What’s Happening with the $900,000 Great.com

Erik Bergman Great.com

“I am really, really good at making money…” is the opening line of Erik Bergman’s video on Great.com. The video from the 30-year-old Swedish entrepreneur tells of how he made $15 Million in one day on his 28th birthday. While the feeling was great, it didn’t last long. He soon asked, “Is there anything more?” The landing page states that he paid $900,000 for his name Great.com, which is the sales price listed on namebio.com for confirmation. I recall first reading about this sale on TheDomains.com back in January.

A friend told him about a charity project in Western Africa to teach kids about computers. As Erik tells the story of the school, there is a real sense of passion for these kids and their well being. He began to think about how he could contribute. He decided that he should do what he does well… make money. And give that money away. Great.com will be all about making money and giving it away.

Mike: Erik, lets back things up and start with your business that you sold on your 28th birthday. What was that business and how did you manage to build it into a $15 million-dollar company?

Erik: Sure, the company is called Catena and it’s a very big affiliate company working in several different verticals, most is focused on SEO and PPC but there is also a lot of Facebook, email and media buying involved.

Everything started out more like a playful hobby than a big fancy business plan. It was me and my childhood friend Emil in his parents’ basement. We started a small web agency and helped local companies with their websites. This never took off though and we were struggling to stay in business. Instead we started building affiliate websites about online bingo and pretty soon this became our main business.

This was back in 2008 and until 2012 it was more or less just me and Emil. We were doing everything ourselves and it was just as much focus on playing around and testing new things as it was about building a company. We became fairly successful in all kinds of niches and were selling everything from insurances to business cards, hotel nights to fashion, main one was still bingo though.

In 2012 we restructured everything and sold half of the business to an investment company. They came in with a lot of knowledge of how to build a proper organization, how to scale and how to set bigger goals. 2013 became the year when we hired like crazy, took on far too much costs and almost went bankrupt. The results I was planning for didn’t show and I was stressed out of my life.

Late 2013 things finally turned around and 2014-2015 became really good years for us. We went from 12 employees in 2013 to 80 I 2015 and in February 2016 we went to the stock market. All in all, the company was then valued at about $200 million.

Mike: Are you working now or is Great.com your 100% committed passion?

Erik: I stopped working in Catena 31st December 2017 so now Great.com is going to be my 100% passion. I’m not going all in from day 1 though. The journey with Catena took a lot of my energy so I want to make sure I am in really good shape both physically and mentally before I go all in again. I was very close to being burned out during the most hectic years and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

Mike: What is your vision for Great.com? Can others get involved?

Erik: The vision with Great is to build a for-profit company that gives everything away. I want to create a workplace for everyone to use their best skills and till add a purpose to it. A designer working in a regular company is just making designs, a designer working in a company that gives away all profits away, is making designs AND saving lives. I want to create something where tech people can utilize their best skills, still earn money as if they were working in a regular company AND do something truly meaningful.

There will be plenty of room for others to get involved. At this stage the best thing is to do exactly what you are doing now Mike, get the story out. Down the line there will be tons of other options so keep an eye on Great.com to see what shows up. There will be more info pretty soon and I’m setting up an email list where people can follow the updates.

Mike: Have you ever purchased a premium domain name before? Did you know what to expect?

Erik: I’ve bought several high value domains but nothing close to this. I’ve been involved in several different deals between $10-40 000. This was actually very similar to that regarding how the negotiations etc. were done. However, my heartbeat was drastically different!

Negotiations in general are the same regardless what is being bought and it’s the same emotions that are being triggered. I remember the first important site I bought back in 2011. It was for roughly $40 000 and I was just as emotionally involved in that one as I was in the $200 million IPO.

Mike: You spent $900,000 on this name. Why not just donate that money and call it a day?

Erik: It’s a very valid question. Probably the first one I would ask as well.

I want to create something that’s much, much bigger than a $900 000 donation can be. I am aiming for billions.

When that is my goal the name will be super important, and a $900 000 investment can be worth a lot more than that down the line. Anyone who is involved with domains know how big difference they can make. This is not just a domain, this is a brand, this is something that shows everyone that I’m taking this very seriously.

Mike: Tell me what it’s like to shop and purchase a domain of this caliber. Can you walk us through how you selected this name and the purchase process that followed?

Erik: As I mentioned above, it’s fairly similar to buying any other domain. It’s just a few more zeros on the transaction.

I really wanted a name that everyone had positive connotations to. That would work for any industry and for anything. That would be good for both a charity and for a for-profit company. For me “Great” is a word that meets all those criterions and at the same time it’s easy to spell, easy to remember and everyone even if they don’t have English as their native language knows what it means.

The negotiations started with an email before I even knew about the auction. I put in the big far lower than I thought they would accept. They went far higher than I would pay and then we took it from there. Just as if it was a $1000 domain. We didn’t manage to find a deal so when I found out about the auction I felt like this was my time!
Mike: Are you concerned at all that running a site for charity may be different than running a business?

Erik: No, not at all. If we would be in need of donations I would be worried but now we won’t be. Instead I’m very excited about being able to work for a purpose myself but also to be able and provide this for anyone else who will get involved. I think it will be a lot easier to find great people when they feel that they can be a part of something big!

Mike: Your opening line in the video is a bold one. I am really, really good at making money. In your opinion , is that a skill that you either have or don’t have or is it a skill that can be learned?

Erik: Yes, it’s a bold one. I want to be a charity like nothing else so then it will be important to stand out.

When it comes to making money, this is definitely something that can be learned. Like everything else. I would however start with something unconventional – happiness. Start by learning about emotions and what it takes to be positive. Personal development guru Tony Robbins talk a lot about these things. I believe that it’s a lot easier to make money if you have a positive view on people and on life than if you don’t. If you manage to be positive you might care a lot less about the money as well but still have a great life.

I spend a lot of my time practicing gratitude and positive vibes. I think that’s one of my biggest strengths – and it has definitely helped me a lot in business!

Mike: That sounds great! If the readers want to find out more about you and the project, what can they do?

Right now, there isn’t much info on Great.com but there will be pretty soon. In the meantime, they can visit my personal site ErikBergman.se. It will give a much better image of who I and what my views are on life. It will paint a better picture of my vision and ambition with Great as well.

Thank you very much for having me Mike!

There’s a New Podcast in Town

I used to watch this?

A couple of months back, I was out with two of my old friends.  While tipping back a few beers and munching on the delicious bar food, we got into the topic of old TV shows.  You, know, old.  Like from the 70s and 80s.  One friend, who also happens to be named Mike, half-joking, mentioned on how the conversation we were having would be an interesting podcast.  As the conversation deepened and the beers flowed, we committed to making a podcast about these old shows just for fun.   My other friend, let’s call him “Scott”…   well, that actually is his name, had no idea what a podcast is and offered to do some dance moves in the background.  We played along.

Unlike most ideas, we didn’t let this one drop.  While it’s not a business venture and we’re not expecting to profit from it, it was a great reason to stay connected an get together more frequently.   We threw together a website, gave ourselves a crash course on podcasting, and recorded and released our first episode on iTunes today.  Making that first episode was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.  Looking forward to the rest of them.

While it’s not a domaining related podcast, I invite you to check it out “I Used to Watch This?” on iTunes or where ever you happen to get your podcasts.  Give us a rating if you like it and stay tuned for the next episode where we talk about one of my favorite childhood shows.  I’m not the youngest domainer on the block so some of these may be hidden treasures younger people should check out to see how good/bad TV used to be.

VPN.com – Just like that!

VPN.com

Michael Gargiulo is a simple visionary. He loves to dream and get seriously bored with people who do not know how. He enjoys building websites and driving quality traffic to them. He studied finance and risk management but his competitive advantage over others is in search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization.

Sully:  You are the founder and CEO of VPN.com.  Tell me about the company and what you do.  Is it a VPN comparison site?

Michael: Thanks for the opportunity Sully to share some ideas with your readers. And yes, I am the founder of VPN.com where we provide information on more than 900 different VPN providers to help you find the right VPN for your needs and budget. We have spent thousands of hours researching the industry and nearly every provider inside of it to make it easy for potential customers to quickly find the information they are looking for before buying and downloading.

Sully:  In 2017 you acquired VPN.com.  I’m going to take a wild guess that purchasing a 3 letter category killer name wasn’t a cheap affair.  Can you tell me about how you came across the opportunity? Are you willing to share the purchase price?

Michael: This was probably the toughest part of our journey thus far. I had been pursuing the previous owner for more than four years before a deal was struck. Most of the time, I didn’t get replies to my emails or phone calls so it wasn’t like a negotiation was made during that time either. Three years into my chase, I brought in a broker to help with the acquisition and after working with him for nine months we were finally able to put a deal together. I highly recommend a broker for large transactions like this as we nearly lost the opportunity to someone else several times there at the end.

And unfortunately, I am under an NDA through July of 2018 on the exact price but I can say we will be in the top 10 domain purchases of 2017 according to DN Journal’s 2017 Year-to-Date Top 100 Sales Chart.

Sully:  Why a VPN comparison site.  Why not offer your own VPN service with a name like VPN.com?

Michael: We looked at several models for our site. Of course, building and selling our own VPN was one of them. In this space, you need $2-3 million to develop a competitive suite of products. We were not interested in making that investment to become just another VPN provider. Instead we wanted to maximize the potential of our domain name and we let this guide us to the version of the site you see now. Just like Cars.com, Hotels.com, and Apartments.com, none of these multi-billion dollar corporations own the products they provide information offer.

I believe if we execute on our current strategy over the next 18 months, we can bring 20 million people to the site per month and that type of volume will continue to attract many opportunities.

 

Sully:  This isn’t your first crack at business and not your first time leveraging a premium keyword domain name.  Tell me about ProxyServer.com and the business there.

Michael: I have been in the proxy and VPN space for nearly a decade now and it started in high school when I was trying to unblock different websites behind the school firewall. Its interesting to reflect back on those days. Most grand visions, like ours, take years to prune and even longer to gather the proper resources for. I am lucky to have ProxyServer.com and lessons it taught us. Without it, VPN would have never happened.

ProxyServer.com was the precursor to VPN.com. While we were trying to acquire the VPN.com domain I actually had most of the technology we would attempt to initially sell on VPN.com already set up and being sold on ProxyServer.com. I knew if we acquired VPN, we could easily migrate it over or pivot to another model.

 

Sully:  How important have you found the quality of your domain name to be in relation to the success of your business?

Michael: The domain name was the best investment the company will ever make. VPN providers, teammates, new hires, and even competitors take us seriously and for no other reason than our name is VPN.com. I have had many great conversations with CEOs and executives of some of the largest VPN companies on earth because our name is VPN.com.

I still don’t think we fully understand the value of owning the name. Moving forward, I think the domain will continue creating inbound opportunities for us especially as we move on to page one in Google for “VPN.” No matter if you are a provider, competitor, end user or investor, people will always respect a name like ours.

In addition, we receive dozens of offers on a monthly basis to buy or invest in the project along with some incredible partnership opportunities from various VPN providers. This tells me we are on the right track and that people are watching.

Sully:  You seem like you’re still a young guy, but while in college you bought and sold more than $2 million dollars of unwanted gift cards. How did you do this?

Michael: The gift card hustle was a critical period of my life. Primarily through Craigslist and eBay, I was able to purchase cards at a discount and resell them to larger buyers and make my cut on the spread. Selling the cards was much easier than finding people you could trust and buy from. Thankfully, I developed several relationships with contractors and builders who were constantly turning over cards and needed a quick way to cash them out.

Most of the profits I generated from gift cards I invested into my first websites. I knew gift cards would not last forever and wanted to move to a form of income that was a bit more hands off. Looking back on it, it was small decisions like this that moved me in the direction of what became VPN.

 

Sully:  You also built and grew 3 websites to 3,000,000+ monthly visitors (making $2-3k per day).  Can you give up some of your secrets? What’s the story behind these sites?

Michael: My biggest secret is buying a great name. The location you offer your products matters even more online. I was fortunate to make some solid domain acquisitions early on in my career that offered me great insight into search engine optimization. I grew all of my sites organically through search engine traffic and I have always believed if I couple a great name with a great experience there was absolutely no way I could lose with my visitors and no way I could lose with search engines like Google. Basically, this is the same formula I used for VPN.com and I expect to see similar results with it over the next 18 months.

Thank you for this opportunity Sully and everyone reading. Check out our latest VPN article on Yahoo targeted at Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, and Netflix VPNs. We plan to deliver more accountability to brands who don’t take the privacy of their users seriously. Stay tuned!

And feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Vaporize the dot com

dot ca

Vaporizers.ca is a family run business and was started to help spread the word on vaporization and show the world that there is a better way to get the benefits from plants and essential oils.  Damon Inlow is the owner of Vaporizers.ca and took some time to discuss with me.

Mike:  Damon, you have a category-defining keyword domain for your website.  Did you register this domain through the normal process or did you purchase the name on the aftermarket?  Tell us about the process.

Damon:  Back in 2005, there was only a handful of American Vaporizer dealers, and we were the only Canadian vaporizer dealer. Not many people even knew about the concept of using herbs with vaporizers and very few people sold them. One big advantage of being the first vaporizer dealer in Canada is that we did have our pick of .ca domains. We decided to go with vaporizers.ca through the normal registration process.

 

Mike:  The tld of your domain is dot ca, which represents Canada.  How well have you found this tld to work for you as compared to a dot com name?

Damon:  With our product, we wanted to focus on the Canadian market. The .ca has been good for that, but it certainly limits your United States rankings and search exposure. If your goal is North America, you definitely want a .com as well as a .ca. For a focus on the Canadian market only, the .ca domains are a great choice.

 

Mike:  I don’t smoke or vape.  The site mentions “a much safer and healthier alternative to smoking.”  Is that a scientific fact or merely a guess based on limited information available?

Damon:  Smoking is combustion; combustion produces tars and other toxins. If you remove the smoke part and vaporize, you then only get the essence of the herb. Some herbs, like tobacco, are still bad news, but most herbs are safe when vaporized. There are many studies on vaporization, mostly medical, that are easy enough to find. Israel has done a lot of those studies.

 

Mike:  I’m not familiar with the laws regarding the devices.  Are there laws in Canada and the US regulating the sale?  Does that complicate things for you?

Damon:  Vaporizers can be used with hundreds of legal herbs so there are no laws against them. The American Government tried to cause problems over a decade ago, but they lost in court. The court clearly saw how many legal herbs you can vaporize and its medical uses. We have dealt with many non-legal complications like PayPal issues and advertising restrictions.

Mike:  Do you do any advertising outside of organic search engine results?  Do you use Google AdWords or any other paid advertising results?  If so, what has been your experience?

Damon:  We use organic searches as well as some limited advertising. AdWords blocked Vaporizers many years ago as well as Facebook. It was a very unpleasant experience at first as they were very ignorant of the benefits of vaporizing and the policies were not clear at all.

Mike:  What has been the biggest challenge running an online business?  How have you navigated this?

Damon:  Getting the page setup and getting those initial sales is tough for sure but we find the biggest challenges are the logistics. Not only getting the inventory to us but shipping across the country. Takes a lot of work and shipping is always a loss money wise. Every year rates go up and we lose more money on shipping. You can go dropship, but it’s hard to find a reliable one you can trust. Customer satisfaction is key and if your dropshipper fails, you fail.

Shocking Interview

keyword domain

Kelly Bedrich is the Co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com and President of Cypress Capital Ventures. He is an IT entrepreneur focused on acquiring, marketing, and improving e-commerce sites. His current emphasis is on taking ideas from startup to maturity with sustainable business benefits.

Kelly is skilled at building and executing strategic initiatives by leading global product teams and guiding technical teams to bring results-oriented businesses to life. He is driven to build and develop efficient operational sites that maximize sales and marketing pipelines through low cost of customer acquisition and high retention.

Mike:  Kelly, what got you interested in comparing utility plans?

Kelly:  Good question. My co-founder and I both live in Texas, which has had an active retail energy deregulation market since around 2002. Like most Texans, we would have to choose our electricity provider and sign a new contract every year or so. To do that, we would usually visit the comparison site operated by the Texas Public Utility Commission called Power To Choose. The last few times we did this, we became increasingly confused and frustrated by their site and knew there had to be a better way. We wanted to answer some basic questions like:

  • What would be the $ amount of my utility bill if I chose a specific plan?
  • Why does Texas have 3 electricity rates on each plan?
  • What’s the catch with the teaser rates that appeared to be too good to be true?

The PUC site and other comparison sites in the market weren’t doing these things, so we decided to start our own. We focus on rate transparency and quality content that explains some of the inner workings of the retail electricity industry so that customers can make informed choices and save money in the process.

Mike:  Were you the first to register  ElectricityPlans.com and NaturalGasPlans.com  or were these domains you purchased on the aftermarket?

Kelly:  We acquired ElectricityPlans.com in late 2015 from a broker. However, we were able to purchase the .net version as well as both NaturalGasPlans.com and .net in 2016 as new domains. We launched ElectricityPlans.com in early 2017.

Mike:  Explain your business model.  How do the sites generate revenue?  Do you get a cut if someone switches providers?

Kelly: That’s correct. Like most comparison sites we are basically a matchmaker between buyers and sellers. Our focus is for the buyers (electricity shoppers) to find the best possible rate for their needs. To make this happen, we get paid a small commission from our retail electricity partners if a customer signs up for one of their plans. We do this both through affiliate links and through direct APIs with the electricity providers. We also have a free electricity shopping service for Texas customers where we compare a customer’s usage to our database and select the right plan for them.

Mike:  How well do your sites rank in Google?  ElectricityPlans.com comes up on the first page when I search for “Electricity Plans” (without quotes).  Did you have to put any extra effort into that ranking?

Kelly:  Since our industry is highly competitive on specific keywords, we don’t focus much on how our overall site ranks in Google or Bing. However, we religiously watch how certain keywords rank for us. Our customers typically don’t search for ‘electricity plans’ but instead search for keywords that vary by different states. We currently have 382 keywords (including variants) that appear in the top 10 slots on Google. We also have similar numbers on Bing. We’ve accumulated these results through classic SEO techniques like content focus and site authority.

There’s definitely extra effort over and above simply acquiring and launching an EMD (Exact Match Domain) site. There’s really no such thing as an EMD bonus anymore from Google. In late 2012, Google cracked down on ranking sites simply based on their domains. In fact, they began to penalize EMDs with poor quality sites according to Search Engine Land (source: https://searchengineland.com/ library/google/emd-update ).

In our experience, building out an EMD site really boils down to basic SEO – have a good quality user experience (including mobile), write good content, and focus on building backlinks. The benefit that you have from including an informative keyword in your domain is that you immediately set the user’s expectation for what they will get. If you site is done well, this will help your site’s overall authority and help in areas like bounce rates and backlinks. In our case it also helps potential partners find us.

Mike:   Have you received any unsolicited offers on the names?  Anything worth considering?

Kelly:  Yes, occasionally, but since we are an active revenue site I think buyers tend to shy away from making offers on just the names. There is an active market for domains in the energy vertical and we do watch the market for domains with our keywords. We have purchased several related keyword domains more as a defensive move than anything else.

Mike:  Do you feel it’s possible for anyone to make a living online with a good domain name?

Kelly:   Unfortunately, no. It takes a combination of several factors to make a living doing this in my opinion.

First, it isn’t really about the domain. It’s more about the product/service, content, and experience that you give to site visitors. Simply launching a site with a few keywords in the domain won’t get you very far. Think through your own digital shopping experiences and consider your recent positive experiences. This includes everything from things like product quality and customer service to the site interface itself. Do these things well.

Second, your product/service has to be marketed. If simply launching your site with a keyword or two in the domain is your marketing plan, you’ll likely be waiting a while (if any sales come through at all). By the way, marketing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. There’s a lot of room for creativity here.

Next, focus on your competitive advantage if your site is entering a competitive market. Do your due diligence on competitors and see what you like or don’t like about their products.

Finally, there’s the personal and financial aspect of owning a site. Do you have the financial backing to not only launch a site but scale it up to profitability? Do you have the patience to write content and duke it out in the battle for keywords? Have you determined what makes you uniquely qualified to fill a specific need? All of these factors come into play when deciding if you can head down the entrepreneurial path and make a living online.
Mike:  I noticed you have only a couple of states associated with the gas and electric sites.  Why is that?   Any plans on expanding?

Kelly:  Yes, definitely. We are currently in Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut with our electricity site and Ohio and Michigan with our natural gas site. We are definitely planning on expanding to other deregulated markets (there are 14 total for electricity and 20 for gas). We will soon go through the licensing and certification process in the other deregulated markets and enter them in an orderly manner through the end of 2018.

In addition, many countries have varying degrees of energy choice for consumers. Our long term plan is to enter these markets as well.