Squadhelp, An Accidental Startup with Darpan Munjal [Interview]
We are continuing the interview series with Darpan Munjal. He is the founder of Squadhelp, the popular naming platform.
We really enjoyed this interview. Thanks to Darpan for his sincere answers to our questions.
Who is Darpan Munjal? Can you please tell us more about yourself?
I was born in India and moved to Chicago in the late 1990s when the dot com bubble was just starting up. When I moved to Chicago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to lead the initial launch of Sears.com – which at that time was a leading retailer in the US. I also had the opportunity to work in the online education space, where we leveraged data and AI to predict student outcomes. Since then, I have always been passionate about innovation in tech and digital space.
I left my corporate career in 2010 and jumped into entrepreneurship. I co-founded a startup in the Fashion e-commerce space which was a wonderful experience. While the startup didn’t survive, I loved building that business from the ground up. It offered a great learning opportunity – from raising multiple rounds of venture capital to building an awesome team to pushing the boundaries of tech, marketing, and innovation, to pivoting the business (even though the pivot wasn’t successful).
I continue to be extremely passionate about leveraging tech, AI, and marketing to solve business problems especially in industries that haven’t seen much innovation.
I now live in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, with my wife, two teenage kids, and a little Maltese who is a bit confused these days to see all of us working from home all the time during these Covid months!
You founded SquadHelp in 2011. What was the story behind it?
Squadhelp was actually an accidental startup. To be honest, I was not expecting this to become a real business. Back in 2011, I was struggling to come up with a name for another venture I was looking to launch. Every name idea I could think of was either already taken, or just sounded horrible. So I launched Squadhelp mainly as a resource for entrepreneurs to host mini competitions, where they could get some name ideas from creative people for a small award.
The platform grew organically for the first few years, mainly via word of mouth. I worked on it in my spare time and didn’t really promote the platform via any kind of paid marketing for the first few years. In 2016, once we already had a few thousand paying customers and several thousand creatives on the platform, I took a serious look at the traction and the overall market potential.
That’s when I realized that I had completely underestimated the overall market and business potential, so I decided to jump into it full time. Since then I have been putting all of my energy in building out a great team and a differentiated business focused on naming and branding.
Who are the typical customers of Squadhelp?
Interestingly, while we continue to get a lot of startups as our customers, we now get quite a few Fortune 500 companies who use us for their naming projects. Many of these companies consider us as a better alternative to traditional branding agencies, because they not only receive a large breadth of ideas at a rapid pace, they can also validate their top choices via our validation services such as Audience Testing and Trademark Research.
We’ve worked with companies spanning almost all industries across the globe – from Food & Beverage (e.g. Nestle, Pepsi) to Hotels (e.g. Hilton) to tech (e.g. Dell). We are blessed to have a wonderful community of creatives who have successfully handled projects ranging from naming a brand of potato to one of the largest nuclear fuel manufacturers in the world.
I strongly believe that the traditional methods of search and discovery are extremely inefficient for brandable domains. So we are on a mission to solve this problem.
To add some context, when customers start their naming journey, they typically do not have the exact name in mind. They might have a fairly good idea of the type of brand they want to build but in most cases, they are not yet sure about the exact name. Therefore, expecting them to type exact keywords in a search box, or land directly on your for sale landing page is not realistic (at least in case of brandables). In fact, I believe that the extremely low sell through rates for brandable domains can be attributed to an inefficient discovery experience.
Imagine a company going to a marketplace and searching for “Yoga” related names. The traditional search would showcase most names that contain the literal word “Yoga” however it is unlikely that they will ever find a name such as “Lululemon” based upon that search.
We are working on solving this problem by leveraging data and AI to improve the search and discovery experience for our customers. We’ve been working on mapping buyer behavior to domain attributes so that we can recommend the most relevant names to the buyers. Platforms such as Spotify or Netflix have been using this technology for quite some time to recommend titles based upon your listening or watching history. We are building something similar to help customers discover great and relevant domains.
While we have already laid the building blocks, there is a lot more work to be done in this space. For the next 10-12 months, our focus will continue to be on the following:
- Innovation in digital marketing and advertising to reach and bring a large number of prospective buyers to our platform.
- Significant work in data-driven, AI-based discovery experience so that customers can easily find the most relevant domain names.
- Compliment that discovery experience with “human” assistance via smart crowdsourcing and gamification. The human element will allow us to not only curate the best names for our Marketplace, but it will also allow our community to help customers find the perfect name.
Do you have any insights from startups who are looking for domain names?
An overwhelming majority of customers who come to Squadhelp tell us that they are looking for a brand name. Of course, in most cases, they also want a domain name but they typically start their search with a brand name.
I believe this has many implications for domain sellers, especially if you are selling brandable domains. Providing more context via storytelling (such as visual cues like logos, lifestyle images, or a compelling description) can help build a stronger connection with the buyer.
In retail, there is a well-known concept called “Merchandising”. It is about the product placement, copy, categorization, and other “softer” aspects that help improve the product discovery. I believe that the same merchandising concept applies to Brandable Domaining. We’ve seen many situations where the buyer was trying to decide among multiple names and was ultimately drawn to the name that offered a compelling description or a story that resonated with them. We see the same thing in our naming contests. Names that are submitted with a description are much more likely to receive likes and wins in our contests compared to names that are submitted without any description.
We also find that quite often, startups are looking for names that are not too descriptive. They want their brands to stand out, and oftentimes they prefer metaphors or naming concepts that do not include the literal industry keywords inside the name. This leads to the discovery challenge that I pointed out earlier – typically the keyword-rich domains keep bubbling up to the top of the search results, making it difficult for the “out of the box” names to be discovered. This is why we are taking a different approach to domain discovery.
What can you say about naming a new company or project? What would your advice be for entrepreneurs before naming their companies?
Choosing a great name for a company is much trickier than most founders first believe. A great name needs to offer the right foundation for a company to build upon. While there are countless articles about what makes a great name (e.g. easy to spell, easy to pronounce, etc), I think it is extremely important to take the time to validate your top name choices before picking one.
We’ve come across many situations where the companies were forced to rebrand after launching the business because they received a cease and desist letter due to a Trademark conflict. This risk can be significantly mitigated by performing a Trademark assessment before finalizing the name, and yet several startups skip that important step.
Equally important is some market validation of your name choices. Whether you do a formal audience testing or a quick poll among your peers, some unbiased feedback can go a long way in picking the right name. There have been many situations where our customers decided to run an audience test and were surprised to see that their top choice did not resonate with their target audience at all. Oftentimes companies take an “inside out” approach in picking a brand name. However, at the end of the day, it is more important for the name to resonate with your target audience than your internal team.
What do you think about Dofo?
I came across Dofo after reading about it in some discussion forums. The simplicity in the design packed with massive data and so many powerful features is a breath of fresh air.
I love how easy it is to use the platform – it is not only a fantastic research tool for domain investors, it has the potential to become a go-to destination for end-users for starting their domain name search.
I like how you are continuing to innovate and are aggregating information from many different sources to provide a rich experience that clearly adds value.
I also recently installed the Chrome extension, and I love it. You guys are doing a great job!
Thanks a lot for the interview, Darpan. Do you have anything else to say to our readers?
I believe the Domaining industry has entered a new phase of innovation which is very exciting. In the last 12 months alone, we have seen businesses filling several voids in the industry – from NameLiquidate to DNWE to platforms such as Dofo – they are all great examples of simple yet powerful business models that are great for this industry. I am excited about what we are building at Squadhelp, and I welcome everyone to continue to share their feedback about how we can further improve.
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