What do companies such as Siemens, Bosch, Porsche, Fresenius, Kärcher, Oetker, or Miele have in common? Differente sizes, different industries, different ages, but.. they all have been named after their founder. And many of them are still owned and run by descendants. What a contrast when compared to today’s startups: Snyk (UK), WayRay (Switzerland), Pitch (Berlin), 21Buttons (Spain) are some examples in Europe and in the US you will find a lot of food (Cake Technologies, Carrot Fertility), first names (Morty, Herb, Bud) and animals (Purple Squirrel, Fat Lama).
I am neither a marketing expert, nor do I seek to link the branding of a company to its success. My favorite example is still Apple. One of the most successful companies on the planet and at the same time named after a fruit. Not a single marketing expert would have given a positive feedback on that name when Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne created the company. Although Apple might be an exception, it does not seem like a company’s name is critical to its success.
However, my fundamental question is, if the way how we name new companies today has an impact on how we treat them, how attached we are, or at least reflects the motivation of the founding team? Many people raise the question whether the vivid startup ecosystem will result in new Mittelstand companies (SMEs) that are still the backbone of many European economies and hopefully will be in the future. Studies prove that family-owned business are outperformers (https://www.zcgdigital.de/ZCG.04.2018.156). Especially during bad times and we all know that the next recession might just be around the corner. Hence, we need family-owned business, since many venture capital backed high-scale companies will vanish quickly when times get tough. The motivation of the current generation of founders might be decisive for that.
When looking at all the funny names today, one might come to the conclusion that it – the startup – is meant to be a temporary thing from the very beginning. For several reasons: to make a lot of money quickly, to play around in a fancy office, to be part of a movement, to name oneself a CEO at the age of 25. It seems like these new companies are not built to last forever, their founders are not on a mission and there is no lifelong commitment. Given all the innovation and startup theater surrounding us, we need those founders possessing the right motivation. Right in terms of actually willing to create value: for their customers, society in general, relatives, themselves, or whatever or whoever they care about. Is there a deeper purpose? And presumably there was a deeper purpose for the generation of (mostly) solo-founders that created all the well-known companies: they wanted to connect their solution to their life plan by creating a company named after them – a genuine deep connection.
According to surveys today, for most of the founders there is also a deeper purpose: „When being asked about their motivation to start a business, many founders are looking for self fulfillment (79.1%) and independence (62.8%) or identified a market opportunity (7.6%) that they have decided to tackle with a team and the creation of a new business.“ (EU Startup Monitor, 2018) This is in line with findings by the Deutsche Startup Monitor in 2018: dominant motivations of founders are: the challenge itself (94,5 %) and being independent (86,8 %). Regarding extrinsic motives, (social) recognition (53,2 %) and wealth (49,0 %) were mentioned primarily. But which of those startups will be transformed into long lasting family business having the strength to navigate through crises over centuries? Probably not too many.
Consequently, I would love to see startups emerging with some of the following names: Müller SE, Martin SE, Gruber SE, Andersson SE, Smith SE, Hansen SE, Rossi SE, Garcia SE, or Nowak SE. They are digital natives with global ambitions and built to stay forever.
Would you agree?