Archive for the ‘Site Background and History’ Category

ExpertConnect’s going away. Can Genlighten take its place?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

At Genlighten, we’ve tried to take the 37Signals approach towards our competitors:

People sometimes ask us how much we look at the competition. The answer: not much. We can’t control what they do. We can control what we do. So we focus on that.

Still, when I first heard about Ancestry’s plans to debut ExpertConnect just a few months before our beta launch in 2009, my stomach experienced one of those roller-coaster drops that tend to characterize startup life.

Now a year and a half later, ExpertConnect is shutting down. When I saw Ancestry’s e-mail in my inbox yesterday, I went through three reactions in rapid succession:

  • Cool, the 800-pound gorilla has left our market… we don’t have to compete with them anymore!
  • Uh-oh. If they can’t make this business work, how can we expect to?
  • Darn… I wish all our marvelous new features were ready to go right now!

Now that we’ve had a little time to process it, here’s our “official” response to Ancestry’s announcement:

To our current clients and providers:

  • Genlighten will continue to serve you in the months and years ahead. We’ve heard your feedback and we’re working hard to implement the improvements and new features you’ve asked for.
  • Our next release is currently targeted for the end of June. We’ll be inviting some of you to test the new version beginning in March or April. You’ll see an upgraded homepage, simplified navigation, a brand-new search capability, internal messaging, and an overall higher level of fit and finish.

To ExpertConnect users considering switching to Genlighten:

  • We’d love to tell you that we’re ready right now to step in and completely fill the void left by ExpertConnect’s departure. We’re not. But we expect to be there soon.
  • When we first launched, we focused Genlighten on offline record lookups rather than hourly research in order to differentiate ourselves somewhat from Ancestry. In response to client and provider requests, we are now revising our strategy. We plan to fully embrace high-end professional research offerings and online searches in addition to document retrieval and record lookups.
  • By joining us now, you’ll have the opportunity to exert a significant influence on the direction we take in response to ExpertConnect’s closure. We’d love to get your help in making Genlighten all you’d like it to be.

Our next release

When our new release is launched this summer, we plan to offer both new and existing users the baseline functionality ExpertConnect had, plus:

  • a flexible and customizable storefront interface optimized for client discovery and frictionless e-commerce.
  • no one-year “lock-in” of clients you acquire through Genlighten
  • active social media marketing of your profile and service listings
  • tools to let you promote your presence on Genlighten via your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Adwords and more
  • analytics to help you understand how to draw more traffic to your offerings.
  • search-optimized research tools for localities and repositories that will attract visitors to the site and spotlight our providers to prospective customers.

How we plan to succeed

Genlighten lacks Ancestry’s global reach, brand awareness, massive staff and financial backing. Still, size and strength apparently weren’t enough to make ExpertConnect “a winner“. [Note the first comment to that linked post on Dick Eastman's blog. It's a particular favorite of mine!]

We think there are some advantages to our small size that will keep us from getting “blown out of the water.” For one thing, we don’t need to make anywhere near as much money as Ancestry required to justify ExpertConnect’s existence. We’re completely bootstrapped, with no institutional investors, so we’re quite content to be a “lifestyle business.” At the same time, Genlighten is our core product, not an add-on to a much larger offering, so you can expect us to be focused on it for the long term. And there’s another upside to our small size: when you call us on the phone or e-mail us, you’re connecting directly with our founding team.

Thanks!

As you can imagine, this is an exciting time for our little startup. We hope you’ll share it with us! If this is your first time here, please explore the site and contact us with your questions and suggestions. If you’ve been with Genlighten for a while, please help us spread the word to your fellow genealogists. Either way, Thank you for your interest and support!

Artist at Work: Kevin Menzie creates our “How Genlighten Works” illustration

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

I came across this video on Kevin Menzie‘s blog today. Kevin runs Slice of Lime, a design, web development and strategy firm in Boulder, Colorado. SoL’s done a huge portion of the front-end design work for Genlighten. As you may recall from previous posts, they created our logo, this blog, and the basic design palette of Genlighten itself. (I’ll take credit/blame for the navigation, architecture, and feature set.)

The video shows part of the design process for one panel of the “How Genlighten Works” illustration on our homepage. It’s accompanied by some very pleasant background music which Kevin also composed. Enjoy!

Creating a monitor icon from Kevin Menzie on Vimeo.

Follow Friday: Lessons From My Ancestors — Sara Beth Davis

Friday, February 5th, 2010

When my wife and I were first thinking about creating Genlighten, we tried to imagine who should make up our initial target audience. We actually found it easier to decide who it wouldn’t be:

  • Complete beginners, we thought, would be too focused on tapping all the online resources, both free and fee-based. They wouldn’t be ready to look for offline records and thus wouldn’t have a need for Genlighten yet.
  • Certified professional genealogists might eventually make use of us once we’d earned a solid positive reputation, but we didn’t expect many of them to be among Genlighten’s “early adopters.”

We finally settled on two categories of genealogy enthusiasts who we hoped would become, respectively, Genlighten’s first buyers and sellers:

  • Advanced beginner/intermediate genealogists — those just starting to explore offline records by visiting archives or ordering records from remote repositories — would be our initial clients
  • Transitional” genealogists — those contemplating the leap into the ranks of professional genealogy but not quite there yet — would be our initial providers.

It hasn’t worked out as we expected (almost nothing about this adventure has!) but I can still say that it really warms my heart when I meet someone on Twitter or at a genealogy conference who I find fits one of those two profiles.

Which brings me (finally!) to my Follow Friday recommendation for this week: Sarah Beth Davis, author of the Lessons From My Ancestors blog.

lessons_from_my_ancestors_blog

In the “About Me” section of her blog, Sara says:

I never really explored anything other than what my family had already and what I could find free online.  For the past two years I have been becoming what I like to call a “recreational genealogist”.  I research when I have time (usually a few hours every weekend) and am using online resources that are available.  In the future I would like to take my research offline by ordering vital records certificates and visiting archives.

That’s exactly what we’re hoping to help all sorts of people do: begin to document their genealogy research using offline records.

Sara writes in a warm and open personal style, mostly about her key surnames, brickwall people, and research discoveries. She’s also a strong presence among the genealogy community on Twitter (one of the most prolific among those I follow) and I love her Twitter “handle”: @InnerCompass.

She’s had some marvelous experiences discovering the diary of her ancestor Sylvia Lewis. It’s her “Sylvia’s Diary” posts that first caught my attention on Twitter. Sara says:

Sylvia is my maternal 5th great-grandmother and her diaries have opened by eyes to a world of struggles, migration, and joy.

The title of her blog says it well: “Lessons From My Ancestors”. I encourage you to subscribe to Sara’s blog… and learn those lessons right along with her.

My Best Genealogy Moment of 2009

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
The Harman Continuing Education Building on the BYU campus (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

The Harman Building (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

I’m a day late with my response to Randy Seaver’s weekly “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” challenge. But when I saw that Thomas McEntee was too, I figured I’d go ahead and still be in good company.

My best genealogy moment of 2009 occurred as I sat at Genlighten’s exhibit booth at the BYU Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy back in March. It dawned on me suddenly that I had come full circle as a genealogy software vendor.

Twenty-six years before, I had attended one of the first versions of that same conference in the very same Caroline Hemenway Harman building on the BYU campus. Back then, as a newlywed sophomore majoring in Physics, I hoped to offer my first-generation Apple IIe-compatible Family Tree software (tentative title: “N-Gen”) for sale at the conference. But when I took one look at the competition, I knew I was completely out of my league. It was obvious to me that I didn’t know the first thing about marketing a useful product to the genealogy community. [Do I know any more now? I sure hope so!]

Now fast-forward to March of 2009: I’ve long since graduated from BYU, and I’m back at that same conference, once again surrounded by intimidating competitors, but this time as a reasonably legitimate vendor of a fledgling genealogy software product. Heady stuff. Scary, too. But I allowed myself to luxuriate in a rare moment of unabashed self-confidence. This time I would not go so quietly into the night of startup failure, I vowed softly.

The two times in my life I’ve launched entrepreneurial ventures, once as a twenty-something, and now again as a late forty-something, they’ve both had genealogy research at their core. It’s obviously got a powerful hold on me!

What (Genealogy) Startups Are Really Like

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Paul Graham of Y Combinator posted an enthralling essay yesterday entitled What Startups Are Really Like. As I seem to do whenever I read his essays, I feel somehow cleansed, purified and energized as a result of walking under his waterfall of great ideas. (Yeah, it really was that good.)

Paul emailed the startup founders he’s helped mentor and asked them what had surprised them about their respective journeys. He listed 19 key things they’ve learned. Nearly all of them resonated with me, so I thought I’d respond to each in turn based on my experiences with Genlighten.

1. Be Careful with Co-founders

Here the takeaways were  “[running a startup is] like you’re married [to your co-founders]” and “don’t pick co-founders who will flake.” I feel quite fortunate in this regard:

  • I’m already married to one of my co-founders — Genlighten’s “Chief Lookup Officer” — and the site is largely designed around her specifications for making the lookup process as simple and convenient as possible. I would never have undertaken a project like Genlighten without her as a partner.
  • My second co-founder, Justin Ball, has devoted countless night and weekend hours over the last year-and-a-half to get Genlighten built while somehow balancing a family of six, a freelance consulting business, and a passion for cycling at the same time.  He’s kind of the ideal embodiment of not flaking. By the way, thanks to Renee Zamora for introducing me to Justin.

2. Startups Take Over Your Life

This has definitely happened to me. Though I (thankfully) still have my day job, I spend pretty much every waking minute away from that job thinking about Genlighten and what we need to do to make it successful. As an example of this, I looked back at the emails in my inbox over the past week and all but eleven out of 132 are Genlighten-related. When friends ask the seemingly innocent question “So how’s Genlighten going?” I find I have to consciously shut myself up after a few minutes or I’ll just go on and on.

3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster

When a new provider posts a lookup on the site, or Google Analytics shows a sharp increase in visitors, or one of our users mentions us on Facebook or on their blog, I  immediately feel a huge surge of elation and optimism. Conversely, when an email we send out doesn’t yield the response we’d hoped for, or a potential client offers well-reasoned negative feedback, or delayed baggage causes me to miss most of a genealogy conference I was scheduled to exhibit at, discouragement can be just as dramatic. Like with a roller coaster, it’s the wild oscillations, rather than the peaks or valleys themselves, that are sometimes tough to stomach.

4. It Can Be Fun

I took a day off from my day job Friday to focus on developing some new marketing strategies and on getting our newsletter out. The day flew by in no time. I never once found myself wishing I could be doing something else instead. As Paul Graham says, “the highs are … very high.” Don’t get me wrong, my day job’s pretty good too, but it’s just not fun the way Genlighten is. Freedom and accountability are probably the main reasons for that.

5. Persistence Is the Key

Occasionally the thought will come to me “This is hard work. You don’t need to do this. Think how much more relaxed you’d be if you just gave up on this. You’re not cut out to make this succeed.” When that happens, I’m reminded of similarly ambitious goals I’ve had in the past (the optics Ph.D., the research grants I fought for when I taught college, the part-time Kellogg MBA) that took a long time to realize, but ultimately yielded to simple persistence.

6. Think Long-Term

Paul doesn’t mince words: “… everything takes longer than you expect.” Those of you who have been following our progress for a while may remember the flyers I handed out at FGS in Fort Wayne in August 2007. Giving myself what I thought was plenty of time, I predicted that our public beta would launch in March of 2008. I’ve had to revise that date six or seven times since (the flyers are now on version 23) and we just barely launched our private beta a few weeks ago.

Why has it taken so long? Partly because our finances have dictated that Genlighten is a nights and weekends project. Partly because we’re not single twenty-somethings who can pull all-nighters for a few months and have a minimum viable product. But mostly because we were (check that — I was) tremendously naive. Now I’m beginning to understand what one of Y Combinator’s more successful founders discovered:

“For the vast majority of startups that become successful, it’s going to be a really long journey, at least 3 years and probably 5+.”

It’s looking like that will prove a pretty accurate description of our journey as well.

7. Lots of Little Things

Paul notes that startup success is rarely the result of “a single brilliant hack” — a killer feature, if you will. We’ve found this to be true so far. A large portion of our design/development time has been devoted to incremental improvements/fixes: the links within notification emails, payment processing glitches, page titles, the location and wording of buttons, etc.

8. Start with Something Minimal

Part of the reason I’ve held off so long launching our private beta has been fear of embarrassment, plain and simple. Paul observes:

“Why do people take too long on the first version? Pride, mostly. They hate to release something that could be better. They worry what people will say about them. But you have to overcome this… Don’t worry what people will say. If your first version is so impressive that trolls don’t make fun of it, you waited too long to launch.”

We probably did wait too long.  But there are plenty of features we wanted in our initial release that we ultimately decided weren’t worth any further delays:

  • A slideshow-like page to help you browse through the images providers have uploaded to your account
  • The ability to export genealogy document images to Flickr, Picasa, Geni, Footnote, or Facebook
  • The ability for providers to rate and give feedback to clients (instead of just the other way around)
  • The ability to print out a receipt when you order a lookup
  • The ability for providers to print out a list of pending lookups to take with them to the repository

These things will come eventually, but we plan to get early users’ help in prioritizing these features before devoting lots of time to them.

9. Engage Users

Here the key idea is “product development [should be] a conversation with the user.” We’ve already gotten some great suggestions from those who’ve registered for our private beta, and we hope to receive lots more. One of the YC founders told Paul that:

“When you let customers tell you what they’re after, they will often reveal amazing details about what they find valuable as well what they’re willing to pay for.”

That’s a process we’re very much looking forward to.

10. Change Your Idea

Here’s an area where I can’t comment as easily from experience. We’re still very much focused on the original ideas we had for Genlighten (i.e., the features and the business model) though we’re definitely open to “course corrections.” One thing that could potentially change is the kind of provider we aim to serve. So far, we’ve envisioned our sweet spot as fixed-fee, document-specific lookups priced at about $5-$25 with quick turnaround, offered largely by “serious amateur genealogists” rather than professionals. But we’re already noticing providers signing up who want to advertise open-ended hourly research instead. We still think that market is better served by our competitors, and not one we really want to be in. But that philosophy could change.

11. Don’t Worry about Competitors

This is easy to say and very hard to do. I’ve felt a huge pit in my stomach every time I’ve learned of a new potential competitor to Genlighten. I’ve even found it difficult to visit their sites for fear ours would suffer in comparison.

Paul suggests that for many YC startups:

“Companies that seemed like competitors and threats at first glance usually never were when you really looked at it. Even if they were operating in the same area, they had a different goal.”

I’ve found this to be partially true, but of precious little comfort. One of our competitors has a well-thought out offering that targets true professionals and large-scale hourly research projects rather than lookups. They definitely have a different goal than we do and I’m not worried about them. But the 800-pound gorilla in our space is impossible to ignore, despite the difference in our goals. On the positive side, as I keep repeating to myself, competition is a sign that smart people see ours as a worthwhile market to be in.

12. It’s Hard to Get Users

For us this is doubly true, since we need to attract both clients and providers to our lookup marketplace, and the chicken-and-egg problem is in full force (not enough lookup providers => hard to attract lookup clients; not enough lookup clients => hard to attract lookup providers. ) Fortunately, we seem to be making some headway in this regard, and several promising avenues for both client and provider acquisition have recently opened up.

13. Expect the Worst with Deals

I recognized pretty much from the start that fundraising and most business-development efforts would be a complete waste of time for us until we had customer traction, so I’m completely in agreement with this point. Once we get to product-market fit, however, I know we’ll need to undertake these efforts. When we do, I’m prepared for them to proceed at an agonizingly slow pace.

14. Investors Are Clueless

I’m our only investor, so this definitely holds for us!  More to the point, VCs and angels I’ve mentioned Genlighten to so far have said smart rather than dumb things, e.g., “That market’s too small for me to get a significant return.” They’re right! However, I watched the judges at TechCrunch 2008 struggle to “get” what Footnote’s Pages were all about. If we ever decide to approach angel investors in a serious way, I’m sure we’ll face significant difficulties, even with customer traction.

15. You May Have to Play Games

I’ll admit that I don’t really get this one yet. I can’t imagine how “feigning certitude” would help us at all. Even if investors would even listen long enough for me to feign some.

16. Luck Is a Big Factor

My favorite quote in this section from Paul:

“Founders who fail quickly tend to blame themselves. Founders who succeed quickly don’t usually realize how lucky they were. It’s the ones in the middle who see how important luck is.”

We’re definitely in the middle.

17. The Value of Community

We haven’t had the privilege of being part of the YC experience or the Silicon Valley atmosphere that YC startups benefit from. But both the startup and genealogy communities have been tremendously supportive of our efforts, and we greatly appreciate that.

18. You Get No Respect

I’m instinctively aware of the extent to which “I run a genealogy web startup” would be a complete conversation killer among casual acquaintances. As a result, I rarely mention my involvement in Genlighten to those who don’t already know about us. (Except at our exhibit booth, that is!) This is obviously a problem, since job one for me right now is sales and marketing! So as a result of reading Paul’s essay, I’m going to work on saying “I work at a small startup you’ve never heard of called Genlighten.com” to anybody who will listen.

19. Things Change as You Grow

I’ll get back to you on this one when we have employees and reach “cruising altitude.”

The Super-Pattern

Paul’s summary conclusion is that

“As you go down the list, almost all the surprises are surprising in how much a startup differs from a job.”

This is only now beginning to become clear to me. Nothing in my undergraduate or graduate educations (with the exception of Yael Hochberg’s class at Kellogg) prepared me for the aspects of startup life that Paul outlines so succinctly in his essay.

How Genlighten Works

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Diane Haddad was kind enough to mention Genlighten on her Genealogy Insider blog today. For those of you who are visiting this blog as a result of Diane’s post, I thought I’d offer a brief overview of “How Genlighten Works”.

First and foremost, we’re an online marketplace for genealogy document research and retrieval services — or genealogy lookups for short.

If you’re looking for specific genealogy documents — death certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries, probate records, etc. — and they’re not already available online, you can use Genlighten to connect with a local researcher who may have access to the documents you want. You can get help from our local researchers — we call them lookup providers — in two different ways.

First, you can search our lookup listings geographically by county. For example, if you need a record for Chicago or elsewhere in Cook County Illinois,  you simply select that locality on our lookup search page. You’ll see a list of our providers and the lookups they offer, their fees, and client ratings they’ve received. If you see a lookup you’re interested in, you’ll click through to get more details, enter the data the provider needs to perform the lookup, and add the lookup to your shopping cart. The provider will then retrieve the document and upload a digital image to the site for you to view and download.

Second, if we don’t currently offer the lookup you’re after, you can submit a custom lookup request. Here you’ll define a document retrieval task you’d like performed, set a target price and a specify a deadline. Our providers will be alerted to your request and submit quotes. You can then choose from among them the one that best meets your needs. Providers can’t see each others’ quotes, so there’s less chance of a “race to the bottom”.

Our site is still not fully operational yet, and we won’t be open to a wide audience for another month or two. For now, you can register to be invited to our private beta. We’ll send you an invite code when the site is ready for you to try out. If you have questions in the meantime, please feel free to click on the “Contact” link above for ways you can get in touch with us. If you’re interested in becoming one of our lookup providers, you’re welcome to download a copy of our free Provider “How To” Guide. Thanks!

Some Entrepreneurial Nostalgia

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I’m once again staffing the Genlighten booth at a genealogy conference… this time the Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy.  It’s being held in the Harman Continuing Education Building on the campus of Brigham Young University.

I’ve been hit by frequent bouts of nostalgia this week.  Twenty-six years ago, I attended a predecessor to this conference in this same building when I was an undergraduate at BYU.

At the time, I was, believe it or not, working on my first entrepreneurial venture — a genealogy startup tentatively called Elysium Software. Personal Ancestral File had yet to be developed at that early date, but several other programs existed, and I imagined that I could write one of my own — N-Gen was the name I had in mind — and build a business around it.

At that point, my programming background consisted primarily of a fair amount of BASIC (I’d been writing increasingly complex programs since 8th grade), a smattering of assembly language, and a little Turbo Pascal. My wife and I had recently married, and I convinced her to let us spend way too much of our meager savings on a Franklin PC (an Apple IIe clone).  I began developing N-Gen during the summer of 1983 when I wasn’t in class or doing homework.

As I visited the conference, and looked over the vendors, it quickly became clear to me: this was way over my head. These people knew what they were doing… their programs had manuals! They had staff! What business did I have thinking I could compete with them?  I quietly shelved my ambitions, and never returned to the project.

Now I’m back in this building… at the same conference… and I’m now one of those vendors.  There are big, established, well-funded players here, some of whom are competitors to Genlighten. This time I’m not as intimidated. But it’s still a humbling experience.

A Brief History of the Genlighten Logo — Part 2

Friday, June 27th, 2008

In a previous post, I talked about our early logo brainstorming and the process that led to our original “candle flame” logo. This post will focus on our current logo, how it came about, and the message we hope it sends to our potential users.

In March of this year, I was introduced to Kevin Menzie and his team at Slice of Lime in Boulder Colorado. [I believe either Brad Feld or TechStars referred me to them.] We were looking to take the look and feel of the Genlighten site in a new direction, and they quickly proved equal to the task.

In the early comps they showed us, they offered a simple update to our brown-on-brown flame, recast in the red and gold color scheme they were using for the new homepage.
Slice of Lime early version
This had a warm and inviting feel that we really liked. But as we pondered what tagline should go with it, we saw for the first time that we had never made a connection in our own minds between what the symbol represented and what we were trying to accomplish with the site [an important insight!] Were we “a light in the midst of the darkness” of genealogical research? Would we “light a fire” under new genealogical success? Somehow, the candle flame just wasn’t working for us.

So began a new round of introspection, eventually resulting in the decision to let Kevin and his team tackle a completely new logo design.

As we’d experienced with LogoWorks, Kevin came back with a wide range of design “families”. They incorporated several intriguing new themes: a magnifying glass, and… trees and leaves! My initial reaction was “Oh no! Not trees and leaves! … We’ll look like the twenty-something tree-themed genealogy sites already out there…” (This seems an even more relevant concern in light of a certain lawsuit.)
Flaming Leaf

But Kevin won me over by explaining his initial reaction to our name and how that had inspired his logo ideas. To him, “Genlighten” had an almost Zen-oriented feel. He pictured a path towards genealogical enlightenment, perhaps resulting in document-obtaining bliss. (I’m embellishing his description here a bit.) Though we hadn’t ever really looked at Genlighten in quite that way, it now had a powerful appeal.

In that spirit, I found myself drawn to one of Kevin’s designs that seemed to connote a family tree “enlightened” by the insights that only source documents could offer. The tree seemed unlike any other I’d encountered on a genealogy website, with unique leaves and an almost “burning bush” ambiance.
Slice of Lime Illuminated Tree logo

Our informal “friends and family” focus group gave it the thumbs up. All that was left was to craft an appropriate tagline to replace the generic “genealogy research” text in the version above. I’ll talk about the tagline in a later post.

A Brief History of the Genlighten Logo — Part 1

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I really like our new logo: the colors, the typeface, the modest-yet-bold “genealogy documented” tagline… and especially the stylized illuminated tree. Which is kinda funny, since when we first started out, the last thing I wanted was “another tree logo”.

Not long after we registered the Genlighten domain name, Early genlighten logowe started brainstorming logo ideas. Most were some form of the name itself, in lower case, with a change in the text color to try to emphasize the word “enlighten” hiding inside “genlighten”. Next to the name, or perhaps in place of one of its letters, we tried placing different sources of light: a lighthouse, a candle, even an old oil lamp (we thought that gave the logo a sort of early 1800′s ambience.) The image above is an example of our early efforts. Notice the lack of any sort of tree!

With this basic concept in mind, we approached Logoworks and began their multi-round process. They churned out a surprisingly rich set of lamp-centered concepts, several of which we found quite appealing.
cool lamp logoa classy lamp versionslightly old-german

But they also offered an option which was clearly different from what we had in mind, but that somehow sent the clear message “if you’re smart, you’ll choose this one.” After some minor tweaking to put the candle flame atop the ‘l’ in genlighten (with the l representing a candle) the version below became our initial official logo: the one that went on business cards, flyers, banners, and the early alpha versions of the site.
logoworks flame

The twin shades of brown helped guide the pronunciation: gen-’light-en — with the emphasis on ‘light’. They also sent a message of constancy, dependability and permanence — or at least that’s what the Logoworks employee told me on the phone as we talked from a hotel somewhere in Wyoming in the midst of a mid-summer road trip to deliver my daughter back to college. In a subsequent post, I’ll try to describe how we came to replace that “permanent” logo with something substantially different.

Startup Names — How We Came Up with “Genlighten”

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Yesterday’s post on our one-year domain registration anniversary got me reminiscing about the night we decided on the name “Genlighten” for our Etsy-for-genealogy-lookups startup. So I went looking on my hard drive for evidence of the other names we’d also considered.

I found only two:

  • N-Gen [as in, n generations -- implying we'd help you trace your family back as many generations as you wanted, rather than the oft-mentioned four] and
  • Thrubrick [as in, we'd help you get through your genealogy brick walls.]

“N-Gen” and the variants I came up with weren’t available as a domain name, and my family members quickly shot down Thrubrick as obscure and tongue-twisting (just try saying it three times fast!), not to mention just plain not-a-good-idea.

As I recall what happened next, I walked back down the hall to our bedroom/”corner office” and reflected that what we were trying to do was simply create a new way to “shed light” on the genealogical process. It was a small step from there to “Enlightened Genealogy Research” and a few moments later to “Genlighten” itself. My wife quickly approved… the domain was available… and there you have it.

Evan Paull wrote recently on GigaOm that names of successful startups tend to be a compounds of:

  1. a word that literally relates to what the company does
  2. a word that evokes a feeling about the company’s product.

For me, “Gen” is what we do (genealogy lookups) and “enlighten[ed]” is how we’d like our customers to feel as a result of using our service. That’s a big [and scary] objective to strive for!