Does A Startup Really Need The .Com Of Their Brand Name?

Recently Paul Graham, a VC and entrepreneur whom I very much respect, wrote a post called Change Your Name in which he argued that a startup should seriously think about changing their name if they are not able to get the “.com” TLD for their brand name. Graham also stated some statistics that are meant to make us think that his position is mostly irrefutable. He said:

100% of the top 20 YC companies by valuation have the .com of their name. 94% of the top 50 do. But only 66% of companies in the current batch have the .com of their name. Which suggests there are lessons ahead for most of the rest, one way or another.

I’d argue that having the .com domain is not the most important thing (and I don’t think that’s what Graham was saying). What’s more important, in my opinion, is consistency. In fact, I’d even argue that not having the .com is missing the forest for the trees. Let’s dig in.

How Many Had Their Now-Brand .com When They Started?

Graham argues that the top 20 YC companies by valuation all have their .com name. They’re also well venture-backed and have the money to pay the previous .com owner *almost* life changing money in order to get the .com for their brand name.

Here are the top 20 YC companies by funding, which we can be pretty confident is also a pretty solid list by valuation. This data came from Mattermark. If someone has a better list by valuation, I’d love to see it. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding their other domain names they’ve owned and have links to (found via a lot of investigation online) (click for bigger version):


Graham is absolutely right that all of the top 20 own their .com. They’ve also raised, at minimum, $52.5M in venture funding.

What Graham failed to mention is that 4 of the top 8 started with a different domain name than what they ended up with. What matters isn’t the .com – what matters is starting and taking over or creating an industry. Also, at least 4 of the top 20, and likely more, own other domain names where they may have started.

Also, remember that Facebook started as, And if your site is international, you’ll also want to consider buying the ccTLDs. The .com, while most popular, is not always best for building a company in another country. AirBNB takes this approach (insight courtesy SpyOnWeb, h/t Mike King:


Find A Name You Can Dominate

I run, which is a project (business?) I started to connect great companies who are ready to grow with the best marketing consultants in the world who are equipped to take those businesses to the next level. Unfortunately, was taken. This is what that site resolves to:

hiregun-com also serves a 503 (server error) status code and isn’t even cached.


When you search the exact phrasing of their company, “Hiregun Solutions”, in Google, guess what site shows up?


Here’s another example. Take online marketing agency Distilled (which I worked for in New York City for 2.5 years). Distilled uses the .net domain, aka The .com is owned by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and it redirects to Check it out:


But check out what ranks for the term “distilled”:


And while it’s a woolly metric, I dare you to try to guess which site has more links (and therefore in the algorithm eyes is more trustworthy). Alright I’ll save you the investigation.

I'm shocked. Not.
I’m shocked. Not.

Why The .Com Might Not Make Sense (At First)

As I’ve shown with the HireGun and Distilled examples, it doesn’t necessarily matter that much what your domain is at least at first. Longterm, when you are more concerned about type-in and other forms of direct traffic, it may behoove you to try to acquire the .com domain. In Distilled’s case, they have tried many times but the owner refuses to let it go. In my case with HireGun, I have no need to have the .com domain right now because it is a small project (albeit one I am investing in) and there is no reason for me to go barter and try to buy the .com when I am not even sure how well the business could scale up. Why waste the money? Pick a name, ship it, and start doing the real work – building a product, marketing that product, and proving out that it’s a viable business model.

I’d also like to point out that a lot of successful companies don’t own the .com for their brand name, or have some permutation of their brand name just to get started. This also carries down to things like Facebook brand page URLs, Twitter handles, and more. Sure, you can use a service like KnowEm to see if all of the important sites on which to have a profile have your brand name available, but in this day and age with so many online companies, so many social media users, and so many domain and social media name squatters, it’ll be hard to find a meaningful name with not one taken.

As one astute Redditor pointed out, depending on who your audience is having something other than the .com might actually help you short term. And it makes no SEO difference:



What’s more important, in my opinion, is consistency. Using HireGun as an example, this is the company presence:

Domain name –

Twitter – @hiregunco (though I am trying to get @hiregun)

Facebook –

Google+ –

Angel List –

I have made a point to get (@/+)HireGun wherever possible, and when possible with a capital H and a capital G to keep the brand consistent as often as possible. I have made the choice to do this because I believe that I can get all of the @/+/hiregun names where needed, because my brand name has essentially no competition. However, if I wanted to be truly consistent across the board, I should get @/+/hiregunco across the board. This is a decision that everyone has to make to keep their brand consistent.

Related read: Jason Calacanis’s point 7 in this post about How To Save Your Startup Money. tl:DR – fake it till you make it.

What Matters Most in Startups

What matters most in startups is traction. When you’re in a new space or working to take down an incumbent, you need to move as fast as possible. You’re shipping product, you’re doing market analysis, you’re testing new growth channels and trying to get that first 500, then 1000, then 10000, then 100,000+ users.

Focusing on something like getting the ;.com is, in my opinion, counter productive. Go after that once you have product-market fit, have a solid revenue model, and aren’t concerned with shutting down your company next month.

So my advice is to find a name that works for your company, buy a sensible version of the domain name, and start working as hard as possible to get traction. Start doing great marketing and building a brand, and it won’t matter at the end of the day what your domain ends up being. And what’s the worst case? You start with a .co and train people to go to it, then you eventually acquire the .com and redirect .co to it. You save all your traffic, customers, and links if you do it right, and you’re already off to the races.

Good luck. I welcome any comments.

17 thoughts on “Does A Startup Really Need The .Com Of Their Brand Name?

  1. Ummm just a suggestion … in the very first illustration/image/table ….
    can you keep the company name right next to original domain … its a pain darting from company name to the domain name so far apart and so small letters make the headspin …. first minute reading into your article and my brain is telling me please end this now … just my two cents will continue reading the rest of the post now … #ux is also #readability 🙂

  2. John,

    I’ve spent the last hour trying to figure out who it was I had this conversation with some time last week. The whole .com issue seems to get overblown in several ways, which you list above. The area that perplexes and pisses me off, though, is when brands see .com as a replacement for having a sound business idea.

    It really messes with my head. I’m fond of saying, “Yes, the name Google has worked for the brand. But you’re not Google, so that doesn’t really apply to your product or service, does it?”

    Hell, with enough time and money, you could successfully market

    I now get it, though, to a degree:

    1. Marketing is hard
    2. Marketing effectively and consistently in a competitive space is incredibly hard
    3. Marketing effectively and consistently in a competitive space, when you don’t have a sound product or service, is next to impossible.

    A cool name, I’m convinced after working with startups and traditional brands, makes marketers feel like they have a leg up. However, it serves as a distraction that places them further and further away from their goals, which can only be accomplished through consistency – of focus, of marketing, of innovation, of refinement, etc.

    Sadly, in my experience, consistency is one of those areas that few have the stomach to endure long enough to see lasting success.


  3. hi John,

    Nice follow-up to Paul Graham’s post. One item worth mentioning is that every domain in the top 20 YC list above, is a .com domain. Sure, some name’s have changed, but even Stripe chose what they thought as the next best .com, to, .net, etc. Every company that doesn’t have a .com faces a branding issue as anything but a .com gets the extension included. I still think of Box as The bottom line is that a .com is better. Hard to argue with that.

  4. What about online marketing and positioning of national websites in other countries like The Netherlands (with is .com of the national extension (.nl) getting more “points”? I notice that .com is always good, but .nl can scoor great in, but less in Thanks for this aricle, because supporting a lot of startups 🙂

  5. If this is true, then the practice of valuing a startup business is squarely in the domain of the artist. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs need to put a value on their startups in order to raise money, and investors need to put a value on their investments to generate liquidity.

  6. Alphabet Inc., the new holding company of Google chose as their domain name instead of going with a .com. I wonder if this will help give a boost to non com domains.

    The main problem with using a non .com domain is people automatically think of .com when they think of a domain. This is going to take years to change. I have a friend with a .co domain. He looses a lot of business because people always assume there is an m at the end. Saying .co over the phone, unless you spell it out and call attention to it, most people will think its .co. Also entering the URL in the browser or entering and email and many times you type in .co and the browser or email makes a suggestion of .com.

    1. I think the general extensions will keep the headstart. Just because a domainname is already difficult enough to remember with the general extensions. All these new .ext are fun, but not so easy to remember. There need to be a change in thinking of domainnames in general. Should Newyork Pizza be Pizza.Newyork or or just 🙂

  7. John, Certainly 100%. As .com websites are usually difficult to get, businesses have the experiencing they may be a supreme succeed. I’ve seen several samples of various TLDs ranking nicely, based on the industry obviously. I really published regarding it check my site too 🙂

  8. What if the startup involves online payment and credit card details. Any evidence that .com convey more trust to users?

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