Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Phil Davis, and I’m a brand naming expert. I write one-word to two-word novels! I work with companies worldwide to create new names for their businesses, products, and services. One of the names I created was PODS - Portable On Demand Storage.
Most of our clients are startups, entrepreneurs, and high-growth companies looking to launch a new idea. This can be anything from an e-commerce business to a franchise, a data platform, a beverage, or a medical device, (pretty much anything that needs a name and a story to go with it.)
A few of the companies we have named/branded…
Since starting Tungsten, my team and I have named over 500 companies, products, and services in all sorts of categories, including the tallest hotel in Asheville, NC, and a local festival, (Brevard’s annual White Squirrel Festival.) In the course of all this naming, we also acquired an inventory of over 8,000 brandable domain names worth several million dollars.
I started my naming and branding agency from my home office (the basement at the time) in Western North Carolina. The startup cost was nil… registering a domain name and then spending a few hundred dollars on a basic website. From that simple beginning, Tungsten Branding has grown to become a top-five global-rated naming and branding agency with two offices, billing nearly seven figures a year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Great question. I had been running a full-service advertising agency in the Tampa Bay region of Florida for nearly 17 years and had hit a creative dead end. The advertising agency model was broken. It was based on pumping as many dollars as possible into tv, radio, and print, and browbeating potential customers over the head until they finally relented. It wasn’t about creativity, it was about poundage. The worse a company’s brand image, the more they needed expensive media to compensate. It was an endless treadmill. I felt there had to be a better way to help market a business.
I kept thinking about the notion of alignment, how in nature things become magnetic or attractive when electrons line up and pull in the same direction. I wondered if that might apply to marketing, if a company was truly aligned behind a singular idea or attribute, could it also naturally attract customers? These were all pre-viral days, but I was searching for ways to utilize the laws of attraction to empower businesses to succeed in a more intuitive, effective manner -- without breaking the bank.
I decided to leave the ad agency business and move up to the Blue Ridge Mountains and find a different work environment, remote before remote was a thing. My friends all thought I was nuts to leave an established business and move out of state to a town of 6,000 where I knew no one, with no job, and four kids. To top it off, I broke my foot the day of the move. But I had decided at that point to change my navigational system, to follow intuition and this felt like the right move.
The idea to create a new type of agency, one based on natural attraction, led to Tungsten. The name comes from the element that Thomas Edison used in creating the light bulb. The goal was to work with owners to create insight, to identify their “pivot point,” the thing around which all their products and services revolve, and then build a clear and compelling brand identity to reflect it. I had a few business contacts from my ad agency days that allowed me to tinker with their brands and create some new ones. Early brands included…
ParkPlace… “The Ultimate Garage Space”
TKO Surgical… “Technically Superior”
Abacus Solutions… “You Can Count on Us”
EarlyMoments… “Sharing the Gift of Reading”
The idea was to create brands that told stories, not just sold products. I believed that brands built on attributes, vs goods, stood a better chance of growing, expanding, and adapting over time. It’s the gospel we preach to all the new businesses we brand. Consumers are looking for a Best Buy, not a Radio Shack.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started my naming and branding business with a (very) basic website, showcasing a few of my initial projects, and providing a contact form for a free quote. I leveraged what I had at the time, which wasn’t a lot. I learned from my agency days to only show work you are proud of, so it’s quality over quantity, and since I had named PODS, I put that case study out front.
Screenshot of the early website (ouch!)
Describe the process of launching the business.
Starting (or in my case restarting) a new business requires a scrappy, lean mentality. I kept costs to a minimum and focused on referrals, networking, word of mouth, and a limited amount of pay-per-click ads. I like to think of the startup phase in terms of starting a bonfire, it’s all about the kindling and getting the flame going, so I wasn’t picky upfront. I took the small jobs I got and did the best work possible.
One effective strategy I used was to go to my direct competition for leads. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it worked. I found other naming agencies at the time that did larger projects for big corporations. I figured that they must turn down smaller projects all the time. Rather than spend money competing with them, I wrote to them and offered to pay a 10% commission for any smaller leads they sent my way. I got one $20,000 naming project right out of the gate and paid my “competitor” a $2,000 referral fee. It was the proverbial win-win.
As Proverbs says, your gift will make room for you, so put in the work.
What’s also important when starting up is to look at the part and act the part. So I was sure to show work, add testimonials, spell check the copy, answer emails promptly, the basic “block and tackle” stuff that many businesses overlook in a rush to get to market. Early on it’s always hands-on.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
It comes down to the familiar saying “it works if you work it.” The process of growing a business requires a constant commitment to improvement. That means taking a look at every process, breaking it down, and seeing how it can operate better, smoother, or more efficiently.
Be a student and learn, learn, learn. Ask questions.
Our website, for instance, has been completely redesigned multiple times. In addition, we created a custom client viewing suite for when we present naming candidates.
On the lead generation side, we pay for sponsorship on several business review sites and make sure to have client testimonials uploaded regularly. In the digital economy, reputation is king, and reviews play a huge role in getting new clients, especially for big-ticket items.
Review sites such as Clutch and The Manifest can play a role in getting you noticed, especially for professional service companies. See which organizations review your industry, preferably ones that already capture the top search spots, and create a profile.
On a more tactical front, we engaged an SEO firm to help with rankings and also buy PPC (Google Adwords) from time to time. But the most effective marketing is the word of mouth and content marketing. By that, I mean freely sharing your knowledge via blog posts and articles that potential customers find helpful.
Apply to industry publications to be a guest contributor in your field of expertise. It’s great exposure and can feed your other social media efforts.
Many businesses are fearful of giving too much away, but I found that sharing expertise, creates goodwill that turns into clients or referrals. And if someone wants to attempt naming a business by themselves, that’s not my client anyway, so it’s not a loss. I’m looking for companies seeking professional naming help. So our pipeline looks like this…
- Content marketing (helpful articles, helps with organic search)
- Business review sites (e.g. Clutch, UpCity, Manifest, etc.)
- SEO (we use UberSuggest, but there’s also SEMrush and others)
- Social media (LinkedIn has been the best for us, especially if you provide content)
- Guest contributor (I’ve written for both Forbes and Entrepreneur)
- Speaking (lots of opportunities if you present as a subject matter expert)
- News & Press page (we have a dedicated page for media to reach us)
- Press Releases (Newswire, Cision and the such, see example below)
Responding to opportunities such as this one, on StarterStory, is a great example of sharing knowledge and expertise to help generate good company karma.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today Tungsten is a million-dollar annual enterprise, with two offices and six full-time staff members. For the past five years, the company has been ranked a Top Five Global Naming Agency by Clutch and The Manifest. Where most of our clients were originally startups, consultants and entrepreneurs, our roster now includes international companies such as Hitachi, Johnson Control, Lumenis, AO Smith, Japanese Tobacco, and Ferguson. We hold calls at all hours to accommodate international accounts. The need for brand name development is truly global.
My long-term goal is to mentor others in the art/science of brand name development. My goal has always been to create environments where people thrive, be it customers or employees. My greatest satisfaction is helping to give form and shape to a client’s vision and watch it take off. Sort of like watching a kite take off. I now have a talented group of naming strategists and designers that know how to take a client through the entire branding process and find a unique and fitting identity.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I heard a story years back that stuck with me. Someone on a plane sat next to a very successful entrepreneur and asked him what his secret to success was. He reflected for a moment and said it came down to three things. First, you have to know something, you have to learn a skill or trade. Second, as you perfect your talents, you begin to know that you know something. Third and last, as you master your craft, you become known for knowing something.
Don’t be afraid to try something out and find it doesn’t work, it’s the price of education.
I have found that progression to be very accurate and helpful in laying out a path forward. It’s not about shortcuts to the top. It’s about a commitment to excellence, truly serving your customer's needs, and improving your process. It takes time but it can be very rewarding in itself.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Most of the tools we use are related to our searching for quality domain names or matching .coms for new naming projects. These domains are tough to come by so we actively search for brandable inventory.
GoDaddy - for domain name acquisition. They have all sorts of bulk tools for searching and registering domain names.
DomainTools - for the searching status of domain names, prior history, usage, etc.
BrandBucket - A great place to shop for brandable domain names. Also a good idea starter. You can also shop by industry category.
LeanDomain Search - Look for domains using their built-in dictionary.
For productivity, we use appointment setting automation tools like Calendly and hold most of our client conferences using Zoom. On the logo design side, we use Adobe Creative Suite.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Just before starting my second company, I heard a speaker, Tom Hill, share his entrepreneurial journey. Much like myself, he restarted his company in his mid 40’s with a family. He talked about following your inner guidance and recommended a book called Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. From that point on I began to look at things through a different lens. On your entrepreneurial journey, look for the bread crumbs, sometimes called God winks, to know you are on the right path.
Power Vs. Force, a metaphysical read, but one that helped inspire a shift in my approach to life and business.
A great read (for those looking to grow/scale up their companies from solopreneur to a full-scale operation) is The E Myth Revisited.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be a student and learn, learn, learn. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try something out and find it doesn’t work, it’s the price of education. The fact that you’re reading this is a positive sign. As Proverbs says, your gift will make room for you, so put in the work.
- Know something.
- Know that you know something.
- Be known for knowing something.
Also, as you build your idea out, surround yourself with good people. Invest time in your team and your efforts will be multiplied.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Tungsten Facebook
- Tungsten LinkedIn page
- Brilliant Branding Podcast - There’s practically a university here on branding
- How to Come Up With a Brand Name - A downloadable .pdf guide
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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