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


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 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 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 – 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 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 via a stock options (and revenue share) agreement.

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

Lee Torrens  is’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 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

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, 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  

Jon: No, I haven’t! LOL

In fact, I tried to sell one recently – 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 – it easily grew to be worth multiples what we paid for the domain


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 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, 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, 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  What is the business model?

Howard: 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. 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 serve to date?

Howard: Since 2006, 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, 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, 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 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 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 as a leader in the health insurance space.


Mike:  How has the similarity of the Obamacare domain name,, 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, which connects them with licensed, certified agents. There’s even an important bonus — offers nearly all private, off-exchange plans that aren’t offered on, 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.



I’m an Algonquin resident. I also own the domain 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 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,


I originally purchased ‘’. 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,


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,


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 ,


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,


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,


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,


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,


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

-Ron Rule,

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,

Staying on Track

Robert Savage, CEO of agreed to talk to me about the company’s keyword domain name. Prior to serving at, he served as Managing Director of FX Macro Sales at Goldman Sachs, where he published widely-read and insightful research focused on the foreign exchange markets and the macroeconomic environment. As well as twenty-three years at Goldman Sachs, Mr. Savage worked as the head of New York Foreign Exchange trading for Lehman Brothers and as a Director of Proprietary Trading at Bank of America Securities.

Track Research is part of Thoughtful Research LLC founded in 2009. Track Research is a top-down macro market research team with of the moment trading ideas and commentary.


Mike: Can you tell me how you came to own the domain

Robert: is actually leased with an option to buy. This made sense from the start given the expense of a new 5 letter URL. Auctions for domain names vary and has seen many unsolicited offers over the last 4 years – the highest was $250,000. Right now the payments for the lease are reasonable in the context of the start up business. My arrangement to lease came from the VC that helped start the business with me – how he got the name is another story – one I am not privy to.


Mike: Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what exactly does for it’s customers?

Robert: is a place where wall street analysts can reach out and connect to their clients when they are between jobs or are starting out. We provide world class daily market coverage for $1200 a year. There are 4000 independent consultants doing investment research – this site is one venue for them to share a bit of their wisdom and search for new clients. The independent research business is tough – most have 20 clients and go out of business in 5 years because they can’t spend the time finding new clients. helps solve some of this problem. We provide institutional quality macro global insights to clients around the world. The clients are hedge fund managers, money managers, family offices and individual investors.


Mike: Why did you decide that owning a short, generic, keyword domain was important for your business? How has that proved to be true?

Robert: The problem of branding starts with people remembering your name. Track is one of those short and easy to remember yet neutral words. There are many others out their but not all are as simple. I spent much time looking at but when I found out it formerly was a porn site that made the decision to go elsewhere easy. We also own and a few other URLs – but the 5 letter one is simple and easy.


Mike: What type of traffic numbers do you see on a monthly basis?

Robert: We have a wall up for content – and that makes some of the traffic story a bit different – but we get 25,000 or more visits a month – we started in 2010 with about 5,000


Mike: With a name like, do you find some traffic outside of your target audience? I imagine you might get some type-in traffic from those looking for horse track or race track information.

Robert: The name comes up with music and track and field more than with bettors or drug users. The traffic that is misplaced usually bounces immediately – and that is how we look at our branding success or failure. We find that we have a lot of people using the site and staying on it to read content – which is another way of measuring the success of a URL – time spent on the site and the number of pages visited.


Mike: What other types of online marking do you use in addition to your premium domain name?

Robert: The best way to market is to network. We use Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to push our business. We have found that connecting all of these to the site helps drive traffic and trials.


Mike: What are your words of wisdom for those looking for a domain name for their business?

Robert: Sometimes we try to think too much about a name. There is one key requirement being unique – and then marketing around that name. I think flipping for another name or rebranding isn’t something easy but if the price is right you have to consider it. Either you are in the business of owning domain names or you are in a business that uses them to help market and expand your ideas. I am clearly in the latter camp. has been a good tool but it isn’t the only way to find success in a start-up.