Tips For New Domainers

101 Tips / Truths for New Domainers

The post you are about to read is one that I wrote over 8 years ago.  I made some minor updates and added about 10 additional tips to the list, bringing it to 111 tips / truths for new domainers.  While you and I have surely changed, not much has changed in 8 years as far as the fundamentals go.  

I was having lunch with an old friend a couple weeks back.  The type of friend you see just a few times a year.  We were catching up on things and he asked me “If I wanted to start domaining, what tips or advice would you give me.”  I explained that my definition of domaining includes flipping, longer term investing, and developing.  That said, my reply was “I could easily come up with 100 tips for you.”  So, he held me to it.  In the spirit of sharing, here are 101 tips and truths for new domainers.  This list could easily be doubled, but it’s a good start.  There are probably a few reminders in there for experienced domainers as well.

1. Read domain blogs
2. Subscribe to Domaining.com
3. Heed the advice of the experts
4. Draw your own conclusions
5. Research before you buy a domain
6. Research before you sell a domain
7. Network with other domainers
8. Find a niche
9. Read forums with caution
10. Make mistakes
11. Learn to negotiate
12. Learn about sales
13. Don’t burn bridges
14. Don’t buy more domains than you can afford
15. Keep renewal fees in mind
16. Don’t rely on automated estimation tools
17. Stay away from trademarked names
18. Familiarize yourself with domain laws
19. Diversify, invest and develop
20. Have a contract when selling a domain
21. Have a contract when buying a domain
22. Stay ahead of trends
23. Review past sales data
24. Understand that a domain is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay
25. Buy domains that interest you
26. Find email examples of effective sales letters
27. Experiment with email sales letters to find what works best
28. Pick up the phone
29. Utilize a broker when appropriate
30. You  WILL get discouraged.  Keep going
31. Set Goals and a clear vision
32. Don’t register a name just because it’s available
33. Get creative with ways to reach end users
34. Buyers don’t have to be one time customers
35. Learn a little html
36. Learn a little graphic editing
37. Find a reliable hosting service
38. Learn about WordPress
39. Hire a developer if you build a full site
40. Don’t let other domainers discourage you
41. You won’t get rich from parking
42. Realize most of your domains suck
43. Understand SEO
44. Avoid duplicate content
45. Familiarize yourself with Google Trends
46. Social Networking is important
47. Experiment with affiliate programs
48. If you feel strongly about a name, don’t accept a low ball offer
49. Before buying a domain, think about how else the money could be used
50. Try selling on Craigslist, eBay, forums, domain actions and other means
51. Use Twitter to network, not to make a tweet a sales pitch
52. Even sucky names can have high global monthly searches
53. List your names at Sedo
54. Understand brandable vs generic
55. Model what works well for others
56. Don’t quit your day job… yet
57. Never go back on your word
58. If you’re serious, then form a legal business
59. Attend meetups when possible
60. Take lessons from other industries
61. Keep meticulous records
62. Stay connected with new TLDs, even if you don’t invest in them
63. Don’t use Hotmail or spamming looking ail when soliciting buyers.
64. Back up your sites
65. Be prepared to develop or drop any domain you purchase
66. Learn how the drop process works
67. Understand domain taxes
68. Know what your minimum acceptable price is for each domain you own
69. Find partners for development
70. Be willing to work HARD
71. Search feverishly for opportunity
72. Great domains with poor content = crap
73. Look to domain suggestion tools for inspiration only
74. Read, listen, process
75. Know when to give up on a project
76. Know when not to give up
77. Help and teach others, it’s the best way to learn
78. Focus – work on one idea at a time
79. Don’t expect to get rich quick
80. You don’t have to have a huge portfolio to be successful
81. Find free, inexpensive resources.  They’re out there
82. Even though some things are free, sometimes it’s worth paying for better quality
83. Know that most end users wont understand the value of a good domain
84. Domainers won’t pay end user prices, neither should you
85. You can’t do it all alone
86. Find an attorney in the industry before you need one
87. If you ask for advice, you’ll probably get it
88. Not all advice is good advice
89. Your friends/family don’t understand what you’re doing.  That’s fine
90. Don’t waste time wishing you bought names in the 90’s
91. Buy what you can afford and add value
92. If you can’t write content, hire someone who can
93. Most of your ideas won’t get off the ground
94. Make the few that do get off the ground count
95. You’ll get better with practice
96. There are no shortcuts, only faster runners
97. The best domains maybe taken, the best ideas are not
98. Don’t get emotionally attached to a domain
99. Don’t believe everything you read
100. Keep a separate bank account for domaining
101. Don’t look up domains you let drop, it will only piss you off
102. Don’t think you have to register every TLD for a name, that’s just madness
103. There are ways to accelerate your learning… find them
104. A great domain still requires lots of work to be successful
105. Make sure the TLD is appropriate for the name
106. Keep up on technology
107. Never sell based on panic
108. Never rush into a purchase
109. Your reputation is everything
110. If you don’t make money but you enjoy it, keep doing it
111. If you don’t enjoy it, then stop doing it

 

Have any favorites from the list?  Any additional items you would add?  Post them in the comments.

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These Guys Get It

I have a strange hobby.  I like to track keyword domains that point to other sites.  I’ve explained in the past how I’m always disappointed when I come across a parked keyword domain name.  Its just a let down.  “What a great name,” I think to myself, and no one is enjoying it.  It’s like a picture frame missing it’s award winning photograph.  It’s just not a feel good.  So when I come across a keyword name that doesn’t have a site, but is instead directing viewers to another site that has value, I burst with joy.  Burst is a little sting, but I’m happy to see the name put to good use.

Here’s a quick hitter of 8 domains pointing to other sites.

skull.com points to a teespring.com store (I want one of these shirts)
Stitches.com points to ASI Magazines
God.com points to mybible.com  (Can’t really argue that one)
scrap.com points to demolition.com (I would use scrap.com as my primary site)
Compensation.com points to https://www.ajg.com/solutions/benefits-hr-consulting/human-resources-compensation/approach/ (stick with Compensation.com)
Lucy.com points to thenorthface.com (A company that folded into NorthFace)
Portal.com points to  oracle.com
Video.com points to movies.disney.com (of course it does)

 

Have any favorites that you have seen?

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Marine.com gets 25% Type-in Traffic

Marine.com, LLC began in 1997 as Cyber-Marine, Inc. www.cyber-marine.com. In 2000, subsequent to an investment by MindDrivers, LLC, a venture development firm, the company became marine.com and with additional resources, funding and support, rolled out a vastly expanded product offering as well as expanded features and customer support. In late 2014, Marine.com was sold to the current owners well versed in all aspects of e-commerce and the boating industry. Marine.com is owned and operated by a growing team of experienced sail and motor boating professionals with expertise in retail e-commerce. Jim Houston took the bait and joined me for an interview.

 

Mike: How did you acquire Marine.com? Were you the first to register it or did you buy it on the aftermarket? If the latter, can you share what you paid?

Jim Houston:  I belong to a domain group in Linkedin, an individual on there was acting as a broker for the owners. He tossed out a post about a keyword domain in the marine industry going up for sale and was looking for interested parties. Limited details were given, he was vetting us as much as we were vetting him. Once he felt comfortable with us, he revealed the actual domain and the price range that the owners were looking for.

Mike: I imagine a name like this really reduces your need for advertising costs. Is that correct?

Jim Houston:  Yes and no. One of the first things we noticed once we got access to Google Analytics (GA) (pre-purchase) was the high bounce rate on the GA. The owners were not much help on the reason, as they were busy with their other businesses and really didn’t have time to go back and forth on all the questions. So we did a deeper dive in GA and came up with some interesting data points, it seemed that a large percentage of the traffic for marine.com was actually coming in for Marine Corp and not for boat supplies. But the traffic that was coming in for the boat supplies converted very well. So, to answer your question is Yes and No. The marine industry traffic (organic) converts great!

 

Mike: What is the volume of traffic the site sees? Do you know how many people find the site just by typing in Marine.com?

Jim Houston:  The site operates only on organic/referral/direct traffic, we do not advertise it at all. So, traffic is low, about 15k per month and 25% of that is type-in. The site was purchased as a pet project outside of our current domains that we own and operate. We spent about 6 months building out a backend to manage all the different vendors for drop shipping. Current, we have 5 vendors with roughly 48,000 products online. The site pays for itself and only takes about 15 minutes per day to update. Everything is automated on the site, we even have ranking system in place to give the vendor with a lower price and more margin for us first position to sell.

We have a new concept for marine.com to take it over the top, but haven’t had the resources to assign to the project. The boating industry lacks this portal and we know it will be a homerun, we hope by mid-2019 we can apply some resources to build this out or at least get an investor or two to help get additional resources in here to build it.

 

Mike: Have you had offers from people and businesses that want to buy the name? If so, what dollar amount have the offers been? What would it take for you to part with the name?

Jim Houston:  Yes, we get weekly inquires to sell the domain/business. As normal, 99% of them are tire kickers, but once and awhile we will get someone with more interest then normal. We have been offered in range of 100k, 200k, 250k. It’s hard to say what we would sell it for, being a pet product that pays for itself with limited resources applied to it.. But, we will always entertain serious offers.

 

Mike: Do you have a brick and mortar business to go along with the website?

Jim Houston:  No, marine.com is a virtual drop ship business.

 

Mike: Despite having a great domain name, what challenges have you found in running an online business?

Jim Houston:  Google, Amazon, Google, Amazon, Google.. Need I say more? Google has too much power over small business with no oversight, with one algorithm change. Google can wipe the small business of search results. Killing all hopes of the business surviving. Working the SEO myself, I’ve seen how our position changes daily, weekly, monthly.. One day the phones will ring off the hook with business and the next day, a few phone calls. We know immediately Google has ranked us differently. How can a small business compete with larger businesses that have fully staffed department of marketing/SEO gurus. We are lucky that we do not need this business to survive.

Same goes for Amazon, I love Amazon, I order from it damn near daily. But, being a small business, they are killing the small businesses. And if you are a small business and you start FBA with Amazon, they monitor everything. So, if you have a hot item, expect Amazon to find a quick knockoff and start competing against you.

 

Mike: There is a famous fisherman by the same name as you… Other than me, has anyone else mistaken you for him?

Jim Houston:  Yes, I get it a lot on Linkedin and I use to bass fish a lot and compete in local tournament around Lake Okeechobee, Florida. It was fun to see my name on the leader board and people looking all around for Jimmy.  Then I walk on stage and silence from the crowd. Tournament directors always got a kick out of it.

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97 Domains that Didn’t Make It

I took a spin through SullysBlog.com and all of the interviews, reviews and editorials that I have posted over the years.  It’s amazing to see how much has changed and how much as stayed the same.  One area that caught my interest was that some of the great names that I had interviewed or mentioned in the past are now parked, for sale, or otherwise not in use.  That’s not to say that the business or people behind these domains were failures.  In some cases they may have been, in others, domain may have changed hands and the new owners have chosen to park the name until they are ready to use it or resell.  We can really only speculate.

I decided to list 97 of such domain names straight from the pages of SullysBlog.com. This is not all inclusive. There are other names that now have different sites or point to different URLs, but I have excluded those. I am not passing judgement, but there are certainly lessons to be learned here.  You can poke around and decide for yourself.  Below you’ll find the domain name, a link to the post where the name was featured or mentioned on my site, and they result I found when visiting that domain today.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a lot of broken links to cleanup on my blog.

 

Domain Original Post Current Status
http://whypark.com http://sullysblog.com/domain-parking-options/ Blank Page
http://toysales.com http://sullysblog.com/sextoys-com-im-blushing/ Godaddy Parked Page
http://www.tennisshoes.com http://sullysblog.com/Big-Companies-Find-Value-in-Key-Word-Domain-Names Defunct Shopify Site
http://BubbleGum.com http://sullysblog.com/Big-Companies-Find-Value-in-Key-Word-Domain-Names Server Error at wrigley.com
http://www.lobster.com http://sullysblog.com/Would-You-Like-To-Get-Your-Claws-on-This-Domain Site is closed
http://www.chocolate.com http://sullysblog.com/Chocolate-a-Sweet-Domain-Name For Sale
http://leedewyze.com http://sullysblog.com/Lee-Dewyze-American-Idol Blank page
http://laptops.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Big-Companies-with-KeyWord-Domains Parked
http://Scooters.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Big-Companies-with-KeyWord-Domains Honda Error Page
http://Cookies.com http://sullysblog.com/Domain-Just-Like-Mom-Used-to-Make Parked
http://Auctionpus.com http://sullysblog.com/Andrei-Polgar-Auctionpus 403 Forbidden Error
http://babybottles.com http://sullysblog.com/Even-More-Companies-Find-Value-In-KeyWord-Domains Undeveloped
http://Locks.com http://sullysblog.com/Even-More-Companies-Find-Value-In-KeyWord-Domains Page cannot be found
http://boating.com http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat Page cannot be found
http://biking.com http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat Page cannot be found
http://barbecuing.com http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat For Sale
http://skiers.com http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat For Sale
http://babyfomula.com http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat For Sale
http://cigarmarket http://sullysblog.com/Domains-That-Will-Float-Your-Boat Page cannot be found
http://fathers-day.com http://sullysblog.com/Fathers-Day-And-A-Gift-For-You For Sale
http://Plants.com http://sullysblog.com/BP-Gets-UGLY Coming Soon Page
http://ugly.com http://sullysblog.com/BP-Gets-UGLY For Sale
http://WebPostion.com http://sullysblog.com/WebPosition-Winners Dogpile.com
http://domainprofitsharing.com http://sullysblog.com/Domain-Profit-Sharing Parked
http://flu.com http://sullysblog.com/Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Strange brand protection page
http://Skin.com http://sullysblog.com/Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Parked
http://mo.com http://sullysblog.com/Contributing-to-MO Page cannot be found
http://mens-razors.com http://sullysblog.com/Amazon-Affiliate-Store Parked
http://www.mytweetspace.com http://sullysblog.com/Twitter-Template Parked
http://wantmulch.com http://sullysblog.com/When-a-Dot-Com-is-Essential Parked
http://irish.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Maintenance page
http://FileCabinets.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use For Sale
http://Housewares.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use For Sale
http://OvenMits.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Parked
http://Leathershoes.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Parked
http://Winetravel.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Generic-Domains-Put-to-Good-Use Never loaded / I ran out of patience
http://comments.com http://sullysblog.com/Monster-Portable-Identity For Sale
http://chat-rooms.com http://sullysblog.com/Monster-Portable-Identity Parked
http://www.condom.com http://sullysblog.com/Protection-in-a-Domain-Name Closed
http://yellowshow.com http://sullysblog.com/Where-to-List-Your-Geo-Names Page cannot be found
http://dressshoes.com http://sullysblog.com/Generic-Domains-Pointed-for-Success Page cannot be found
http://PhotographyEquipment.com http://sullysblog.com/Generic-Domains-Pointed-for-Success For Sale
http://splendorkoiandpond.com http://sullysblog.com/Utilize-Upper-and-Lowercase Default Wen Server Page
http://legafi.com http://sullysblog.com/Brandable-Business-Domain Connection Timed Out
http://morganlinton.tv http://sullysblog.com/Domain-TV Parked at host
http://hockey.us http://sullysblog.com/25000-unique-visitors-per-day parked
http://cordlessphones.com http://sullysblog.com/PeanutButter-Skippy-Conspiracy Page cannot be found
http://robotics.com http://sullysblog.com/PeanutButter-Skippy-Conspiracy For Sale
http://BargainDomains.com http://sullysblog.com/Bargain-Domains-For-Selling For Sale
http://Valuate.com http://sullysblog.com/Bargain-Domains-For-Selling For Sale
http://PRSarahEvans.com http://sullysblog.com/Sarah-Evans-Social-Media Page cannot be found
http://Wiggio.com http://sullysblog.com/Wiggio Closed
http://boxcar.com http://sullysblog.com/boxcar Parked
http://pennystocks.com http://sullysblog.com/Peter-Leeds-PennyStocks Page cannot be found
http://www.domaintaxguide.com http://sullysblog.com/Domain-Tax-Guide Suspended Page
http://syntheticoil.com http://sullysblog.com/Using-Domains-Properly Parked
http://2299barrettdrive.com http://sullysblog.com/Street-Address-for-Type-In-Traffic Page cannot be found
http://www.onguard24x7 http://sullysblog.com/Get-Your-Arms-Around-This-Domain Page cannot be found
http://laborday.com http://sullysblog.com/More-Good-Uses-of-Generic-Domains Page cannot be found
http://PumpkinPatch.com http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects Page cannot be found
http://headhunter.net http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects Page cannot be found
http://headhunters.net http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects Page cannot be found
http://CarBatteries.com http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects For Sale
http://Steel.com http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects For Sale
http://RacingTire.com http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domain-Name-Redirects For Sale
http://www.Real-Impact.com http://sullysblog.com/real-impact-tld Parked
http://limediation.li http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://www.smith-kearns.com http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://nobullshitnegotiations.com http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://nobsnegotiations.com http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://www.mediatingconflicts.com http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://valueaddednetworking.com http://sullysblog.com/dot-LI-TLD Page cannot be found
http://meetwith.me http://sullysblog.com/Alternate-TLDs Page cannot be found
http://www.meetingwave.com http://sullysblog.com/Alternate-TLDs Page cannot be found
http://uphype.com http://sullysblog.com/uphype-Brad-Ayres Apache test page
http://literarylinens.com http://sullysblog.com/KeyWords-in-Domains Page cannot be found
http://dallasbankruptcysettlements.com http://sullysblog.com/KeyWords-in-Domains Page cannot be found
http://hotwatersource.com/ http://sullysblog.com/Top-Internet-Retailer Parked
http://portableairshop.com http://sullysblog.com/Top-Internet-Retailer Parked
http://simplydehumidifiers.com http://sullysblog.com/Top-Internet-Retailer Page cannot be found
http://popcorninformation.com http://sullysblog.com/Buck-Smolow-JustPoppin Parked
http://popcorn-popper.info http://sullysblog.com/Buck-Smolow-JustPoppin Parked
http://nintendowiifitconsole.co.uk http://sullysblog.com/Bronwen-Pollard Parked at host
http://compareappleipad.com http://sullysblog.com/Bronwen-Pollard Page cannot be found
http://PrinterToner.com http://sullysblog.com/Keyword-Domains-in-Action Parked
http://seocontentwriter.co http://sullysblog.com/SEO-Writer-Takes-a-Chance-with-Dot-CO Page cannot be found
http://skincareforathletes.com/ http://sullysblog.com/Skin-Care-for-Athletes Page cannot be found
http://zapyourcrap.com http://sullysblog.com/Zap-Your-Crap Page cannot be found
http://tvprotectors.com http://sullysblog.com/10-More-Great-Keyword-Domains Parked
http://ebusinesscounsel.com http://sullysblog.com/Jason-Shinn Page cannot be found
http://agentanything.com http://sullysblog.com/Agent-Anything Page cannot be found
http://iheartoliveoil.com http://sullysblog.com/I-Heart-Olive-Oil Page cannot be found
http://grooveshark.com http://sullysblog.com/10-Websites-to-Watch Page cannot be found
http://drinkthc.com/ http://sullysblog.com/The-Hangover-Cure Server Page
http://www.bartendertraining.com http://sullysblog.com/Meet-a-Domainer Server Page
http://auctionpus.com http://sullysblog.com/Checking-in-on-Auctionpus Server error
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This Domain Comes With a Label Attached

Label.com is home of Bradley Name Plates.  Bradley is a job shop which utilizes a wide variety of custom materials and processes it has acquired from over the years. Jim Bradley is the man behind it all and he shares

Mike:  I read that the company was founded in 1976.  Can you talk about how the business has evolved since that time?  How has the market changed and what shifts have you seen, such as online sales, in that evolution?

Jim:  In the beginning, a post card mailing yielded long lasting results as did door to door and more elaborate mailings. By the year 2000, near zero results. Presently, nothing we have tried yields results.  Most of our new customers are referrals or sub-contractors associated with existing customers.  Large firms delegate manufacturing to sub-contractors such as Flextronics, local and China.

Mike:  Who are your primary customers?

Jim:  Within any given quarter we have about 250 high tech customers.  Barracuda, Cisco Systems, Lam Research, Tesla and more.

Mike:  Can you share what you paid for the name?

Jim: Initially bradleynp.com Purchased Label.com about the year 2000 for $25,000. It was offered to me by an associate, an online label company going out of business. I could not afford it at the time but bought it anyway, recognizing that it would be an asset.

Mike:  Have you received any unsolicited offer for the name?

Jim:  A few, most did not understand the value. I did turn down $400,000 for it recently(our company was worth only about two million). I consider the value of Label.com com to be at least 1% of a 10 year marketing budget. It seems to me that clothing and record companies would benefit from Label.com.  My license plate is Label.com

Mike:  What benefits have you seen from the single, key word domain name?

Jim:  Easier to say than bradleynp.com.  Simple, easy for our customers.  We could track very little traffic or result from the web even though for at least six months we were at the top of search results. It attracted scams and un-professional buyers.

Mike:  How do you market your business?  Do you do anything outside of Google organic search results and the great domain name?

Jim:  I gave up, nothing we tried worked. I expect to put some thought into it soon.

Mike:  Can you tell us the volume of traffic you see on a monthly basis?

Jim:   Summary of our sales and performance. We are a job shop, basically printers of industrial labels and panel graphics. 90+% of our sales are repeat orders. Until 2000, our income was in the top 10% of all companies as reported by our industry association. Sales rose to about eight million dollars with 50 employees, most of our sales was with Cisco Systems, we had a desk on site and stocked seven of their production lines daily. We had similar arrangements with other companies. About the year 2000 Cisco and most of our large customers moved production to China, our sales dropped to two million dollars overnight has stayed at that level until recently. We are now near three million dollars. We lost no customers, but the big jobs went to China. We were near bankruptcy three times but recovered and generally have done well.We have significant competition but have an excellent reputation, seldom lose a customer because we spoil them with excessive customer service and quality. About 16% of our jobs are shipped overseas to ten different countries but mostly 30 locations within China. Flextronics and similar companies.

And that is my story.

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Buying And Selling Domain Names

5 Ways, No Lets Make it 10 Ways a Domain is Like a Woman

Here’s another one from the archives I dusted off and updated with a few more thoughts.  I know I am looking for trouble with this one, but it’s all in good fun.  I welcome my female readers to fire back with their own comments.

  1. There’s always someone waiting to grab it when you let ’em drop.
  2. They can be expensive to acquire.
  3. It’s hard to let some go, even though you know you’d be better off.
  4. The wrong one can get you into legal trouble.
  5. They’re always more attractive when someone else has them.
  6. Some of them just don’t make sense.
  7. You’ll never fully understand them, but can’t live without them.
  8. They are everywhere you look.
  9. You google them to find out their history.
  10. You love them, but it seems to be a one way thing.
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3 Domain Name Suggestion Tools

It’s been a while since I poked around with some of the available domain name suggestion tools out there. I’m happy to say that despite the third quarter of 2018 having approximately 342.4 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains, there are still plenty of tools out there to help you discover a name if you can’t think of one on your own.

Here are three, chosen at random, or as random as a Google search will allow, and my interpretation of them.

namestation

namestatation is the first tool I tested out and I use “tested” in a loose, less than scientific manner.  Defaulting to the Keyword Domains setting, I thought I would start simple and enter “pens” as my keyword with the Extension as .com.  The result, a nice mix of good and terrible names were returned.  But here is the immediate turn-off for me.  You have to click each one individually to see if it is available, or signup to check multiple at one time.  If you are going to create a name suggestion tool, the primary criteria should be that the name is available.  There are plenty of additional options in the lefthand side menu, but to be honest, I lost interest after having to check to see if a domain is available.

 

DomainIT

Moving right along, the next option I tried out was DomainIT, touted as “the original domain service.”  Ummm… what the hell does that mean?  There is a little icon on the site that reads “Reliable Website Service since 1996.”  I think that was the year then implemented the interface on this site as well.  The result was a list of names, none that were appealing, although usedpenshop.com and PensSupport.com made me laugh.  “Yes, I bought this pen on usedpenshop.com and I’m not sure if it is out of ink or if I am just not using in properly.  Can you help me debug this issue please?”

 

Namemesh

Finally, I selected Namemesh to see what it could do.  This one let’s you know up front: “TIP – Works best with 2-3 domain keywords separated by space.”  That said, I modified my input to “Fountain Pen.”  I’m not going to pretend that the results were excellent, but I really seem to like this one.  First, the page populates with a ton of results, and then it seems to check for availability and a split second later reduces the list to those available.   That’s what I’m talking about.  It also divides the names into different categories: Common, Similar, New, Fun, SEO, etc.  I like this, it’s checking dozens of TLDs and a small spectrum of other options all on its own and in a clean readable interface.  No, I didn’t find a single name I wanted to buy, but it was fun.  I spent some time plugging in other words and there were some cool results.

Tune in next time for another exciting episode of “3 Domain Suggestion Tools!”

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Backyard.com – Quite a Production

Backyard produces creative content for some of the best ad agencies and top brands in the world. Headquartered in Culver City, CA, their team of talented directors and seasoned producers deliver a collaborative creative process that builds happy client relationships.

The Backyard brand is nearly 30 years old. Fellow Chicagoan, Founder, and current CMO/Managing Director of Backyard, Roy Skillicorn talks about the company and the domain that represents it.

 

Mike: I read that you founded Backyard with Chicago photographer Tony D’Orio in 1988 while you were working as a rep for PIXAR. What inspired the idea for Backyard and what was your vision at the time?

Roy: I was a rep for Pixar, Colossal Pictures, and HKM at the time I started Backyard. All were start ups that I helped establish by not only finding them their first projects but also repped them all throughout the eighties. Since I had had such luck finding initial work for companies that soon became powerhouse live action and animation entities, I asked them all if they wouldn’t mind me starting something in Chicago for local work. They all agreed to allow me to rep them while starting Backyard. After the first 6 months I took on a partner who had been a student of mine when I was a young high school art teacher. He helped in numerous ways including back office tasks, bidding and production leaving me to what I enjoyed: sales. My vision for Backyard at the time was to create destination to do smaller, local work while keeping my representation business going for the big national work I was enjoying. When bigger national work started coming in for us at Backyard, I folded Skillicorn & Associates, my representation company, to focus 100% on Backyard. This proved to be the right move and we soon were getting work from the best agencies in NYC and from the west coast. I moved the entire company including the secretaries and assistants to Los Angeles where we eventually became a $50 million company.

 

Mike: You founded Backyard in 1988 and domain names were hardly even in existence. When did you aquire Backyard.com and did you purchase it on the aftermarket from someone or were you the first to register it?

Roy: We were early and we were the first to register it.

 

Mike: You’ve recently returned to Backyard after founding it and building it into a successful company, then founding the award winning Seed Media Arts. What brought you back to Backyard?

Roy: Upon selling Backyard in 2011, I started Seed Media Arts and modeled it after the changes I had suggested to my partner and producers at Backyard. I saw the business changing, where the advertising and marketing business was headed from being on the street and by talking to hundreds of clients and agency folk. Those changes were rejected though. I was and I still continue to be on the street and in the trenches. That gives me insight into the future and at that time, I saw what was coming in 2008-2010. I created Seed with very little overhead.

Intermittently I judged the the goings on at Backyard, being the company I started. I continually heard that directors and producers that I had hired over the 22 years, were leaving. Later, I saw that the new management and owners even discarded the iconic logo that my wife had designed, a logo that was so well liked, well known and respected. Then I heard that the company had finally downsized as I had suggested years before. Recently I came to find out that all the directors I had brought to the company and all but one producer had left and that it had been sold to a new owner. As fate would have it, I found the owner lives in Chicago and I clicked “connect” on Linkedin. He contacted me soon after and asked me to rejoin the Backyard team as Managing Director.

 

Mike: How important has the name Backyard.com been to the company’s success? Do you feel you would have achieved the same results had you registered a name like “BackyardProductions.com?”

Roy: Backyard Productions is the real name of the company BUT everyone calls it Backyard and as the name connotes, it is a friendly and casual place. Backyard.com just made sense. Simple is always the best.

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Domain Search Tools

10 Reasons Why You Need a Break From Domaining

At times, I’ve submerged myself in domaining to the point where I have made irrational decisions.  It’s a serious condition that can be avoided if you maintain a moderate level of domain exposure, ample vitamin C, and daily exercise.  Excess exposure to domaining, on the other hand, can be dangerous to you and those around you.  Fortunately, there are early warning signs developed by the scientific community that you can look out for.  I originally posted this one back in 2010 but as I was recently re-reading it, a few more symptoms came to mind.  Here are 10, no… 15 reasons why you may need to take a break from domaining.

15.   You spend too much time during work reading lists like this one.

14.  You’ve tried to coin a new word just so you can register it and sell it for millions.

13.  You put a “dot” on your license plate with some black electrical tape.

12.  You dressed as Rick Schwartz for Halloween.

11.  You screamed with excitement when YourName.Dentist was available for hand reg.  You’re a plumber.

10.  You hand regged all the ingredients on your cereal box this morning, including hydroxypropylmethylcellulose.org.

9. You give domains out for gifts on holidays.

8.  You can’t remember your cell phone number but you can rattle off your top 300 domains from memory.

7.  You think it would be cute to name your kids .com, .net, and .org.

6.  You’re monthly Godaddy invoice is larger than your mortgage.

5.  You scream out “WaffleIron.com” in the heat of passion.

4.  You judge your friends by how many global monthly searches they get on Google.

3.  Your license plate says  DOMNERS

2.  You have a tattoo of the “I Heart Domaining” button on your chest.

1.  You honestly think hydroxypropylmethylcellulose.org is an awesome domain name.

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Website Domains For Sale

Rick Schwartz is Reading My Mind

I prepared a domain related book review that I will be publishing later this month and in it (not a spoiler) I mention veterans like Rick and also newer domainers.  By newer, I mean those that weren’t on the domain train the moment it left the station, but had to catch it a bit further down the line.   Then, to my delight, I see a post by Rick yesterday declaring exactly what I was going for. It Does Not Matter WHEN you got into Domaining, It Matters WHERE you are Going!

Sure, we would all love to have purchased the names Rick purchased back in the golden days, but we didn’t.  That doesn’t mean there still isn’t a way to make money in domaining.  In fact, we see entrepreneurs buying high dollar premium domain names all the time because they know the value they hold for their startup.  We also see smaller opportunities with non-dot-coms, domain hacks (hate the term, but yeah, I used it), as well as domain books, blogs, coaching, brokering, name suggestion tools, and more.  There is not a limit. Don’t think narrow with an eye on only single keyword  domain names that cost more than your house.  There are other opportunities.

Rick is a little more “in your face” than I am about things, but here are some of the facts he places right in front of us:

– “Plenty of people were in domaining YEARS before me!”

– “Not only did I start domaining in 1995, I restarted again from scratch in 1998 after I leased out all my domains”

-“I repeated that one more time around 2005.”

-“And then starting in 2016 thru mid 2018 I started once again.”

-“Go out and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

I don’t know of a single repository listing names and net worth of late-to-the-game-domainers who have done quite well, but these individuals are out there.  Plenty of them.  Yeah, it takes work.  It’s not easy.  You need to think. Use your ingenuity.  But you can do it.

Thanks to Rick for reminding us all of what’s possible and starting out 2019 with a little tough-love motivational ass-kicking.  Sometimes we need it.

 

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What would you expect to find on Roadster.com?

When I first keyed in “Roadster.com,” I was half expecting to see some fancy hotrods on such a cool name.  To my surprise, I found an commerce platform.  But I wasn’t disappointed.  I actually found this branding to be quite fitting for the product.  Roadster provides consumer driven commerce solutions for today’s modern dealership. With Roadster’s proprietary technology platform, dealerships can provide hassle-free car buying in-store, online or on the go. From inventory merchandising, to financing/leasing, incentives, trade-ins and F&I– Express Storefront delivers near penny perfect deals in a beautifully designed interface that your customers and employees will love.

Michelle Denogean, CMO of Roadster took time out of her day to answer a few questions for me.

 

Mike: How did you decide to name the company “Roadster?”

Michelle:  When we named the company, it was very important to us that we not only select a memorable name, but that the name itself represented a premium experience.

 

Mike: How have commerce platforms changed for dealerships over, say, the past 20 years?

Michelle:  Most of the commerce solutions in dealership to date have been very dealer facing and disconnected from one another, making it hard to for sales people to easily access the information they need to complete the transaction. The big shift has been to providing tools that are customer facing– providing customers with more transparency and control over the deal making components. This goes beyond just eCommerce that is plugged into a dealership website for online car buying, these are tools that customers can use side by side with sales agents in the showroom to streamline the experience and save both parties time. Companies in the past have tried to deploy eCommerce, but they were ahead of their time. The industry wasn’t ready and frankly, consumers weren’t quite ready either. While the number grows daily, the percent of consumers who are buying cars 100% online is still very small. Commerce platforms like Roadster are working to streamline the experience in-store so that as the number of online transactions grows, dealerships are ready with their internal sales process to accommodate those online transactions.

 

Mike: How does your platform differ from the others in the industry?

Michelle: The biggest differentiation is that we are truly omnichannel– customers can start online and finish in-store or the other way around. Our solution is white labeled for dealerships to use on their website, or in the showroom with customers. We have spent the past several years building out tools to be used in-store so that customers can have a streamlined experience and sales agents can feel more empowered. This includes our latest roll out of Express Desking, that allows sales agents to review all of the possible deal terms with a customer, make adjustments and get approvals without leaving the customers side. We are one of the most comprehensive platforms on the market, both integrating with all of the backend systems that the dealership uses to process the transaction, but also in the amount of data and customization of the data that is available to ensure the numbers we show are as close to pencil perfect as possible.

 

Mike: Can you talk about how you acquired the domain name and what the process was to complete the purchase? Can you share what you paid for the name?

Michelle:  The process was pretty straight forward. We went through a domain broker to purchase the name. We are not at liberty to share the amount paid at this time.

 

Mike: What volume of traffic do you see just from having a great domain name like Roadster?

Michelle:  It varies greatly. When we first started the company, we were a direct to consumer car buying service. In June of 2018 we pivoted the company to be 100% focused on the B2B side of our business.

 

Mike: Do you invest in other types of marketing or is the domain and organic search results enough?

Michelle: We absolutely invest in other kinds of marketing. We do a little bit in Paid Search, but our primary vehicles for driving demand are organic media (PR) and content marketing via social channels and our Roadster blog. With a name like Roadster, we focus heavily on brand opportunities that can lead to organic search overtime.

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selling domain names

Seafood.com hand registered in 1994

I’m always delighted to come across the original owner of a keyword premium domain name. Most of us, even as professional domainers or hobbyists, can only imagine having done that back in the early 90′. It’s been great to talk with John Sackton and hear his story about the domain and the evolution of his business.

John Sackton began writing seafood industry news in 1977, and has worked in all areas of the industry, from fisheries management, trade associations and magazines, to running his own seafood import business, to being General manager for Baader North America. In that capacity, John got to know most of the major seafood processing companies and vessels from Alaska to Mississippi to Newfoundland. After leaving Baader in 1994 John founded Seafood.com to provide news services, market analysis and consulting to industry.

Mike: When you registered the name back in 1994, did you have any idea of how good the name was?

John: Absolutely not. Back in 1994 in Boston I had been working on a project to produce monthly seafood commodity reports on CD-Rom to distribute to subscribers. On a whim, a neighbor and I went out to Microsoft’s annual development conference that year, in San Jose. His sister had an apartment there. I think George Lucas was a keynote speaker. But at that conference I discovered the internet.

Immediately when I got back to Boston I searched for a domain name, abandoning the idea of CD-Rom in favor of online distribution. The first one I tried was fish.com. That was then owned by a Buddhist group in San Francisco. Then I thought I would try seafood.com. Bingo, it was there. This whole process took less than five minutes. This was in June of 1994. It never occurred to me for one minute to search for other domains that might have been available.

Mike: Since then, have you registered other names (other than seafoodnews.com)? If so, can you provide some examples? Have you done anything with these names?

Yes. As we built out our website, we quickly got into the business of helping other seafood companies register domains and set up websites. I think we had onlinelobster, we also have seafoodlink.com, seafooddatasearch.com, fishfacts.com. We have never done anything with these domains, as at that time we were mostly providing a service helping others register domains in their own name. Many of these were company names, like Stavis.com, Ore-Cal.com etc. Our own domains we used for testing sites, parking files, etc. Nothing too serious.

Mike: Prior to the interview, you mentioned to me that in the year 2000 there were 37 competing sites all trying to set up seafood online trading exchanges. How did you fit into the mix and how did you take the turn to focus on seafood news? Is seafoodnews.com now your main business?

John:  Seafoodnews is definitely our main business. We have now moved on from 1995 to 1999-2000. There was an explosion of venture capital interest in internet trading platforms, as part of the dot com bubble, and seafood was no exception. There was fishmarket.com, tradingseafood.com, worldcatch.com, gofish.com, and many others, all with the same pitch to VC’s: that they would capture the entire seafood trading business from the current wholesalers and middlemen and brokers, and earn revenue on every transaction. Some of these sites raised serious VC money, on the order of $35 million or so. But the trading platform in seafood was elusive. When they crashed and burned, there was generally hell to pay.

Remember online bulletin boards. Our first venture into seafood trading was that we ran an online bulletin board where people could post offers to buy and sell fish. We did this as a free service. A lot of it seemed garbage to me, but then at an industry meeting some one came up to me and said he had made $25,000 off one trade on our site, arranged through the bulletin board.

We began to wonder how we could actually leverage trading in a responsible way. At this time Seafood.com partnered with another company, Urner Barry, which is the oldest commodity price reporting company in the US, founded in 1858. They are the only ones with a reputable seafood price reporting service which runs on subscription. Our value was to add seafood news to their existing site, and their value was to explore whether a trading platform could compliment their business. Our 25 year partnership was sealed with a handshake, and survives to this day.

But we quickly realized that those who claimed a large percentage of seafood trading would move on line were wildly out of touch, and their revenue projections for their businesses were hot air. We approached VC’s as well, but with a much more tempered expectation of growing a profitable business, but not revolutionizing the industry. We did get some money from Rabobank’s VC arm, but it occurred the exact same month as the NASDAQ crash in March of 2000.

They urged us to merge with another company they had funded, called tradingproduce.com. Trading Produce was not invested in a open trading platform, but instead was building direct links between produce sellers in California and their customers around the country to make purchasing more efficient. In essence they linked the producers sales and inventory system directly to the supermarket or foodservice buyers internal procurement system on the internet in a secure way.

Our job was to explore this for seafood, and to use our news service to drive interest in their site. That company was very successful. It was renamed itradenetwork (I came up with the name), and in 2010 after many acquisitions across meat, poultry, logistics, produce, it was purchased by a private equity group for over $500 million in 2010. They now have over 10,000 customers, 17 of the top 20 North American Supermarkets, most of the major foodservice buying groups etc.

But the news service did not work out, nor did their platform gain much traction in the seafood industry. After less than 2 years, at the end of 2001, I unwound our deal and Urner Barry and myself took back full control of Seafoodnews.

In the meantime, the popularity of our news service was growing by leaps and bounds. Suddenly the entire industry was quoting us, feeding us stories, and depending on us every day. At that point, Urner Barry said it was crazy for us not to charge a subscription for this service, as it no longer served a purpose of just bringing traffic to our website.

So we built a subscription model, put our news behind a paywall, and have never looked back. Our business has a steady income, we have grown consistently in revenues year to year, and we consistently moved our news customers on to Urner Barry’s more expensive flagship price reporting service. We have survived and can trace our history back to the original seafood.com. The other companies, with exception of trading produce, either disappeared entirely, or were bought or merged into seafood wholesale operations.

We have one competitor (a Norwegian company) who still employs an editor who worked for one of the early trading sites, but that is about it.

Mike: The site has a plethora of seafood news. How are you able to source this, keep it current, and attract new subscribers?

John:  Our secret is that we are writing for the seafood industry, from within the seafood industry. I myself had a career in seafood that took me all over North America and Canada prior to founding Seafood.com. We have a network of correspondents who also have other jobs within the seafood industry, mostly in trade associations or research, not actively buying and selling. And we have our partnership with Urner Barry, who has a powerhouse news gathering group for meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, and now has a presence in Europe through its parent company Agribriefing, based in the UK. Urner Barry has wire service agreements that allow us to supplement our original stories with a broad range of seafood related stories from around the globe. So we have become a daily one-stop source for all the news relevant to seafood buyers producers, brokers, traders, importers and exporters, not just in the US, but in all the major seafood producing areas of the world.

Mike: Has either name helped you in search engine rankings and/or reduced your marketing costs? How has it been beneficial to the business?

John:  For many years we were the top ranked hit on google for ‘seafood’. We found that helpful, but not critical to our subscriber growth, as our actual target subscriber audience is quite small. We are a specialized industry, and we are not consumer focused. Seafood.com helped drive search traffic, but it did not generate subscriptions for us. That is why we felt we could transition from seafood.com to seafoodnews.com.

Now we are the first ranked result on google for seafood news. Also our stories come up highly ranked in any searches for individual items like salmon news, crab news etc.

We like the seafoodnews name because it directly describes what we do. In my view, the seafood.com domain could have a higher value as a consumer facing domain, or in a branding campaign. For example, a global seafood company that wanted to tie together its operations in Europe, China, and North America, could use seafood.com as part of such a strategy.

We have had discussions with international seafood marketers regarding the domain, but none of them fit us well enough to end in a domain sale.

Mike: What would you tell a business owner or entrepreneur that is looking to purchase a domain name to launch a business on?

John:  Why buy a domain name? If you are a broker, it is simply a gamble you may be able to sell the domain for a higher price than you paid. For us with seafood.com, we are interested in selling directly to the party who will use the domain.

I think the most important thing in buying a high level domain like seafood.com is to have a marketing and branding strategy that is commensurate with the domain name. First, a high level domain name like this is suitable for a global marketing strategy, as the .com signature transcends international boundaries.

Second, a domain like this may be highly valued for consumer facing businesses, because it is easy to remember and search on.

With current ubiquity of search the business domain can be practically anything, and if enough is spent on advertising, a search will bring the correct result: the company comes up first for those looking for it, or who may be potential customers if exposed to it.

But a high value domain like Seafood.com can short cut this process, so instead of having a customer search for seafood, they would search on seafood.com and go right to the correct website.

So a high level domain can actually make advertising money much more effective, because the website address is so easy to use and remember.

Should a business be launched on a domain? I don’t have an answer to that. In my view, an existing business can get a boost through using a domain like this as part of their marketing strategy. To create a business from scratch based on a domain like seafood.com would take a lot of expertise in the seafood industry. I think the value is not so much convincing consumers to buy online, as it is in enhancing their relationship with a particular brand or product that already has multiple presences, both online, in stores, and in restaurants.

The other issue, for a business person looking at a domain name, is what customers he or she wants to engage. Seafood is a very contentious, emotional and fraught subject for people. Some like it. Some hate it. Some care where their fish is caught, whether it is sustainable, and whether it was guaranteed to be free from slave labor. Others have no interest in eating fish at all. So a domain strategy has to ask the question who am I aiming at with this domain? Will the domain help segregate my customers into those who will interact with me, and those who won’t. I think a specialized name like seafood.com can help segregate these opportunities, but to take advantage, a buyer must know what they want.

Mike: If you could turn back the clock, is there.anything you would have done differently?

My god, who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back to 1994 to do something differently? I am very happy with our business trajectory, as it has served my own skills and interests very well. But of course, with hindsight I could have bought a plethora of major domain names, and parceled them out for sale as the internet got more popular.

But I also could have invested in Apple, or any of the other myriad tech opportunities that were there that year and became much bigger in the future.

So, maybe I would have stayed longer in San Jose, and got to know the tech industry a little better. But on the whole, I would not wish to turn the clock back. Our success and survival as a business has always been based on our honesty, trust of our customers, and commitment to our industry. To me those are timeless qualities that would work in any age, not just the dot.com boom.

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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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Domain Valuation Tools Are Missing One Critical Thing

I just wrapped up some work and spent a few minutes playing with some domain name generators.  It’s always fun to spend a short amount and see what they come up with.  I recently cancelled my subscription to Estibot which I had for years.  I love the tool but anyone who has bought or sold a domain knows that any valuation tool is really not very accurate.  It can only factor in so many things.  There are an infinite amount of elements to consider.

Regardless, as I was popping available names out of these generator tools faster than I could think of them, I started to miss my Estibot subscription.  It would have been nice to see what sort of appraisal these names would get.  Then I decided to pump them through the GoDaddy appraiser which is still listed as “beta.”   Literally every name but one that I dropped in showed a value of over $1,000.  These are names that I would never pay close to $1,000 for on my happiest day.   This is when I discovered the one thing missing from any domain appraisal tool…  The offer to buy the name you are appraising at the value they are providing.

Think about it.  Lets say there is a solid formula that could really tell you what any domain was worth.  Wouldn’t be in the interest of the appraiser to make an offer on the name?  If I enter a domain and the tool thinks it’s worth $1,000 then why not offer to buy it from me at $750, or whatever number you want to set and still leave room for your own profitability.  You’ll never see that from an automated tool because it just can’t be done.  The companies backing the tools don’t trust them enough because the tools can’t determine if a domain can be sold.  It can have all the formulaic qualities to put a dollar value next to it, but it just can’t tell you if the domain is good or not.

Here are a few of the available names generated and the values GoDaddy tossed at me.

Actually, this first one is not a bad name for a gun holster site.  

I Googled this and there is actually a magic trick called “Fire Wallet” or “Flame Wallet”.

I could see some use for this one if you spend some time in the water, I guess?

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

You never know when it comes to diets.  There is a active site at thedietseed.com.

Not sure what anyone would do with this one.

Enjoy your favorite estimator / appraisal / valuation tool but just remember it’s for entertainment value only.  If you do come across a tool that will buy the names you are feeding into it, let me know.  I could play that game all day.

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domain name images

Image Resources for Domaining

I’m one of those “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  I’ve got so many different projects going on in different areas all at the same time.  Over the past few. years, I’ve developed a habit involving a lethal dose of coffee and a couple of apps just to keep my head screwed on.  I’m sure I would be better off dropping the number of things I have going on and laser focusing on just a couple… but that’s boring. I’d much rather run around like my hair is on fire in an urgent burst of heroics to get everything done on time and with quality.  It makes me sleep sound at night.

That said, I have come across several tips, tricks, tools, and websites that have helped me to pull it all together and cross the finish line every time.  There are too many to list in a single post so I’m going to focus on just a couple.  Theses are specific to images.

I often develop simple pages for my domains.  But in this case I was actually just working on a website development project for a client and was performing some QA review when I stopped to write this post.  I just used these two tools that I have come to take for granted but they ultimately save me a ton of time.  I decided to take a quick break and share them with you here.

Free Images

The first is pixabay.com which always reminds me of the pirate bay when I type the url.  Is that intentional?  Don’t know.  Don’t really care.  Pixabay.com is, as defined by the site itself as, “… a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.”

Yes, free royalty-free images. The best part about it is that they don’t suck.  I almost always find an image of high quality that fits the need I have at the moment.  In this case, I am testing the backend CMS of a website and I want to ensure images upload and display properly.  Because the customer will see these images, I want them to be decent in case they actually want to use them on the site.  I also want them to be free because I don’t want to invest in stock images that are not included in our agreement.

There are dozens of free image sites that I have used in the past but none of them compare to pixabay.com.  The photography and quality are almost on par with the high end stock image sites.  Almost.   I’ve used some of the other free sites in the past and struggled to find something I was looking for.  In one case, I was contacted by an organization saying I was using one of the images without permission.  Uh, I downloaded it from this “free” site.

Placeholder Images

Sometimes I don’t really give a crap about what the image looks like, it’s more important to get an image with the proper dimensions.  Sure, I could pretty quickly spit something out of Photoshop in the size I need, upload it, then link to it in the site to see what it looks like.  But if it’s not the right size, then I have to change the size in Photoshop and repeat the process.  Depending on how many pages and images I’m dealing with, this could take some time.

Instead, wouldn’t just be easier to type a dummy link with an image size?  Why, yes Mike, that would be much easier.  Thankfully, the sources behind placeholder.com agree and have made it so.  You can quickly create an image placeholder by typing a simple url in your html.  Here’s an example.  By typing the following:

<a href=”https://placeholder.com”><img src=”http://via.placeholder.com/350×150″></a>

you’ll insert this image placeholder on your page:

There are many free services like this, such as dummyimage.com, but I prefer placeholder.com just because it’s easy for me to remember, which makes it more efficient in my mind.  There are a couple additional features and options, but this is the primary purpose of the tool and it does it’s job.

I think you’ll get a great deal of use out of these tools if you haven’t been using them already.  If you have any tools you’d like to share, post a comment and let us all know.

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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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There’s a New Podcast in Town

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

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

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

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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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