We have a great name for our new start-up. However, the .com and .co domains are already taken and used by the same company. The domain name in question does not appear to be used from a branding perspective as both .com and .co re-direct to another domain which is the home page of this US-based company. It appears they have a product that uses this name. The company that owns these domains seems to be a small business that makes menu interface controls for industrial equipment. Their site looks like it's right out of the the 1990s!
Is it best to approach them at some point once you've built your product and gained market traction using a domain similar to the one you want? For example: you want acme.com but it's taken. So you brand your start-up as "acmewidgets.com" and then make the play for acme.com. While far fetched, I'm thinking of this because you can always try to do what Uber initially did by giving equity in exchange for the domain. Uber was initially ubercab.com and then made a deal for uber.com later on as the storey goes.
Do you approach them directly or though a domain broker? Keep in mind, these domains are not currently for sale. We'd have to convince them to sell it to us and make it worth their while.
Lastly, does it make any sense to try to buy early on? If I knew I could get it for let's say $25K should I go for it now even before the products is built? The name is really catchy for what we're going to build. Is the name of the product and its domain and associated branding vital to the success of a start-up or does it not make much difference? If SnapChat was called GhostChat or InvisibiiChat or if DropBox called FileBox would it still be as popular as it is?