The power of a name

Explained with help from Robert De Niro

Total chaos.

This first week, we had 32 meetings with customers, prospects, partners, and old friends extending from San Francisco to Dubai. The reception has been warm, lending to trace feelings of validation that the late nights and sacrificed weekends may have been worth it. 🤗

There was one question, however, that appeared to recur throughout last week.

How did you pick the name Mastermind?

It’s a fair question, and it made me smirk recalling the process from last October. If you ever find yourself in this position, this was my thought process.

the birth of mastermind

Mastermind sells B2B cybersecurity and data protection assessments. If you are familiar with this field, Mastermind finds itself at the crossroads of the traditional accounting firm stereotype and SaaS-y technology (think images of a hacker wearing a black hoodie hunched over a computer).

When reviewing the current players, a few methods stood out as inspiration for names of these companies.

Group 1: Founders Keepers

The most recognized companies in global accounting are known as the “Big Four”: Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG. And, the Big Four have a gap on basically everybody else, as 424 companies comprising the Fortune 500 hired the Big Four as their financial statements auditor of record in 2023.

These are all rooted in what I call the founders keepers method for naming a company, which is essentially naming the company after yourself, your founding partners, or using the initials of these people.

listing of the highest grossing accounting firms in 2024 with Big Four at the top

Interestingly, only one firm within the top 10 is not named after a dead guy.

At 9th, FORVIS, founded in June 2022, is a word intended to abbreviate their catchphrase “Forward Vision” — but, FORVIS was really only the merger of two preexisting accounting firms: Baird, Kurtz & Dobson (BKD) and Dixon Hughes Goodman. 🥴

We steered clear of this naming method although “Forman & Co.” was enticing, or my initials “DLF” — last one did poorly in focus groups.

Oh My God No GIF by CBC

Group 2: Compound Words = Compound Returns?

This second way of naming a company is leveraging word play (sometimes, literal compound words or combining two buzz words).

Think of popular cloud companies like CrowdStrike, SecureWorks, OneTrust, Fortinet, Proofpoint, Cloudflare, SentinelOne, and even Microsoft.

But, none of those are really iconic ✨, and you can easily forget the name after a brief first-time impression. I was looking for staying power.

It is better to risk boldness than triviality.

Peter Thiel, don of the PayPal Mafia

Group 3: Consult the Heavens

Brands like Nike, Pandora, Apollo Global Management, and Vulcan Materials each utilize Greek or Roman mythology as a starting point for their names to indirectly convey a company vision — it was difficult to locate many cybersecurity companies using this method but a fun one to investigate nonetheless.

Group 4: Trailblazers

And, the last group is simply the GOAT when it comes to defining a category to such an extent that their brand eventually is synonymous with the product or service it provides.

Attorneys refer to this group of names as “genericized trademark” or “proprietary eponym”. Terms like escalator, dumpster, and yo-yo were all originally a company or product name trademarked by the private sector before evolving into the public domain.

Modern day, we are seeing genericization with Google (to perform an internet search), Photoshop (digital image editing), and Taser (electric shock weapons).

So, with all that background on how we used this context to choose the name, why did we actually name it Mastermind?

The Verdict

Our indirect competitors’ names are either the founder’s name or some acronym that no one understands except the token HR person doubling as the in-house, company historian.

some of the competition

We landed on Mastermind for a few reasons:

  1.  It was memorable. Most of our competition more-or-less resembles each other — poor differentiation.

  2. Gives off the impression of best-in-class, high quality, expertise

  3. The domain name for Mastermind Assurance was available. Take that, squatters.

  4. Tons of opportunities for word play while building the brand (big-brained, brainiac, masterclass, cerebral, think week…)

  5. Most importantly, the name contains hidden meaning related to our charter: to raise awareness and make masterminds of our customers, employees, and partners with the long-term goal of improving the utility of these frameworks (i.e., ISO standards) throughout the marketplace.

And, call it founder’s bias, but Mastermind sounds cool. Try saying it fast 3 or 4 times in a row — rolls off the tongue. 😙🤌

Season 5 Nbc GIF by The Office

I had a phone call with my Dad on Friday night, and I explained to him that this sector is tenured now and saturated with the accountant/auditor stereotypes. Yet, the ICP, or Ideal Customer Profile, has evolved to fledging tech companies, predominantly staffed with fresh graduates in their 20s who are products of the iPad generation.

It’s an odd juxtaposition where the audit side of the industry has not yet caught up with its target customer base.

It reminds me of that scene in The Intern movie with Robert De Niro, where he plays Ben, a retired 70-year-old. He gets a job as an intern at an online fashion start up.

The below clip shows the disparity between Ben during his first day at the start up amongst a sea of developers in an open office workplace – Ben showing up in his suit and tie is a hilariously accurate analogy of the contrast between the average auditor and the people that these auditors are expected to connect with on a daily basis.

the chances that these seatmates want to get a drink with Ben after work are low

Ben is a fish out of water. But, this is not Ben’s fault. He’s showing up in the way he always has, and this conduct is not up-to-date with the company he finds himself working at.

It’s Sales 101 that people want to buy from other people that remind them of themselves or what they aspire to be — it’s the basis for why people that share common interests form trust, rapport, familiarity, and relatability more easily.

Mastermind is an audit company, but it should not look, talk, or feel like your average auditor. In fact, we are building something iteratively different.

David 🧠


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