Your Name or a Brandable Domain Name?

SumoLeap

A couple of years back, a wrote a post about people who owned their first and last name as a domain name.  Jared Banz was one of the people I spoke to.  Here’s what he had to say back then:

“Owning the dot com version of my name / business has been most helpful for ranking (SEO) and branding. When I first bought the domain over four years ago, I didn’t know what I would end up using it for, but I wanted to secure it in case someone else had the same name as I. Eventually, a few years later, I ended up starting my own company, so it was very helpful to have the dot com version of my name.”

– Jared Banz, JaredBanz.com

Jared has modified his position since then and here’s what he has to say.

Mike:  What made you decide to switch from jaredbanz.com to sumoleap.com?

When I first bought my personally branded URL (jaredbanz.com), I intended to use it for blogging and consulting purposes. I had a “day job” at the time, so it was intended to help me pursue outside consulting on digital marketing projects unrelated to my 8-5 job.

As demand continued to grow for my consulting projects, I wanted to get away from a personally branded business name. I didn’t want to appear as just a one-person company, and I had intentions on growing my company much larger. That said, I came up with the name “SumoLeap”, registered the domain, filed a DBA and redirected my old site to the new site.

Mike:  Why sumoleap?  What meaning does the name have for you or why did you think it would be an attractive choice?

Coming up with a new company name was difficult. Every marketing idea that I could think of for a digital marketing company was already taken. That being said, I realized very quickly that I’d probably have to come up with a fictional name.

I started brainstorming by looking at other companies that I liked. One trend that I liked was to use the name “Sumo” in the business name. Some other technology companies (i.e. BuzzSumo, AppSumo) were doing it, and I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

I toyed around with several names, and I finally arrived at SumoLeap. I liked it because it was fun, creative and trendy. I also like the underlying meaning of a 500+ lb Sumo wrestler leaping and applying that to our digital marketing campaigns. We like to think that we can help companies “move the needle” with their digital marketing, even if it seems impossible.

(To read an extended article on the origin of our name, check out this blog post.)

Mike:  Did you hand register the name sumoleap.com or did someone own it?  Were there other names you were kicking around?

I hand registered for the domain and quickly registered any social media profiles that were associated with it. Thankfully, the domain was available.

I did consider some other names, but none really stuck out to me or the domains were already purchased. That being said, I was happy to land with “SumoLeap.”

Mike:  What has the switch done for your business?

Since re-branding to SumoLeap, I have gone full-time with digital marketing and web design. I’ve assembled a team of entrepreneurs that I work with, and this has been huge for the success of my company so far.

As far as the name “SumoLeap” goes, I definitely get some interesting feedback from it. Almost everyone I talk to wants to know the origin of the name, and it usually leads to a good conversation about our business.
Mike:  As a web designer, do you have any advice for domain owners around the world? 

Yes! Make sure your domain(s) are set to auto-renew. If you don’t believe it’s important, just ask Jeb Bush.

I also think it’s a good idea to own your personally-branded URL, even if you never intend on using it. This could come in handy down the road if you ever want to start a blog or do some sort of consulting. It will also enable you to protect your name (and reputation) from someone else buying it and posting material on it that doesn’t represent you or your values.

 

Remember the guy who spent $250,000 on a premium domain name?

stockphoto

You certainly remember Jon Yau, don’t you?  He’s the guy who talked his wife into letting him spend $250,000 on a domain name to start an online business.  I first published an interview about Stockphoto.com with Jon in January of 2014.  I recently had a chance to catch up with him and see how things are progressing.

Mike:  It’s been a couple of years now with StockPhoto.com running as a business.  How have things evolved on the site?

Jon: It’s been two years since the launch of the site – going from 57,000 images to now 20 million images. This initial 24 months, as you would expect, was slow going. Signing up photographers, trying to make sense of Analytics and conversions as well as project managing the web development – all very slow when you’re the solitary pair of hands on deck. So about a year ago, I asked Nick Kenn (General Manager of Flippa) to be the inaugural member of my advisory board. Nick has a great background in online marketing and now runs one of the best two-sided marketplaces on the web.

Under his mentorship, I have been able to arrive at an unbiased assessment of my business (“it’s shit – but it has potential” – my words, not Nick’s) and come up with a roadmap to, hopefully, realise its potential. I’ll elaborate below.

 

Mike:  What lessons have you learned about owning a premium, keyword domain based business?   Has the ride been what you expected?

Jon: This particular exact match domain has been very good to me. It’s done exactly what I had hoped it would do – i.e. provide a steady stream of targeted traffic against which I can throw my inventory and web design to see what sticks. Until I get the mix right, the EMD would provide a guaranteed level of traffic to test against. Of course, you’d have to take into account the CPC of your target keywords, your gross product margin and weigh it up against the cost of acquiring that EMD.

As an example, using the Spyfu tool – http://www.spyfu.com/keyword/overview?query=stock%20photo shows a cost per click of about $9 for “stock photo” for an estimated 49k searches per month. Spyfu estimates Shutterstock (the biggest player in stock photos) spends $100k a month on traffic. I don’t use this yardstick as the sole indicator but on this basis, I was happy spending $250k upfront on an EMD that brings in the traffic that it does.

The bumps on the road so far (thankfully) have not been fatal but I think it was because my expectations were realistic. I was a one-man band and I was confident in my ability to get to MVP stage ONLY. Having the advantage of a traffic EMD meant I could focus on the product, photographers and infrastructure. About 80% of visitors are first-timers, so given that I expect to be making a lot of rookie mistakes (like bad web design) – I am able to redeem myself and test any improvements on another batch of new visitors. If I do it right (and my inventory grows), then some of those first-time visitors become repeat customers.

Stock photos are a simple product. Obviously there are product and industry subtleties but…you search, you find, you pay, you download. No quotes, no negotiating, no revisions, no variations, no physical logistics (like warehouses, delivery, returns etc). This was an important consideration. If I am to get away with bootstrapping this one, then being able to minimise these manual functions and then automating the rest meant that I could work on other priorities.

The biggest costs of the business would be hosting and photographers’ royalties. Cloud infrastructure has greatly reduced hosting costs (and likely to reduce some more in the future). A startup in this niche would have a predominantly variable cost structure — meaning I could afford to bootstrap it. I could take small steps without having to commit to a large, upfront expenditure (assuming, of course that I could generate sufficient sales).

 

Mike:  Tell me about your two new partners?  What do they bring to the table and how do they supplement your passion and skill set?

Jon: After two years of running the Stockphoto.com MVP, I’ve learnt that:

  1. More inventory + Better search = Higher sales
  2. Better website design = More searches
  3. I need help getting more quality inventory.
  4. I need help with Search and Design.

In early 2015, I brought on two co-founders giving each a stake Stockphoto.com via a stock options (and revenue share) agreement.

Luke Evans is Stockphoto.com’s awesome CTO. He helped re-architect Stockphoto.com and is our AWS and Optimizely expert.

Lee Torrens  is Stockphoto.com’s Photographer Advocate. He is the stock photo industry’s leading blogger and what he doesn’t know about the industry isn’t worth knowing. Lee is charged with building on our inventory of quality images.

So, in effect, we’re getting the platform to a point where we can scale quickly. Then we’re scaling quickly J by bringing on more inventory.

We would then work on better search and UX to improve conversions.

I met Lee shortly after I bought the domain. He was instrumental in helping me source seed content to launch with. He works mostly with Canva.com now but I’ve got him part-time in a co-founder role. Lee is based in Argentina (and hails from Melbourne).

Luke is a Perth boy (like myself). We met working for a local IT consultancy. Just an amazing out-of-the-box thinker with a creative bent, he is kept very busy with his young family and work with his Church.

The three of us Skype and Slack regularly. Having formally come on board, I’ve very quickly grown to rely on them – for much more than their technical expertise. I’ve come to realise now what people mean by company culture and DNA.

I think I can sum up our approach as:

– Solve one problem at a time (either the most important OR the easiest one first)

– Laugh and don’t take it to heart when it blows up (because it will)

– Laugh and chalk up the win when it works (because it always will…work…eventually)

– Don’t drink the kool aid – just get shit done

– Don’t be a wanker

 

Mike:  Can you mention any websites that feature images from StockPhoto.com?

Jon: I think we have a small handful of websites of ‘household name’ status but most tend to be blogs, professional services (e.g. training companies, health professionals) and not-for-profits (e.g. we have lots of churches).

I attribute this to the fact that we are the most price competitive for the infrequent purchaser. Most of our competitors push their subscription products which tend to favour high-volume users and have a higher initial price point.

On Stockphoto.com, you can purchase an image starting from $3. (We even do guest checkouts.)

 

Mike:  How has traffic changed over the past two years?  Have you done much around paid or organic search?

Jon: Traffic levels have been consistent over the past two years. We’ve not done any paid search or any SEO-ification at all.

Monthly traffic is almost unchanged throughout the year. I initially expected a dip over the US summer but this is not the case.

The EMD gave me a leg-up with initial traffic but in the future I would like to supplement that with content marketing and email marketing. I haven’t quite figured out social marketing but I’ll dabble and test J

I started writing on Medium which gave me a nice source of new traffic. But Content marketing is HARD. If there ever was a reason for buying traffic EMDs, this would be it : )

I have high hopes for my new weekly email newsletter. This one has worked out well.

 

Mike:  Have you made any additional domain purchase since StockPhoto.com?  

Jon: No, I haven’t! LOL

In fact, I tried to sell one recently – 3248.com without luck L

 

Mike:  If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

Jon: I don’t think so. I don’t think I wouldn’t have been ready if things had happened any faster. Nick Kenn came on-board at the right time – the MVP was stable and he was able to give me direction (and I was able to implement quickly). Luke and Lee came on at the right time – work enabling scalability was kicked off at the same time as our drive for quality inventory which dovetailed quite nicely.

I hate to say it (because people will think it’s the kool aid talking) – but it’s actually been fun.

I heartily recommend everyone take the opportunity (at least once in their life) to:

  • –         Build something that perhaps no-one else in the Universe thinks is cool
  • –         Run the risk of ending up (stylishly) in flames
  • –         Document it for all for the viewing pleasure of the Internet J

HealthCare.com – it easily grew to be worth multiples what we paid for the domain

HealthCare

Howard Yeh is Chief Operating Officer and a co-founder of HealthCare, Inc., and oversees product strategy, revenue, online marketing, user acquisition, operations and technology for the company. He has been an owner and operator of the HealthCare.com web business since 2007, and has 10+ years of overall experience as an investor, entrepreneur and operator in online businesses.

Most recently in 2012, he has been the co-founder of ContactUs.com, Inc., a software-as-a-service company providing online customer acquisition tools serving over 60,000 small business users around the world. He was previously a co-founder and COO of BrokersWeb, Inc., an insurance-focused online advertising marketplace which was twice named to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in 2010 and 2011 until its successful sale. Howard was a co-founder of the original HealthCare.com, Inc. (from which BrokersWeb was renamed) in 2007. He also currently serves on the board of directors of Yola, Inc., an online do-it-yourself website builder that powers close to 10 million websites.

He started his career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch’s media investment banking group, and then as a venture capital investor at VantagePoint Venture Partners. He is a 2000 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Mike:  Describe for me the purpose or goal of HealthCare.com.  What is the business model?

Howard: HealthCare.com is the nation’s leading, privately funded, unbiased search engine and comparison tool for health insurance, offering virtually all of the state-based exchange plans, federal exchange plans and many private, off-exchange plans. HealthCare.com helps consumers easily research information and compare their healthcare options, starting with healthcare plans. Our comparison shopping tools experience allows consumers to find the right healthcare plan that fits their lifestyle. We receive advertising revenue and referral fees from insurance partners. The service is free to consumers.

Mike:  How many customers does HealthCare.com serve to date?

Howard: Since 2006, HealthCare.com has averaged about 1 million users each month to the site. We formally relaunched this business in September 2014. In the last Open Enrollment period for healthcare (November 2014 to February 2015), we helped more than 300,000 consumers connect with health insurance partners.

 

Mike:  As far as generic keyword domain names go, HealthCare.com is phenomenal.  Tell me how you came to own the domain.  Can you share the purchase price and steps you went through to acquire it? 

Howard: The URL was originally registered in 1994. The original founder of HealthCare.com, Inc. acquired the URL back in 2006. It was acquired in a private auction, and it was 7-figures. Looking back,H itself. Our initial business model was to create a directory of healthcare providers, which continues today. There are more than 1.2 million providers listed. From there, we acquired an online insurance advertising business called BrokersWeb founded by 2 awesome entrepreneurs in California. Over time, that became our business, and the stuff on HealthCare.com became second fiddle. In 2011, once we grew to $50M+ in revenue and 40+ people, we sold the BrokersWeb business to another online marketing company, and kept the HealthCare.com domain. After 3 years, we had a chance to revisit this asset and build out a new company. There was a nice article in the New York Business Journal that tells the backstory in further detail.

 

Mike:  My favorite question to ask premium domain owners is this, how has owning this name impacted your business? Do you feel any other name could have produced the same results?

Howard: The domain is not the business, although it is a phenomenal asset and starting point. For our product, we are unique in our unbiased approach, the size and scope of the number of plans we display, and our technology tools that make it faster and simpler for consumers to find the choices that best fit them. On top of that, we deliver awesome advertising solutions to health care marketers, and are building highly-targeted, unique advertising solutions that will be the driver of our business. Our Series A funding of $7.5 million in late 2014 led by the chairman of The Priceline Group was a positive step in solidifying HealthCare.com as a leader in the health insurance space.

 

Mike:  How has the similarity of the Obamacare domain name, healthcare.gov, impacted traffic or use of your site?

Howard: Everyone now has the ability to access healthcare as a result of Obamacare (also known as the Affordable Care Act). With the mandate and associated penalty for not having healthcare coverage, we believe everyone needs to get covered. Some might ask why the government chose a URL that was so close in name to an existing site with a similar purpose. We came first in 2006, and want to be the leading comparison source for consumer healthcare. Consumers can buy the same health care plans – with subsidies – by visiting HealthCare.com, which connects them with licensed, certified agents. There’s even an important bonus — HealthCare.com offers nearly all private, off-exchange plans that aren’t offered on healthcare.gov, and are building out recommendation tools that they, by regulation, are not able to provide.

 

Mike:   Having launched two businesses on keyword domain names, what advice would you provide to anyone looking to launch an online business?

Howard: The key is to relentlessly execute on your initial vision, and extend your scope from there. The domain is your asset, and it can provide instant branding and legitimacy. But it’ll only get you so far. A premium domain definitely helps to open the door, but you have to have substance behind what you are building. The best way to get substance is to focus on doing a few things really well.

 

A domain sales email that worked!

A few months ago, I posted about my experience selling domains containing the names of local towns resulting in quick sales.  Since that time I have received quite a few emails from readers asking for the email text I use in those types of sales.  The beauty of it is, the email that has worked for me has been short and simple.

 

“Hello,

I’m an Algonquin resident. I also own the domain AlgonquinChiropractor.com. Algonquin Chiropractor is a top search term used when people are searching for a chiropractor in Algonquin. I’m looking to sell the domain name. Not at an outrageous amount, but for just $200. Let me know if you are interested. I will be contacting other Chiropractors in the area as well.

Thank You

Mike Sullivan

That’s it!  Nothing magical.  Just real. Not desperate, not pushy, not intrusive.  I picked up the “I will be contacting other <type of business> in the area as well…” from a post Elliot wrote back in the day.  I couldn’t find the original post, but I thought the hook was so good that it stuck with me.

Do you have any sample emails that have worked well for you?

Do you own your own name? 10 People who do.

I don’t own the dot com version of my name, or any variation.  I do own MikeSullivan.org thanks to someone dropping it.  I was able to pick it up in a domain auction a couple years ago.  I’ve always told my friends and family that owning their name is important, even if they can’t see it right now.  In fact, as my friends were beginning to raise families, I urged them to register the names of their children.

I missed the opportunity to own the dot com version of my name, and it will likely cost me a pretty penny if I ever want to acquire it.  That said, I’ve talked to some folks who own and actively use their names about why it’s important.  So don’t listen to me, read what they have to say.

 

Owning the dot com version of my name / business has been most helpful for ranking (SEO) and branding. When I first bought the domain over four years ago, I didn’t know what I would end up using it for, but I wanted to secure it in case someone else had the same name as I. Eventually, a few years later, I ended up starting my own company, so it was very helpful to have the dot com version of my name.

– Jared Banz, JaredBanz.com

 

I originally purchased ‘demofish.com’. The idea was to train people on how to give great technology product demos. But I quickly found that my name was fairly well known in my industry, while demofish caused some confusion out there. So I purchased my name and used that instead. The result? A huge uptick in warm leads, especially from social media; contacts began sending me Facebook and Twitter messages with inquiries about training engagements. Very glad that I was able to snag my name. It has been most valuable to the health of my business.

– Matt Gambino, MattGambino.com

 

I struggled with using my own name as my domain because it felt rather conceited and arrogant.  But as the owner of 2 businesses, a published author, a radio host and the owner of about 50 domains…I was noticing myself struggling to identify where different groups or customers should go to “find” me (My book titles, My business names, My blog, My Radio show?).

– Tara Kennedy-Kline, TaraKennedyKline.com

 

Owning my name as a dot com makes it super easy for people to find me – and more importantly: remember me. My matching email clearly defines ME as a brand and it also adds a level of professionalism that helps me stand out from the millions using generic email accounts such as hotmail.

– Lee Chambers , LeeChambers.com

 

In today’s competitive marketplace, name recognition is essential for creating a brand. People know what they need and you want them to associate that quality with you. As a motivational speaker, I use my name to associate  that quality and value with me and my name, something that is unique to me and me alone.

– Gavan Ingham, GavinIngham.com

 

I was geeky before it was cool, and registered my name as a domain when I was 14 years old. (I’m now 25.) While I did it to show off in IT lessons, it’s proved a wise investment for adult life – not least when job hunting. My applications came from a professional looking email address, not Hotmail or AOL. If my prospective employer wanted to learn more about me and searched for my name on Google, I was the top result (in the UK, at least). I now work for an SEO agency, fifty6, and appreciate how good a decision buying my own domain was for search rankings. I’ve even bought my less tech-savvy sister her name as a domain – she’ll thank me, one day!

Chris Philpot, ChrisPhilpot.co.uk

 

Using my first and last name as my domain for my professional website has made my marketing easier in many ways. If prospects I meet at networking events know my name, they are more likely able to find me easier once they get back to their computers. I believe that I’ve received more traffic to my website because people are likely to use a professional’s full name to find them in search engines. And even though there are many new qualifier for domain names, .COM remains the first one people think of first. I have been approached by other professionals with my name, asking me to consider selling it. It is valuable Internet real estate so I will keep it and pass it on to my son when I’m gone.

-Bill Corbet, BillCorbett.com

 

The benefit to using my name as my website address has a lot to do with branding. I run an architecture firm that focuses on creative design. So with that, I have to sell myself and my unique philosophy of architecture. I am not selling plans, I am selling ideas and knowledge. What I want to convey is that when a client hires me to design their project, they are getting me personally and not a group of interns or employees. It is that personal attention that makes what I do different from what a larger architecture firm does.

-Ryan Thewes, RyanThewes.com

 

When I first started the blog, I was essentially a one-man consulting firm so it was more of an effort in self promotion – throw my thoughts on eCommerce and Big Data out there and when prospective clients were researching these topics (or researching me), they would find the site and have some insight into how I operate. That’s how I ended up getting involved in the TV products space to begin with, which ultimately lead to an offer to take the reins on AsSeenOnTV.com.

-Ron Rule, RonRule.com

my business is based on trust and the relationship I have with my clients and my name is part of the foundation of that relationship.  In other words, my name is an integral part of my business’ brand identity.  (I am particularly blessed to have a memorable last name)!  Having my first and last name as my domain name serves many important functions, including solidifying my brand identity.  Equally importantly, it makes it very easy for people to find me doing a web search.

-Lori Lustberg, LoriLustberg.com