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Where Are They Now? Dot-Com CEOs

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Much has been written about the iconic American brands that have recently left the corporate landscape. Names like the bankrupt Circuit City and the nowhere-to-be-found Pontiac are casualties of the Great Recession, and there are most likely more to come. But every downturn means the end of the road for certain companies. Just a few years ago, brands like Kozmo, Flooz and Pets.com were going to change the way we all shop. So what happened to the CEOs of those dot-com casualties? We caught up with a few of them.

1. Jared Polis: BlueMountainArts.com

Artist Stephen Schutz and poet Susan Polis Schutz had been running greeting card company Blue Mountain Arts for several decades before their son took the business online and co-founded bluemountainarts.com. But Jared really caught the attention of the e-business world when he sold the company to Excite@Home in a deal worth $780 million. (Later, Excite sold the company for $200 million.) In 1998, he launched ProFlowers.com, a web company selling flowers direct from growers to consumers, which expanded to become Provide Commerce, which was then acquired by Liberty Media Corporation. In 2006, he founded Techstars, a seed incubator for web startups, and in November 2008, Mr. Polis was elected to the United States Congress to represent the second Congressional district of Colorado. Today, Fortune estimates his personal wealth at $160 million.

2. Joseph Park and Yong Kang: Kozmo.com

Remember when you could get a pint of Cherry Garcia, a Snickers and the New York Times delivered at 2:00am? Those were the days. And that's also the reason Kozmo is no more. The company's unsustainable business model promised free delivery of anything, in under an hour. And they lost money on every delivery. The two founders, Joseph Park and Yong Kang, took different paths after they closed shop. Park went to Harvard Business School and is now running Askville, a community site operated by Amazon.com. As for Yong Kang, he returned to Wall Street, and as of May 2008 listed his occupation as investment banking at Lehman Brothers. Rough decade.

3. Greg McLemore: Pets.com

pets-com.jpg
Before the dot-com bubble burst, there were about a half-dozen pet supply sites on the web, all getting ridiculous amounts of venture capital money (that should've been our first clue). After Pets.com went bankrupt in 2000, CEO Greg McLemore went on to create other start-ups. According to his LinkedIn page, he started stock footage company eFootage in 2003 and DataRefinery (a company developing a set of web based software tools) in 2006. He also hopes to sleep sometime around 2012, but that's subject to change.

4. Ernst Malmsten and Kajsa Leander: Boo.com

Boo.com was the brainchild of Ernst Malmsten, a poetry critic, and Kajsa Leander, a former Vogue model, who grew up together in Sweden. In the 90s, they wanted to create a website where the most fashionable people would buy their clothes, and before they had sold a single item, Fortune magazine had christened them "one of Europe's coolest companies." After the highly publicized launch, it took all of 18 months for the company to burn through $135 million in venture capital before closing down in May of 2000. Now, Kajsa Leander lives in Venice with her husband, raising their three children, and Ernst Malmsten runs a London-based agency that represents architects, fashion designers, graphic designers and other creative types. He also wrote a book about the experience called Boo Hoo: a Dot.com Story. As for Boo.com, it's now a travel website with user-generated reviews...no sign of Miss Boo anywhere, though.

5. Robert Levitan: Flooz.com

flooz.jpgFlooz was the Whoppi Goldberg-promoted site that offered redeemable credits when consumers purchased specific products. A lack of interest and a little fraud (apparently, parties within the Russian mafia were using Flooz as a money laundering vehicle) forced the company to shut down in 2001. As for the CEO, Robert Levitan (who had previously founded iVillage) went on to create Yearlook Enterprises and Pando Networks, a company that provides peer-assisted content delivery. These dot-com guys are quite the overachievers, aren't they?

6. Josh Harris: Pseudo.com

Josh Harris was one of the most interesting characters of the web 1.0 days. The founder of both Jupiter Communications and Pseudo.com (a live audio and video webcasting website), Harris became notorious for his six-month, $600,000 project "We Live In Public," a Big Brother type concept in which he placed more than 100 artists in a New York City human terrarium, capturing every move the artists made. After Pseudo.com filed for bankruptcy in 2000, Harris literally bought the farm: a 153-acre apple orchard in New York, which he sold in 2006. These days, Mr. Harris is the CEO of the African Entertainment Network based in Sidamo, Ethiopia. I'm sure he's capturing the entire experience on video.

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job secrets
13 Secrets of Professional Naming Consultants
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When it comes to companies and products, names matter. A slick name makes a company sound trendy and cool, while a terrible name can have customers running into the arms of the competition. Unsurprisingly, many companies take the process very seriously, hiring outside naming consultants who either work within creative agencies or at agencies devoted entirely to naming. We got a few to give us the scoop on how their job really works.

1. IT’S NOT JUST A CREATIVE TASK.

“The notion that namers are hippies and poets jotting down names on cocktail napkins couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, the agency that named the Fitbit Flex and Force and Starbucks’s Refreshers line.

The stakes are just too high for naming to be a purely creative project, because a bad name can break a product. Consider, for example, the major slump in sales ISIS chocolates experienced in 2014 when people began to associate their name with the Islamic State. (The company rebranded itself to Libeert.) And when the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, the diet candy company Ayds chose not to change its name, eventually suffering the consequences. (When asked about it, an official from its parent company, Jeffrey Martin, famously snapped, “Let the disease change its name.”) By 1988, the company conceded that the name was hurting sales, and changed it to Diet Ayds. But the product was soon pulled from shelves altogether.

“When you’re naming your kid or nicknaming your car it’s more creative. There aren’t as many consequences,” says Nina Beckhardt, founder and CEO of the Naming Group, a consultancy that works with Chevrolet, Kohler, and Capital One. “But when you’re brand naming, the name you select has to be strategically impeccable. It has to make sense and at least not offend millions of people around the globe.”

2. NAMES CAN’T JUST SOUND GOOD.

Naming isn’t just a subjective choice—really liking a name doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your company. “People want to get more subjective with it,” Beckhardt says. “They’ll say that name reminds me of my cat or rhymes with such and such. That observation is so enormously unimportant compared with the fact that the name successfully checks all the boxes we created at the beginning.” The point is to find a name that gets across what the company wants to convey, rather than one that every person involved in the naming process loves.

For example, when The Naming Group was working with Capital One to develop their first brand-name rewards credit card, the company had to consider who they were trying to target—travelers. The result was the Venture card, a name with a connotation of adventure and exploration that’s “not right on the nose.”

3. IT HELPS TO HAVE A BACKGROUND IN LINGUISTICS—OR TRADEMARK LAW.

Though naming is essentially an exercise in corporate strategy, naming agencies don’t just employ people with backgrounds in branding and marketing. They also need linguistics experts to help generate names that make sense, have positive connotations in modern usage (i.e. nothing that might have a negative slang meaning), and inspire the associations the company wants to elicit.

Coming up with a name also involves some legal legwork. You can’t name your company or product after something that’s already trademarked. And if you want to expand internationally, the name needs to be available to trademark in other countries as well. That means naming agencies are often looking for people with a background in trademark law.

4. YOU HAVE TO COME UP WITH HUNDREDS OF NAMES, IF NOT THOUSANDS.

“Naming is a game of numbers,” Beckhardt says. “You have to have a lot of options.” Even if the potential names sound great, many are bound to run into trademark conflicts or not work in another language.

So before namers get together to present feasible ideas to the clients they’re working with, they come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of potential options. “At Catchword, 200 names is scratching the surface,” Skoultchi says.

5. BUT THE CLIENT WON’T SEE THEM ALL.

When faced with too many options to choose from, people tend to freeze up in what psychologists call “choice overload” [PDF]. Whether you’re talking about choosing between similar items at the grocery store or an endless array of potential product names, it’s overwhelming to consider all the possibilities. Namers take their initial 200 or 1000 ideas and whittle them down to present only the best (and most feasible) options. At Catchword, that means about 50 names.

But namers can also face the opposite challenge. If a client gets too set on a single idea, it blinds them to what might be better options still out there. “For each project I will get and try to get the client attached to a number of different names,” Beckhardt says, rather than looking for “the prince charming” of names.

6. A NAME CAN BE TOO ORIGINAL

The amount of meaning a name communicates lies along a continuum. On the one end, there’s an overly descriptive name. On the other end, there’s so-called “empty vessel” names, which are so far removed from actual words that they come off as meaningless. The ideal name falls somewhere in the middle, but if you end up too far toward the “empty vessel” side, your name will be a target for mockery.

Consider Tribune Publishing, the media company that owns the Chicago Tribune. In 2016, it rebranded as “tronc,” a name derived from the phrase “Tribune online content.” The move was widely mocked, for good reason. In The New York Times, a branding expert said the name “creates an ugliness.” The new name became a black eye for the company rather than a sign of its forward-thinking vision.

Empty vessel names are particularly common in the tech world, but played right, it can work. Google could be considered an empty vessel name, but it does have an origin, albeit one that most people aren’t familiar with. A googol is a huge number—10100—which makes sense within the context of the search engine’s ability to aggregate results from a near-infinite number of sources online.

7. A NAME CAN’T JUST SOUND GOOD IN ENGLISH.

One reason naming agencies need linguists is that unless a company is only marketing its products domestically, the name needs to work in multiple languages. If your product sounds slick in English but means something dirty in Norwegian, you’ve got a problem.

Plenty of companies have found this out the hard way. The Honda Fit was almost the Honda Fitta, but the company changed the name when it realized that “fitta” was slang for female genitalia in Swedish. The company later started calling it the Honda Jazz outside of North America.

Different languages also pronounce certain letters differently, which gets awkward if you’re not careful. “When we’re developing names we have to prepare for those mispronunciations to make sure that isn’t going to affect how people understand the product,” Beckhardt says. In Germany, Vicks sells its products under the name Wick, because the German pronunciation of the original brand name (in which a “v” is pronounced like an “f”) sounds like a slang word for sex.

Even if the name isn’t vulgar, it might have connotations in another language that you don’t want people associating with your product. In Mandarin, Microsoft’s Bing has to go by a different name, because “bing” means disease. Part of the naming process, according to Beckhardt, is “making sure that if we’re naming a skin care product, it doesn’t mean acne in Japanese.” She adds that at one point, while working on a rebranding project, The Naming Group came up with a name that ended up meaning “pubic hair” in another language.

8. IF YOU DON’T COME UP WITH A FOREIGN NAME, CUSTOMERS MIGHT DO IT FOR YOU.

Famously, when Coca-Cola first started selling its products in China in 1927, it didn’t immediately come up with a new name that made sense in Chinese characters. Instead, shopkeepers transliterated the name Coca-Cola phonetically on their signage, leading to odd meanings like “bite the wax tadpole.” In 1928, Coke registered a Chinese trademark for the Mandarin 可口可乐 (K'o K'ou K'o Lê), which the company translates as “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice.”

9. COMING UP WITH A CHINESE NAME IS ESPECIALLY COMPLICATED.

Foreign companies are eager to expand into China’s growing market, but it’s not as easy as transliterating an American name, like LinkedIn, to Chinese characters. In some cases, companies use Chinese names that sound somewhat like their English equivalent, but in others, they go by names that don’t sound similar at all. “It’s this crazy art form of balancing phonic similarity and actual meaning,” Beckhardt says.

Labbrand, a consultancy founded in Shanghai, helps American companies come up with names that work for Chinese markets. For LinkedIn’s Chinese name, Labbrand was able to come up with a name that both sounded a bit like the original and still had a meaning in line with the company’s purpose. 领英 (lǐng yīng) means “leading elite.” For other companies, though, it makes more sense to come up with a name that sounds nothing like the American brand, yet has a strategic meaning. For Trip Advisor, Labbrand came up with “猫途鹰 (māo tú yīng)," a combination of the characters for "owl" and "journey"—a reference to the company’s owl logo and its role as a travel site.

Some names, however, are just straight translations. Microsoft is 微软 (weiruan), two characters that literally mean “micro” and “soft.”

10. THERE ISN'T USUALLY AN ‘A-HA’ MOMENT.

“Oftentimes, clients are expecting epiphany, to have an ‘a-ha!’ moment, but those moments are more rare than you think,” Skoultchi says. “It’s not because the name ideas aren't great, it’s because most people have trouble imagining” what the names will sound like in the real world. “Context, visual identity, taglines, copy, and other factors influence our perception of a name and how appealing it is. Imagine just about any modern blockbuster brand, and now imagine it’s just a word on a page, in Helvetica, with little to no marketing support.”

To help customers understand how a name might look in real-world settings, Catchword gives it a slightly jazzier graphic design that’s more representative of what it would look like in the market, adding in potential taglines and ad copy to make it look more realistic.

11. YOU’RE NOT JUST NAMING ONE THING.

The Naming Group, for example, has worked with Capital One, Kohler, and Reebok to come up with names for multiple products, and they've also worked to establish perimeters for future names. That's because what you call one product could have implications for your future products—and ideally, the names of different products across a company should work together.

Take the example of Fitbit. The company has a naming style that involves single-syllable, simple English words that are designed to convey something unique about the product. They also had to fit the tiny devices themselves, so length mattered. The name “Flex” went to the first wristband tracker, and the most advanced tracker became “Force.” Later, the first tracker that measured heart rate would become "Charge," and the one designed for high-intensity athletes, "Blaze." All the names have a similar vibe while managing to convey something about the specific device.

As a cautionary tale, imagine a world in which Steve Jobs was allowed to use his preferred name for the iMac, “MacMan.” (Luckily, an ad agency creative director talked him out of it.) Given how the “i” in iMac influenced Apple’s future naming conventions, would there later have been a PodMan and PhoneMan? Choosing the iMac led to a larger branding scheme—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad—that's instantly recognizable. “The PhoneMan” just wouldn’t have the same ring.

12. COMPANIES OFTEN WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.

There’s a perception that naming should come from within a company—that if you build a product, you automatically know the best thing to call it. But that’s often not the case. Companies usually don’t employ professional namers on staff and don’t have any set guidelines on how to come up with new names. And it’s often not until the last minute that they realize they need outside help to decide on a great moniker. “It can be so emotional,” Beckhardt explains. “Companies come to you pulling their hair out, [saying] ‘We just can’t decide; we haven’t found it yet.’”

13. IT ONLY TAKES A FEW WEEKS.

Naming something usually doesn’t involve a lightning bolt of inspiration, but neither do companies slave over names for months. According to Beckhardt, the process takes anywhere from four to six weeks, though they can expedite the process if they really need to.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Ben & Jerry's
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You know which flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream is your favorite, and whether you prefer to eat it from a bowl or straight out of the pint. But there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the company that turned Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey into household names. Here are 15 things you might not know about Ben & Jerry’s.

1. THE COMPANY WAS LAUNCHED WITH A $5 CORRESPONDENCE COURSE.

Considering the popularity of Ben & Jerry’s products worldwide, it’s hard to believe that co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the business by spending a mere $5 on a correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State. From there, they pooled $8000—and borrowed another $4000—to open their first ice cream shop, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont.

2. CO-FOUNDER BEN COHEN HAS NO SENSE OF SMELL.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Ben & Jerry's

Cohen—the "Ben" in Ben & Jerry’s—suffers from anosmia, meaning that he has almost no sense of smell. It’s for that very reason that Ben & Jerry’s flavors are so rich. If he couldn’t taste a recipe, he’d just add more flavoring.

3. EMPLOYEES GET A PINT ALLOTMENT.

Working at Ben & Jerry’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont has its perks—like a take-home allowance of three pints of ice cream per day! Fortunately, the office also has a fully equipped gym. They also have a yoga instructor and an occasional massage therapist. (No wonder they also need a nap room.)

4. MOST FLAVORS START WITH THE SAME BASE.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Ben & Jerry's

The base for most of Ben & Jerry's flavors is the same: a mix of milk, cream, liquid sugar, egg yolks, and water. But there are a couple of variations that have different fat and sugar levels. Choosing which to start with depends on what’s going to be added in. If a recipe calls for something high fat, like peanut butter, it starts with a lower fat base. "If you’re at too high a fat level, once you freeze it, you’re going to end up with concrete; it’s not going to come out of the machine," former Flavor Guru Kirsten Schimoler told Mental Floss. "If they’re adding something sweet, like caramel, they use one with lower sugar."

5. IT CAN TAKE MORE THAN A YEAR TO DEVELOP A NEW FLAVOR.

While it might seem like new flavors of Ben & Jerry’s are popping up in the freezer of your local grocery store all the time, each new flavor goes through a rigorous process before being launched to the public. According to one of the company’s Flavor Gurus, the average development cycle of a new pint is about 12 to 14 months.

6. SCHWEDDY BALLS, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS DEVELOPED IN RECORD TIME.

While, in general, it can take a year or more for a new Ben & Jerry's flavor to go from concept to grocery store freezers, Schweddy Balls—a flavor inspired by Alec Baldwin's classic Saturday Night Live holiday skit—made it to market in a record four months when it was released for the 2011 holiday season. Unfortunately, the flavor—vanilla ice cream with a bit of rum and fudge-covered rum and malt balls—has since been retired.

7. YOU CAN PAY TRIBUTE TO YOUR FAVORITE DEARLY DEPARTED FLAVORS AT BEN & JERRY’S FLAVOR GRAVEYARD.

Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

Speaking of discontinued flavors: True devotees of the beloved B&J brand can pay a visit to the company’s Flavor Graveyard at their factory in Waterbury, Vermont. Yes, it’s an actual graveyard where dozens of now-discontinued flavors, which they refer to as the "dearly depinted," have their very own headstones with clever epitaphs. Sugar Plum’s, for example, states that: "It swirled in our heads, it danced in our dreams, it proved not to be though, the best of ice creams."

8. THE FLAVOR GRAVEYARD HAS A COUPLE OF ZOMBIES.

Just because a flavor is dead and buried in the Flavor Graveyard doesn't mean it can’t come back to life. After a decade of strong sales, Ben & Jerry’s reluctantly had to retire White Russian in 1996, but not because it wasn't popular. The cost of the Kahlua-like flavoring that was used in its production became too prohibitive. But the customers spoke and White Russian was eventually resurrected, but only in Scoop Shops (sorry grocery store customers).

9. SOMETIMES THE NAME DICTATES THE FLAVOR.

Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

It doesn't happen often, but on a few occasions, the company has come up with a new flavor name before developing the flavor itself. This is what happened with Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt, based on Tina Fey's 30 Rock character. "They knew they wanted to do a Liz Lemon flavor but didn't know what they wanted it to be," Schimoler said. "We looked at so many different lemon flavors."

10. EACH YEAR, THE FLAVOR GURUS MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO A FORWARD-THINKING FOOD CITY.

In order to stay ahead of the flavor curve, they’ll spend 12 hours a day tasting offerings from food venues of all types, hitting as many as 10 spots a day. The inspiration for the aforementioned Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt? A blueberry-lavender cocktail in San Francisco.

11. CUSTOMERS PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN DECIDING NEW FLAVORS.

Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

Each year, the company receives about 13,000 suggestions for new flavors from beloved pint-devourers the world over. The team reviews each and every submission for consideration and to look for recurring themes or flavor suggestions, which can be invaluable in developing new crave-worthy pints. Some of the company's most iconic flavors were born from customer feedback, including Cherry Garcia, which was suggested by two Deadheads from Portland, Maine. The flavor spent more than a decade at the top of the list of favorite flavors.

12. NOT EVERY FLAVOR CAN BE FOUND IN YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORE.

Not every flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream comes in a pint or is available at your local grocery store. The company regularly creates flavors exclusively for a single retailer or specific to one geographic location (Canada, for example, has If I Had 1,000,000 Flavours, a multiflavored ice cream that the company created in collaboration with Barenaked Ladies). The Scoop Shops carry exclusive flavors, too—like Maccha Made in Heaven (Maccha green tea ice cream with caramelized pecans), which is popular in Tokyo.

13. THERE'S ONE INGREDIENT THAT WILL NEVER MAKE IT INTO A PINT. 

Though bacon is among among one of the most requested items that customers have for the Ben & Jerry's team, it won’t be making its way into a pint near you. The reason? Ben & Jerry's plants are kosher.

14. KALE ICE CREAM WON'T BE HAPPENING EITHER.

The company has a long list of regular vendors for things like chocolate and caramel, but there's an even longer list of snack peddlers hoping to sell their ingredients in a pint of ice cream, including one very persistent proponent of kale chips. Though the R&D team did attempt to implement the healthful ingredient into a batch of ice cream, the flavor gurus don't imagine that it would be a hot seller, noting that, "No one wants to sit down with a pint of Kale Ben & Jerry's."

15. BEN & JERRY'S ALSO COMES IN BEER FORM.

New Belgium Brewing

For ice cream lovers who prefer to guzzle the sweet stuff, Ben & Jerry's has regularly collaborated with Colorado's New Belgium Brewing to create beers that replicate the ice cream’s delicious flavors. The partnership kicked off in 2015 with a Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, and last fall they came up with a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale.

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