Thursday, July 02, 2015

Accomplice? Maybe this will give new meaning to the word.

What with the Shawshank escape artists and their three weeks on the lam, the word “accomplice” has been in the news quite a bit lately. And it’s in the news again, albeit quietly and locally, as a tech VC firm, an offshoot of the duddily named Atlas Ventures, had to come up with a new moniker for themselves.

As good techie venturers, they decided to crowdsource, running a contest that attracted 16,000 mostly dreadful submissions.

How dreadful is dreadful?

Well, the rejection pile included Tom Brady Capital and Good Tech Hunting. And there were 85 hopefuls who suggested Atlas, which was the name they were trying to replace. Another 54 contestants offered Salta, the sort of name that the most clever kid in middle school might have come up with. (Atlas spelled backwards. Get it? Get it?)

The contest also got Ayn Randed: there were 64 Shrug’s and another 42 Shrugged’s, indicating that the clever high schoolers played, too. No word on whether there were any Fountainheads or Galts. Rand is regrettably already taken by the RAND Corporation, whose name was not a nod to objectivism, but, rather, derived from Research and Development.

After getting down to 16 finalists, [the marketing department’s Sarah] Downey checked for trademark conflicts and any unwanted associations with unsavory slang terms or obscenities in other languages, and the whole company voted to choose a winner. (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, good for making sure they weren’t going to get stuck with something that was unsavory slang or obscene. That can happen. After Genuity launched the completely ridiculous Black Rocket rebrand of its hosting platform, we found out that Black Rocket was a condom in Spain and an especially potent type of hashish in Holland.

In the end, the firm still chose a name that carries a whiff of criminal activity — accomplices, after all, are more often found in the courtroom than the boardroom. But it certainly stands out in an industry where competitors are still stenciling their founders’ last names on the office door.

But Accomplice? I know, I know. VC firms aren’t hedge funds. If you played word association with “venture capitalist”, you probably would come up with “greed” rather than “evil”. (If you played the game with “private equity firm,” or “vulture capitalist”, that might be another story.) Still, I might have steered clear of the word “accomplice,” which as far as I can tell, doesn’t have any meaning that’s not connected to crime.

I guess it’s better than Hoods, or Crime Family. Co-conspirators or Felons.

It was important that in branding, we didn’t go with this hokey crime-spree theme,” Downey said with a laugh. “It’s suggestive of the VC-entrepreneur relationship — they do this thing that everybody talks about, which is the big deal. And we help them.” 

So we can’t look forward to any “we aid and abet startups”, which is kind of disappointing. Why not in for a penny, in for a pound?

Anyway, the contest prize, a small stake in Accomplice’s first venture fund, and an equal stake going to the winner’s charity of choice, went to Zagary Whitnack, a California media and tech consultant. (Trust someone named Zagary to think outside the naming box.)

The usage – Accomplice, not Zagary – is not unique. There’s a digital media company named Accomplice out there already. Edge ‘R Us.

If enough companies start using the name Accomplice, will the meaning shift away from criminality and towards something more like collaborator (oops, bad choice) or backer? (If I’d known about the contest, and I’d known Accomplice was going to win, I’d have entered the name “Backer.” Is it too late for Backer? Zagary can keep the prize…)

For now, I’m left scratching my head that there are actually two companies that have been willing to call themselves Accomplice.

And scratching my head that, for what I’m assuming will be the first, last and only time, I’m echoing Antonin Scalia in thinking ‘words no longer have any meaning.’

The Accomplices have some fun stuff on the contest here.

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