Domains, Celebrity Skulls, and Dead Ringers

DeadRingers.com

With over 2 decades of experience and thousands of hours helicopter time plus 14 books and 5 videos to his credit, Russ Heinl is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost aerial photographers.  His love of aviation, photography and adventure has taken him over virtually every corner of Canada and Alaska as well as over America and Europe.  However this is not what grabbed my attention.  I stumbled across Russ’ site at DeadRingers.com and I had to learn more about it.

Mike: Russ, you mentioned to me that the site, DeadRingers.com, is fairly new. How long has it been up and where did the idea come from?

Russ: Yes the Dead Ringers site is fairly new and the line has not officially launched yet although we are about to do that. The last few years has been spent developing the digital skulls, the 3-D CAD design work and precision molds that were done in Germany as we needed the highest quality possible and the Europeans are known for this.

So you asked where did the idea come from. As you know Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top owns two of our Dead Ringers “Jimi” (Jimi Hendrix) skull rings and Billy asked me the same question. As I explained to him I blame the whole thing on Keith Richards as I was looking at a portrait photo of Keith and he had his hands on this face and his infamous skull ring was in full view. I call this the light switch moment; when looking at the ring I thought to myself “that is a cool ring but wouldn’t it be really cool if it was HIS skull?” Then I thought what a twisted thought but I couldn’t put it down and a few days later I started exploring forensic sculpting ( facial reconstruction ) to see if it was possible to create a digital model of Keith’s skull, we used about 50 photographs and police mug shots for this. Once Keith was done then I moved on to “Jimi” and then the rest of the line took shape. These skull rings are exact recreations of these artist’s skulls with a degree of artistic license taken to make them wearable.

Mike: The rings are pretty bad ass. You actually make them?

Russ: Thanks, glad we got your attention. As I like to say in a previous life I was in the rock & roll industry and am now a photographer doing aerial work and car racing photography however I am not a jeweler, that is why I hired the best in the industry to help me develop the line from it’s initial concept. The silver rings are cast and finished in Canada and the gold and diamond versions are done in Germany.

 

Mike: DeadRingers.com is a premium domain name. Tell me about how you acquired it and can you share the purchase price?

Russ: Dead Ringers started as DeadRingers.ca as the .com was of course taken. A bit of history for you here: The name of the company is perfect for a few reasons. First we are dealing with “Dead” and human skulls with the exception of Keith and that is whole other story. Then we have “Ringers” and we make rings. The real hook here is that the origins of the phrase “Dead Ringers” means “an exact duplicate or replica” which is what we’ve done by recreating these famous rock star skulls. The phrase “Dead Ringers” was originally used as a “ringer” was a stand-in for a horse race when owners would secretly replace a slower horse with a faster horse of vice versa for later betting purposes. So of course the horses had to look very similar in order to pull off this con. The use of the word “dead” here is like “dead on” or “dead right”.

Now back to your question Mike. We had DeadRingers.ca and I never dreamed of owning DeadRingers.com as it was such a premium domain name then one day out of the blue I had an email from a domain registrar who had sniped DeadRingers.com as it was let go by the former owner. They had a price in mind in the low 4 figures but we ended up buying it for about $500.00 which I believe was money well spent. To protect the brand we’ve also been busy buying all of the other “Dead Ringers” domain names such as DeadRingers.rocks, DeadRingers.online, DeadRingers.jewelry etc etc.

 

Mike: I realize the site is young, but how much traffic are you receiving at this point? What means are you planning to use to promote the site in the future?

Russ: As mentioned the site is very young and we have no expectations for how much traffic we ought to be getting at this stage although it is encouraging to see it increasing on a daily basis. In the last two weeks we got Dead Ringers onto Etsy and eBay and began an ad campaign with Google AdWords. We were able to acquire an extensive media contact list that covers all the appropriate media outlets in North America and Europe, we will be sending out press releases to all of them in the next few weeks. We are at the moment working with a few other celebrities so we are holding off on the press releases until a few things are finalized.

Last week we became an official sponsor of Rock Legends Cruise VI 2018 which is a hugely successful floating rock and roll cruise going into its 6th year of operation. Each Rock Legends Cruise sailing has about 2,000 die hard rock fans aboard and the entertainment is supplied by about 15 to 20 famous rock bands that play through out the cruise. As a sponsor we will be featured in all their newsletters and member updates, their membership list is very, very large so we know Dead Ringers will enjoy a lot of exposure from our association with them. We are also planning a few other high profile sponsorships.

 

Mike: There are celebrities wearing your rings, people like Johnny Depp. Have you gotten feedback from these celebs?

Russ: Yes we do have a few celebrities wearing Dead Ringers skull rings. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top is a friend and he has been very supportive of what we do and as you know he owns two of our “Jimi” rings, I recall when I gave them to him he said in his distinctive Texas drawl “Nice….. really nice. And the background story…… priceless”. The “Jimi” rings have special meaning for Billy as his first band the Moving Sidewalks toured with Jimi Hendrix in early ’68, both guitarists became close friends.

Richard Rawlings the star of the reality TV show Fast N Loud, owner of the Gas Monkey Garage and Gas Monkey Bar N Grill owns a “Jimbo” (Jim Morrison) skull ring and he has told me a few times how pleased he is with “Jimbo”.

Johnny Depp I’ve not spoken to directly as I work with his publicist and she has passed on that JD likes his “Keith” (Keith Richards) ring.

 

Mike: How is it running an online store? What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced?

Russ: The first challenge was getting from the concept of recreating a person’s skull to the making of fine art jewelry and I think we did a good job of that. The next hurtle is getting recognized online in a world awash with so many competing products. I have no idea how many people or companies are making skull rings but safe to say there are hundreds of them. So how do you get noticed with all that competition? We have a few things going in our favor. First, we have a truly unique product in that we are the only ones to ever use forensic sculpting or facial reconstruction to recreate a person’s skull and then take that digital skull and turn it into fine jewelry.

Secondly, we have rock and roll celebrity on our side in that we have recreated the skulls of four of rocks greatest legends. Everyone loves a great story that accompanies a fine product and I think we’ve got that. Now the next challenge is getting the word out there and getting some media buzz happening.

Rent.cc – A $4,000 Drop in the Bucket

Rentec Direct provides affordable property management software solutions to property managers and landlords. Other popular solutions offered by Rentec Direct include online tenant rent payments, professional websites and domain registration, tenant credit check services, and electronic lease signing.

Mike:  Nathan, tell me a little bit about your background.

Nathan:  I began my career in the internet industry as a partner in VISP.NET, an Oregon internet based business, growing it from a client base of less than 10 to the largest nationwide wholesale internet provider in the country.  As my real-estate portfolio grew I required a management platform designed for private landlords to manage the day-to-day operations of renting properties.  At the time nothing existed that was good enough and nothing was cost focused towards private landlords.  From my software development roots, I developed and founded Rentec Direct in 2009 which today provides property management software and tenant screening services to over 12,000 landlords and property managers.  Rentec Direct has quickly grown to be the third largest software platform within their market.

 

Mike:  You recently purchased the domain name rent.cc.  What are your intentions for this domain?  What can we expect to see once it’s developed?

Nathan:  We have big plans for rent.cc, with our primary intention of using it to assist our existing client base with growth.  Currently the market has many pay-per-lead services for property managers to buy prospective tenant leads, and most of these services just aren’t cost effective for smaller managers.  We plan on building rent.cc into the nations largest free tenant to property manager connection service.  We grow when our clients grow, so we’ll begin offering this service free to our existing clients followed by all other property managers nationwide.

 

Mike:  Can you share what you paid for the name and the process you went through to acquire it?

Nathan:  Initially we purchased the domain from a broker called NameJet; however, the sale fell through because their records were inaccurate and they did not possess the domain at the time of our purchase.  The domain had purchased by a Chinese based company from it’s previous owner (who listed it on NameJet) and subsequently listed on SEDO with a substantial markup.  We ended up paying $4,000 USD for it.  We anticipate this investment to be a drop in the bucket compared to the growth benefit our clients will receive from it.

 

Mike:  What are your thoughts on the .cc tld or any other non-dot-com tld?  How do they compare to dot com

Nathan:  Well, .com is clearly the leader and most recognizable TLD on the internet; however, it’s near impossible to register a single or double word .com these days since they are all taken.  A .com of the same wording and length can cost 1000% more than a .co or .cc domain.  Some of the more recent TLD such as .cc and .co have been gaining popularity and value every year.  The shorter the domain the easier it is to remember, so when a startup is choosing a domain or an existing company is getting online these .cc, .co and other popular TLDs are a very attractive option.

That said, .com is still king of the hill when it comes to domains and familiarity.  We have rentecdirect.com and rentec.co and we choose to still rely upon rentecdirect.com even though it’s longer just because there’s no question about the end of it.

 

Mike:  You also have a couple of other domains pointing to your main site at rentecdirect.com.  Those other domains are  propertymanage.biz, themanager.biz.   How much traffic do you gain from doing this or what advantage does this have?

Nathan:  propertymanage.biz and themanager.biz are for our clients so they can have professional websites hosted on our system.  We use these domains as generic hosting for property managers to give them a free and quick website to promote their business prior to hiring a professional web design firm.  An example is http://demo.propertymanage.biz.  Other domains such as rentec.co and rentec.biz were purchased to save words on the phone when somebody asks for our email or website.  I can just say “go to rentec.co” to see our products which can, at times, be easier than asking somebody to go to rentecdirect.com.  Aside from that, they do not provide us any additional value other than maintaining our brand and keeping our options open in the future if we ever wanted to re-brand as just “Rentec”.

 

Mike:  Do you plan on any other domain purchases in the future to supplement your business or start a new business?

Nathan:  I’m always on the lookout for short or meaningful domains that can benefit the property management industry; however, rent.cc was a very recent purchase and we’re just getting our development resources ramped up to jump on that project so I don’t have any new companies or domains in mind at the moment.  Give me a few months. 🙂

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?

Strategy of a domain sale

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had an interesting conversation with Spencer Yao of smallbusiness-domain.com, a provider of domain name, web hosting, and e-commerce reviews, rankings, comparisons, & coupons.  Spencer was telling me about a recent domain sale his company was involved in.  He walked me through the life cycle from the initial purchase to the sale.  Spencer’s scenario provides some good food for thought when buying domain names with the intent to sell and I asked him to summarize his experience to share with you.

Back in mid 2009, we were approached by a seller looking to quickly dispose of some premium domain names in the beauty and apparel vertical. The acquisition was opportunistic and serendipitous and we did not have much time to decide because the seller wanted to move fast.  Although we had no direct experience in this beauty/apparel category (our group had substantial technical and monetization experience), we purchased one of the better domains because we thought it was truly “premium”, had decent type-in traffic, mapped to a common search term with clear commercial intent, and at an adequate discount to mitigate the risk.  Unfortunately, we cannot disclose the name, but that does not change the content of this article.

Below is a summary of our strategies to maximize value and eventual exit for the domain.

  Description Upside Risks Results
Strategy 1 Build an ecommerce site similar to Diapers.com or Hammocks.com Highest potential reward and risk. Requires most technical & financial resources. We had no direct industry experience in this vertical. Industry was too low margin and fragmented to support such a business.
Strategy 2 Turnkey site based on shopping engine listings. Hope premium domain name helps in SEO results. Much less work and maintenance than Scenario 1. Use API to auto generate sub categories and pages. Development costs to properly access & publish API. Little to no original content. Hard to monetize. Parked domain generated more revenue even though site had hundreds of pages.
Strategy 3 Park, hold, and sell the domain. Little to no work involved Not adding any value to the domain. Hope we paid a low enough price to hold and wait for a buyer Last resort. Chose this scenario after exploring #1 and building #2.

We determined Strategy 1 was not feasible after 4-6 weeks of post purchase research – this sub-category within Beauty/Apparel was too low margin to support an ecommerce business like Diapers.com or Hammocks.com   It took us 4-6 months to build out and vet Strategy 2 – we determined that parking the domain generated more revenue with lower costs than the turnkey site.

Unfortunately, we were left with Strategy 3, which meant parking the domain and hoping for a buyer.  To try and garner as many buyers as possible we looked at the following services:

  • Domain Listing Services like Sedo and BuyDomains. We found these services provided little to no value even though they charged a substantial commission for listing a domain in their database.
  • Domain Brokers.  We retained several brokers who actively marketed the domain and emailed buyers on our behalf.  Through several cycles, we received a handful of offers for about 50% to 80% of our target price which did not include the 10%-15% commission the broker earned if the sale was completed.  The offers were from domain speculators who wanted to sit on the domain and flip it.  This meant it would be hard for us to achieve “full value” through a broker.
  • “For Sale” sign on the parked page.  This is how we eventually sold the domain at our target price to a buyer who wanted to develop it into a website.  The upside was that we received full price without having to pay a commission, but the downside was we held the domain for over 3 years before selling it.

In summary, we purchased the domain (for mid to low 5 figures) and sold it for 30%-35% more than we paid, not including the work we put into Strategies 1 & 2.  Comparing this to an investment benchmark such as the S&P 500 (which gained 39% over the same 3 year period), meant we were better off taking those funds and investing them in the market.  However, since we were forced into Strategy 3, we were happy to make a slight “profit”. We could have waited for a buyer willing to pay more, but that could have taken years to achieve.

Lessons Learned

If you are going to invest substantial dollars into a domain name, we learned the following valuable lessons: 1) Have a concrete development plan to turn the domain into a viable website. Direct industry experience is essential. 2) For maximum price, be prepared to sell the domain yourself and wait years for the right buyer. If you need liquidity in less than 6 months, use a domain broker and be willing to take 35 cents to 70 cents on the dollar.3) The market for premium domains seems to have peaked around 2007-2008 and has yet to recover to those levels. You have to consider this when looking at pre 2008 domain sales for comparison.

Take the risk out of domaining and boost your sales!

I have to admit, when I started domaining, I disregarded the advice of the pros and the veterans.  They all suggested saving my money and instead of buying a pile of worthless hand regs and low dollar domains, to instead save an buy a good  premium domain.  In hindsight, that would have been the way to go.  I wasted a great deal of time and money.  Initially, I thought it was too risky to put that much money into a domain.  However, it wasn’t a total loss.  While using the low end domains, I learned about contacting end users, what other domainers were interested in, and how to gauge the value of a domain name.

Another thing I learned was that people were hesitant to pay a premium for domains.  Not just me.  Sure, we all want to get a great deal and, at a minimum, not to get screwed in the process.

Think about how much more willing you would be to buy if you knew there was no risk.  Think about how much easier it would be to sell if you could assure your buyer that there was zero risk in the transaction for them.  How do you achieve that?   Well, you as the seller take on the risk.

Here’s what I mean.  I recently found myself in a situation where I was contacting end users on a particular domain.  There was a single company that responded and was interested.  With all the effort I put in and only had a single bite, I wanted to maximize the opportunity and make the sale.  After several conversations it became clear that the main contact was afraid to pull the trigger.  I got the sense that he was feeling he was taking a risk with the name… that it might not do for his business what he hoped it would and the investment would be lost.

Once I realized that, I decided to take a bold step.  I decided to offer him a risk free transaction.  I put in writing that if he was not satisfied with the name 90 days from the date of the transaction, I would purchase the name back at the same price.  BAM!  Risk removed.

Yes, there are some drawbacks to this approach.  Primarily, you might end up with the domain again and be starting from scratch.  But here’s my logic:

  • First, I don’t generally buy domains (anymore) that I don’t personally have an interest in myself.  So if it ends up back in my portfolio, I am comfortable with that.
  • Second, when I contact end users, I am setting the value on the domain that I am willing to sell at.  That said, this process helps ensure a fair prices, since I may end up re-purchasing the name.
  • Third, and most importantly, I am confident that they will find value in the name.

I’m not planning on using this approach in all situations.  For example:

  • I would not do this with a domain I did not find value in… which I shouldn’t be selling in the first place.
  • I would not knowingly offer this to a fellow domain investor who would likely look to resell at a profit and return to me if he was unsuccessful.

This approach has worked for me and I will continue to implement it where it makes sense.  There’s no reason it can’t work for you as well.