What’s in a dot Name?

The other day, I received an email asking me to confirm some of my contact information. The email stated “Some of your contacts use WriteThat.Name, a new service that updates address books based on the linguistic analysis of email signatures.”  What first caught my eye was the dot NAME tld.  But really, what a unique concept.  I reached out to the creator to learn more.

Philippe Laval founded Kwaga two years ago with a simple idea in mind: help email users truly benefit from business data that is nested in the messages they receive. To do so, he leverage the experience he had in semantic technologies and actually strengthen it with a team of NLP (natural language processing) experts who have been enthusiastic about the idea. They are now 10 people strong, fully dedicated to making email the productivity tool it once used to be!

Mike:  Tell me about your service, WriteThat.Name.  What is it and how can it help people?

Philippe: Well, WriteThat.Name is a perfect illustration of my goal: it keeps your address book up-to-date automagically! Basically we recognize the signatures in the email you receive, and either we create the contact when it isn’t in your address book or we update the existing one – with a new mobile number, for instance.

We launched WriteThat.Name mid-May and have already created/updated over 100K contacts for our users! Talk about saving time…

Mike: What is your experience with the .Name tld?  Why did you choose this over a .com?

Philippe: There was a great debate over what we should name this service, but finally landed upon WriteThat.Name because it instantly describes what it does – writes the name and contact information to your address book. Nevertheless, we do have WriteThatName.com registered as well.

Mike: Have you or your company owned any other domain names?  How important do you feel the domain name WriteThat.Name is to your service?

Philippe: As a web-based company, our domain is as essential as the window display is to a shop along the street. This is the first thing that our customers experience, so we took great care in deciding on the perfect one.

Being a French-based company, we have registered WriteThatName.fr as well as the .com and .name domains. We also have both Kwaga.com and Kwaga.fr.

Mike:  WriteThat.Name takes a good feature of Gmail, adding contacts automatically, and makes it even better.  Where did the idea for this come from?

Philippe: I got tired of searching in my mail account for the number to call from the car every time I was late. I thought there must be a way to automate this, and, voila, WriteThat.Name was born…

Mike:  Tell me about your revenue model.  It looks like this is a pay service.  Did you consider selling some form of advertising as opposed to charging users?

Philippe: WriteThatName costs only $3/month or $20/year for each subscribed email address. The first month’s subscription is free. And $20 seems really low compared to the time spent searching for the right contact info! Compare this to the price of a virtual assistant: for $20 you can have a virtual assistant for one hour OR WriteThat.Name for a full year.

We opted to forgo the route of selling advertisement as our detection system looks through your messages to find contact details and link them to a signature. We want you to be confident in our respect for your privacy. However, if you still think it’s too expensive, we also have a referal program where we’ll give you another full month free for every referral that signs-up to WriteThat.Name.

Mike:  Kwaga is the parent of WriteThat.Name.  What is Kwaga and what’s the company’s goal?

Philippe: Kwaga was founded in 2008 by me (founder and former CEO of Sinequa, an enterprise semantic search engine vendor) along with a team of seasoned software entrepreneurs, backed up by top computational linguistics and development talent. Kwaga has created KwagaContext for Google Apps Email that enriches the Email experience by providing more context about senders: social profiles, previous conversations and smart action-reminders. Kwaga is a privately held company. SeedCamp and Kima Ventures are both shareholders and have provided seed-funding.

Mike:  Are there any other problems you’re focusing on that we may see a new service for in the future?

Philippe: At Kwaga, we are looking for new ways to enable people to continue working inside their preferred e-mail application and benefit from SmarterEmails™ without altering their habits. We are currently working on some extensions of WriteThat.name and will soon get back to you on that! In the meantime, please take a moment to check out our videos and screenshots to learn more about what we can do for you!

You can still find generic domains

generic domain

Maria Falconer picked up the domain name Rambles.com to base her business on.  I love single word generic domains so I asked her a few questions about he choice and her business.

Mike:  Tell me how you came across the domain name Rambles.com.  Was it available to register or did you purchase it from someone else that owned it?

Maria: The url was being held by a ‘squatter’, someone who really had no intention of ever using it, but wanted to drive up the price on the domain and resell it (editor’s note: that is not a squatter).  I tried to reach an agreement with the current owner one-on-one, but the numbers they were asking for were just outrageous. Just when I began to fear that I would have to choose a new domain name, I got word that rambles.com was being auctioned. I was extremely lucky in that the current owner chose a really fair brokerage/auction site to sell the domain. I managed to acquire the domain for a fraction of what the owner was asking. When the owner tried to back out of the deal, the auction firm made them stick to the agreement. I love Sedo!

Mike:  Tell me why you chose that name and what it means to you.

Maria:My shop is really the ‘Seinfeld’ of online stores. There is really no ‘plot’.We have everything, but nothing specific. So, I wanted to choose a domain name with a little ambiguity. I do believe that life, like art, is journey (or ramble). I also wanted to convey that the story takes a myriad of really different, unrelated ideas and expresses them in jumble (like rambling). So, rambles.com just seemed perfect.

Mike:  Can you tell me how many monthly visitors the site receives?

Maria: Just under 5000 and growing fast.

Mike:  The site is an ecommerce site and contains a wide variety of products.  Why did you choose not to focus on a specific niche?  Has that worked to your advantage?

Maria: I wanted to cast a wider net. I know that my interests change from year to year and I bore very easily. So, I wanted to make certain that the site was constantly fresh and new. I want to continuously reinvent the site. I want our audience and customers to come to expect the unexpected. I want them to visit the website and say ‘Wow! That’s new! I’ve never seen anything like that before!’

Mike:  What are some of the challenges you have faced as an online business owner?

Maria: Gosh, so many.  I think the greatest challenge is building buzz.  The internet is like one giant high school hallway.  It’s a popularity contest. So, you really have to work at it.  I really had to learn that the hard way. I had to learn that most people today spend very little time, relatively, ‘surfing’ the world wide web. Most people get on the internet with the intention of visiting a specific site. So, you need to catch them before they log on.
What people will never tell you is that creating buzz offline is absolutely vital to your survival online. So, you really have to build a great relationship with your local publications and reporters. Print advertising is just critical, but you have to careful. You can spend $2000 on print ad and not attract a single visitor.

Online advertising is hugely expensive. Building relevant traffic is even more expensive.

Building an air of accessibility for your company is key. Yet, finding the time to blog, tweet and update your Facebook status, all while trying to build your business, can be such a struggle.

I certainly haven’t conquered all of these obstacles yet. I’m learning as I ago.

Mike:  Your page has quite a few Facebook likes.  What other strategies do you use to promote the site and the business?

Maria: I tweet like mad. Unlike Facebook, I really haven’t found that Twitter has directly led to sales. However, its a good ‘awareness’ tool. I also blog. I advertise with Google. I also advertise on design and craft blogs. Currently, I’m trying align myself more closely with some of the local craft festivals. Making a name in the ‘real world’ will hopefully translate to sales online.

Mike:  What advice would you have for someone looking to start an ecommerce site?  What is required to do so?

Maria: I don’t think there will ever be another Amazon. We (people in general) just aren’t as enamored or in awe of the internet as we used to be. So, don’t have those types of expectations.
Unless you have a great deal of money to invest, plan on it taking about five years before you can say with any certainty whether or not you’re venture is a success.

Find out who your competition will be, realistically, and spend some time interviewing at least observing them. This can really help you adjust your goals and avoid pitfalls.

Get a mentor to guide you through the landmines of paperwork.

Overall, make sure that you  love what you do. It’s been said many times before, but it’s true. If your hearts not in it, you won’t persevere through the tough times…and all businesses have tough times.

What to do with a Butt Ugly domain

Butt Ugly

Judy Roberts described herself to me as “a lady with an idea that decided to take action.”  One of her favorite quotes is: “Ideas don’t keep, something must be done about them” -Alfred North Whitehead.  She thought that if there were other people already selling ugly sweaters that there must be a market, so she just ‘went’ for it!

Mike:  buttuglysweaters.com is an unforgettable name.  How did you come up with that?

Judy: I wanted a name that covered all the different genres of ugly sweaters and I wanted to stand out.  I mean, if you’re looking for an ugly sweater, wouldn’t you rather have one that’s butt ugly?

Mike:  Is there really a market for ugly sweaters?

Judy:  People have been buying ugly sweaters for years.  However, they really just started having ugly sweater parties for the past 3 or 4 years.  These types of parties can occur at any time of the year.

Mike:  How does one go about marketing ButtUglySweaters.com?  Is there a butt ugly target market?  Do you use online marketing such as SEO or banner ads?

Judy: I use the AscenderCart shopping cart to help me appear high in the search results.  The AscenderCart helps me with all the on-page and in-site SEO.  I accompany that with a few links and my blog.

Mike:  I can’t imagine that you produce all the sweaters that you list for sale on the site.  What advice would you have for others looking to start a site in a non-competing line of products.  How difficult is it to get started?

Judy:  You’re correct, I don’t make the sweaters.  I have several suppliers that provide me with the sweaters.  We accent some sweaters with “ugly” stuff to make them uglier.

Find a supplier that can help you meet the demands of your market.   One’s business is only as good as oneself and those with whom one partners.

Starting a business isn’t too hard.  It’s all about finding something one is passionate about and building a business from that passion.  One can’t succeed in a field in which one is not joyfully passionate.  You need to love what you do.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic the site sees on a monthly basis?

Judy:  I launched the website on September 1, 2010 with modest hopes in selling a couple hundred dollars of ugly sweaters.  I was astonished by the quantity of sweaters I sold and how much I earned.  In the first 90 days we had over 4,500 visitors who found the site using over 430 phrases.  The amount of traffic continues to increase, but I expect as Spring and Summer role in the traffic will decrease.

Mike:   What advice do you have for others who are searching for a domain name for their business?

Judy:  Find an easy to remember domain name.  The domain doesn’t need to be solely a keyphrase; it can be something like bobslawnmowers.com or terryspooltables.com.  Those are memorable while not being 100% keyphrase based.

Four Characteristics of Highly Effective Tech Leaders

Mark Zuckerberg - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009

Hollywood has always had a way of glamorizing and rewriting any reality into a two hour entertaining story that captivates us all.  We’ve seen it with biographies and historical portrayals of sports figures, political leaders, musicians and more.  There’s no reason it should be any different for technology leaders.  While watching The Social Network, I couldn’t help but draw some similarities between the Mark Zuckerberg character and that of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs from the late 90’s film, Pirates of Silicon Valley.  Is Hollywood telling us entertaining stories or providing the characteristics of what it takes to be successful?

Four Characteristics of Our Tech Leaders (according to Hollywood):

Be young – One must be a massive success by late teens or early 20’s.  I mean let’s face it, if you can’t be a billionaire before you can legally order your first beer, you might as well hang it up.  I’d even suggest dropping out of college to focus on your first billion.  That formal education will really just slow you down.

Have a superiority complex – It also helps to be better than everyone else.  Our technology heroes, as portrayed in the movies, each had a chip on their shoulder.  Mark clearly outclassed his girlfriend and partner and college classmates, Steve worked people to the edge of sanity and then called them worthless, and Bill was always one move ahead of Steve.

Steal Ideas – This is key.  There is no way to be successful at the billionaire level without stealing the whole foundation of your business from someone else.  It all starts with a good idea… someone else’s good idea.  Mark got his idea from two former college classmates, Steve got his idea from Zerox, and Bill… well Bill took the idea from Steve.  All is fair in love and technology.

Be Deceptive – Stealing the idea alone is not enough.  After tricking your trusted friends or business partners into giving you their great ideas, you must then avoid contact with them as much as possible.  It helps to lie, tell them you’re busy, or down play exactly what you are doing with the idea.  This one comes naturally, it seems.

I have to admit, I love a good movie.  With all that goes into writing a good script, convincing actors, award winning production and direction, it’s easy to see it as real.  As the credits roll, remember that it’s a movie.  Movies may be based in facts, but they are seldom the reality.

Getting the most out of premium domains

Left of the dot

Left of the Dot has developed a platform to enable premium domain name holders to lease sub-domain inventory to small businesses, creating significant new, recurring, revenue streams for the domain holder. The monetization service leases these “Marketing Names” along with a fully-equipped, ecommerce-ready website to small businesses giving them a highly-brandable web presence.  Co-founder, Chris Jensen gave me the first opportunity to ask some questions.

Mike:  LeftofTheDot.com is pretty descriptive of what your company represents.  I think we’ve all seen sub-domains in use, but can you tell me where the idea to base a business on this concept came from?

Chris: John Lyotier, our Co-Founder, and I have been talking about this business model for at least 10 years; our contention has always been that great domain names should bring together subject matter experts and their customers. In practice most of these experts are individuals or small businesses – they want to be online, they want to be found and they want to control their own message. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of them building a web site is a daunting prospect, all the great domain names are gone, SEO is a foreign language and they don’t want to pay a strange geek every time they need to change their site. Left of the Dot solves all those issues; we build them a good starter site, they get access to a great domain name (that they could never afford to buy), the SEO takes care of itself and they have a simple toolkit to make their own changes. When you combine that with a low monthly fee and no long term contract it is an easy sell, people instinctively understand and like the model.
It has become increasingly clear that great domain names need to be turned into profitable business units if they are to realize their true potential and value, you can’t rely on parking any more. Experience shows that Domainers are hardly ever the best people to build out these sites because they are not subject matter experts and they do not live and breathe that business vertical. What Domainers really want is a low resource, low risk, high return business that has multiple sources of reliable revenue and which increases the value of their domain name. In a nutshell that is Left of the Dot.

Mike:  I first saw your work in action with Beef.com, as I blogged about last year.  What other names are you leveraging this concept on?

Chris:  Yes, you were really quick on that, we only reached out to a few ranchers and you were straight on to us! Beef.com was our proof of concept site and the domain owner has been a great partner for us, very supportive. We have a new look Beef.com in the works that will be out soon and which implements many of the lessons we have learned over the past several months. Our second site launched was www.Villa.com which we are very pleased with, because it is performing exceptionally well. We have 2 more sites in production with a February target launch date and another dozen or so names lined up in our delivery funnel.  I can’t give you specific names until they are ready to go but they are all single word, premium generics.

Mike:  How do owners of the core domain, like Beef.com, make money?

Chris: From multiple sources; the domain owner gets an agreed amount from each sub-domain, we manage advertising on the main site with a revenue share and each site has a specific business model that we share with the owner. Our target is that the ad revenue alone should exceed parking revenue because our sites attract search engine traffic and link traffic as well as direct navigation traffic. This means that the site specific revenue and the sub-domain fees are additional sources of revenue to the owner.  For many of the domains we work with, we are building real, functioning businesses supported by sales and marketing which increases the overall asset value of the name.

Left of the Dot

Mike:  While I know the concept has been in beta, can you share some statistics on your success to date?

Chris: It is still early because www.villa.com was the first site on our new platform, however I can say that we are already exceeding the previous revenue by a considerable factor, traffic is growing, the number of sub-domains is ahead of target and the site specific business is generating income. So all in all we are very pleased at this stage.

Mike:  How are sub-domains treated by search engines such as Google?

Chris: Provided the sub-domains are tightly relevant, contain valuable content and provide a positive visitor experience they do very well. For example we have one name in development that has 300 pre-existing sub-domains and over 150 of them rank 1 – 3 for their term in the Google SERP’s. We know that Google is, quite correctly, constantly on the lookout for people that are gaming the system and one of the strengths of our model is that real experts have a vested, financial interest in making their sub-domains as valuable to visitors as possible. We believe in the old adage that if you are fair with Google, Google is fair with you. And since every domain name represents a silo of knowledge around a specific vertical or topic, and every sub-domain – though treated as its own site in the eyes of the engines — supports this silo of knowledge, but with a more-specific concept match, then this becomes valuable, relevant information for the search engines themselves. In short, we are being nice to Google.

Mike: Do you think some end users will see this as a better alternative to some of the newer TLDs, such as .CO?

Chris: Definitely, with any non .com tld you are always faced with the battle of inspiring potential visitor confidence and creating SEO from a standing start. Would you rather buy mexicanvilla.co, build a site, create content, try to get it to rank as a new site on a new domain name and manage your own hosting or would you rather pay a monthly fee to have www.Mexican.Villa.com that comes with a starter site where you simply add your content, that gets legitimate support from a large, authority site and where the hosting and technical support are taken care of for you. Domainers may like option 1, but the vast majority of individuals or small businesses favour the second option, it is simply easier, more accessible and lower risk.

Mike:  Are you currently accepting domain submissions for the LOTD service?  If so, what criteria are required to qualify?

Chris:  Our plan is to launch no more than a few sites per month initially and we have enough premium domain names available to us for a while. The response from Domainers has been excellent. With that said we are always looking for great names that we can work with and our individual site launch schedule is flexible as we are offered new names.
Our current primary categories are Business Categories, Geo Domains and Professions. We are also interested in rolling out to Product Categories and potentially Social Groups. At this stage all of our names must be premium, category defining and .com.

Mike:  What means are you using to get the word out about LOTD?

Chris: Well, so far we have had great support from our existing contacts within the Domaining industry. Many people have contacted us to ask about Left of the Dot, offer help or suggestions and suggest names that may be suitable. We have presented a couple of times at TRAFFIC and we will be at DOMAINFest. We realize that there are a limited number of people that own suitable names and we will approach these people on an individual basis.
We have a detailed marketing and publicity plan for each of the sites that we launch and these target the individual markets specifically. You are probably more likely to hear about Left of the Dot via one of our sites than you are about us as a company – exactly in the way that you heard about us!