MP3Car.com used to be the right name for the Baltimore company. Not anymore.
The company traces its roots to a worldwide online community of geeks in the 1990s who installed personal computers filled with electronic music files, or MP3s, in their cars. But, like many startup companies that surprisingly grew their business in a different direction, MP3Car.com is now struggling to choose a new name that signals what it does well: build sophisticated mobile computers for corporate and government clients.
"MP3Car.com is obviously a misnomer at this point," said Heather Sarkissian, the company's chief executive officer. "It's a very well-known brand. However, it is very confusing to our [business-to-business] enterprise customers."
MP3Car is going through a common, difficult process known to any company that realizes it has outgrown the name it started with, according to corporate branding experts. Coming up with a new name can be also be a bedeviling exercise for companies that merge with others or that are trying to distance themselves from bad publicity.
In changing a name, companies have to consider a long list of potential issues, such as whether the Internet domain and trademark is available; how well the new name communicates its identity; or even how expensive it is to make the change, experts said. Some companies choose to invent a name, such as Zillow.com, a real estate information firm.
MP3Car.com "should consider a name that not only explains the products they offer today, but also what they might offer in the future," said Roger Gray, chairman and chief executive of GKV, a Baltimore marketing communications firm. "Many companies don't think about what they'll offer in the future. You've got to, otherwise they'll be changing the name every five years, and that's an expensive proposition."
MP3Car.com was formed in 2005 and, in part, consists of an online store that sells electronic parts - from power supplies to touch-screens - to thousands around the world who like to build computers for their cars.
Along the way, MP3Car's engineers developed increasing expertise in building and integrating mobile computers, and they started consulting and selling computers to companies and government agencies.
Recently, the company has experienced steady growth in sales of the off-the-shelf mobile computing packages that it assembles for corporate and government clients. But the name is a stumbling block for potential clients and even investors, Sarkissian said.
"One investor thought all we do is put MP3 players in cars," Sarkissian said. "He told us we'd be out of business in two years. ... I had to explain to him what we really do."
MP3Car.com, which has five full-time employees, is trying to save money by doing its renaming and branding itself. Larger companies might pay an outside firm to guide them through the change. Corporate rebranding campaigns can be expensive, starting in the low six figures and running into millions of dollars, depending on the size of the company and how much marketing is involved, experts said.
Sarkissian and Robert Wray, MP3Car.com's president and founder, have been brainstorming about a new name for their business for awhile. They recently held a pizza lunch at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, where they invited other members of the startup incubator facility to offer up possible names for their business.
Sarkissian has a couple of names whose Web site domains she has already bought, including BitMergent, Mobile Strata and iMobilify, but has found that countless others she's thought of have already been acquired.
"I'm telling you, it's all been thought of. ... It's crazy," she joked recently in her company's offices. "This has been an incredible challenge."
Such a challenge is common for companies in MP3Car.com's position, said David Warschawski, chief executive officer of Baltimore's Warschawski Inc., a public relations, marketing and advertising agency.
"Naming a company is not a simple science," Warschawski said. "It's actually quite complex.... To come up with a name that you can own outright is not a simple task. You'll think you've come up with two or three great names, but you'll be surprised to find two or three companies already there."
Sarkissian hopes to come up with a name soon. She sees how quickly technology in mobile computing has evolved in just a few short years to open up a new business model for them, making the future hard to gauge.
"Our biggest challenge," Sarkissian said, "is figuring out what our products are going to look like five years from now."