The PEMBAway: What’s In A Name

Serendipity strikes often in the oddest of places. It was a remarkable piece of luck – it seems now in retrospect – that the name “Pemba Serves” came to me somewhat out of the blue while I was pinned down in my tent during a multi-day storm in the Alaska Range.

Between melting water, digging out the tent, reading, and sleeping, I had been journaling about a business that I was thinking about starting. In those years, I ran the newsletter and related promotions at Erehwon Mountain Outfitter. I thought then that – perhaps – outdoor retail stores all over might want a similar service. In this way, PEMBA was originally conceived of as a marketing and consulting business.

While PEMBA still operates as if we are a marketing and a consulting business, explaining the “how” and “why” of this is not the topic of the day. Likewise – yeah – it’s a funny name and we’re not going to explain it here right now (although we touch on it elsewhere.)

At the moment, we got other fish to fry…

What’s lucky about what we chose as our name is two things: 1) We chose a name that was unique; and 2) our business name in no way refers to our founder. (In this case: Me.) You see, “Pemba” was just a guy who made an impression on me, and “serves” is a verb I admired.

But here’s the important thing: We’re NOT “Brad Werntz & Associates.”  Why? While to a certain extent this is just plain lucky, there are several good reasons – it turns out – not to name your service business after yourself:

  1. You can’t do everything.
  2. You can’t be everywhere.
  3. If your name is on the door, you can never fully multiply yourself.
  4. Once it’s named after you, your business is completely non-transferable.

Here’s the rub: Your customers (and vendors) are the most important people in their world, and really you wouldn’t have it any other way. They ARE important, and as important people they should only deal with other important people. By putting your name on the door, you’ve just signed up to be the only important person in your agency, for any little task, forever.

And – hey – if this is the way that you want it to be and can pull it off, then fine. You can stop reading right here.

But if – for any reason – you ever might want to hire others to take on portions of what you do, or if – for instance – you want to create value in your business that goes beyond just the paycheck you pull from it, you might consider having a name that reflects the business that you’re building rather than having it be simply an extension of yourself.

As I said, we lucked out, for too many reasons to count. Why? Well, we happened to stumble upon a name that captures imaginations, that’s unique, that people mull over, and – unlikeliest of all – isn’t in huge demand elsewhere. This last part, it’s super-important if you ever want to create web assets for your business. And – let’s face it – having web assets such as your own webpage, your own Facebook page, your own Twitter identity and so forth is already critical and will only be more so going forward.

How important will these things be? That’s the subject of another post, sometime soon. For the moment, consider it essential that you have a name for your business that can live and breathe in the real world and on the web, without you.

If your business is “Joe Blow and Associates,” you might want to consider changing that, and soon.

2 Responses to The PEMBAway: What’s In A Name

  1. I am printing this out page as I write this comment. Why? So that I can fax it to the people at my local gear shop employ who don’t utilize Email, Twitter and/or Facebook. The things that can be read between the lines, as well as the message that presents itself loud and clear, is all too poignant. I should confess that I laughed out loud upon first read, but anyone who’s ever worked for “Air Won” probably would share that grin.

    What’s in a name? Every Thing.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks Colin! As it turns out, “Air Won” has a great name also, and it’s great that it is far older. They should own every aspect of that name online. Do they?

    We just bought up every single PEMBA web asset imaginable. They’re cheap, easy to get, and now we don’t have to worry about what might be. The good news: We only compete with resorts in East Africa for that name, and nobody – NOBODY – adds “Serves” to anything. Weird, huh?

    I own just about every “Brad Werntz” asset out there for the same reason. There are a couple of other Brads in the world, but not many. If my name really was “Joe Blow” (or something else as common) owning all rights to that would be super unlikely.

    And so it’s all the more important to have a good name. We feel super lucky…