Grokstar.Dev

The Awkwardness of Branding and Naming Things in Open Source SaaS

When I first made Snipe-IT over 7 years ago, it was a small project I created on my holiday break when I was the CTO of an ad agency in New York City.

Asset Management mattered to me, and every other piece of software I found that did what I needed was awful, overpriced, or both. I never imagined it would be so important to so many other folks as well, so I wasn’t thinking about it as something I would end up doing full-time just a few years later.

I created the Github repo on my personal Github account (where it still lives, for now), because quite frankly, I didn’t think anyone would care about it – and I certainly wasn’t going to pay for an organization account for what was effectively an unproven hobby. Remember, we’re 100% bootstrapped, so we didn’t have a pile of sweet, sweet VC money to play with. (Nor would we have taken it if offered, for reasons I’ve explained in a few presentations and I will no doubt pontificate in future posts here.)

My nickname on the internet, for as long as anyone can remember, has been “snipe”. I needed a name for this nascent project (which, again, I didn’t think anyone would care about), so I settled on “Snipe-IT”. (Hey, we all know computer people are terrible at naming things.)

Was it a great name? Not really. But by the time it became clear that I could do this full-time, it was too late to change. And frankly it was a lot better than some of the other names I had come up with over the years for open source projects I made: phpCards, SnipeGallery, etc. BanBuilder at least wasn’t that bad.

People already started to know the name “Snipe-IT”, and would be confusing to change it now, right? Not to mention that I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leverage my social media presence to create name recognition for the product, especially as we were just starting out and didn’t have a marketing budget.

When the project was first released and I had made a website for it, our logo was… embarrassing. A blue computer icon. Not exactly memorable, to say the least.

Original Snipe-IT logo. Sigh.

I write code for a living, okay?? Give a girl a break.

When I started the company, I also realized that Snipe-IT was not the only product I’d want to make, so naming the company “Snipe-IT” didn’t really make a lot of sense.

After a few weeks of brainstorming ideas, I decided on Grokability, Inc. – partly as a hat-tip to the book Stranger in a Strange Land, and also because I thought the name reflected what my values are as a software developer: to grok, or to drink-in and truly know something, combined with software that’s easy to use.

Years later, Grokability is a much bigger team, with at least two more separate products in the wings. We’ve got a much clearer sense of our branding and our “voice” now than we did before, with variations of the mohawk icon for different purposes, for example the Slackbot icons for general query reply, new testimonial posted, and uptime alert (from left to right):

I picked the mohawk logo partly because (again), I wanted to reinforce the product’s brand by leveraging my personal brand – but also because it reflected how we see ourselves as a company. We don’t do the stuffy corporate thing. We take our work seriously, but ourselves not so much, as evidenced by our rather silly About page. We wanted to demonstrate that even corporate IT can have a little fun and still get the job done well.

The Snipe-IT repo is still hosted on my personal Github account for now, simply because it’s so likely to break a hundred things when we move it. (We’re still planning on moving it to the Grokability Github repo, we just don’t have a timeline on that yet.)

It’s annoying, since individual Github users don’t have the same settings available as an organization does, but we have to re-evaluate the long-term breakage from users who have automations running that rely on that repo URL.

In retrospect, naming the IT asset management software Grok-IT would have been great for at least a dozen different reasons. That name is now taken (grr), but it would have fit into the kind of suite of products and consistent branding that would have made this all much less awkward now.

While it’s certainly not impossible to change a product name, or even a company name, after you’ve gotten some traction, you’re bound to confuse or lose some users along the way, and given that we don’t do a lot of marketing, word of mouth is pretty important to our business.

I’ve approached this problem in a long-term way. Where our invoices, website, etc in the beginning barely mentioned Grokability, Inc, we’ve been slowly introducing it over the years into all of our collateral, to build a lasting (if subliminal) connection between Snipe-IT and Grokability.

I try not to beat myself up about the name these days – we’re running a successful open source business on a great product with a doofy name – but I suppose my advice would be to name every product as it will become a success.

About 
Alison is the founder and CEO of Grokability, Inc, the company that makes the open source product Snipe-IT.