The dot com dilemma for startups

By Shaun Symm, October 14, 2019
Stressed woman biting a pencil

If you are about to start your first startup then finding and buying a domain name will be one of the tasks on your to do list.

When it comes to domain names the best possible top level domain (TLD) you can get for your startup is a .com.


Well, .com is familiar to people and comes with a sense of trust. It also positions you as a global company from day. Plus, some angel investors and venture capitalists put a high value on a good .com domain name.

However, acquiring the right .com isn't always possible. In fact, it's nearly impossible.

Most decent .com names are either taken or are going to cost you thousands of dollars, which is prohibitive for most early stage startup founders.

So what do you do? Here are some options:

Pay for a .com

We've recently had 2 of our startups research .coms that were being squatted on. The price of one was US$4,770 and the other around US$5,000 (eventually negotiated down to US$3,500).

Our approach to idea stage startups is always lean.

If it was our money we wouldn't spend such a high amount. In fact, I personally wouldn't pay more than $500 for a domain name for an idea stage startup. Even that price is very high with the target usually being less than $100.

We would rather see the $5,000 spent on delivering a superior product or into sales and marketing.

However, if budget isn't an issue feel free to splash the cash. Who knows, it could turn out to be a good investment even if the startup you buy it for fails.

Add words to a .com

If the .com you want is out of reach try adding a short word to the domain.

For example, Dropbox first used before purchasing

We bought last year to validate a startup idea. We wanted to call the company Voco (for The Voice Company) but wasn't available.

Simply adding the word 'hello' meant we were able to purchase the .com domain at a low price. Plus, the 'hello' worked well for us as Voco is a voice application startup.

Another example that uses 'hello' is which was bought by Dropbox for $230 million in early 2019.

The recipe here is to take your company name and add short words to it. Words like up, hello, app, get, go, be, my etc.

You don't have to prefix your company name either. started out using

Try it and see if your .com becomes available at a good price.

Try a different TLD

Use the name that you want but use a different top level domain. There are now loads available so if isn't available try,, or even

If your startup is in a specific industry you might even find one of the recently released TLDs appropriate. For example:

  • Fintech startups - examples include .finance, .financial, .bid, .loan, .insure, .gold, .tax
  • Edutech startups - .academy, .college, .education, .school
  • Traveltech startups - .city, .guide, .holiday, .travel, .world
  • B2B startups - .accountants, .attorney, .dev, .expert, .legal
  • eCommerce startups - .clothing, .fashion, .gifts, .shop

As a side note to this, many startups in the artificial intelligence (AI) space have adopted the .ai TLD and good number of venture capital companies use the .vc TLD.

Domain hacks - make the TLD part of your name

For example, before Instagram owned the .com you'd find them at on the internet (note the .am TLD which is a country-code top level domain).

The Instagram example is also referred to as a domain hack.

Another example, is which we recently purchased for a startup called Joycards. I suppose this is an example of a domain hack that doesn't use a country code TLD.

Don't waste time or money

If you're just getting started the key is to not waste too much time, energy or money on buying a domain name.

That's not to say your domain name isn't important. It is very important as it forms part of your branding and identity. The key is to be smart about it. Get creative and work within your startup constraints of time and money.

If your startup becomes successful you will probably end up purchasing the .com. You'll no doubt pay an even higher premium for the .com at that stage but you'll have the means to do it! 😄

Photo by Jeshoots on Unsplash

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