Born in USSR, Tatiana Bonneau is passionate about technology, marketing, people, and dobermanns. She was recently on a panel at NamesCon 2021 called From Start-Up to Grown-Up: Strategies to Make it Happen. Currently she's managing grails.com, markupgrade.com and smartbranding.com. In this exclusive interview she talks about her business MarkUpgrade and shares advice that new businesses can use when they're just getting started.
Let's dive in!
1. What is the story behind MarkUpgrade? What was your inspiration behind this business?
I’ve been in IT, marketing and branding for most of my adult life. At the beginning it was more on the technical side, so building software and websites, then I moved into project management and had and IT company in the UK.
Spending time discussing ideas with entrepreneurs and working with them to make those ideas reality highlighted that many overlook the importance of actually marketing the product/service.
I’ve hit a wall so many times when trying to initiate a discussion about it. And naming and branding even more so. On the other hand you look at any successful business, literally any, and you see they do take their brand image, name and marketing strategy very seriously.
So our purpose at MarkUpgrade is to help entrepreneurs make better choices when it comes to that very first step of their new venture - getting the naming and domain name right. Or helping them fix the mess if they didn’t get it right the first time.
Subsequently the other brands that were born from our experience with MarkUpgrade - Grails.com and SmartBranding.com support that by allowing business owners to learn more - with data/research, or from other brand owners’ experiences.
2. What kind of resources does MarkUpgrade offer to those who’re just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?
We help with naming new brands, sub-brands or products/services, upgrading existing brands or a complete rebrand, with the matching domain name strategy.
3. What, according to you, is the biggest mistake people make when choosing their domain name and how can they avoid it?
I’ve actually written a whole article on what common mistakes to avoid when choosing a domain name, but if I have to boil it down to one I’d say not taking the domain name seriously. That was always valid, but today even more than ever before.
It is literally the heart, the cornerstone of your brand online. The biggest mistake you can make is not treat it that way. What I often say is that brands end up paying for their perfect name one way or another, it’s just that in one of the scenarios they don’t own the name.
4. Should startups consider new domain extensions or is .COM still the way to do?
With Grails.com we have been doing a great amount of work compiling lists of startups and established brands and their domain name choices. So what is a fact, not my opinion, is that across the board, regardless of industry or geographical location, .Com is still a king.
It is a brand of itself that has been building trust and authority since the beginning of the internet. People naturally recognise it and it saves them time - you presume an address on the internet ends with .com, you don’t have to guess or spend brain power to remember it. So as it stands, yes, you can get other extensions but you are going against what has developed into natural flow of things for people globally. And that costs money and carries risks.
I guess the question is how much money you have to throw at it, and how much risk are you willing to take with your brand. Where I see new extensions shining at the moment is as creative additions to strong brands - for different marketing campaigns, products etc. you can have a lot of fun with those once your brand is secure. Which is where a good domain name strategy is important.
Today the exact brand match .com is the heart of a business online and the rest of the domains are tools to use to make your marketing most effective and protect your brand online. This may change in the years to come but it is what it is today, at least from where I stand and based on all the information we analyze.
5. What’s the first thing you’d ask someone with a new business idea to do?
Give it a name. Until an idea has a name it doesn’t have a life of its own. When building websites and software I used to have long conversations with entrepreneurs about their ideas, and if you haven’t experienced it yourself, take my word for it - everything changes when you have a name.
Before that the whole team can throw ideas, build theories, but you don’t know what sticks, how to judge what is wrong and what fits. The name puts the idea into a shape, you can start imagining it, it starts developing a character, you start creating a vision and a purpose, it is not just an idea all of a sudden, it is a project. We all have ideas, sometimes tens a day or more.
Name it and you’ll have a project. Then you get to work.
6. What are some of your personal philosophies/values that drive you?
That would be hard to answer shortly but if I have to choose one it would be Bruce Lee's "be like water". Being open minded, flexible, light but persistent, pure in your intentions, not stuck in a particular box anyone is trying to put you in, but able to fit those when needed, confident in your values and worth - those are all qualities I try to maintain, and admire in other people.
7. What are the future plans for MarkUpgrade?
To continue helping entrepreneurs build strong brands by making better choices. :) I am very excited with Grails.com as part of that, I absolutely adore our interviews and educational content on SmartBranding.com and I am proud of our small team working very hard behind the scenes to make all this a reality.