most successful creatives is that they get branding. They have submitted millions of names via our platform and have received direct feedback from thousands of end users running the competitions. That feedback, combined with our quality ranking algorithms and gamification has allowed them to hone their branding skills in a highly competitive and iterative setting.
We are not just a transactional marketplace. We have a vibrant ecosystem where creativity thrives, which is extremely attractive to many startups who are making their first step in launching their business. On top of that, several of our services such as Trademark research, Audience Testing, Taglines and Logo contests provide a full-service branding solution which is critical to launching a successful brand.
Mike: Were you a domainer prior to founding the company? Where did the idea originate for you?
Darpan: Quite the contrary. When I started Squadhelp, I wasn’t much familiar with Domain Aftermarket.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, my background was mainly in Tech/ eCommerce and digital Marketing related leadership roles. The idea for Squadhelp came from my own personal struggles in coming up with good names for other startup ventures that I was working on launching. I realized first-hand how hard it was for startups to come up with great names and I launched Squadhelp to solve this problem by allowing entrepreneurs to connect with smart creatives across the globe. The platform grew organically for the first few years while I was focusing on other ventures. In 2016 I realized that naming was a massive market and there was significant headroom for growth and innovation. This is when I decided to jump full time into the business. In fact, the brandable domain marketplace was only launched in 2018 and the initial focus of the marketplace was to offer defensive domain protection and monetization opportunities to thousands of creatives who were submitting unregistered domains to naming contests.
Mike: Are there any examples of well-known companies that Squadhelp had a part in naming?
Darpan: We have worked with many well-known companies across the globe such as Nestle, Kellogg, Hilton, Dell, Alibaba Group, Pepsi, Siemens, Anheuser Busch to name a few. Virtually all our major clients choose the NDA option that we offer with our contests so I can not disclose the details of their specific projects or chosen names. Our creatives have named all types of brands and companies ranging all the way from a variety of potato to one of the largest Nuclear fuel manufacturers in the world.
Mike: Your website mentions the use of machine learning and AI. How are you using this technology to enhance your customer experience?
Darpan: We are a data driven company. One thing we realized early on was that the #1 challenge for most brandable domains is the lack of discovery. The brandable domains do not necessarily include the common keywords that represent an industry. For example, if you search for “women clothing”, it is unlikely you are looking for names that explicitly include either of those two keywords as part of the name. On the other hand, a name such as “Zyla.com” can make a very powerful clothing brand. As a result, we decided on building a fairly elaborate AI based “Name Genome” which takes into account more than 20 different data points that can characterize a name. It combines these characteristics with the interaction data of millions of buyers, so that we can learn what names to recommend to which buyer.
The concept is very similar to how you receive recommendations in Netflix or Spotify. As you watch Breaking Bad (one of my favorite shows BTW), it can recommend titles such as Ozark (another great show). Similarly, if a buyer appears to be browsing names that are “short” or “made up”, our AI can learn in real time and automatically suggest other relevant names based upon the attributes as well as purchase behavior of other similar buyers. Every week, we are feeding millions of signals to our models to improve this discovery experience.
Even though we have put in quite a bit of effort in building and improving this technology, this is still a work in progress, and we are nowhere close to being done.
Mike: Tell me about “audience testing” and how that helps your customers find the best match for their company.
Darpan: Oftentimes companies running a naming project have multiple names in their shortlist. In those cases, how do you decide which name will resonate the best with your target demographics? The Audience testing process uses a data driven approach to solve this problem.
We allow companies to run polls and get unbiased feedback by reaching their target customer demographics (based on Age, Gender, Location or other criteria). It is often interesting to see that the names that were the most liked by the internal management teams are not always the ones that actually resonated with their target demographics. This process eliminates any internal biases and allows companies to walk away with names that are much more likely to resonate with their customers.
Mike: If I’m a domainer with some quality brandable names, why would I choose to sell through Squadhelp?
Darpan: In one word, exposure. One of the important goals for any domain investor should be to maximize the exposure and visibility for their domains. Having your names appear in the registrar path is a critical aspect of that exposure. However, that works in cases when the buyer searching for the domain has already come up with that name on their own and is now checking availability at a registrar.
In the case of Brandable domains, many buyers often do not know the exact name they are looking for. Therefore, they begin their journey at a discovery led curated platform such as Squadhelp to discover what options might be a good fit for their business.
We make massive investment in marketing to bring qualified buyers to our platform. Currently we are receiving more than 2.5 Million unique visitors a month, with over $2M+ in annual advertising spend.
However, bringing buyers to the platform is only one part of the equation. The other part is ensuring that the buyers are able to find relevant domains based upon their search intent. This is why we are continuing to put significant efforts in the AI & discovery aspects of our platform.
In addition to the high exposure, we follow an iterative approach to continuously add new features to the platform which can be helpful to sellers. For example:
- You can allow other creatives to submit your names to our naming contests
- Allow our AI to automatically schedule a future price increase on your domains based upon increased buyer interest.
- Receive automated notifications when any of your domains are registered in a different TLD
- Leverage our AI to automatically create a description and assign root words to your domains
- Create high quality lifestyle images that can improve the domain presentation
- Offer early pay off incentives to buyers to pay off the remaining balance on your domains purchased via installment plans
- You can manage all your listings via Google sheets and synchronize them at any time with our platform
- You can set up your own custom branded white label marketplace (WLM) with your own custom domain URL.
We also share a significant level of data and analytics (e.g. STR by root words, categories, searchable sales database etc) that can be helpful to domain investors.
Having said that, all these features are not particularly helpful if you are not generating enough sales. I believe it is important for sellers to test different platforms so that they can determine which platform is able to maximize the sell through rate for their specific portfolio.
Mike: You’ve helped many businesses. What advice do you have for startups and small businesses getting started today?
Darpan: As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of failures. I have previously written about my learnings and advice for entrepreneurs at a broader level. However, from a naming and branding perspective, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Trademarks: It is surprising to see how many entrepreneurs end up launching their brands without proper Trademark due diligence. We get many customers looking to rebrand because they received a Cease and Desist letter from another company due to a Trademark conflict. Rebranding is expensive, and most Trademark issues can be easily avoided by conducting an upfront Trademark research, as well as by filing a Trademark to protect your brand.
- Testing: Oftentimes entrepreneurs are too close to their product or service and the name they have in mind may not actually resonate with their target audience. Utilize formal or informal tools to test your names with your target demographics so that you can pick a name based upon unbiased feedback of your audience.
- Don’t think too narrow: When you are launching your business, it is common to come up with a name that describes your current vision of the product or service. Keep in mind that there is a good possibility that you may need to pivot your business or expand your business beyond the core that you are starting with. Therefore, pick a name that allows some flexibility down the road even if your business has to change its core focus or expand into other services or markets. Think about brands such as Amazon, OpenSea, Uber, Tinder, Apple, Pinterest- most of them represent a broad concept or a big idea, and do not necessarily tie themselves to a specific product line or category.