How we paid 50 strangers $5 to pick our startup name

The startup I cofounded with Ben Rasmusen recently underwent a name change from 21times to DailyPath. We had chosen 21times as a placeholder, and weren’t entirely thrilled with it. Then when we couldn’t secure the domain name, we started looking at alternatives. We spent some time looking for names that a) we liked and b) were available. Lots of names met criteria (a), but almost none met criteria (b). We finally ended up with a shortlist of about 6 names that either we could buy or were unregistered.

But how to choose? Before spending hundreds of dollars to buy a domain name and then investing in a logo and other design assets, we wanted to be sure we had the right name.

One of the things we’ve learned over the years is the importance of customer development. As this new startup has a broad consumer audience, what we really wanted to know was which name the typical consumer liked the most. Posting to our Twitter and Facebook streams yielded little response, so we started looking for some way to get our list of potential names in front of a bunch of strangers, hopefully without spending a fortune.

Enter Mechanical Turk. In case you’re not familiar, Mechanical Turk is a marketplace on Amazon for short, tiny tasks that only a human can do. If you’re a startup, you might use it to have people tag photos on your platform, or identify inappropriate posts. Things like that. You can price each task however you want, down to a few cents.

Worth a try, so I setup a survey on Mechanical Turk and set the “reward” for each answer to ten cents. However, I didn’t want people to just click a random answer just to get the ten cents, so I also included some questions about their demographic (age, gender, income, education), and some open-ended questions about why they liked or disliked the name, as well as questions about what kinds of things they’d like to learn if they had the opportunity. I did the initial run for 50 different people to respond, and published the survey.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to get 50 responses. I mean, it’s a freaking dime. But I was wrong: after only a few hours, we had all 50 responses. And some people took the time to write multiple paragraphs about which names they liked and why. Completely bizarre. DailyPath was the clear winner, with more than twice as many favorable responses as the next contender.

Best of all, the total cost was $5. Not the last time I’ll be using Mechanical Turk. If you have a question that you’d like 50 people to answer and you have $5, give Mechanical Turk a try.