Joystiq: What’s In A Name

Joystiq has been running a few articles about how companies got their name. The story behind Stardock:

“I was in college and started the company to help pay for school until I could get a real job. I needed to get a computer and got a hold of a wholesale distributor to get the parts to build it. When I called, they asked me what the name of the company was and in panic, I looked around and was reading a book by Raymond E. Feist and the chapter was called ‘Stardock’ so that’s what I said the company’s name was. It stuck and has been since.”

Wow, he came up with a name on the spur of the moment.

The story Randy Pitchford tells about Gearbox (of Half-Life fame) is a little more harder to believe. It involves a high-stakes late night poker game in New Orleans with Gabe Newell. And, if that tall-tale didn’t trip your BS detector, it appears that Valve and Gearbox are now confirming that the story is a fabrication. I wonder if Pitchford was just seeing how far he could string Joystiq along with that unlikely story.

These stories remind me of a recent episode of This American Life, called “Origin Stories”. In the beginning of the episode, they discuss corporate creation myths. Google even has a myth about starting in a garage:

The Apple and Hewlett-Packard garages have now become such a part of Silicon Valley myth, that it’s made other tech companies want stories like it. Google, for example, they did not start in a garage. The founders began working on their search engine in 1996, when they were at Stanford. They didn’t move into a garage until 1998. They already had investors, and they were just in the garage for five months. But in 2006, Google bought the garage as a company landmark.

It’s like no one wants to hear the story of the rich, well-connected guys who meetup at the Marriott conference room to hatch a business plan. You know, there’s no romance in that.

Dan Heath has written about these origin stories in Fast Company magazine. He says one way to measure just how appealing these stories are, is to count all the ones that get quotes widely, even though they aren’t remotely true.

For instance, when eBay began, a story circulated that it’s founder created the company so that his fiance could buy and collect Pez dispensers more easily. Not true.

One of the creators of YouTube used to claim that the idea for the business came after a dinner party in 2005 when two of the company’s masterminds, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, shot some video and tried to post it online, and found out just how hard that was back then…. Steve Chen later admitted in Time magazine that the dinner party [story] was embellished to provide a better founding myth.

Of course, there’s plenty of other myths created about historical figures, as well. For example, Christopher Columbus didn’t have some crazy idea that the earth was round back in 1492 – everyone knew that the earth was round. In fact, a Greek mathematician had made a pretty good estimate of the size of the earth back in the third century BC. And George Washington didn’t cut down a cherry tree.

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