May 19, 2018 (Sat). Microsoft Ventures has rebranded to M12 recently and it is an interesting domain story to study. This investment arm of Microsoft was founded in 2016 to enable Microsoft to invest in startups during their early stage of growth by leveraging Microsoft’s financial, technical, and business resources. Last month, the firm decided to rebrand to M12 to avoid confusion with a related accelerator program called Microsoft ScaleUp.
What's the meaning of M12? M represents "Microsoft" but this is not obvious unless explained, giving the firm the flexibility to appear as an independent investor if necessary. 12 is the number of letters in the word "entrepreneur", indicating the firm's focus on startups. A meaningful name makes it easier to remember.
M12 has chosen to build its business on the domain M12.vc. The name part is brand matching and the extension is actually the country extension of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -- a tiny country in The Caribbean Sea with a population of only 100,000. The .vc extension has become popular in recent years outside the Caribbean country, thanks to VC community's eager to reposition it to mean “venture capital”.
The domain M12.vc is very short and may look cool. But, is it easy to remember? I think it depends on the target audience. If your audience is general and global, then .com is a must. However, if your audience is a small community with dedicated fans, then a non .com extension may work because they are willing to make an extra effort to remember the unusual extension. In this particular case, M12 is targeting entrepreneurs, who certainly have the desire to remember this domain.
What about people related to the firm but are not entrepreneurs? Will bankers, building owners, accountants, tax collectors, plumbers etc. remember this domain? That's not easy. They may be potential sources of email leakage of confidential information due to confusion. Also, what about risks associated with a country extension? We need to remember the story of Art.sy owned by American art startup Artsy. The company's business was disrupted in 2013 when the Syrian government turned off their country extension .sy during the civil war.
M12 has probably thought about such issues. They want to venture into the new world of non .com but they also play safe by owning M12.com which forwards visitors to M12.vc. I think the firm is smart but they should go one step further – by running their business on the solid platform of .com and using M12.vc only as their public face. M12.vc should forward visitors to M12.com, not the reverse.
In short, you can play with other domain extensions if you will, but always build your business on a .com domain for its stability and global recognition. The internet is global after all!
Note: Hats off to Jamie Zoch at dotWeekly.com for breaking this news story.