Interviews

Starting up with Dot io

I recently came across an article I thought was interesting.  I’m a bit of a productivity enthusiest and I enjoy hearing how others manage multiple projects.  That’s where I was first introduced to Stuart Brent.  Talk about managing multiple projects, Stuart is a serial founder, whose projects include Vacord Screen Printing, userinput.io, startupresources.io and startupaffiliate.io.  I had a chance to ask him a few questions and here’s what he had to say.

Mike: You founded a successful printing company back in 2006. Since then, you have dabbled in many things and started some additional projects such as stratupresources.io and user input.io. What interested you about the online aspect of business?

Stuart: Well, I’ve been a geek for a long time. In middle school I liked QuickBASIC programming and learned HTML. In college, I studied Information Science. So it’s old hat to me, being online.

I started the t-shirt printing business in 2006, just out of my basement. It was a hobby that I monetized and decided to pursue full time. I didn’t know marketing then, but I had been interested in owning my own business for a long time. I already liked making websites, and knew I needed one for the business, so I built a site. A friend of mine was doing SEO for a living, which I hadn’t really heard of, but I traded him beer to teach me the basics, and I ranked for some terms. Honestly, marketing online and having a slim operation let my business survive the great recession around 2008, which killed a lot of print shops.

My interest in SEO lead me to getting more domains. This was back in the easy days before the infamous Penguin/Panda Google update that killed the power of Exact Match Domains. I had my main domain for the screen printing site, vacord.com, but I also bought waterbasedscreenprinting.com and dischargescreenprinting.com, since those were types of inks that I specialized in, as well as customamericanapparel.net to focus on printing on American Apparel shirts, which is more profitable.

Penguin/Panda made those side domains very pointless very fast once the update took effect. One year, customamericanapparel.net brought in $80k worth of screen printing orders, which was great for a side domain. But after that update, it plummeted in the rankings and was worthless. I’ve since let all these other domains expire, and just focus on regular marketing for the screen printing business.

I experimented with dropship businesses too before that Google update, and had a lot of weird exact match domains, including dogstairssteps.com which sold dog stairs, like for small dogs to get on the couch or up onto a tall bed. I’ve bought a ton of domains over the years, including a lot of weird ones to try to take advantage of Exact Match Domains back in the day.

I always wanted more businesses than just the screen printing business, but dropshipping did not work out. Around 2013, I got interested in the startup world, and launched my first startup, which provided reviews of online dating profiles. It was a neat idea, but it failed. I learned a ton during that whole process. It was a better education than college.

I love the online aspect of business because I honestly just love marketing. I think it’s fascinating. And the internet itself is incredible. And businesses just have to have a good online presence to survive and thrive now.

Plus obviously there are the wonderful aspects of online businesses like remote working, and shaping your own career and all that. I shifted myself out of the screen printing production, so now I just work in a nice office by myself, which I like. And I can work from a laptop anywhere, and that’s the dream, right? It gives you a lot of freedom.

Mike: You have seem to take a liking to dot io domain names, as many startups have. What is the attraction to the TLD from your perspective?

Stuart: I think it’s sort of silly, but startups have adopted the .io domain and I just went with the trend. I assume originally they took to it because “IO” sounds like “input/output”, which is techy. It actually means “Indian Ocean”, as .io is a country TLD that was just sold off commercial, like so many countries have done with their TLDs.

So it’s just part of the startup branding to use .io. I’ve found in surveys that people are confused by .io as a domain, and I think it’s better to use a .com if you can, if your service isn’t targeted to startup people. But we all know how hard it is to find a good .com.

I usually look for a .io domain now when I have a new project idea, but I will get the .com also if it is available.

Mike: Tell me about startupresources.io. It’s a great collection of categories and resources to consider for any new business.

Stuart: I loved that project. I’ve actually sold it off now, but I kind of miss running the site. I just had too many projects going, and offered it to someone, to get it off my plate, and to help get rid of some credit card debt!

That site had a pretty simple origin: My memory is lousy. A friend had told me about some Twitter growth tool, and I for the life of me couldn’t remember the name. So I decided to start keeping a list for myself of all the tools I came across with all their weird names, so that I couldn’t forget the cool resources that I heard about.

A lot of my business ideas are born on road trips, and it was while driving to my in-laws that I realized I should make that list into a public site. It was good timing on my part because on Product Hunt, curation sites were getting pretty popular. I got the site to #1 on Product Hunt when I listed it, and got consistent traffic from then on. And then the curation site trend sort of crested, so it’s good I did it when I did.

But anyway, that site is just a lot of categories relevant to startups and online businesses (SEO Tools, domain services, hosting services, feedback tools, etc), with 3 to 7 of the tools I liked listed. And there is a weekly newsletter tool with new tools and blog posts. It’s all still active, and it’s cool to be in the audience rather than running it now. I still submit new tools that I find to the site.

Mike: What is the business model on that site? Is it a lead gen business? Do the businesses pay to be listed? The value of this site is not diminished in anyway by sponsors listings, if that is the case.

Stuart: It had a few revenue channels, but never made a ton of money. It made plenty, and the return on investment was incredible, since all I did was buy a domain and use a template to build a flat site. Building that site made me realize that you can make money with JUST a domain and an idea, compared to having to hire a developer and build a startup. That site made way more than my first actual startup, and with tremendously less investment.

It wasn’t really lead gen, though I did retarget the traffic to market my t-shirt business to the visitors, and also market my website feedback service to them.

Businesses could pay to get listed really quickly instead of waiting a few weeks or months to get on the site. But really, it was affiliate sales. I never put a product up there that I didn’t actually think was a quality tool, but if a service had an affiliate program, I enrolled and used an affiliate link. It was my first foray into the affiliate world, and it’s harder to make money with affiliate stuff than people say it is, but I liked the affiliate world. I learned a ton about it.

I did some sponsorships of the newsletters, but not a ton. I actually ended up selling the whole site to a sponsor, who took it over and has done a great job keeping the spirit of the site the same.

Mike: How difficult is it to maintain a site like this and find sponsors?

Stuart: It was hard to maintain because I’m only a front end developer, not a back end. If I had had an actual database, and could have automated the listings and everything, things would have been so much easier. Or if I had used PUG or something to generate the pages more easily. Since it was a flat site, maintenance was easy, but updating it was annoying. And people submitted tools constantly. Everyone with a Startup is desperate to get attention to it, so I would get a lot of submissions. I’d have to manually add them to the pages, and I had some tricks to make it easier (like using Zapier to write submissions to a Google sheet which also embedded the HTML formatting needed) but it still was a chore. I often only added the expedited submissions.

I never sought out sponsors, they’d find me. When someone submitted a tool, I’d see if they had an affiliate program I could use. I could have done a ton more with the site, but never made it my main focus.

Mike: How about userinput.io? How did this idea come about and has it caught on?

Stuart: In 2013, I found feedbackarmy.com, which is defunct now but let you get on-demand feedback, and I used it to get feedback on my sites and I got really curious how that site worked and where the reviewers came from. So I researched it, and found that he used Mechanical Turk, which is Amazon’s digital workforce that does little odd jobs on the internet, like categorizing, transcription, surveys etc. I was totally fascinated by it, and wanted to use that workforce to build a service.

At first, I thought I could use those workers to do resume reviews, but that didn’t really make sense. Then I realized they could give feedback on dating profiles. Like if a guy has an OkCupid profile, he could submit his profile and get 5 women to tell him what they like and dislike about it, if he seems creepy in any way, how he could improve it, what pictures to get rid of or highlight, etc etc. I built a service around that (side note, I met my wife on OkCupid after using my service on my own profiles!)

But the dating feedback startup was really just a super difficult model to pursue (you can read more about the issues at igniteyourmatch.com), with a lot of inherent issues and marketing difficulty. So I started thinking, well what if I just make a better version of feedbackarmy.com? So I did.

It’s been a slow slog, and the project has been mostly backburnered during its whole existence, but it was fairly simple to build out, and it gets a lot of orders every month without much effort from me. I’m not currently doing any marketing for it. I’m about to finish a major overhaul of the site, and I’ll start marketing and expand the services. Right now, it lets you get feedback on your website or business idea so you can learn how to improve. I’d like to have mobile app feedback as well as video reviews of websites sometime soon.

I think it has a lot of potential and I plan to focus on it in 2019.

Mike: Do you have any other projects you’re working on or any other domains you have plans to develop?

Stuart: Oh yes. In 2017, I had too many projects going on, and in 2018 I made a “no new projects” rule, and now that 2019 is approaching I joke that I’m going to go crazy with new projects again. But really, I just have old projects sitting that I’d like to pursue.

When I get a new idea and buy a domain, I always build a little waiting page, add an email list to it, and put it on Betalist. That’s a good way to start building a potential audience for when it launches, but also a way to judge interest. Some of these waiting lists get only up to 100 people, but some get to 1,000.

In 2019, I hope to finish out these side projects / domains:
appinput.io – Feedback / beta testing on mobile apps
startupaffiliate.io – My entry back into the affiliate world, a site to find and list startup related affiliate programs
launchready.io – A checklist of what you need to do before, during, and after launching your startup

Also, I built conversionchecklist.org, which was a simple site that listed 40+ things you should do to try to improve the conversion rate on your website, and I also have marketingchecklist.org and retargetingchecklist.org, and I hope to write those in 2019 as well. These checklist sites are nice to get people in the very top of funnel for userinput.io.

Mike: What advice do you have for those of us looking to develop some of the domains in our portfolios? Is it worth the effort?

Stuart: Sure, it’s worth it if you want to do it, and you have a good plan that makes sense. It depends what domains you have already. I’ve learned you can get the best return with a small investment, meaning you won’t make a ton of money, but you can make some money without investing a ton. I invested $20k in the online dating startup, and it failed in the red, but I also made a lot relatively off startupresources.io, and didn’t spend anything on development. So the ROI was great.

Just think about what domains you have, and whether they could/should turn into a real service, an affiliate play, or an informational site that can be lead gen for another project. I’m a big fan now of side projects as a way to market a main project.

And don’t be scared to let domains expire or sell them off if you’re never going to really do anything with them! I’ve let so many go over the years.

But my main advice, think about how you can make money with the site without investing a ton in it, so that you can have the best ROI and the least risk. And have fun with business.

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Future of the Internet

Rob Monster – The Future Is Now!

I’ve always enjoyed my interviews and conversations with Rob Monster of Epik.com.I first interviewed Rob back in July of 2010 where he shared his vision of the internet and what he was doing to take things in that direction. You may recall the success of the product portal sites he offered to keyword domain holders until the Google algorithm change took a toll on the model. I connected with Rob a few years later in a Skype interview, in 2014, where he brought us up to speed on what Epik was up to at that time. In 2017, Rob talked to me about the acquisition of Underdeveloped.com. Most recently, Rob and I caught up just a couple of weeks ago where he gave me the details behind his involvement in DigitalTown.

Speaking with Rob is always insightful. He has vision, futuristic ideas and a passion for what he does. I always walk away with a new perspective on domaining, business, and other areas. He inspires me to think out of the box like no one else. This conversation was reminiscent of my first conversation with him back in 2010, but exponentially more advanced. With that said, let me share our conversation with you.

Mike: Rob, it’s been a while, how have you been?

Rob Monster: I’ve been good. It’s been a busy few years. In addition to running Epik, in May of 2015 the board of directors of DigitalTown approached me about coming on board to run their company and I’ve been very much active in running both companies although DigitalTown has taken on a life of its own. But personally good and in a good place. Making wise choices and generally speaking at peace with the Lord and very much governed by the Lord’s will.  And part of the Lord’s will for me has been to work on this project called DigitalTown while at the same time looking out for the interests of people who hold the names and protecting their intellectual property rights, oftentimes serving as an ombudsman on their behalf in an environment where I think we’re seeing growing amounts of censorship and a desire to take away personal sovereignty. That’s something that I feel strongly about. Domain names, in my view, is part of personal sovereignty. People should have the right to own domain names and to maintain their own digital identity and digital presence and that too should not be infringed. So whenever, to the extent I can support that, this is certainly a priority for me

Mike: Sure. It sounds pretty consistent with when I spoke to you way back in 2010. Seems like a lifetime ago but back then you had a pretty grandiose vision of the internet and where it should be for people and how it should work. I don’t know if you recall back then we were talking about things like linking the domains together, things like comments.com and questions.com and bridging from site to site.

Rob Monster: I would say that to a large extent that vision of global interoperability is what’s being manifested in DigitalTown. The idea that we can have single sign-on for the world and be able to, with one login, work with both the public sector and the private sector and be able to transact peer to peer, peer to merchants and peer to government, and that you should have the ability to maintain portable identity and portable reputation as you go from site to site and use case to use case. Questions and Comments and those types of projects which by the way were a co-development with the guy who owned the domains. We didn’t own the domains. And so those projects basically didn’t get commercialized due to kind of a lack of vision of that particular partner. But the idea of an interoperable web that is user centric, I never lost sight of that idea. In fact, I would say the move to the new TLDs to a large extent and now the arrival of blockchain as the catalyzing technology, is opening up vast possibilities to deliver on the vision that we first talked about back in 2010 when I was actually relatively new to the domain industry.

I started Epik in 2009 with a primary emphasis on mass development as you may recall and only because of Google taking away the Punch Bowl did that particular strategy not pan out. But had Google continued to index the vast number of sites that we were producing at the rate of about 250 new sites per week we would’ve had a vast, vast content and media network all connected through single sign-on and all empowering these various components like questions and comments and so forth. But when Google took the Punch Bowl away, that economic engine which was basically mass production of sites went from being a complete cash machine for both us and our clients to being basically a money loser because we were dealing with people who had bought a site that was not producing enough cash within the first year to recoup their investment. This is what we guaranteed.

I think that were it not for Google taking away the Punch Bowl, I think we would’ve been able to deliver the vision of a global media network connected to single sign-on where people could own their own sites but the user experience would’ve been interoperable between sites would’ve been achieved five years earlier.

Mike: You were definitely headed in that direction and I can just remember kind of randomly visiting sites and I could see they were powered by Epik and it was easy to link between the different keyword domain sites that were backed by your platform.

Rob Monster: It was quite an economic engine. It was making a lot of money for a lot of people.

Mike:  I remember that sweeping change that came with…

Rob Monster:  Google Panda.

DigitalTown Rob Monster

Mike: Yes, Google Panda and it pretty much undid everything there. But let’s switch the focus to DigitalTown. It’s very much tied to your vision, your original vision. I see you bought hundreds of thousands of domain names and it looks like a major focus is on the dot City names. Is that the direction that you’re continuing to follow?

Rob Monster: DigitalTown is built around the premise that every city can be its own Google, Amazon, Expedia, OpenTable, Airbnb, PayPal and Coinbase all in one, branded in the identity of the city and owned by the citizens through the mechanism of blockchain. Every city platform which is typically branded in the identity of, say, austin.city, dallas.city, toledo.city, you name it. It gets tokenized as a jointly owned platform at the rate of 10 city shares per capita.

A city share is a blockchain Ethereum smart contract that defines the relative ownership of the perpetual rights to the city platform branded in the identity of that particular city. The reason why we did it this way was recognizing that, in many cases, the municipalities where people live will not be as quick to adopt DigitalTown as a movement as might be the citizens who live there. When we approach promoting DigitalTown as a direction for the world, in terms of an economic model to restore local economic sovereignty, we’re really engaging the dialogue on three levels. We’re talking to NGOs, non-governmental organizations, and people that are involved in global models for how we can cooperate economically, UN, World Trade Organization, American World Chamber Federation, groups like that.

Then the second is we’re talking to the municipalities themselves as well as to some extent, state-level leadership and in some cases even federal level leadership, in essence, government. The third level is the consumers themselves. Saturday I’m scheduled to give my first TED Talk in Budva, Montenegro. I hope my voice will hopefully recover by then. I spent the last two days with a couple of very long days in San Francisco at an Impact Investor Conference. But the point is that this is a movement and we’re advocating it on a global level, working already on four continents and concurrently educating both the global organizations, the local governmental organizations and at the same time starting a consumer level movement with a particular emphasis on youth.

We will announce next Saturday at the occasion of the TED Talk the launch of a global youth ambassador program based in Las Palmas, which is a city in the Gran Canaries off of the African Coast. It’s part of Spain where the EU and the Spanish government have agreed to subsidize the hiring of new university graduates to work as youth ambassadors and to allow people from all around the world who are selected to come to Las Palmas to be trained in how to build a DigitalTown and they’ll bring that movement back to their home cities where they live or where they are studying.

This is really about how do you activate a new economic paradigm where we, as a community, instead of just be habituated to using services like Google and Amazon and Expedia and OpenTable and Airbnb and so forth, we actually have a reason to adopt this new behavior that is local first. Number one because it will lead to our own economic benefit because we are a stakeholder in the ownership of that platform, but number two because we’re also making intervention to reverse a trend that is not looking very promising for the youth generation. You think about your own encounters with youth. I don’t know how many children you have or what their ages are but, you know, these kids are graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans, taking jobs where they are clearing almost nothing after they pay for their rent and their living expenses, being told that you look forward to living in a tiny house or a micro apartment and not owning a vehicle because they’ll have mobility as a service, and at some point you’re going to wake up and say, “You know what? This is bullshit. That’s not what I looked forward to for me or my children or my children’s children. I want a better way,” right?

We are engaging these youth at a time when they are waking up to the reality as they clear the haze of the smoke-filled rooms whatever it is they’re smoking or vaping, recognizing that they should maybe reconsider their future and how to basically empower them to be able to work for a better outcome. That’s fundamentally is when this thing will really become a phenomenon is when you have youth from around the world working together to co-create a different outcome that they own or they part own. That’s what I think is particularly exciting

Mike: Talk about that ownership piece a little bit. It seems a little complex to understand.

Rob Monster: Well, it’s very simple. It’s really very simple. The basic idea is for every citizen in a city, we have created a fixed allocation of blockchain-based city shares. So if you’re familiar with how Ethereum works or how Bitcoin works there’s a finite number of units that can ever be produced. In the case of DigitalTown we actually fix it so the number of the population determines the number of city shares that are ever to exist and now we give them to the citizens. You can claim them at the rate of 10 city shares per capita and if you want to buy more than the 10 free city shares that you are given for free you can buy them for a fixed price if you are an accredited investor and are willing to go through KYC and AML, right. Know Your Customer and Anti Money Laundering. So that kind of works.

Basically, every citizen can be a stakeholder and even if they later choose as you can see and austin.city is an example. I know a number of other city sites that are live. If they choose to sell their city shares they still maintain a democratic vote in the future outcome of the fate of their digital platform for which they’re still a registered user. So you don’t necessarily have to maintain your ownership interest. If you wish to sell it, you can sell it peer-to-peer through our peer-to-peer marketplace. We’re not a market maker, we’re not a broker-dealer but we are allowing people to buy and sell city shares peer-to-peer and that’s how we get around the SCC regulatory frameworks that exist for that particular class of security token as it’s called.

Mike: Okay, got it.Those 10 free shares per capita… would the 10 shares be tied to my hometown or how does that work?

Rob Monster: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. So basically the way it works is single sign-on, you know, one login for the world…each city has its own ownership framework based on city shares and…but your wallet that is tied to your single sign-on, if you go to like austin.city and log in for example or you download the mobile app, right, which is on iOS and Android you can download the DigitalTown mobile app. Some cities like Austin already have their own app. We have an austin.city app. It’s basically a private label version of the DigitalTown app. But, most people will just download the DigitalTown app and even if you use the Austin app it roams globally. When you go to another town or simply wanna change your city, it will now let you navigate what that city has to offer. Think about your own experience going from city to city and town to town how you need a different app for a different login to use a ride share, a bike share, public transportation or if you buy from a local merchant online, right? It’s very, very cumbersome.

Now you go to another city and it’s the same thing all over again. You need a new login for every one of those use cases in every city where you go. And what does it mean? It means that people throw up their hands and say, “Forget it. I’m gonna take an Uber. Forget it. I’m gonna buy from Amazon. Forget it. I’m gonna go to BestBuy.” They have their go-tos, they have their winner take all platforms that they habituated themselves to as being the place where they go to solve this, that or the other problem or use case. The problem with that is the cumulative effect is a massive hollowing out of the local economic base. And so the root of the tiny house movement and the root of the micro-apartment movement and the root of mass indebtedness and homelessness and opioid crises and all of the problems that humanity is dealing with now, the root cause of all of that is rigged capitalism.

The only way we’re going to be able to get out of this is to address the root problem. We have to overcome rigged capitalism because if we don’t then the powers that be are going to herd humanity towards choosing universal basic income but there’s a problem with that and the problem is that universal basic income is when the government that can give you everything that you want can take away everything that you have. If you believe, as I and many others do, that sovereignty is a good thing then we need to figure out ways to restore sovereignty. You’ve got people who are trying to find sovereignty by living the lives of a digital nomad. Or they’re embracing the gig economy thinking that it’s giving them sovereignty. What they don’t realize is even the gig economy is rigged because Uber takes more than 50% of the gross revenue. Anyone of these different platforms that you might identify as being some last gasp of sovereignty is actually another leg of the rigged system.

We want to systematically restore sovereignty down to the local level and down to the individual. Every individual has sovereign authority over who knows what about them. This is called self-sovereign identity. That is your single sign-on which allows you to project directly and locally with merchants all around the world, bypassing the extraction economy and purchasing directly from that local merchant so that that local merchant has more margin left over as opposed to paying 40% commission to Expedia and getting paid next day after stay for getting most of that revenue and they’re getting it on the day of booking or latest on the day of stay. Now that means that they have more resources available to pay their suppliers on time, to be able to give their workers wage increases and to reinvest in their community through philanthropy.

This is the positive cycle that we have lost over the last 40 years. And if you look at the charts, and this will be in my TED Talk, it shows you very, very clearly that basically the game has been rigged since the mid-1970s when productivity continued to rise at the rate that it’s been rising for the last 40 something years but wages stopped growing. People are working longer. Now you’ve got two-income households. You’ve got people working multiple jobs to be able to put together an income. You’ve got people who’ve blown up their 401K. They have no safety net and so now they are not only working until well into their retirement years but they’re also working without any safety net.

Our capacity as a humanity to look out for each other is predicated on us having sufficient reserves to be able to help each other out. If you think about it, walking down the street, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” Well, in this one guy,  you might have the ability to stop, have a chat with the guy and to give the guy a little bit of money. When there are two guys it’s a little harder. When it’s five guys it’s pretty hard. When it’s 10 guys it’s a crowd. You cross to the other side of the street. You can’t help them because there are too many

When it’s man-to-man you got a fighting chance, you know. You wanna have a subsequent conversation about this guy and where he’s been and what troubles he has and, you know, give him some words of encouragement and give him some money. But when you’ve got a crowd you can’t even have that conversation.

So the problem is that we’re basically heading down this spiral where we get to a point where people don’t help, not because they can’t help but because they’re outnumbered. And then people can’t help because they don’t even have the ability to help. And at that point what are you left with? You’re left with basically a hollowed-out economy whose last hope is to basically surrender sovereignty to the state. Tthis has been a designed implosion of the middle class going back to at least the 70s and probably going back to the time of Karl Marx.

Mike: Wow, that’s a lot to take in. Let me dig a little bit into how the business works. I’m just trying to think through how you spread the word about this and it sounds like one of the great ways you’re doing that is the global youth ambassador program. In what other ways are you spreading the word about this?

Rob Monster: The main method we use right now during the early launch phase is we are recruiting community leaders at the local level. We have in various cities, head of community, one or more community leaders and then a much larger number of community influencers and citizen journalists who are part of a movement to activate the DigitalTown in their particular community. These people are typically compensated through the mechanism of city shares and in some cases through also revenue share of the merchants that they onboard. We are hand selecting them now. It’s not necessarily kind of a grassroots open source movement.

Anybody in any city anywhere can sign up at digitaltown.com and find their city of which there are about 3.7 million cities, towns and villages around the world of which only 4,400 have 100,000 or more and they can activate their city, town or village. When there’s a 100 or more people that sign up in any city, town, or village we will activate their DigitalTown for free. Every citizen gets a smart wallet, every merchant gets a free storefront and they can typically see it in their own currency and their own language and we’re adding more languages and more currencies all the time including our four cryptocurrencies and 16 fiat currencies.

Mike: And how does it work for a merchant, a local merchant?  You said they get their own storefront.

Rob Monster: Yes, there’s no setup fee, there’s no service fee. We cover solutions for retail services, dining and lodging and they only pay for what they actually use and that is for actual sales. If you do payment processing of an actual merchant sale where we’re selling the item, like you’re browsing and searching and then we sell that item, the National Commission for Retail Services and Dining gets 8%. The National Commission for Lodging gets 12%. But peer-to-peer payments are free. Point of sale…the payments in other words that are made direct by cash are commission free. People can, in fact, use this platform to do peer-to-peer payments without cost including across borders.

Think about all the people who are doing overseas remittances. They have the ability to bypass the Western Union extraction economy, the PayPal extraction economy and use DigitalTown to transmit funds across borders and be able to spend them in their local community where the currency is transferred in real time.  I can pay somebody in dollars and they’d get paid in pounds. Somebody can pay me in Bitcoin and I get dollars. The translation of the currency is in real time. If you download the DigitalTown smartphone app on iOS or Android and create an account, you can see how it works. You can fund your wallet and use it to do seamless payments in any currency currently in 16 fiat and 4 cryptocurrencies.

Mike: Could a merchant run an e-commerce platform?

Rob Monster: They can. We provide them an e-commerce platform, a service provider booking platform, lodging booking platform and a restaurant dining management application including digital venue creation, the ability to book tables and the ability to process online orders and to take payment in store.

We’ve done seven acquisitions in the last two years. So we didn’t have to build everything from the scratch. We’ve had the ability to also combine both organic development, partnership technology but in particular seven acquisitions that have been done in 2016 and ’17 and more than one acquisition pending here in 2018.

Mike: How many employees are there at the company?

Rob Monster: About 34 worldwide.

Mike: How have you been able to juggle managing  leading this huge effort and running Epik at the same time?

Rob Monster: Number one, Epik is an established product with an established brand and an established platform but number two we have a fantastic team. Many people who will use Epik as a registrar have firsthand experience with the caliber of the team that we’ve assembled to provide ongoing 24/7 support and customer service with software that was designed, you know, from the ground up by us. All of the engineers that built the original software are still with us and have continued to improve the product in response to customer feedback and it runs more and more like a well-oiled machine. The addition last year of Joseph Peterson who,  former navy Shipman.runs Epik like a well-oiled military machine. He dots every I, he crosses every T. You know from his punditry that he is a guy who loves retail.

We’re very fortunate to have assembled a fantastic team of very diligent and dedicated people that have allowed me to spend more time on working on this other project. But there’s a very important overlap between DigitalTown and Epik that the casual observer sometimes overlooks and that is this notion of the smart web. The smart web is about making a web that is intuitive, personalized and secure using descriptive domain extensions to provide consistent and familiar user experiences as you go from website to website. So .city is an example. You go from city site to city site and you have a consistent user experience. But we’re doing the same thing with .work, .fit, .law, .wedding, .profession and many, many more that are part of the smart web initiative. And ultimately that backs into a certain level of confidence that as we move to the new domain economy of the descriptive TLDs that there is a place for them but it’s not the same model as what the traditional, you know, com, net, org, everybody do whatever you want, you know, no interoperability paradigm, Wild West space of the internet.

The internet just like telecommunications is becoming more interoperable and we need interoperability because if we don’t have interoperability we are basically surrendering to the winner take all economy. Let me explain that. In an era where Google and YouTube and Facebook are the ones who decide what you see, then your ability to stand out from the crowd with your .com is much reduced versus where things were 15 years ago where you could actually go and produce pre-Google a website and brand it and people would hear about it and they would share it and you would have a fighting chance. But the moment that the world becomes curated by an engine like Google that, you know, takes away as much as it gives you’ve lost your sovereign ability to stand out from the crowd.

By virtue of introducing a more intuitive web based on descriptive direct navigation standards like go.vertical, right, dallas.law, seattle.wedding, we actually have a fighting chance to reeducate the consumer about the possibility of direct navigation. Now technology will help because not only are we giving them a direct navigation URL in the form of a couple of keywords that are easy to remember like miami.work but we’re also giving them QR codes which are going to be hacks that are basically URLs rendered as a 2D image which you can then scan with your smartphone if you are able to do it with a free hand, and if you’re driving you can rely on the keyword hack of simply remembering vertical.geography for example.

If you look at the list of the main names that we’ve been acquiring they are predominantly vertical .geography. That’s the pattern that we have adopted. To a large extent, we’ve done it with partnerships with the individual registries who believe in our vision for a smart web and who would like to see somebody curating and advancing a new and better way for direct navigation. So that’s what that’s about and the reason why we have been able to buy so many domains is because of, A) a view over the future is going to look like but, B) because we have that cooperation from registries that have vision that they too would like to see a way to overcome the stranglehold of Google and the other winner take all platforms that are basically eroding the value of domain names.

Mike: Talk to me about that vision. If everything goes as planned,  as you see it today, where will DigitalTown be 10 years from now?

Rob Monster: I think that what we are building is a future state where every city, town and village in the world has the opportunity to be its own sovereign local economy powered by technology that they can sovereignly own. I think that’s probably the big shift that I see unfolding is this move towards restoring local economic sovereignty on a global scale through a network of locally-owned cooperatives that are digitally interoperable. I think that blockchain is going to revolutionize large segments of our economy. The limitations that you see of current blockchain architectures are going to go away. Distributed ledgers are going to be capable of processing tens of thousands of transactions per second and be able to do it for little or almost no cost which means that it becomes practical to be able to allow every city and every community to be able to have trust economies that bypass the winner take all profit-maximizing extraction economies like Amazon and Expedia and Open Table and Airbnb and PayPal.

Not only that but also restore the flow of funds so instead of, for example, you and I as a consumer depositing money in the bank and getting 1% and then somebody that goes and borrows from that bank being able to borrow for say 2% or 3% and then lend it out as a payday loan for up to 600% per year, we’re going to have people be able to borrow money locally peer to peer, be able to do direct banking, peer-to-peer banking and public banking where you’re going to have the ability to allow people to easily reinvest funds back into their community without being constrained by the regulatory limitations that basically deem certain people as being not credit worthy. I don’t know what your experience is with the banking system, but if you have any experience you will recognize that there is a vast number of people who have very good ideas and are very honorable people but they spend all their life savings overcoming a crisis.

Somebody whose wife died of cancer who was a 20-year, you know, organic baker and now would like to open a bakery where he needs $60,000 to buy equipment and do a modest amount of tenant improvements but can’t get $60,000 from the banking system for anything less than, say, 20% interest which he would never be able to service. So as a result, he’s basically not able to practice his craft and instead has to go take a job at McDonald’s. Well, what a shame, right, that we can’t have people like that engaging the community with a product or service that would improve people’s quality of life and give people a reason to go sit down and meet a stranger at a café that is operated inside of the bakery run by this third-generation baker who makes fantastic baked goods. These are building blocks for restoring local economic sovereignty but it’s more than that. It’s building blocks for restoring the quality of life at a local level.

Mike: Just tying back to the shares and economy of it all, how do those shares increase in value, if I were to invest or to get those initial free shares?

Rob Monster: That’s a good question. Number one, the theoretical value of the city shares should correlate to the economic activity that is happening on those city platforms. At the starting point, the valuation of these city platforms is about $1.60 per capita or about 16 cents to share, 10 city shares per capita. But as the economic activity ramps and it becomes, you know, the de facto search engine and transaction engine for purchasing local and purchasing directly from people in the community and engaging in peer-to-peer commerce the value of it should grow quite significantly. And the endgame in most cases is for the municipality itself to be the owner of the platform. If the city…there’s license to the platform from DigitalTown at the outset, and the community of citizens owns it initially as a cooperative, that’s what we call platform cooperative is the academic term. Then when the city is ready to buy it they’re buying it from the citizens and the citizens get cashed out for right out to their ownership based on city shares.

Mike: Okay. I see. I’m just thinking through some pieces. As far as the local base and the commerce, are you also targeting big business as far as business travel and that type of thing to be able to focus in on location?

Rob Monster: Yes. If you download the app then you can see that that app also is suitable for like booking business travel. I use our own app for booking all our hotels. All hotels at Expedia and Booking.com are on our platform and the prices are as good or better which you will find on Expedia or Priceline. There’s no reason why somebody couldn’t use that app as a way to, for example, book local, book direct for both lodging and dining and, you know, service provider booking. It will get easier and easier but the funny thing is a large amount of that inventory now exists already as structured data. And so it was possible for us to add all of that lodging inventory, all that dining inventory from the abundance of sources that are already…that have already aggregated and curated this data with a high degree of precision but were not transactional.

We’re adding the transactional layer so that you can not only find the restaurant that is serving jambalaya tonight but you can actually book an appointment or book a table or push an online order from that provider and do it natively within the app or within the city website. The merchant activation is the next big phase. But already right now you can, for example, book lodging with any of the hotels that you would find otherwise on Expedia or Priceline.

We use the public stock as a vehicle for rolling up acquisitions. And right now, with the market cap of under 10 million, I submit to you that DigitalTown is woefully undervalued, and consult your investment advisor. But if you figure out an appropriate way to, you know, draw people’s attention to the fact that the company might be undervalued then they should take a look and gauge from their own opinion if I’m right about a local first digital future for the global economy and if you think the thesis is correct then you have to ask yourself, “If not know, then when?” And then secondly, “If not us, then who?” And I believe that we are the company that is going to do this globally.

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domain names

That’s one ugly domain

Daniel Redman has been a marketing professional for more than 13 years. In 2006 Daniel co-founded the eVisibility media department, quickly building it up to a million dollar revenue channel. As one of the early and continuing pioneers of Emerging Media Marketing, Daniel has managed campaigns for several flagship clients and been a source of innovation.  In his spare time, he noticed some online buzz around ugly sweaters which led to the purchase of BuyUglySweaters.com which now forwards to UglySweaters.com.

Mike: Dan, what’s the attraction, especially around the holidays, to people and ugly sweaters?

Dan: Deep down, we all just want to be loved, Mike. We want to feel apart of a community and like we belong. With a strong sense of irony in fashion, trendsetters arrived at Ugly Sweaters about ten years ago and now this thing has gone totally mainstream. It’s a recipe of nostalgia, anarchy, and humor that make it a necessity for people to have at least one ‘show stopping’ sweater in their arsenal.

Mike: I see today that BuyUglySweaters.com forwards to UglySweaters.com. Did you find that the shorter name draws more traffic? Can you share your traffic numbers?

Dan: Not necessarily more traffic overall with the shorter domain, but 1000% more direct traffic. I believe I have the most recognizable domain in the niche. Because I was one of the only folks around doing this crazy thing in 09, I was able to rank organically very easily (with BuyUglySweaters as the primary) and tipped 3mil pageviews in my first year. As a number of competitors have moved in since, with deep pockets, it’s much leaner these days.

Mike: Tell me about your initial purchase of these names. Were you the first to register or did you purchase the names on the aftermarket? If so, can you tell us about the process? The price?

Dan: I started with BuyUglySweaters in 09 from GoDaddy after noticing that a very fashion forward Facebook friend was talking about an Ugly Sweater party with her cool friend, then later researched and found that search volume was steadily upticking. I then purchased UglySweaters from a broker a few years later that reached out to me. I was surprised that it just sort of fell in my lap that way. I started with ‘BuyUgly…’ because I assumed that it would hold more purchase intent for visitors. This is the type of niche where buying intent is sometimes hard to find. Crafty folks might just be hunting around for ideas or examples of sweaters. The UglySweaters domain typically gets a few offers for purchase every year as it’s somewhat of a rarity to have the exact match for such a large search set.

Mike: Do you have other domain names?

Dan: Of course, I’m a recovering domain hoarder. At one time I had over 70 domains in my portfolio when I was attempting to build an advertising network. I’ve paired it down to about 15 now. Some are pretty interesting, others will likely never see the light of day, like ZikaVirusDating.com <—what was I thinking?

ugly domain

Mike: It looks like you are using Shopify as you platform. How did you decided on that and are you happy with your decision? What are a few of the pros and cons?

Dan: I have enjoyed my experience with Shopify thus far, however it is pretty darn expensive. Since I’m a one man show for most things, It’s a must though. I have grown my business using their apps and saved a plethora of time not having to dig into code or hire out work. I’ve always used ecomm through WordPress and a free shopping cart back in the day. WP took too much time for me and the Free cart had some security issues that ended up costing me.

Mike: Have you found the desire for ugly sweaters has increased or decreased since you began selling?

Dan: Increased dramatically! It now has bonafied staying power. Target and Urban Outfitters carry their own lines of Ugly Sweaters and there are some ecommerce brands doing millions in revenue. It’s crazy to see how far it’s come. When I first started doing this I was interviewed by Entrepreneur online and I sort of cast this category off entirely as a fad. I’ve been proven wrong.

Mike: How important is social media to your site?

Dan: It’s important, but I can’t claim to have totally maximized it. We have a small but loyal following on both Twitter and Facebook, of which I primarily use as backstops for paid ads. All in all we know that direct traffic is going to be our bread and butter and taking up real estate in the SERPs.

Mike: What has been the hardest or most unexpected hurdle to running an online business?

Dan: Dealing with a mass influx of competition. Affiliates, money backed businesses that are just chasing the SEMrush reports have all taken sizable chunks out of our business. I never expected UglySweaters to be a thing beyond a year or two, so I didn’t build a fortress like I could have.

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Erik Bergman Great.com

What’s Happening with the $900,000 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!

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3 letter domain

VPN.com – Just like that!

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.

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generic domain name

Vaporize the dot com

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.

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Shocking Interview

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.

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geo domain

InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com – Geo domaining lives on

Tina Willis graduated 2nd in her class from Florida State University College of Law.  She has worked as a big firm defense attorney and as a law professor, not to mention the many awards under her belt.  She now focuses her time as a personal injury attorney.  She is using InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com as her domain to her business site and likes to refer to herself as an Orlando car & truck accident attorney.

Mike:  What attracted you to practice law from the start?

Tina:  My grandparents raised me and we had very little money or connections.  As I became a young adult, who thankfully was able to attend college, I became more aware of the societal and economic pressures that had made life difficult for my grandparents.  So I suppose you could say that I wanted to help those who were less fortunate when they needed an advocate. That was because I knew how it felt to need help, and not be able to find anyone who really cared.  That is one big reason that I love my current practice area, which allows me to help those who could not otherwise afford to hire a lawyer, instead of helping large corporations.  Plus, I have always loved a good debate!

Mike:  You’re leveraging InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com along with tinawillislaw.com.  Are there any other domains you own?

Tina:  On the advice of a not great SEO agency, when I first started my practice, we purchased over 100 domains, and still own quite a few of those.  These days, we only maintain and regularly update my primary domain (InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com).  We made the decision to focus our efforts online because maintaining more than one website, much less many other websites, was far too challenging.  We also get virtually no traffic or leads from the other domains we own.  So basically we learned the hard way that the advice to purchase many domains was not good.

Also, as a side note, managing multiple domains is so problematic that tinawillislaw.com is not even forwarding properly (to my primary domain).  We purchased that domain name only for email and offline marketing.  But the forwarding has never worked.  Your interview actually reminded me that I need to check with my tech/website support people, to hopefully get that resolved.   But that’s a perfect example of how multiple domains can lead to many unexpected complications.

Mike: I have to ask some questions related to law.  If I were to be injured at work or at a business, what are the first steps I should take?  Is that any different if I were to get injured on someones residential property?

Tina:  Most of the cases that we handle are either auto accidents, such as car, truck, or motorcycle accidents, or premises liability, such as slip and fall, or negligent security cases.

Your question relates more to premises liability.  But many of the steps for an injured victim to take after any accident are the same.

First, they should make sure they get immediate medical treatment.  If their injuries are serious, the best scenario in terms of adding value to their injury case is to be transported by ambulance to the hospital right after their accident.

Second, or simultaneously, they should report the accident, either to the police (in an auto accident), or the business owner (in a premises liability case).   They also should take detailed photos of the accident scene, vehicles involved, property defects in a premises liability case, and any visible signs of their own injuries.

Finally, they absolutely need to call a personal injury & accident lawyer ASAP.  Injured victims have the burden of proving their cases in court.  And that burden is a heavy one.  So we need to quickly gather evidence, which could, and often does, disappears very soon after any accident.  This includes documentary evidence, physical evidence, and witnesses.

Although they have a duty to report the accident to their own insurance company (in auto accident cases), usually within a short period of time, they should call a lawyer first.  The reason is that their own insurance company wants to pay the least amount of money possible, on every claim.  If their insurance company might owe any money under an uninsured motorist (UM) policy, they WILL ask questions, sometimes very innocent-sounding questions, to get information that can significantly reduce case value.  Injured victims have no obligation to communicate with the other party’s insurance company, regardless of what they say.  Either way, injured victims need a lawyer speaking and working for them, very quickly, particularly if they sustained serious injuries.

If someone were injured on residential property, there might be different issues involved, primarily with getting the home owner’s insurance policy.  Lawyers do not have access to homeowner policies.  So we might need the client to get the homeowner’s policy, or we would have to reject case.  This happens in dog bite cases, for example.  One exception would be if the residential property were an apartment complex, and some defect with the apartment caused their injury.  Then we might be able to accept the case, and hold the landlord, management company, or owner responsible.

The bottom line with all injury and accident cases is that the facts can change the outcome.  So there really is no substitute for a consultation, during which we tell our clients what they need to do to get the most money possible in their cases.  We provide free consultations so we encourage potential clients to take advantage of those.

Mike:  How has this descriptive, geographic domain name helped your traffic and what made you decide to try this approach?

Tina:  We believe the domain name has helped our online presence because we tend to rank well for many of our targeted phrases.  But, as you know, the Google algorithm doesn’t send you a message telling you what helped your phone ring.  So we cannot be sure.  That’s just a hunch / gut-feeling.  We purchased this domain name on the advice of an SEO professional and friend.

Mike:  Have you considered other domains with TLDs such as dot law or dot legal as some other attorneys have?

Tina:  I have considered the other TLDs, primarily because I have friends who have successfully used them.  But, after just going through a conversion of my website from http to httpS, there is no way in the world that I would change domain names at this point.  Besides, my personal opinion is that dot com will always be the best.  Plus, the algorithm awards domain age.  So I wouldn’t want to convert an older URL to a brand new domain name, for the sake of possibly better keywords.  Also, many of the exact match domain names have already been purchased, so we would still have to settle for a partial match domain.

Mike:  Would you recommend a geo name for other businesses, such as “orlandodentist.com?”  Why or why not?

Tina:  As I said, I think having geography in the name has been helpful.  But I have no statistics or analytics to support that theory.  I just assume they help, based on what I have been told, and we seem to rank reasonably well.  On the other hand, since the algorithm involves hundreds of factors, there definitely could be other factors that are helping our website rank.  I am not aware of any way to test any one specific factor.  That all being said, if I were starting a new business, with a new website, then I definitely would try to include geo factors.  That creates a problem of finding an available, exact match domain name.  Partial matches aren’t as helpful.  As it turns out, actually, mine is a partial match, because an exact match was not available.  On the other hand, if I had an established domain, then I wouldn’t switch domain names just for the geo component.

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dotjobs

Find.jobs – Are there advantages to .jobs names? Several

Ettore Fantin is the  Director of Marketing at Find.jobs.The find.jobs team recognized the need to develop an industry-leading solution for job seekers. With 30% of the global workforce actively seeking a job change, they set out to develop a unique solution. To service this need they launched Find.jobs. The flagship .jobs property utilizes ElasticSearch and the Google Job Discovery API to surpass current search mechanisms. This is backed by more than 8 million open positions available to job seekers at any point in time.  The parent company of .jobs and Find.jobs, Employ Media, LLC is the licensed operator of the .jobs TLD on the internet.

Mike: Tell me what differentiates find.jobs from other job sites?

Ettore:  We have identified several opportunities to create a better job search experience for our users.  One of which is providing users a more accurate search experience. Many of the largest job sites use one to one keyword matching for their searches.  The result of this is frequent irrelevant search results, elongating the process for job seekers. Utilizing the Google Cloud Job Discovery API, we are confident in our accuracy being superior to that of other websites. This paired with the extensive .jobs network provides job seekers a targeted and precise job search experience.

Mike:  As the director of marketing, what goes into marketing a site such as find.jobs?  What’s the most challenging aspect of promoting a website?

Ettore:   The most challenging aspect is quickly articulating the message of the question above.  The difference is clear when doing a side by side comparison between job sites, but not as clear on first impression.  My job is not only to get job seekers to our website but to also get them returning to the site as their preferred platform.  We see a high number of return visitors on the site currently, that number will continue to go up as we release new and innovative features!

Mike:  Does the dot jobs tld help with search engine placement for job sites or companies posting jobs?  

Ettore:  In several cases, the .jobs TLD will help with search engine placements.  We’re seeing a lot of large companies notice the same value as we do and using a .jobs domain. Amazon and even Indeed utilize a .jobs domain for their career sites (Amazon.jobs and Indeed.jobs)   These companies hire on such a massive scale that a tweak such as using .jobs as opposed to a subdomain can make a large difference. Companies posting jobs can benefit greatly from the .jobs network. We provide job search sites focused on geography, industry, and position. As we present highly target jobs to job seekers with these sites we also present a highly targeted audience of job seekers to employers. Companies that want to get a job in front of a highly targeted segment of job seekers would be hard-pressed to find a better resource.

Mike:  With Employ Media, LLC being the parent company and the licensed operator of the .jobs TLD, does that put you in a position of competing with those that register .job names?

Ettore:  Mike, the short answer to your question is “yes” but to be clear we compete against other TLD operators particularly, .com, who has had the huge head start.  To create consumer awareness for the .jobs TLD, notably with job seekers, Our strategy as the TLD operator is to invest, own and operate .jobs website properties. These websites serve the many ways employers and job seekers use the Internet for employment purposes. Find.jobs is an Employ Media owned website property. We’ve long believed that for .jobs to be a successful TLD and gain mindshare with users that we have to encourage the competitive landscape to adopt .jobs, not just sit back and hope this happens on its own.

Our methods of domain name allocation with registrars have in fact encouraged various startups in the market to register .jobs domain names to compete. These include landing.jobs, museum.jobs, crypto.jobs, greater.jobs, sweeps.jobs, instaff.jobs, and realtime.jobs to name but a few. In 13 years of operation, .jobs has never increased its wholesale fee to registrars. This decision brings with it certainty and stability to registrants (registrar customers) to develop their .jobs domains into competitive properties. Further, there’s never been a UDRP action filed involving a .jobs domain name since inception.  We know these are important ingredients as the operator of the .jobs TLD to gain trust in the marketplace.

The online recruitment marketplace is both robust and dynamic.  We recognize .jobs to be a natural TLD extension that fits this vertical.   Companies have built very successful website properties in .jobs including hyatt.jobs, att.jobs, nissanmotor.jobs, and psu.jobs.  We are proud of these properties as they are great examples of the .jobs intended use. Annually, hundreds of millions of job seekers engage with .jobs websites from nearly every country in the world By investing into our TLD, and bringing it to market, we have built confidence that others can create competitive .jobs properties.

Mike:  What is your position on the newer TLDs that have been released.  Do you feel that is good for business? Has it impacted registration rates of .jobs in any way?

Ettore:  We’re actually a fan!  The .jobs TLD was applied for in 2003 and granted in 2005 when there were only a couple dozen TLDs.  Now with several hundred TLDs, we are proud to be early adopters and pioneers in the space. We have participated in several other TLD applications since, and are optimistic about the direction which this is moving.

Mike:  How many .jobs domains are currently registered?

Ettore:  There are nearly 50,000 .jobs domains registered.  Given the professional nature of the TLD, there is very little turnover and the TLD was identified as the 2nd safest “neighborhood” on the web by Symantec Blue Coat!

If you like this post and want to sponsor it on Domaining.com, click HERE.

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A couple of guys I’d like to hang out with: Braden Pollock and Nat Cohen

Seriously, how cool would it be to sit down with these two guys and have a beer or dinner and talk about domain names, entrepreneurship, and their experiences. Just an hour with these two guys would be like a full advanced college course in domaining.  I would honestly be taking notes while beer dripped across the pages because, yes, I’m that guy taking notes at a bar on paper – not even on an iPad.

Well, guess what?  We don’t get an hour. You can still have a beer if you want, that’s your call.  But get the most out of the next 15 minutes of your life by watching these two hit on topics such as UDRPs, ICANN and ICA.  Thanks to NamePros for antoher great video.

[scroll-box]Braden: Nat Cohen, welcome to NamesCon.

Nat: Good to be here.

Braden: Happy to have you. You’ve come to all of them, right?

Nat: I missed the first one.

Braden: You missed the first one?

Nat: Yeah.

Braden: I don’t know if we should even do this interview now.

Nat: I’ve just been doing holiday travel and I was like, “Richard, this is a great conference idea but I’m just not coming out.

Braden: You gotta squeeze it in.

Nat: Yep.

Braden: You’ve been coming to domain conferences forever because you’ve been…

Nat: I went to the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C one 2004.

Braden: Tell us about what you do. You have a massive portfolio. You’ve been doing it a long time. Tell us about how you got started and why you got started, your experience in the domain industry, and who the heck you are.

Nat: Okay. Well, I am… Yeah. I’m from DC, grew up in the area, and I got into domains by accident when I was just trying to publish a website and learn about how to register a domain to do it. And then learned about people investing in domains and got curious and looked into what was available, and that’s what I got started on. And I have a… Yeah, have a sort of a generic portfolio since 1997.

Braden: Wow.

Nat: And…

Braden: And that’s really…that was early on, right?

Nat: It was early on but people liked Digimedia and other ones who were there, even earlier, had taken all the good stuff.

Braden: But only by a few years.

Nat: Doesn’t matter if it’s by…you know if it is one second. You miss it by one second, it’s too late.

Braden: Granted. But it’s still early on because only it was, what, mid ’94, ’95? When did it go public?

Nat: That’s when people… That’s when it… Yeah. ’95, ’94, ’95, was like Rick Schwartz and those kind of guys started saying, “This is what we’re gonna do.”

Braden: Because prior to that, you had to be on the inside to get a name.

Nat: I think, yeah. I don’t know much about it, but yeah.

Braden: So, you’re old school.

Nat: Relatively early. And yeah. So, got names through registrations, some drop catching, a lot of purchases along the way, and try to just keep increasing the value of the portfolio and hope, yeah. Hopefully, I’ve done that.

Braden: Did you do much in the Dot-bomb at about 2000, 2001 when a lot of these names were expiring that used to be companies?

Nat: I actually got distracted in trying to do development and that took my focus out for a couple of years, probably right when like Frank and those guys were catching all the good stuff that was dropping.

Braden: Yeah. Frank Schilling really did well that period.

Nat: Then, I’m also involved with the ICA on the board level and have that’s been kind of like the main area of focus for me for a lot of years.

Braden: Yeah. You spend a lot of time.

Nat: Yep.

Braden: The Internet Commerce Association.

Nat: So, I care about the policy side of things because I realized that these domains that I was investing in and buying in, that I thought I owned, my ownership in them wasn’t as secure as I thought they were because people…there was a way that you can come and take away domains from a domain owner. And I lost crew.com in a decision that, you know, I thought…

Braden: I was gonna ask if you had some bad decisions.

Nat: Yes. When I was… I had one of the very first UDRPs, I think, on like a dictionary word domain.

Braden: Uniform Dispute Resolution Protocol.

Nat: Dispute Resolution Procedure/Policy. Policy I think.

Braden: Procedure? Policy?

Nat: Yep

Braden: Something P.

Nat: Something with a P in it. Yeah. So, that was something they introduced.

Braden: And that’s how a company claiming trademark rights goes through ICANN to take a name from the registrant.

Nat: Yes. So, if they think that someone is registering a domain to target their trademark, and a lot of people have done that, and that’s a policy that they can use to get the domain transferred to them. And that policy was built for cybersquatting but it’s been expanded and expanded to a lot of investment domains, dictionary word domains. As domain investors, we’re in this tricky situation where we wanna buy domains that companies like, but the issue is that some companies have already liked that name and trademarked it. So, the question is to what extent when you buy this domain are you targeting that trademark that’s there, or are you buying it because it’s got inherent value? And that’s always been the key issue that’s come down. And a lot of the people who are deciding these things are trademark attorneys and they tend to look at it more from the perspective, if the company has a trademark and you don’t, then why are you buying this if you don’t have a trademark? The only possible reason you’d be buying it is to try and target my client who’s got the trademark.

Braden: Which is certainly not the case if it’s a generic word.

Nat: I mean, some people could buy a generic word to target an existing trademark but, you know, domain investors are buying them because the word has inherent value and it could be of interest to anybody in any company.

Braden: Right. Any kind of brand.

Nat: Yeah. So, it’s the… This new policy was written in a broad enough way that a lot of investment domains got caught in that net. And it’s implemented in a way that’s kind of trademark…from a trademark focus. And so you get the wrong guy on the panel and he’ll take a look at it and he’ll just won’t…he won’t give too much credence to the view that this domain has inherent value. He’ll think it’s only because of the trademark value.

Braden: The panelists are the decision makers through the UDRP process.

Nat: Right. They are… They get…

Braden: So, they represent ICANN and get to make the decision, yeah?

Nat: Well, they don’t represent ICANN.

Braden: Signed by ICANN? How would you…?

Nat: It’s a multi-step process and each step there’s less and less accountability. So, ICANN credits these providers of UDRP who get to administrator the UDRP under no contract at all, and then the UDRP providers get to pick who, pretty much under whatever standards they want, to be UDRP panelists. Some of them have no IP background, apparently. And then they’re set up.

Braden: How’s that possible?

Nat: Because their attorneys or lawyers… We don’t know what their criteria are. That’s one of the things. It’s a black box as to how they pick who they’re gonna use as a panelist and they may just not have… Some of their decisions make it pretty clear they don’t have a good understanding of trademark law. So, these are people who are then deciding whether or not you as a domain owner gets to keep your domain name.

Braden: And typically, who are these people? So these panelists, you say, a lot of times are lawyers or IP lawyers?

Nat: Yeah. I hope almost always they have a legal background. Some of them are retired. Some of them are academics. Actually, maybe not all of them are lawyers but a good chunk of them are active trademark attorneys who represent brand owners as clients in their day job and that’s their perspective.

Braden: So the decision makers are on the trademark side of the world.

Nat: Many of them are.

Braden: So, who’s representing the domain investors? So, who’s understanding that perspective? Is there anybody in the mix?

Nat: At the panelist level, very few, I think, have a particular understanding of the domain investment industry. And so, yeah, your… If you just had to do a random draw, the odds are you won’t get somebody. And that’s why most, you know, most people recommend…there’s an option of a three-member panel or a one-member panel. And even though a three-member panel is significantly more expensive, they recommend trying to get three…that it’s better to get three panelists because you gonna have that diversity of perspective and you may just, from the random draw, you may get someone who doesn’t, frankly, doesn’t really have much of a clue or just has a very you know, minority perspective on what’s okay and what’s not okay.

Braden: As a domain investor, my name ends up on one of these panels because a trademark owner is trying to take it from me, even though I just have a generic word and they think they have…I’m infringing on their mark, which I’m not, and then the decision makers are trademark lawyers so I’m not gonna be represented. So, how do we fix that problem?

Nat: That’s a very good question and we don’t have an answer to that. There is a…

Braden: Nat, I come to you for answers.

Nat: Well, I can recommend a good restaurant.

Braden: Okay.

Nat: So, there’s an ICANN process. ICANN is the overall group charged with implementing this whole domain name system. And so they’re the ones who…through which this UDRP, the domain transfer policy was, you know, released or they’re the ones who created it through their process. And so they’re reviewing it for the very first time. And the ICA, of which we’re both members, is actively involved in that process. We haven’t gotten to the UDRP portion of it yet, and we’re hoping that that process will result in a more balanced…there’s trademark interest and trademark owners have rights but domain owners have rights too, and we’d like to see a little better balance there, a little better protections for trademark owners who aren’t infringing. There’s too much at risk now.

Braden: I appreciate the in-depth perspective. I’m gonna give you an opportunity to plug ICA, and then we’re gonna talk about NamesCon.

Nat: Okay.

Braden: So, how does someone support ICA?

Nat: They support by joining. That’s the usual way. They go to ICA.domains, which is our website, and they can learn a lot about it and there’s a chance to join. And they can read various testimonials as to why they should join there. And I can give a whole pitch about why people should join but I’ll leave that to you.

Braden: Well, we’re gonna move on to NamesCon. So, you’ve been in the space a long, long time, 20 plus years?

Nat: My 20th year.

Braden: Wow. Happy anniversary.

Nat: Thank you.

Braden: When somebody says, “What do you do?” What do you say? How do you explain when you say, “I’m a domain investor,” and they say, “What?”

Nat: I’ve tried many different variations and I haven’t settled on anything good yet, but I try and explain, you know, what it means to invest in a domain name. I think the approach I’m taking now is to say that every company that’s on the internet needs a name and there’s a limited pool of good quality names out there and that limited pool is what we call investment quality domains. And that the key thing when somebody has a name is that it can be memorable and you can remember what that name is. And the great thing about existing words is that some people are already familiar with them.

If you have some random combination of letters or some made-up word, no one’s ever heard of that, it’s hard for them to remember it. So there’s a lot of value to a company that that when you say their name, people are gonna remember it. That that name has some kind of meaning, then they get the benefit of that meaning being associated with their brand. So, if you have a nice memorable word that has some positive connotation, that’s a beautiful brand and companies who have big visions for their brand and wanna promote it and advertise it and spend a lot of money getting people to remember it, it’s worth a lot of money over their lifetime to get a brand that has those qualities to it.

Braden: And hopefully, those big companies come to me.

Nat: Me.

Braden: Oh.

Nat: Sorry.

Braden: Us.

Nat: Us. Yes

Braden: So, let’s say somebody wants… Somebody says, “That’s interesting. I wanna do that too.” What do they do? Where do they go? How do they get started?

Nat: Well, they’re lucky because there’s a tremendous amount of…tremendous number of people in the domain industry who are providing a tremendous amount of useful information for free and are just being very generous with their knowledge. So, there’s sites like domainsherpa.com, blogs like domaininvesting.com, domainnamewire.com, dnjournal.com. I’m leaving out the domainshane.com.

Braden: Or they can go to domaining.com which is an aggregator of all the…

Nat: Right. That’s a good…domaining.com. Yeah. You can find all sorts of…many, many of the blogs there. And once you dive in, there’s no end of excellent content and advice that you’ll get. So, I think, once you get started, you’ll get plenty of information there. And of course, come to NamesCon. I’ve said the right thing.

Braden: Yeah. That’s where we’re gonna go.

Nat: All right. Because this is where everybody is and the people are very generous with their information and there’s tons of sessions, especially geared towards newcomers to the industry that can get them, get you guys up and running and going after the better quality names, steering clear of bad investments.

Braden: So NamesCon, we’ve got about 1,300 attendees. It’s pretty good. It’s the most we’ve ever had in any domain conference ever.

Nat: Yeah.

Braden: Right? Including internationally. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger name…

Nat: I believe you.

Braden: Yeah. Because I go to those.

Nat: Yes.

Nat: You’re out there.

Braden: 400 people maybe was the biggest one in Hong Kong. But this is huge. Everyone comes to this conference. It’s a great place to come meet people, network, and all the old school guys like you are here and then people can grab us and talk to us and ask questions. And we’re up on stage and we’re doing panels and there’s a lot of information to be learned here.

Nat: Yeah. There’s a lot of valuable information and there’s a number of, you know, there’s some people I’ve talked to over the year and they’re interested in domains. And I say…and a couple of them have come to NamesCon just because it’s like, “This is where I need to be,” and they’re not really domain investors but they have a good quality domain or they wanna learn more and this is the place to come.

Braden: Yeah. And they can also… We mentioned blogs. We mentioned NamesCon, and there’s also forums like NamePros.

Nat: What’s NamePros?

Braden: You haven’t heard it?

Nat: No.

Braden: Maybe…

Nat: Oh, NamePros. Yes, NamePros. That’s a great, great place to go. No, NamePros has done a wonderful job of creating a ton of excellent content, video interviews.

Braden: Right.

Nat: Yes. And my hats are off.

Braden: And you can ask questions to people in the forum and get answers and…

Nat: Yeah. My hats are off to the NamePros for stepping up and really creating a ton of valuable information for us.

Braden: Great content. Yeah. Okay. Nat, thank you for joining us. I appreciate your time. It’s great information. Thank you.[/scroll-box]

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domain branding

Translations.com – Invest in the domain, not the formal branding effort

Philip Shawe is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of TransPerfect, a global family of companies and the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services. Phil oversees the day-to-day operations of the company.

Under Phil’s leadership, TransPerfect has received numerous awards and distinctions. The company is a seven-time honoree of the Inc. 5000 Award, a six-time honoree of the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, and has earned multiple Stevie Awards for Sales and Customer Service. Crain’s New York Business has ranked TransPerfect as one of the largest privately held companies nine years in a row. TransPerfect was also named to fastest-growing lists six times by Entrepreneur.

Mike:  Tell me how you came to acquire Translations.com.  Can you talk about the process you went through to acquire the name? 

Phil: When we decided to establish the technology division in the late 90s, Translations.com seemed an obvious choice. The head of our corporate development efforts, Mike Sank, looked into acquiring the domain and we determined that the cost was about the same as we’d spend on a professional branding exercise so we opted to pay the expense and get on with developing the business.

Mike:  What exactly do you do at Translations.com?  Clearly some form of translations but I know it is really much more than that. 

Phil: Translations.com was initially focused on providing language services for companies that were dealing with digital content, while the predecessor company, TransPerfect, represented more of the brick-and-mortar side of the business, with offerings such as document translation, interpretation, and multilingual desktop publishing. The increase in demand for software localization and web localization, and the need to cater toward the unique requirements of those projects drove the need to create a specialized team. Through some very strategic mergers and the development of our own technology, the Translations.com division now offers flagship technology products that help customer manage their translation workflow in digital environments. Translations.com also produces those same software products for our internal use company-wide, which help the whole of TransPerfect operate more efficiently, and we are able to pass those best-practices and saving on our clients, with the net result of providing higher value solutions than our competition.

domain branding

Mike:  Focusing specifically on you, you seem to have done quite well in business.  Do you feel that is due to skills that you have learned, personality traits that you naturally have, a combination, or something else?

Phil: Ultimately, I attribute much of my success to the team of people I’ve managed to gather around me. While I do think I’ve got some talent in a few important areas of business, what’s made me the most successful is an ability to identify, motivate and retain others, who possess the true talent that drives our business. TransPerfect and Translations.com have grown to have over 4,000 employees working in over 30 countries, out of over 100 offices worldwide — revenues of more than $615MM in 2017 — and we just completed our 100th straight quarter of profitable growth. None of that would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the team we’ve assembled. I have learned a ton about management in those 25 years, but I continue to learn with each passing day, and I’m looking forward to next 25 years which has just begun.

Mike:  Are you willing to share what you paid for the name? 

Phil: I believe we paid in the neighborhood of $75,000 at the time. As I mentioned before, that was comparable to what we’d have paid for a separate branding exercise run by a marketing firm — so we thought, let’s get a recognizable and memorable domain name — along with the name of our new tech-focused company.  It was very hip at the time to be a “dot com.” — and it may be so retro now that we’ve survived all this time, that it may become hip again.

Mike:  How much traffic does the name pull in on a monthly basis? 

Phil:  While those numbers are informative, they don’t matter as much to us as they might to some other brands as our website is not an e-commerce platform. We’ve got highly professional sales and client service teams that really drive our revenues. Still, even after all these years, we do get new leads directly from the site and some of those have grown into major client relationships.

Mike:  How important would you say a good domain name is to an online business’ success? 

Phil:  I definitely think that a good domain name is helpful in terms of building a brand and having easy name recognition. For example, if your domain name is really long or hard to remember, every time a salesperson tells someone how to get in touch with them via email, there’s an opportunity for confusion and missed messages. But at the end of the day, what’s most important is the quality of the product or service your offering and the commitment your team makes to its customers. So while I’d advocate for being thoughtful about a domain and making sure it’s memorable, easy to spell, and culturally appropriate, I wouldn’t obsess over it at the expense of properly delivering services or technology solutions to your clients.

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Women in Domaining: Cyntia King

This week I am pleased to feature Cyntia King.  She has been described as a “Powerhouse intellectual property broker.” She’s spent 10+ years buying/selling IP (domains, TMs, patents, stock symbols, business DBAs, phone #s, and more) with prices ranging from 4-7 figures. Ms. King launched her own IP consulting company, Modern IP, in 2017.

Mike:  What you do doesn’t seem like something one can learn at school.  How did you perfect your craft?  Did you have mentors along the way that have helped you develop?

Cyntia:  I enjoy a challenge and have been lucky enough to be in the right place/time for some unique opportunities.

My career in IP started when a neighbor complained that he was too busy.  His job sounded interesting, so I pressed for an interview, which I got a month later.  My fascination with the industry was immediate.  And that neighbor – Dane Hill – turned out to be an amazing mentor.  He answered endless questions & offered a level of support most people never get.

The fact is that I love the work.  Mark Cuban said, “Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is.  Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world.  Love what you do or don’t do it.”  I’ve actively looked for opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills.  I asked for the toughest and most unusual cases; networked with the most knowledgeable professionals, and have made an effort to be honest and equitable in my dealings with clients and colleagues.  Like the man said, love it or don’t do it.

Mike:  Being a woman in business can sometimes present challenges.  Have you found that to be true in your career?  If so, please expand on that. 

Cyntia:  I got my gun safety certificate at 13, tried out for the wrestling team as a freshman, was a featured dancer in a college production, managed a heavy metal band, ran the front office of a modeling school/agency & have succeeded in a field dominated by men.  Obviously, I’ve never been overly concerned about gender roles and I have to admit that I rarely register gender bias.  While I’ve seen a decidedly male bent in the industry (like domain conference finales at the Playboy Mansion), I haven’t encountered anything I couldn’t overcome.  In the face of bad behavior, I acknowledge it, address with a little humor, and get back to work.  I do love the work.

Mike:  What advantages and disadvantages have you found having a female-owned business? 

Cyntia:  The biggest challenge I have as a business owner is work-life balance.  I know this is true for most executives, but I do believe there’s still an expectation that women fill the role of primary household caretaker.  It’s tough to balance client obligations and family responsibilities.  There are many days that I think I need a wife of my own.  My best advice to women in business is learn to say “no”.  You’re better off to acknowledge that you can’t be all things to all people, so be honest about what you can do.

Mike: Would you consider yourself a role model to other young women in the industry?

Cyntia: I’d like to think of myself as more of an inspiration than a role model.  I’m the person who prefers to take the path less traveled.  That track is both uniquely beautiful and full of potential difficulties.  Every person who steps off the beaten path has to navigate the course in their own way and I absolutely support that kind of individuality.

Mike:  Obviously, intellectual property is important, but many small businesses don’t realize they need to trademark, patent, or otherwise protect and secure their IP.  What advice do you have for small businesses?

Cyntia:  According to Ocean Tomo (a capital advisory firm), the average intangible asset value of S&P 500 companies is 84%.  That’s huge.

Most new businesses, though, start by concentrating on their product/service.  It’s only after they’ve achieved some success that they think about protecting their intangibles.  By this time they could well be a victim of their own success.  The marketplace is full of stories like: (1) the company that sees market traction only to be served with a C&D letter demanding they change their name because someone else already has the trademark; (2) the business that finally gets venture capital funding only to find that the domain name they need is now an order of magnitude more costly because the registrant read about the investment; or (3) the scammer who monitors the Trademark office for new filings, then goes out and registers the corresponding domains.

Bottom Line:  It’s important to have an intellectual property plan and that often means consulting an IP professional.

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Video Interview: Kevin Fink with Todd Han of Dynadot

This next NamePros video features Todd Han of Dynadot talking about the GTLDS and his first experience at NamesCon.  This video is from a couple years back.  Let’s see how the discussion played out.  Please note that the transcript is available below.  Please note the full transcript is availbale below the video.

[scroll-box]Kevin: We’re here at NamesCon 2016. I’m joined by Todd Han of Dynadot. Todd, it’s great to meet you.

Todd: Nice to meet you as well, Kevin.

Kevin: This is your first NamesCon. Tell me about the experience so far and how you’ve enjoyed it.

Todd: Well, actually I love it. I like how the conference center is set up. There’s a lot of traffic to our booth, seeing a lot of new faces. So actually, I think it’s a great event, yeah.

Kevin: So you founded Dynadot 2002?

Todd: Right.

Kevin: That’s pushing its 15th year now. Tell us about the C change of the domain industry and what’s happened over even just the last few years and where you guys are at now.

Todd: Well, when we started the company 2002, we had three TLDs: .COM, .NET, .ORG. Over the next five years, we added maybe five more: .BIZ, .INFO, .MOBI, .ASIA, .TEL. And then in 2014, we added 300 more. It was a C change, yeah.

Kevin: And how has the influx of Chinese investors in the last year or so changed Dynadot in terms of not only how you’ve had to adjust to interact with customers, but just also on a business level?

Todd: That’s a great point. We actually have been in China for the last three years. We have an office there. We have a Dev team, and we have customer service there. And that wasn’t because we knew this was gonna happen, we just knew that China was a big market, you know. But, like you said, this year, China just blew up. I ran the numbers just last week and our revenue in RMB in 2015 was 20x what it was in 2014. So that’s a 2,000% increase.

Kevin: Incredible, man. Congratulations.

Todd: They’re just buying everything.

Kevin: Yeah. That’s an incredible growth for you guys. So what are some… I don’t know if you can speak of maybe some…maybe not top-secret things but some changes on your end or some product enhancements or innovations that you hope to enact on the registrar level or…I know you guys have other things like drop catching and… What are some things that we can look forward to as customers?

Todd: Well, probably the biggest thing is just the selection of TLDs we have now. That was a ton of work for us to add, you know, 300 TLDs into our system. So, we sell pretty much everything. Our prices are good and, you know, they all come with our control panel, which is, you know, people say it’s one of the best in the industry. You can also you know, taste the new GTLDs if you want, it works with our Grace Deletion System. We have expired auctions on them.

So, you know, it’s been a year now, so some of them are starting to drop. So you can check out new GTLDs at our auctions. Other stuff, we also do a lot of business on the retail side. We’re trying to sell domains to end users as well, that’s actually half our business. The other half is selling to domain investors. And so on that side , we have a site builder where you can, you know, you just drag and drop, putting images onto the website, write text, and it’s online, just like that.

You don’t need to know any HTML. So we have that product. Actually, domainers use that as well, just to throw up something, you know, to do testing or just to throw up like a for sale page or whatever. And that product is actually free for the first five pages. So that took us a couple years to build out. And as far as anything beyond that, it’s probably just incremental improvement for this year. We’re gonna add more GTLDs. We’re gonna move back to starting to add CCTLDs back in our system.

Kevin: Speaking of the new extensions, the two-part question, I’m curious the top-performing newer extensions on Dynadot. I’m also curious if you have any favorites of your own?

Todd: You know, you can look at it in two ways in terms of volume, registrations or in terms of revenue. In terms of volume, I think we sell the most .CLUB and .XYZ. In terms of revenue, you know, .XYZs, you know, pretty much have been discounted the whole time. So, you know, even though we sell a lot of it, we don’t make as much. In terms of revenue, we had surprising results from some of the smaller ones like .ONE, and that kind of ties in with your previous question like this Chinese domainer has kind of jumped all over that one for some reason.

Kevin: I’ve noticed it.

Todd: Yeah. Right.

Kevin: It’s really interesting. Yeah.

Todd: Yeah. So I think we’re one of the top…I think we’re number two registrar in the world for .ONE due to our Chinese customer base. My personal favorite, I really like .NINJA. It’s just fun, quirky. You know, I think a lot of domains are very serious like .COM, .NET, .ORG, you know, but .NINJAS is like… Well, you can just do whatever with it, you know. It’s more fun, you know. I think our industry is very serious but it’s good to have some fun once in a while.

Kevin: It’s getting maybe a little a bit of a sense of humor of .LOL and other things.

Todd: Exactly. Or .WTO [SP]. Yeah.

Kevin: What are some words of advice that you might give a new domain, someone new to the space?

Todd: Talk to the old domainers, they have seen everything already. There is a lot of skepticism by the old-timers. And so if I were a domainer, I would talk to them. I mean, they’ve seen everything. They’ve seen the tasting come in and leave. They’ve seen Google clamp down on PPC. They’ve seen multiple TLDs launch and fail. So, all the knowledge is already there, you just have to ask the right people, yeah.

Kevin: This is the closing day of the conference. Is there any highlights that you’ve experienced so far, whether the keynotes talks, just meeting people in general, and walking around?

Todd: So for me, my favorite part is just seeing the friends I’ve made over the years and also meeting new people. So that’s my personal highlight. In terms of the business, I think no question, the biggest talking point was the Chinese economy. What I heard was, you know, up till 2010 or 2012, everyone was putting their money into real estate in China.

And then, you know, around 2012, the government was kind of trying to suppress the price. They raised interest rates. They limited how many properties you could buy. So, people started investing in the stock market. And the market in China, I think it tripled in the last three years or something ridiculous like that, until this summer. And then it had a mini-crash.

And then last week it crashed again. So people can’t invest in real estate, they can’t invest in stocks. So where’s that money gonna go? It turns out a lot of it went into domain names. And I think that’s what we’re seeing and other asset classes. I’ve heard fine art. I’ve heard wine. I’ve heard precious metals. So that was a real highlight just talking to CNNIC, talking to Chinese domainers, just seeing what they had to say about that.

Kevin: That’s interesting. Yeah. We’ve spoken to a few people who’ve heard various insights as to whether this either current or hopefully not future turbulence in the markets is going to affect domains, whether more people are gonna buy into it or people are gonna kind of withdraw from it from the market.

Todd: Yeah. What I heard was as long as the Chinese economy is not doing well, domains will do well. Once the Chinese economy picks up again, they’re gonna start investing in real estate and stocks again.

Kevin: Okay. That’s interesting. We’ll see what happens. [crosstalk 00:07:54]

Todd: That’s what I heard about it but I’m not an economist.

Kevin: Neither am I. Neither am I. So I know that Dynadot has a presence on NamePros. We’re here with NamePros in partnership with them.

Todd: We have CSRs on NamePros for sure. You know, a lot of people are actually more comfortable asking questions amongst their friends on the forums than asking us directly, and we’re actually fine with that. You know, we have nothing to hide. If you have a problem and it’s our fault, you know, we’ll fix it.

We’re not gonna try to cover it up or something. So we’re perfectly happy with people discussing things on NamePros. NamePros has been partners of ours for a long time now. I think even when we just started like, you know, people were talking about us on the forums on NamePros. And you know, from a business perspective, I mean, we work with NamePros. We do ads on NamePros, occasionally when we have specials of promos. So we’re really happy with our relationship with NamePros. And I think, you know, they’re part of the ecosystem, they’re a valuable part of the ecosystem. And so we’re just… We’re very grateful that people like us on NamePros. Yeah.

Kevin: Well, it was good to meet you. It was good speaking with you. And I look forward to seeing you next year.

Todd: Thank you so much, Kevin. I really appreciate your time. [/scroll-box]

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Women in Domaining: Christa Taylor – dotTBA

In her own words, Christa describes herself as follow. “I love the business building roller coaster. The nervousness and excitement as you climb towards the first peak wondering if everything will stay on track, the adrenaline of the first stomach-churning descent, enjoying the jolts as the coaster twists and turns. Then climbing out of the seat and charging to the line-up to do it all over again.”

Mike: Christa, it sounds like you’re an entrepreneurial thrill seeker. When did you first discover this within yourself?

Christa:  I’m not sure if I’d describe myself as a thrill seeker but I certainly enjoy the creativity of new ideas and endeavors. After working in a number of start-ups, I quickly learned the that there are two types of start-up personalities, those who get a rush from having to pivot often and quickly and those who are not comfortable and running for the exit sign.

Mike: Tell me about DotTBA. What is the market like for your services?

Christa:  Since 2012, I’ve been focused on new gTLD applications, creating premium domain name lists and pricing along with launching new gTLDs. While the pool of new TLDs has been decreasing, I have used the opportunity to improve my analytical skills and am currently preparing to launch of a couple more TLDs for the spring and fall of 2018.

Christa Taylor - women in domaining

Mike: You have an impressive business background. You have been a consultant to a multitude of start-up ventures from oil exploration to collaboration software solution companies, managed million-dollar online e-commerce sites, protection of highly valued domain names and you were the President and CFO of Poker.com Inc. You have experience in the domain, software industry from small to large corporations and have provided strategic planning and vision to numerous Internet start-up ventures. All that said, do you feel you have faced any roadblocks being a woman in business and how did you work through those?

Christa:  In my opinion, everyone faces roadblocks, it’s just a matter of personal philosophy on how one responds. Some obstacles are worth overcoming while others are not worth the energy. If it’s worth the effort then being strategic on how best to jump, climb or work around the issue is key. The rest is just execution or an adjustment to the plan as required.

Mike: Are there obstacles to growth for women in domaining that are different from other businesses?

Christa:  Based on my experience, every industry is different. I think the domaining world has less obstacles primarily due to the wide diversity of backgrounds, interests and professions. Comparing it to the gaming/poker industry, the obstacles were a lot more challenging and I was pretty naïve so the learning curve was rapid and steep. Luckily, I found a group of trusted colleagues which was really beneficial and that I try to replicate in every industry I work in. I was pleasantly surprised and initially, even a little confused, by how open and helpful people were in the TLD and domaining industry. It was such a refreshing perspective to find an industry that believed it was to everyone’s best interest to work together in achieving results rather than competing against one another. I still believe there is a lot more we, as an industry, should be doing to further advance its growth, create additional synergies and capitalize on the most promising opportunities.

Mike: With all you do, including recently achieving a Master of Science in Predictive Analytics (MSPA), how do you maintain a work/life balance. Or do you?

Christa:  LOL Life? Effective time management, experience to acknowledge the limits of time and workload and when sacrifices begin to leaving lasting impacts on life. Having friends in the industry who know you’ve been sitting in an office chair for far too long and initiate an unannounced and insane running challenge always helps. ????

Mike: You have supported several TLDs in their strategic planning and operations. Do you have any particular TLDs that or stories that you are particularly fond of?

Christa:  I think the funniest story was during the application process, working around the clock with the deadline two-days away and receiving a late-night call asking if I could do one more application. I initially declined but was persuaded to take it on. I literally received a copy of the financial statements in a different language, in a currency I didn’t recognize and took a large figure, punched in an exchange rate which resulted in another large number. Figuring I did a key error, repeated it only to get the same very long number and I literally had to talk my way through the place value of the numbers (ones, tens, hundreds…) to determine the amounts. A week later, I was at a restaurant where a sporting event was on and recognized the script on the team’s jerseys which was one of the company’s subsidiaries.

Mike: I have a 16-year-old daughter who will soon be off to college and then starting a career. Woman to woman, what advice can you give her?

Christa:  Determine what attributes are integral to who you are as a person and don’t let anyone take them away. They will inevitably provide perspective on when action is required or when that energy can be used for something more beneficial.

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Morgan Linton of Bold Metrics

As promised, here is one of the videos from the NamePros library featuring Kevin Fink interviewing Morgan Linton.  Morgan was probably the second blogger I began to follow when I started dabbling in domain investing.  I really used to love the live video segment he did back in the day.  He would casually drink a glass of wine and tell people his advice on their domain names.  I missed an opportunity to join him once when he invited me to connect on the show but I had a broken mic.  Timing sucked.

In this video, you’ll hear Morgan talk about his background and his passions.  Being a domainer doesn’t mean you only focus on domains as you’ll learn in this one.  Watch the video and/or read the transcript.  Post your thoughts in the comments once you’re done.  Enjoy!

[scroll-box]Kevin: Morgan Linton joins me at NamesCon. It’s so great to see you again, Morgan. Thanks for being here with us.

Morgan: Thanks, a lot. Yeah, Kevin. Thanks for having me.

Kevin: Yeah. How is this year compared to all the other years and what’s excited you the most so far?

Morgan: Yeah, well, it’s good to see it grow. I’ve been here since it first started and definitely more people, more energy and, of course, the new GTLDs are shaking things up and becoming a bigger and bigger part of the conversation.

Kevin: So you know I have a bit of a history.

Morgan: Yeah, family history.

Kevin: That’s right. We do, we do, yeah. But we met quite a number of years ago, and you were at SONOS.

Morgan: Yes.

Kevin: And your evolution in this industry and beyond is really fascinating. I wanted to kind of briefly touch upon that. Let me know if I leave anything out.

Morgan: Sure.

Kevin: But you were at SONOS, and you started domaining, and you started a blog. And you started building up a portfolio and a supplemental income from there. And then you left SONOS, you started domaining full-time.

Morgan: Nope. I never started domaining full time. No, I’ve never aspired to be at full-time domaining. So I left SONOS and went right into starting fashion.

Kevin: That’s right, okay. So in between there though, your income started to, you know, your income in domaining started to increase exponentially.

Morgan: My internet domaining got much bigger than I had expected. So, yeah, I was making significantly more buying and selling domain names and monetizing than I was at my day job, so to speak.

Kevin: And you were a liaison to the startup community at one point as well. You’ve been in Los Angeles, and you started meeting startups, and you were helping them acquire domains.

Morgan: Yeah.

Kevin: And I want to get into that a little bit later, but then you started Fashion Metric, now Bold Metrics.

Morgan: Yeah.

Kevin: And I want to hear about this evolution into how you basically went from someone who was helping startups acquire domains to founding and running a startup.

Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I think the inspiration really started when I was at SONOS. Because when I started at SONOS, there were maybe 40 people, somewhere in the 35 to 40 range and it was still like, you know, some people think like when you’re at that point, well, you must have figured stuff out. But no still a startup, still in search of product market fit, we didn’t have the product in the market. And I got to see that go from, you know, less than 50 people to over a 1,000 people during my time there and going from about 10 million funding to I think 360 million in funding.

And so seeing that growth and watching a startup scale, that for me was an incredible experience to see. But I realized I was only seeing a sliver of it because I was working and running sales organizations in Asia, Australia, Latin America, Canada. So I knew there’s like one niche of the business, but I realized like, “Wow, it’s so neat for the founders because they’re able to watch this grow and they’re able to see the entire business and how everything interacts together.” And that’s really where I got the inspiration.

I realized like, “Well I don’t know if I really want to work in a specific role in the company.” I alluded to like start a company and see what it’s like to build that team. And that was like kind of what first inspired me to do that. And then yeah, you know, being in LA at a time when the startup scene was starting to really grow and seeing a lot of that happen. And then being involved with domain names, I got to help some pretty well-known startups with the [00:03:14] names, Jay.

Kevin: That’s right. And then you and your wife, Dana, hello to her, by the way, started Fashion Metric.

Morgan: Yes.

Kevin: Can you describe sort of evolution into how that came to be and how that sort of sprouted?

Morgan: Yeah. So Dana was doing a Ph.D. at UCLA at the time. I was still at SONOS, but my SONOS stock had done pretty well, and there was a point where I could probably go on to do do something else. And kind of as we were talking about earlier, domains had also done kind of better than I expected. It kind of started as this kind of like thing on the side that I would see what happen and then it ended up making far more than I was making there, so I knew it was time to make a move.

But I had never, and this is a kind of something I always like to point out because I think there’s some people that like love domain investing and they’re like, “I’d love to do this day and night.” I’ve never really had that passion. I don’t think I have very much fun domaining day and night. I’ve never really wanted to be a full-time domainer. And so, for, me, it was like, “Well, I’d love to run a startup now.” And Dana was at a point where she was, you know, in her Ph.D. doing really interesting stuff but knew that she also wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.

And so, we actually just started going to like startup competitions. And so, I went to Lean Startup Machine which is you don’t actually build in there, you essentially like validate business models, and that’s essentially where the idea behind Fashion Metric came up. Dana had this idea for an app where if you were searching in a store for clothes and you were on your own, maybe you could take a picture of yourself and then get feedback from like a stylist that would say, “Hey, actually try this short or these pants.”

And the way that the Lean Startup methodology works is, you know, before you go out and build something, you validate like, “Would people actually use this.” And so, we went to all these clothing stores, talked to solo shoppers, people shopping on their own and said, “Hey, we’re building this app, here’s what it does, would you use it?” 90% of them said, “No, I wouldn’t use that. I don’t have an interest in taking pictures of myself and sending to a stylist.”

Kevin: So that was like fashion advice. That was that first thing, okay.

Morgan: Yeah. And so what you’re supposed to do then is, you know, understand okay, well, maybe you heap it on the problem. So we didn’t want to pivot on the use, the user is still someone shopping for clothes but we then asked them, “Okay, well, what’s the biggest problem that you have when you’re shopping for clothes?” And literally, 90% of the answers were, “It’s really hard to find stuff that fits. And boy, I wish I could shop online but everything fits differently.” And all these problems came out all around fit. And we realized well, there’s a big juicy problem that’s not really being solved in a great way online. And so went to some other startup competitions and ended up getting discovered by Mark Cuban, who pushed money into the company.

Kevin: That’s awesome.

Morgan: And, yeah, that was kind of all how it all started.

Kevin: Congratulations there.

Morgan: I didn’t quite know it was going to go all that way, but it’s…

Kevin: Backing up just a little bit before Fashion Metric, I remember throughout the years. I know that you’ve started merging into more of the startup world, you met quite a number of people, again, in Los Angeles and through some of the meetups and the community events and whatnot, startup events. Can you describe your experience as a liaison, I know at times you’ve been a broker, you’ve helped someone or startups acquire. Can you talk about the experience of working with these startups? Some of the pain points they’ve had. I know some of them have no budgets. What are some of the things, the roadblocks that you had to overcome as someone helping them acquire?

Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think there’s, you know, first off, most startup founders don’t know anything about domain names. And I think that the same is true most domain investors don’t know anything about startups and both kind of think they know something about each other. And the startups thinks that the domain investors are cyber squatters and domain investors think all the startup founders or low ballers and there’s actually a happy medium probably.

But, you know, I think for startup founders, the confusion is around, “What happens when the domain name that I want to buy is taken?” And so there’s this huge disconnect where a founder will come up with an idea for a name and then go, “I want to call my company this,” and they’ll go out and they’ll see this .com maybe it’s already taken by another company. Maybe it’s a parked page, you know, all this idea in their head of like, “Well, I should be able to get that because I came up with it and I’m going to use it.”

And they don’t know actually how to go through the process of like asking somebody via email, “Hey, what are you using this name for? Could I acquire it?” And that process is very mercurial and the domain investor community, there’s some folks that are great at responding working with startups and others that aren’t and are a little bit more abrasive.

Kevin: Right. It’s very delicate.

Morgan: And so, it’s very delicate.

Kevin: More so, almost on, well, especially the investor community. But I feel like those of you mentioned it already is a good point, just those two sides are kind of disparate ends of the spectrum.

Morgan: Yeah. You’re dealing with, you know, emotions on both sides. You have founders that are really passionate about the companies they’re building, and they’ve put a lot into coming up with this name that they feel really speaks to their company. And you have a domain owner or a domain investor that has done the same but in a different way where they have a portfolio of names and they’ve worked really hard and done the legwork and actually researching and finding the names and bidding on them and trying to get a good price.

And so, you know, it really takes both sides understanding. So I initially was working with smaller startups and names that were say under like $25,000. And for me, really what I found and the deals that I enjoyed the most were really when it was founders that were a little bit more funded and a little better understanding of like what domain names are ell for. A lot of what I did was like education about the market because most people don’t know what domain sell for. Like they don’t know that domains don’t just sell for a registration price.

They don’t know that like last week, a particular name sold for a $1 million and another name sold for [inaudible 00:08:46]. It’s like to them, that probably never happens. And so, I really focus on founders that had budgets in the six or seven figure range that really kind of had a little bit more of an understanding of, hey, and usually the conversation started, “Hey, I really want to get this name, I know it’s not going to be cheap but I’ve got a budget of, you know, $350,000 should we be able to make it work.” And that’s where you kind of have a meeting the middle for really good names.

Kevin: Sure.

Morgan: Not to say that startups obviously don’t need to buy. Bold Metrics, we bought for $3,500. We don’t have a huge budget for a name sure. And so, there’s a lot of names that are available, but I don’t think startups necessarily need brokers to help them with names in that size category because a lot they can do themselves. But it takes some education to understand how they actually do that.

Kevin: I was just going to say that. That component is sort of the missing link. I feel like, as you were talking, I’m thinking like, “There’s not really anybody out there bridging that gap.” But you certainly did and had some successes. How did you work with someone who, for instance, had a $3,500 budget but the seller or the owner was 135,000. How were able to sort of bridge that gap? Were you ever able to successfully get a startup to either take out a loan or get some more funding or capital backed, you know, for that? Or, I know sometimes there’s rev share probably share of equity.

Morgan: The Rev share profits share stuff is tough that people don’t really want to do it.

Kevin: It is.

Morgan: Equity stuff sometimes but not often times that’s also a little bit too complex. Really, a lot of times like if the budget was too low, I would usually say like, “Hey, rather than us trying to go back and forth with a domain owner, you know, why don’t we just look at names that are in your price category?” And that’s why I’ve always been a huge proponent of two-word dotcoms. That’s why we’re branded on two word dotcom.

I think those represent really great opportunities for startup founders in a sub 10,000 even sub $5,000 range. And so, what I usually say is, you know, when you want to get a bigger name, you can do it but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can be this big juicy one word dotcom when you have like a $25,000 or less budget.

And so it’s really, a lot of it was like just coaching people into being realistic and rather than getting upset with domain owners and going, “Well, they’re asking for this ridiculous price.” Know that it’s an asset class and just like the example I always give is like, “Well, when did your parents buy their house?” They’re like, “Hold on, in the ’70s.” I’m like, “Cool, what do you think they paid for it?” “Oh, it was like $150,000.” I’m like, “What’s the house worth now, you know?” “Oh, 1.5 million.” I’m like, “Well, how would you parents see it if I said, “Look, I’ll give you $100,000 for your house?”

Kevin: It’s a great analogy.

Morgan: And so, they always go, “Oh well,…” And I’m like, “It’s the same thing. And I bet your parents like researched houses then and looked at the neighborhoods and, you know.” Domain investors don’t just randomly buy names. They research them, they put their time into it, there’s a holding cost to them, did a whole portfolio. There’s a lot of risks the domain investor takes and that sides not seen as much by startups. And so, having them see that side of the equation understand, “Okay, maybe the name you want is going to be out of your budget now, where do you start?” And getting people in more of a kind of like realistic mindset around what they can actually get for their money.

Kevin: Has anyone ever come back and maybe they had that sub $10,000 budget but they’ve come back to you and said, “We just got serious round funding for instance and then now we have X amount of dollars to play with. Let’s go after that one that we couldn’t get for ?”

Morgan: Yep, I’ve helped a number of people in that exact scenario. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got some pretty stellar names.

Kevin: So going back a little bit more in time now in terms of just your experience in the domain community. You’ve had, I was going to say handbook, that’s not the right word. But you’ve had tutorials and ebooks that you’ve made and guides that you’ve created really in the early days of your education.

Morgan: Yeah, that’s a long time since I’ve done it, but yeah, I wrote some of the early stuff.

Kevin: But it was just really not only successful just as something that was distributed and read but understood and really helpful to a lot of people. What kind of information would you impart to those that are either new to the industry or those are kind of looking in from the outside.

Morgan: Well, I always like to give anything I’ve done, whether it’s domain names or startups or started some angel investing, I always like to look at people that are already doing it. And so, for me, it was like when I got started in the domain industry, I was going to domain conferences and talking to people like Michael Berkens, Ammar Kubba and Frank Schilling and all these guys that like were way, way light-years ahead of where I was but that I could really learn from.

And I think that’s the key in any kind of education space. Like, when I wrote my book which was, geez, I don’t know, maybe eight years ago or something like that. You know, I didn’t write it as…I found there was just a problem with misinformation and sensationalism in this industry and I’ve really been very against that probably forever because, you know, this is not an easy industry to make money and this is not one of those like you just buy some domain names, and you’re going to make a bunch of money.

And I think too many books and tutorials in this space, we’re talking about like how you can strike it rich with domains, or how you can make a bunch of money with domains. When the reality is like, I don’t know, my first two years, I lost a bunch of money and learned a lot of hard lessons and then, you know, you really have to have like a budget. You need the time, there’s a lot that goes into it.

And so, for me, I really wanted to educate on like what that journey more realistically looks like versus the sensationalism of, “Look at these names that sold last week. This is sold for this, and this is sold for this. I think if you had a name like that, you could…” And rather say like, “Hey, you’re probably going to buy a bunch of stuff, and most of it’s going to suck and you’re not going to be able to sell it, you’re going to get kind of depressed.”

Kevin: Yeah, right. Good. The reality. Yeah.

Morgan: Then you’re going to drop some [cross talk 00:14:04], “Screw this stuff,” and then like…But if you stick with it and you learn, you could probably chisel out a little niche for yourself.

Kevin: Absolutely, yeah. It’s very rare that there’s sort of immediate success. Some people have that happen, especially with some of the new Gs, it does happen, but it is rare.

Morgan: Sure. Yeah. Same thing with the startup space. Like people look at startups like Airbnb or Uber, and these were not startups with just like we’re overnight successes. Like Airbnb had a very, very hard time raising a $500,000 seed round originally. Like no one would fund them when they originally had the idea, right? And so, like they went through lots of hard times and, you know, for us now, there’s a lot that we’re still figuring out. And that’s like, no matter what is it that you’re doing, any of these entrepreneurial endeavors, I don’t think anyone who tells you or any tutorial book that says there’s some like fast-track path to success, I’m always very, very skeptical of.

Kevin: Do you have other things that you would recommend to those that are new or starting out in terms of like tools or resources in this industry?

Morgan: Yeah. I would say, I mean, the number one thing is just get to a conference as soon as you possibly can. I think the amount of information exchange and networking that happen,s particularly domain conferences is pretty massive. It’s not true of every industry. Most of the conferences I go to now are like retail conferences because we sell in the retail space. That’s very different, that actually is kind of like an insider industry.

So I actually can’t really walk around those places and go like, “Hey, what do you do tell me about it?” Like, I’m not really in the club yet. It probably going to take me longer, so I’m more like kind of fly on the wall. At these conferences, I find domain investors, in general, are very interested in sharing what they do. The only thing I would say is whether it’s a conference, or a blog post, or a thread that’s going on or a form, you know, just make sure to do your homework and make sure that the person that is giving you that advice actually is who they say they are and has done what they say they’ve done.

It is very easy for people to kind of prop themselves up when they’re at a conference or when they’re writing on a blog and to say something like, “Oh I did this and…” Like, just put on your BS meter because there is a lot of BS out there. I don’t mean to say it in a negative way but more in a cautionary way of that, you know, take all the conversations that you have, do the follow-up, do the research, and then figure out.

You may even need to bounce off of people that you know, “Hey, I met this guy, and he said he’s made a killing with .nets, and he said if I just buy a bunch of these .nets, I’ll make a fortune.” And go like, “Do you know this? Can you validate that?” And just make sure because it’s an easy industry for people to come in and go, “Oh, I sold a bunch of stuff,” Because there’s no way to prove anything, right?

Kevin: Yeah.

Morgan: And so, you got to be really careful where you get information. And also, looking at the date when the information was given because there an is expiry date to, you know… Sometimes people will write to me and say like, “Oh, this blog post you wrote in 2012 is so great.” I’m like, “Be really careful with anything that I wrote five years ago.” Because if I said five years ago, here’s what I’m doing and like this is really working right now, I can almost promise you it would be a disaster if you did that now.

And that’s why the information, especially in a fast-moving space like domain investing, you got to stay on top of what’s relevant. And you have to make sure that the people giving you the advice are doing it because they’re motivated not to like make money off of you, or to make themselves so good but because they genuinely like know what they’re talking and want to help.

Kevin: Sure. Just due diligence, I think I have some yeah wise words.

Morgan: Yes.

Kevin: It’s always interesting to kind of…we’ve been around for a little while. There’s various people that have been around either 20 more years, or there’s some that have been around for 20 days.

Morgan: So you’re calling us old?

Kevin: Yeah, we’re getting old. Yeah, that’s right. But it’s always interesting for me to see how people on the outside looking in or those actually that are new. How you would describe this industry to them like if you’re on an airplane and you’re in the middle of the sea all of a sudden and, you know, ask you what you do and you have like a six-hour flight. How do you talk about this to people? This has been a really interesting thing where sometimes there’s that blank stare. Everybody says some will gives you that blank stare like…and then now there’s a bit more talk about how people are starting to kind of, the awareness is growing.

Morgan: Sure, yeah. I think it’s to be honest with you, I think these are just investors. I think that historically if you are an investor, you either invest in the stock market, or you invest in real estate. But like the internet’s been around for a while, this stuff is all evolved, and so I think it’s really just looking at domain names as a new asset class. So usually I explain to people this isn’t necessarily a bunch of startup people, or even some people are entrepreneurs, but not everyone’s really entrepreneurs even as well. It’s really investors.

And it’s just like where do you want to invest your money and whether you invest in real estate or the stock market or domain names, similar process which is educating yourself on the space and learning, “Hey, how can I make investments that give me kind of a meaningful ROI?” I think this is just possibly one of the least known investment spaces and then probably the most misunderstood.

Kevin: Morgan, thanks so much for joining us. Treasure your time, and it’s great to see you as always.

Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Kevin: Thank you.
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women in domaining

Social media presence…contribute approximately 70% of our leads

Victoria Lee Huff is the founder and CEO of The Happy Executive.  She is an Amazon best selling author with The Road to Success, Volume 2 with Jack Canfield.  She’s a sought-after speaker, success workshop leader, executive coach, certified senior advisor, executive director and so much more.  Her company, TheHappyExecutive.com, provides professional speaking, corporate training, and executive coaching services.

Mike:  My first question which I cannot hold back is, how do you manage to do so much?  Are you also a master of productivity and time management?

Victoria:  Holding two leadership roles is a lot to manage some days.  Currently, I am transitioning out of my 10-year business and planning to dedicate 100% of my time to TheHappyExecutive.com.  I do my best to partition my time between the two entities. On a daily basis, my focus is on completing my top 3 tasks by 11 am. Time management is imperative. I also utilize automation with an electronic calendar link and social media campaigns.

Mike:  Tell me about The Happy Executive.  What type of clients do you cater to and what are they expecting to gain from your services?

Victoria:  TheHappyExecutive.com provides strategic marketing, coaching, speaking, sales training, team building, custom workshops and social media campaign building services to corporations and individuals.

Mike:  thehappyexecutive.com is an easy to remember and catchy name.  How did you come up with it?

Victoria: Thank you Mike.  I created TheHappyExecutive.com to serve myself and other busy executives doing their best to juggle a multitude of responsibilities at work and at home.  Often times, this juggling leads to a persistent state of overwhelm. Being a leader and enduring life is not acceptable. I wanted to remind other busy executives to enjoy life and create happiness for themselves and their staff every day.  If we are not happy with the way things are then we must learn to do some things differently.

Mike:  I see you leverage social media.  How much does that contribute to your business?  

Victoria:  Currently our social media presence and campaigns contribute approximately 70% of our leads. The other 30% are sourced from networking events and speaking engagements.

Mike:  I also spotted a before and after picture on your Twitter account.  Wow, even the before pic looks great.  Are you also a fitness trainer?

Victoria: Thank you Mike. I am not a fitness trainer, just a fitness competitor. Within all of our coaching engagements, strategies are discussed and agreed upon to help executives meet and exceed their health goals.

Mike:  Although you are not running an online store, it appears that your business niche depends heavily on your website and word of mouth.  Is that a fair statement?

Victoria: Yes, that is a fair statement. We will be adding an online store with various e-learning opportunities this year. Besides our web site and personal referrals, we are building joint ventures and affiliate programs.

Mike:  What is the most challenging aspect of developing your professional persona online?

Victoria:  The most challenging aspect is the differentiation in a crowded marketplace. It is important to narrow your niche focus to about an inch wide and a mile deep vs. a mile wide and an inch deep. It is within this narrow space that our avatars are identified. We also learn where and when to meet our avatars online.

If you like this post and want to sponsor it on Domaining.com, click HERE.

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Women in Domaining

Women in Domaining: Kathy Nielsen – Neustar

Kathy’s digital career began in online advertising sales and management with BabyZone.com, a company that was eventually acquired by Disney. Her next adventure was to help build a group of content properties under a family of ecommerce sites owned by the eToys.com umbrella (Poshtots.com and BabyUniverse.com). In 2008 she joined Sedo as their Director of Brokerage. During her time at Sedo she served as Director of Strategic Alliances, then Director and VP of Business Development.

With a growing affection for new gTLD industry, she joined a domain name registry, .Green, as Executive Director of Operations and Channel Relations to help prepare .Green for the public launch. Today she works with Neustar, continuing to help educate consumers about domains, building and executing marketing programs, managing channel partnerships and developing premium name sales and auction strategy. She is active on the end user side as well, supporting several clients in domain acquisitions and helping them build domain name strategies.

Mike: How long have you been in the domain industry? Tells about your start at BabyZone.com.

Kathy: I’ve been in the domain industry since January 2010 and got my start with Sedo. But it was my work at BabyZone that really introduced me to the world of online publishing. It was the very early days of online advertising so a main component of my work there was educating about the benefits of online advertising to businesses that didn’t understand how powerful it could be to reach new customers and grow a business. We had a portfolio of directory type websites where each major city had a home on Babyzone.

I started out in my home town of Minneapolis at Babyzone.com, on the ground floor, selling online advertising to local businesses. The amazing part was seeing how some of the small businesses, like a baby photographer, could buy an inexpensive, yearly listing on our site, and it resulted in so many leads that they had to expand their business. I saw many companies that took a chance, dabbled in online advertising in those early days, who grew to be very successful. There were also major, national advertisers as well on Babyzone, but what I found most satisfying was seeing the impact that an increased online presence and traffic had on the smaller businesses.
I was lucky enough to be offered a job in Boston to come and build a network of regional ad sales reps and grow the revenue for Babyzone’s local sites.

Mike: You’ve played several roles in the business and at different companies. Did you ever feel that being a woman somehow put you at a disadvantage?

Kathy:  I never used to think about it much but have reflected on that a bit more recently. I am the youngest of 6 kids and my 5 older siblings are all boys. I grew up in a world where I was always in that mix and it seemed natural to me. One of my first jobs out of college was at an industrial tool manufacturing company. I remember many challenging times there because I was a woman. I can’t say it ever affected promotions, pay, etc. but there was certainly a disadvantage. Working in that male-dominated workplace environment was awful. It was constant – inappropriate behavior all the time that created a such a bad environment. Being subjected to that environment every day just wears on you emotionally and all I really wanted to do was work. Maybe I was too young to feel any fear, but I never thought it was OK or that it was normal because it was a male dominated industry. I always spoke my mind if anyone crossed the line. I’m not sure how I came across on that front, but if nothing else, I definitely helped raise awareness of the issues at that company and there was positive change.

Today, I’m extremely fortunate working with Neustar. I am on an absolutely fantastic team of highly motivated people, many of which are women. I greatly value each and every one, it’s probably the most motivating team I’ve ever worked with.

Mike: Have you had one or more mentors in your career? How has that helped?

Kathy:  A few people come to mind immediately. Tim Schumacher at Sedo was really the first person in my career that was great at encouraging me to try new things, knowing I would succeed with some and fail at others but in the end, learn and grow.

I have to say that the women in the domain industry have always been very incredibly supportive and open. If I ever have a question or want to float an idea by someone, I have this built in network of very talented people, in all areas of the industry, and that has been invaluable.

The two I look up to the most and from whom I have learned so much, come from the launch days of .co. I was fortunate enough to work with Lori Anne Wardi and Crystal Peterson during the launch of .co while I was at Sedo. They are fearless, smart and did a wildly successful job with .co. In the years between, they were always right there if I ever needed advice or support in any way. They have both grown into much larger roles in the industry and I’m lucky enough to be working with them today at Neustar. Grateful!

Mike: After all your success this far, what struggles do you face on a daily basis?

Kathy:  Ha! It’s been the same for a long time.
#1 reaching the target audience
#2 explaining the value prop of a domain – such a basic thing but so many different answers to this based on who you are speaking to.
#3 the slow pace of change in a niche, ecommerce world.

There are honestly so many amazing naming options out there for businesses, individuals, organizations, and everyone in between. From super premium names, to great new descriptive domains, to category killers, brandable names and more, there really is something for everyone. The trick at the ecommerce level is understanding the intent of the individual user and helping to present the best and most meaningful options to them. Today, that experience is so different in the domain world depending on where you shop, and every sales outlet has vast amounts of room for improving in the future. Luckily, we’ve got technology on our side and things like machine learning and AI should be able to play an increasing role in improving that domain buying experience for the consumer in the future.

Mike: What is the biggest challenge, if any, that millennial women face in the industry or business in general?

Kathy:  I have always worked in very male dominated industries but felt comfortable and fit in – probably due to my life growing up with five older brothers. But I never really felt like it was OK to just be me, a girl. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. Since I worked mostly with men, I always felt like I had to act more like one of the guys, just like I was with my brothers. When I worked with women, it was a totally different atmosphere and a refreshing change but then I found myself wishing there were some men on the team to balance out the dynamics.

As I began to work in more diverse teams with more of a gender balance, I saw the different dynamics at work and it was amazing. More personalities, more backgrounds, more (or fewer) egos at play – the diversity of the team brings a more open set of eyes to topics. It makes all the work we do simply better.

The importance of diverse and balanced teams can’t be understated. I’d encourage millennial women to seek them out. If you go on a job interview and don’t see any women in the company, or in leadership roles, that’s a big red flag. In the world of technology, it’s not easy to be balanced. Seek out those companies who value diversity. Help and support other women in technology so that they too can thrive and succeed in the industry. This will ultimately create a positive working environment for everyone. Don’t hold back, be yourself. Don’t ever stop learning, speak up, ask questions, participate, engage and bring your diversity to the table.

Mike: You seem like a busy woman, working both sides of the fence when it comes to domaining. How do you manage to keep a healthy work life balance?

Kathy: Personal and family time are both really important to me. Outside work and school, we’re very laid back and not a heavily scheduled family. I’m not running from work to take the kids to soccer, then hockey, then somewhere else like a lot of families do. We all pitch in to make the work/life balance work for us. My kids, my husband, all have busy lives, and we respect each other and help each other. Sometimes, you just need a break. We know its ok if you just feel like doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday or Sunday but binge watch a show or lay in bed and read all day. We also like to do things together like travel, go to a museum, a concert, a play, a soccer game, snowboard, hike, mountain bike, etc. Making time to get out together and experience new things is a big part of keeping our balance.

Mike: What would you say has been the biggest advance in the domain industry over the past decade and why?

Kathy:  I think the biggest advance has been with the registrars and their advances in ecommerce. Before they could sell one TLD, at one price, period. They can now offer more products (TLDs), at variable pricing, from a wide variety of sellers (aftermarket premiums, registry premiums, standard domains). This is great because it makes it so much easier for the consumer to find what they want in one place. It’s not complicated. There is still a lot of progress to be made but I’m optimistic that competition and innovation will drive more change.

Mike: What has been the toughest decision you have had to make in your. Domaining career?

Kathy:  Leaving Sedo. Sedo is a great company full of people I really enjoyed working with. Moving on to new challenges is always difficult but also rewarding.

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Dial-a-Domain – Is that opportunity calling?

In the late 1980’s David Fesbinder had a vision of the great potential of vanity 800 numbers. He founded Dial 800 (Dail800.com), a company whose list of clients includes AT&T, Chevrolet, Cox Communications, Waste Management, The Perrier Group, Electronic Arts, Northrop Grumman and Time Warner. He was responsible for the acquisition of 1-800-COLLECT, the most successful vanity number in history. David is now with 1800PayPerCall.com.

Mike:  How did you stumble upon vanity numbers in the 80’s and what made you think this could be a big deal?

David:  In the late 1980’s, even though few companies at the time were using vanity 800 numbers, I saw the trend to use them increasing.  Also, in the early 1990’s a new law allowed one to move their toll-free numbers from one carrier to another.  This was a big change, since a toll-free number that was previously restricted to service with a carrier in one state,  could now be moved to a national carrier like AT&T.

Mike:   Switching from the 80’s to the 90’s, I could see the natural transition (at least in hindsight) into domain names, or in this case, complementary domain names.  How did you identify this bridge?

David:   It only made sense to integrate both domains with their matching numbers.

Mike:  How has pairing vanity numbers and domain names been working out.  Can you provide some examples?

David:   A lot depends on the industry your speaking of.   But, even if a particular industry does not commonly use vanity 800 numbers, having a good one that matches their domain looks impressive.  Especially today, when there is a natural suspicion as to whether a particular online company is legitimate, having a toll-free number that matches their domain name can be an indication that this company is not fly by night.
In the right industry, a vanity 800 number can be the nucleus of a startup.  Look at 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-DENTIST, 1-800-CONTACTS to name a few.  In their case, the vanity number may be more valuable than the actual domain name.

Mike:   When a business gets a matching domain and number, you are essentially providing them with branding.  Is that an unintentional byproduct?

David:   A great vanity toll-free number is one that tells you what you selling, who you are and how to reach you, such as 1-800-COLLECT did.    An 800 toll-free number that spells the exact generic name of a sought-after service or product is extremely valuable.  For instance, a company like 1-800-FLOWERS is not only a leader in their industry but when their competition advertises, they cannot help but mention “flowers”, which inevitably strengthens 1-800-FLOWERS brand.

Mike:  Is the growth of the internet, in any way, diminishing the value of vanity names or phone numbers in general?

David: Definitely.  Phone numbers were really the only way to immediately contact a business before the internet.   On the other hand, today where competition is so fierce between online businesses, those a matching vanity 800 number can now have an edge.   And the bottom line is that an inquiry via phone, which means the caller wants direct contact with a salesperson, is considered much more valuable than an inquiry made online.

Mike:  I understand you provide tracking, routing, and analysis of these phone numbers as well.  What does that mean and what does that provide for your clients?

David:   Shared use or call routing can provide a very valuable tool for integrating national marketing with local marketing.   For instance, we have the number 1-800-PODIATRIST which can be promoted via our domain 1-800-PODIATRIST.com.  When any call is made in the U.S., it is automatically routed to the podiatrist located closest to him.  In effect, we could give hundreds of podiatrists exclusive rights to 1-800-PODIATRIST in their local area, and the leads are generated from just one national ad campaign.

Call tracking and other types of analysis can give you detailed insights into how to optimize your ad campaigns, caller satisfaction, etc..

Mike:  One major risks businesses face is not keeping up with the ever-changing trends.   Is there another emerging technology you are watching for or thinking about for the future?

David: Perhaps SullysBlog.com is at the forefront of a trend right now by bringing to the attention of your followers what are the great advantages of a matching number/domains.  I would like to give you an example of how far this concept can go.  We have 1-800-2Day-Air and 2DayAir.com as well as 1-800-Free-Offer and 1800FreeOffer.com.  Since these are already well known generic brands, it should not take much marketing to have such numbers/domains go viral.

This is a new approach to the creation of a startup in that we’re working backward, starting with an already known brand that is represented by a matching number/domain.

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Women in Domaining: Natasa Djukanovic, CMO of Domain.ME

An economist by education, Natasa Djukanovic is the CMO of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.

Natasa is also a co-founder of a local NGO Digitalizuj.me which is a not-for-profit organisation that examines the transformative power of technology through various projects and lectures.

Through her effort to help the community she started with her friends a conference Spark.me, which is today one of the biggest tech/business conferences in Southeast Europe.

I last connected with Natasa back in 2011, so it’s long past due that we catch up.

Mike:  Natasa, it’s been quite a while since I last interviewed you.  What has changed for you and dot ME since 2011?

Natasa: Well, everything changed. And yet, nothing changed. We managed to almost reach the long term goals we established at that time. For us at the time the most important goal was to create a strong and safe brand. We did a brand health research in 2017 and were quite please to see that we are perceived as a strong and reliable brand. The numbers are quite as we expected, we survived the big turbulence of the market called new TLDs, mostly unshaken, and kept the profit. I have, in the meantime, grew old and mature :), although always strategically focused, now a little bit more flexible and adjustable. I started mountaineering and that activity gave me a completely different perspective on business, leadership and changing environment.

Mike:  Is there a woman that inspires you as a business leader, either in or outside of the domain industry?

Natasa:  She is more a combination of different women with their strength and their fragility, their determination and their emotionality. My inspiration is a combination of Marisa Meyer, Sheryl Sandberg, Merrill Streep, my mom, my aunt and my daughter. And they are all different, with all of their virtues and faults.

Mike:  You’ve been asked to speak, and have spoken, at several different events and business around the world.  What does that mean to you?

Natasa: I had a big fear of public speaking. My voice would tremble and it would sound like I am crying. It was embarrassing. I was determined to fight that fear, like I am fighting any fear. I am very proud to say I am over that, and people started calling me to give motivational speeches. It feels good now, because the feedback is good and it seems to me that I help people define certain fears in their pursuit for better life.

Mike:  Not only are you CMO of Domain.ME, but you also have other causes such as Digitalizuj.me and Spark.me.  Tell me about these organizations and how do you balance this all?

Natasa: Digitalizuj.me (digitize.me in translation) is an NGO that I founded with a couple of friends back in 2011 with the goal of helping the local Montenegrin community educate for new technologies. Today we employ 3 people, and have a joint project with UNICEF around creativity and entrepreneurship for children. It is recognized in Montenegro as a startup community, an organizer of workshops after which you can find a job, and lately educator in programming. Spark.me is a conference, sponsored and organized by the .ME registry. I am always afraid I am too enthusiastic and subjective about it, but I’ll tell you that 500 people come every year from all over the region, and stay in the conference room for 8 hours straight. The conference happens in a hotel at the beach and there is sun outside, it’s a sandy beach and the sea is light blue. But everybody is listening to the presentations. And the world renown speakers keep coming back. My balance is strictly connected to great team around me. I can rely on them, and they can rely on me.

Mike:  Do you feel you have faced any challenges in your career over the years due to the fact that you are a women?  How have you overcome them?

Natasa: Montenegro is a very patriarchal community, but women here were always working and had an opportunity to build careers. My aunts were some of the most successful people in my home town, and I am raised with the feeling that women can do everything a man can do, from chopping wood to managing a company, raising kids, and taking care of their man. There is a saying here that a man is a head of the house, but the woman is a neck. And that is true. In many ways it places a special burden on women in Montenegro, but it also opens many doors. My aunts made fun of me and my housework choirs, as I never liked to cook. On the other side when I started working, I started managing projects very early and when I entered a meeting once, the business partner who sat at the table asked me for coffee. He taught I was a coffee lady. I brought him coffee and sat close to him and started asking questions and kept insisting we can’t accept his conditions in a deal we were trying to arrange. He was very confused at first, and then started laughing at his mistake. I overcome these perceptions by accepting them first. Yes I can be a coffee lady. But then if you are decisive and persuasive enough you can turn that in opportunity. I am not saying it’s easy for every women if they are strong enough. For some of them life is much harder.

Mike:  What impact have the new gTLDs had on .ME, if any, and what has been your marketing strategy to stay competitive?

Natasa: Of course new gTLDs had an impact on .ME. Mostly in terms of the price on a domain, which means revenue. Their marketing strategies shook up the market. It did give some kind of global awareness on domains, but in the end, I think it all calmed down, and didn’t change much. Our strategy certainly didn’t change much. We were perceived as somebody who changed the industry and we just kept doing different and creative things to stay on top. Both with end customer marketing and the relations with registrars. I think the industry is much more alive and energetic today.

Mike:  Do you consider yourself a mentor to any women in the industry?

Natasa: Not in the industry. Not really. I do mentor, however, startups and have some women that I mentor in Montenegro, and help them around marketing and business management. I am very proud of their achievements.

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Exclusive Interview with Lars of DNForum.com

I want to say it was Garmin running shamer, pro-blogger, and green-thumber Shane Cultra who first dropped the news about the new owners of DNForum.  Shortly after there was a mixed buzz on social media and blog comments reflecting the reaction of the domain community.  Some were delighted that some hope was being infused back into the once unparalleled forum while others were less optimistic about its future or even returning to visit the forum under new management.

Lars gave me a little insight into the reason behind the acquisition and the direction the forum plans to take.  I can appreciate his realistic view on what it will take to change course and his optimism that he and his partners, along with the help of the domain community, can make it happen.

Mike:  I have not been an an active part of DNForum.com in the past, but what can be expected as the forum continues on?

Lars: In the past DNForum.com was the go-to place for professional domain investors to talk and trade domain names. Our goal is to expand and develop on that past and to provide a safe and filtered forum experience focused on quality content.

Mike:  Taking on a forum in any industry is a huge responsibility.  What made the three of you decide to tackle this?

Lars: Each of us have been paid members of DNForum.com for a great many years and carry a lot of affection for the place. As such it was a pain to follow its downward slope into oblivion and its turbulent changes in management in recent years. When the chance offered itself to purchase the place we could not let it go and jumped on it. Further we believe in the potential for righting the ship and that DNForum.com can be a healthy business again.

Mike:  There has been a little bit of a mixed buzz around the forum. Blogger surveys, post comments, etc.  Some folks wishing you good luck and suggesting this is the right move while others not as pleased.  How do you react to the domaining public on this?  Do you have some PR barriers to overcome with perception and how do you plan to do that?

Lars: Realistically speaking the image of DNForum.com is at an all time low. The interest, traffic and content was allowed to leave and certain events in the past also rubbed off a bit of the previous shine. But the good news is that its hard to go much lower from here. To go into a head to head argument with DNForum.com’s detractors would be counterproductive and frankly we don’t want to begin our fresh start with an argument. Further we are firm believers in showing by doing, so we will be trying our best to prove them wrong by holding true to our plans for DNForum.com. Luckily the buzz also included a great many DNForum.com veterans and supporters which has helped us getting business back to the site almost from day one of the takeover.

Mike:  It sounds like some people “grew up” on DNForum and learned much of what they know about domaining there.  What do you see in the forum that others might not?  What is it that makes sense about “saving” this forum as opposed to walking away or trying to create a new one from scratch?

Lars: It is exactly that. It has a history of being the place to talk and trade domains in the professional sphere of the industry. A place where, if you were willing to listen, you could pick up a lot of great knowledge and in the marketplace; actual great domain deals. The site has a lot of cache amongst industry veterans even with its recent turbulent history and still has a lot of business potential from a branding stand point.

Further in our industry it does not hurt us to operate under the category killer domain name of our niche.

Mike:  You have listed several short and longer term goals in your initial announcement.  Are these thoughts that the three of you came up with based on what you feel needs to be done or was there any user input involved?

Lars: I have to take responsibility for the currently proposed strategy. I have a clear vision of where I think we need to take DNForum.com to re-establish it as a staple of our industry. Going forward we will be asking our community for input on what they would like to see happen at DNForum.com and we will be open for community suggestions. If we find them viable and they fit into the plans we have for DNForum.com.

Mike:  What is your measurement for success?  How will you know if you are succeeding and how long do you anticipate it will take to see results?

Lars: Naturally we look at financial profitability as one of the chief measurements of our success. We hope to get DNForum.com in the green within 3 months of the takeover. But to achieve that we need to reinvigorate our user base and bring them back to table to deliver the quality content DNForum.com needs to flourish. So we really look at user activity as a key performance indicator, we want to bring back our investor crowd to create a working marketplace with no fees for domain name resellers.

Mike:  What do you to critics of the paid membership model?  Are their other alternatives to generating income on a forum?

Lars: Well for us its not the revenue aspect that is interesting. If we wanted to focus on membership revenue we would go the subscription route instead and not offer lifetime memberships for a one time payment. If we are very lucky the paid memberships will almost cover the server costs. It will never do much more than pay the base bill.

The reason we need a paid membership model is because it allows the more serious voices better access to promoting their content. We think that by limiting the noise that free access to markets often create, we create a higher quality offering.

Mike:  Anything you would like to add?:

Lars: We would love to see you back at DNForum.com or come for your first visit. In the upcoming weeks and months we will be; fixing old stuff that was broke or missing, sprucing up the design to create a fresh feel, introducing a number of new partnerships and benefits for our paid members and down the line also introducing new functionalities to our board. To make it happen we need all the help we can get and hope you will be a part of it.

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