I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with Jeff Bennett, CEO of Swap.com, and the author behind the blog, www.jeffbennett.com. Swap is an award-winning website that brings people together to swap the stuff they have for the stuff they want. Jeff has been an active digital citizen since the mid-1990’s and this experience has enabled him to play leadership and advisory roles with many successful Internet businesses. Prior to Swap.com, Jeff founded and served as President & COO of NameMedia, where he built one of the largest domain portfolios in the world. Jeff has also served in several executive roles at Lycos, including VP of eCommerce and Executive Vice President of Corporate Development. Jeff is focused on leveraging the power of social media and commerce to build the Swap economy, a mission that he has spoken about on The CBS Early Show and FOX Business, and in publications like Entrepreneur and the Boston Globe.
Mike: I love the concept behind Swap.com. Can you tell me where the idea came from?
Jeff: Swapping has been a form of exchange for thousands of years. We all learn how to swap in kindergarden and swap the rest of our lives. Our business was originally Swaptree and both founders Greg Boesel and Mark Hexamer were book lovers and swapped books together and with friends. Creating an online platform that would enable the swapping would allow them to swap more books with more people.
Mike: You began with the name SwapTree.com and decided to rebrand using Swap.com. Tell me about what went into the decision and what the reward has been? What will you eventually do with the domain SwapTree.com after the traffic redirect is no longer needed?
Jeff: I got to know Greg and Mark as an advisor and then joined their Board as they were building out Swaptree. I also loved what they were doing. Collectively we saw great potential to build a marketplace for even more categories both online and offline.
I have experience with domains from my roles at Lycos and NameMedia. I know the power of what I call a “descriptive domain,” a domain that defines an activity or category. There is nothing generic about a descriptive domain that is for sure. Swap.com is a very appropriate name for our company and expanded strategy.
We are early into the rebranding. Results so far have been positive as we marry the former direct search traffic to our base of existing traffic. We believe the future will be more bright with respect to SEO. We are even more excited about additional branding initiatives online and offline. Swap.com is such a memorable and actionable name. Swap.com is a wonderful brand for word-of-mouth… and swapping is the essence of a social experience…so word-of- mouth is very important.
Mike: What means have you been using to promote Swap.com? Do you have any competition in this field?
Jeff: Our business is largely organic. Swapping is very social so word-of-mouth marketing and social networks are very important. Lots of swapping is done offline today, so great pr is essential to spread the word. In the last few months we have been featured on the national television on CBS Early Show and Fox Business, through national media outlets like USAToday, Wall Street Journal, Wired, and in numerous local television and newspapers.
The swapping category features many niche-oriented services that are focused on specific areas like books, games, fashion and more. We are are focused on building leading positions across many categories as we build a large marketplace. When you look at where we are going eBay and CraigsList come to mind, though we will offer a superior service dedicated for swapping.
Mike: Swap.com holds no inventory, does not act as a middle man for exchanging products and does not charge a fee. How does the company generate revenue?
Jeff: Our business model includes fees for swap transactions and shipping … and we are also operating swap events offline in several cities. We believe there are many incremental services that we can add that will bring more and more benefits to our members.
Mike: You have a solid history in the Internet and domain world. You founded and served as President and COO of NameMedia, where you built one of the largest domain portfolios in the world. What advice would you give to someone starting out in the domain investment industry today? What strategy would you recommend that an individual use to start a domain investment portfolio or a couple of revenue generating sites?
Jeff: I view domains to be the real estate of the Internet. The descriptive nature of a domain kind of dictates the options that are available for monetization. There are names that are great terms for search, commerce and reference. These names are very appropriate for syndication deals with Google, Yahoo, Shopping.com and others. There is another class of domains that are descriptive and could act as brands for companies, products and services. Some people call them generic..but this is a misnomer. There is always the opportunity to put these descriptive domains up for sale on BuyDomains or Afternic, two great domain selling services. A more entrepreneurial and value building option might be to build the names out yourself…or pledge the name to an entrepreneur that is building a company in the particular market sector that the name is appropriate for. I see a lot of opportunity for the domain owner to collaborate with entrepreneurs as value drivers.
Mike: Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
Jeff: Building a brand is a very difficult and expensive proposition today. With Search, Social, Mobile and Word-of-Mouth marketing… entrepreneurs need to think about a name that will allow them to efficiently launch, build and sustain their ventures. I believe the most efficient way to accomplish this is to leverage descriptive domains for brands. I have seen this done very effectively over my time at Lycos, NameMedia and I am living proof of this at Swap.com today. My advice to the entrepreneur is to get some help finding ways to access and utilize descriptive domains. This does not replace the focus on building world class products/services, but it surely enhance the opportunity!
Thanks for posting Mike. I really believe in the power of descriptive domains. I think traditionally domainers thought it would be easy to develop this real estate…it is not. Value creation can come through selling on the right platform or collaborating with ventures that are building in the marketspace that is appropriate for the name. Hopefully this post can help the many folks who own these names. I hope to have a great example of domain+venture with Swap.com. I am happy to help others think this through as well.
Jeff, it was great to get your perspective. You have an open invitation to guest post any time. You have valuable experience and perspectives we could all learn from.