Interviews

GumRoad

Gumroad founder Sahil Lavingia

Gumroad is a pretty cool e-commerce platform that also helps build an audience. As the website itself states, “Gumroad is for independent writers, designers, software developers, musicians, artists, teachers, filmmakers, and anyone in-between. Whether you sell digital goods or physical goods, you can use Gumroad. Simply put, if you make stuff for people to buy — Gumroad is for you.”

Gumroad founder, Sahil Lavingia, took time out of his schedule to answer my questions.

 

Mike: Where did the idea for Gumroad come from?

Sahil: Quite simply: I wanted to sell an icon I had designed in PhotoShop. For just a buck, to just my audience. I looked around and couldn’t find an easy way to do that. There were huge marketplaces and things, but I just wanted a link. So I built Gumroad.

 

Mike: Prior to launching Gumroad, you worked at Pintrest. What was it like to be an early employee there and did you learn lessons that you could apply at Gumroad?

Sahil: It was great! I learned a lot, shipped a lot of product, and got a ton of feedback. I also learned about being an early employee–what I wanted from the company I worked for–so that when I started growing Gumroad, I had that perspective.

 

Mike: Your Linkedin Profile states that Gumroad has “…put more than $77,000,000 in the pockets of musicians, artists, writers, and more.” Amazing! How does that feel to be responsible for this?

Sahil: We should update that! It’s over $175,000,000 now! It feels great. But there’s a lot of work to do! I’m hopeful we can get to that first B in the next 3-4 years.

 

Mike: I’m a domainer at heart. I was pleased to see you own your own name as a domain at sahillavingia.com. What is your philosophy on owning your own name? Should everyone attempt to do that? What can we expect from your musings when subscribing?

Sahil: Yes! It was a little easier with my relatively unique name. It just keeps things simple. Instead of having to invent a brand, it’s just my name. Easy! With my newsletter, I want to share thoughts about the creative process. As I write, paint, and of course ship software–the differences and similarities and how they all interconnect for me.

 

Mike: At the time, when you launched Gumroad, how did you promote it and enable the business to gain some traction? That seems like a difficult task.

Sahi: Honestly, a lot of cold emails. Just finding people already selling stuff in a janky way, or people with audiences that weren’t selling stuff yet–and letting them know Gumroad existed now. That is really it. A lot of that.

Over time, people started to know what Gumroad was and it became easier. But I still do that today!

 

Mike: I imagine the are some top sellers using Gumroad. People that really rake in the sales. I won’t ask you to reveal numbers, but can you tell us about any of these top sellers?

Sahil: Yes, we have creators that are multi-millionaires off their Gumroad sales. Just last month someone made almost $900,000–in a single month!

It’s all about building an audience that trusts you. It has to have a significant size, sure, but it’s more important to prime them for your upcoming launch.

There are no hacks or secrets. It’s a lot of time, hard work, and giving away your learnings as you grow–so that you have a dedicated audience when you’re ready to sell your product.

 

Mike: It’s one thing to start a company as a founder, but quite another to run a successful company as CEO. Was it a natural transition for you? What challenges or lessons can you share?

Sahil: It’s not too different. The focus is still the same: ship a great product. Build a great team.

It’s easier if anything, because now we have thousands of creators telling us what we need to build, and a lot of data to learn from.

 

Mike: Are there any changes or evolutions in the internet or technology that you are anticipating and will need to adapt to for long term success?

Sahil: Honestly, no. I am just constantly iterating on Gumroad. Not trying to scope out some grand future, but betting on the obvious stuff: more mobile usage, for example. But really we’re a nimble startup, so we can react to change pretty quick.

 

Mike: Where did the name “Gumroad” come from and does it have any meaning?

Sahil: My mom 🙂 – I like names that take two words and combine them. It makes it easier to remember and spell, in my opinion. So…yeah. Nothing too deep!

 

Mike: What is one book that you have read that has impacted you and you would recommend to others? Why?

Sahil: The Golden Compass is my favorite book of all time. That whole series made a pretty profound impact on me, I think.

I won’t recommend non-fiction, because everyone already does that 🙂 – read more fiction!

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Event Terminal

A Domain For Any Event

Dana Khomyak is living in Sweden and creating the biggest event streams aggregator in the world. She is co-founder of Events Terminal and is passionate about making information and education accessible globally.

 

Mike: What is the goal of EventsTerminal.com and how are you toward achieving that goal?

Dana: Before developing Events Terminal, we (Co-Founders of ET) organized business events. Indeed, thanks to this experience we’ve seen what problems events organizers and events visitors have. One of the most boiling was that it’s hard to visit an event that is in another city or even country.  Therefore, we created a marketplace for knowledge-sharing events streams and records, so people wherever they are based will be able to watch and learn. A couple of months ago we successfully launched our website eventsterminal.com and within a few days had 250+ users from 40+ countries.

 

Mike: How did you come up with the name for the company?

Dana: Honestly, it wasn’t that quick and easy to find a good company name. We spent a few weeks discussing different options before choosing Events Terminal. Thinking about a name, I knew that it should be somehow connected with events. Later I saw in the internet word “Terminal” and thought it should be a good match for us as terminal is a machine where you can buy a ticket. You also can buy tickets to events on Events Terminal. After discussing this option with another co-founder, we agreed on Events Terminal, that’s it.

Selling Domain Names

Mike: The company has been up and running for about a year, what challenges and success have you faced?

Dana: When you’re a startup, challenges are with you all the time. And if you can’t make challenges your friend, you will lose. Since we founded the startup, we have faced  challenges literally everyday: finding a team, working remotely, building a prototype, building a website, finding your first customers and hundreds more. We like challenges (we don’t call it problems) because overcoming it we become wiser, smarter and stronger. If you don’t like it, I suppose building a company will be a really tough thing for you.

 

Mike: You were a project manager intern at a startup accelerator. What lessons did you learn there?

Dana: Startup Depot is rather a business incubator and I had an opportunity to have an internship there. It was one of my first working experiences and I learnt a lot of good staff there – starting from work with the MS Excel ending learning how to be a team member, now I see it was a really good push for my further career.

 

Mike: Events Terminal appears to be backed by Think Accelerate. Explain what it means to work with an accelerator and your experience thus far.

Dana: Last autumn (’18) we’ve got an opportunity that I won’t lie if say we’ll be grateful for the rest of our lives. We were accepted into one of the best Swedish Accelerators – Think Accelerate. Think team provided our team with an office, great mentors, advice and an environment where we could develop our startup quickly. During this program we’ve finally launched our website, established cooperation with Swedish organizations and gained traction. Such an amazing time, people and priceless experience.

 

Mike: Are there any books that have inspired you or shaped your style that you would recommend to us?

Dana: I like how books can make us think from a different perspective, change our mind, feelings or even actions. I’d recommend you to read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, it will make you appreciate and love yourself the way you are more. Also, all we know that a lot of women nowadays have different working conditions, salaries for the same job and attitude comparing to men, read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” to know why it’s not just a stereotype, how to overcome it and become a real professional having a work-life balance.

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Cybele Negris

Women in Domaining: Cybele Negris is CEO & Co-Founder of Webnames.ca

Cybele Negris is CEO & Co-Founder of Webnames.ca, Canada’s original .CA Registrar and accredited registrar for hundreds of domain extensions as well as provider of webhosting, email and web development and many other services. The multi-million-dollar company has an impressive client list including many Fortune 500 companies. Webnames.ca’s Corporate Services division specializes in premium concierge service for medium to large businesses and organizations with large domain portfolios requiring specialized tools and security.

Cybele is a hall of fame inductee and four-time winner of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful women in Canada amongst many other awards. She is a serial entrepreneur having successfully started and exited multiple companies. She’s a seasoned board member serving on the board of the Royal Canadian Mint and numerous other boards. She’s a mentor, columnist and speaker at over two dozen events each year including TEDx.

 

Mike: Tell me a little more about Webnames.ca. What makes it special?

Cybele: Webnames is Canada’s original domain registrar. We started as a spin-off of the .CA Registry founded in 1987 by my business partner John Demco. He ran the .CA Registry as a public service for thirteen years, free of charge, and has been recognized as one of the pioneers of the Canadian Internet. Webnames.ca was incorporated in 2000 and the .CA registry was sold and transitioned to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). What continues to distinguish us today is our deep expertise in corporate domain management, which comprises a large part of our business, and our exceptional customer support. Now, I realize that a lot of registrars have good support and can quantify it as we do with great response times and customer satisfaction ratings, but it runs deeper than that. Our approach has always been to do more – we support customers above and beyond the use of our products. This might be a website update for a retail customer who is struggling with their CMS, a late-night DNS change for a Corporate client, or the development of a new domain management feature for a reseller. In turn, we’re fortunate to have loyal customers, many who have been with us for ten, fifteen, or more years. We also have an incredible team that our customers know and trust. A majority of our staff have been with us for more than five years, and a third of our staff for more than ten. We have no weak links, everyone is truly an expert at what they do, and there is an incredible amount of knowledge transfer that goes on.

 

Mike: How and when did you become interested in domain names?

Cybele: I met John Demco the founder of .CA in 1999 as I was doing some consulting work at the University of British Columbia after I exited another company. He had been running the .CA Registry with about 100,000 domains under management. It was time to move from a volunteer effort. I was fascinated by what I had heard from John. I visited his office and saw the piles of documentation used to verify an individual or corporate entity’s entitlement to a .CA domain. Back then an individual would register yourname.vancouver.bc.ca or yourname.toronto.on.ca. A provincially incorporated entity in Alberta for example would register companyname.ab.ca. To register companyname.ca a corporate entity had to be federally incorporated or provincially incorporate in more than one province. We worked with the technology transfer manager at UBC, brought on developers to build the first generation website to take orders, hired a small team of students to help with support and subsequently sold and transitioned the Registry operations to CIRA. As we transitioned the Registry, we were having so much fun working together that we decided to become one of the accredited registrars under CIRA. We grew from 4 to 30 people in 4 months and by capturing pent up demand under CIRA’s newly liberalized rules to allow anyone to register yourname.ca, we were able to generate multiple millions in revenue in year one to fund future operations and growth. The domain industry has continued to explode over the last 19 years I’ve been involved. Today, Webnames offers over 600 different domain extensions and I still love what I do!

 

Mike: Do you personally own any domain names?

Cybele: I don’t have a massive portfolio but I do have some. Most are .CA or .COM but also some .TEL and new gTLDs.

 

Mike: What is it like running a registrar? What are some things the average domainer may not know about the position you hold?

Cybele: It is way more complicated than one would imagine. We spend a lot of resources and effort on security, systems improvements and new product innovation. We are constantly trying to excel at what we do rather than become complacent. We have to deal with issues around compliance with ICANN, individual registries and their rules, privacy rules across various countries, compliance around data storage, taxation of individual provinces and different countries, anti-spam legislation across various countries and much more. We often get dragged into disputes where a complainant wants us to take down a website due to its content, sometimes where it is objectionable but not against the law or fraudulent in nature. We also have to deal with fraud, DDoS attacks, and other nefarious activity. We must navigate the complexities of systems that serve customers with one domain name or hosting account as well as domainers, resellers or Fortune 500 companies with thousands to tens of thousands of domains.

As a woman leading a technology company, I have many opportunities to speak to media and to entrepreneurial groups. Having a phenomenal team internally allows me to spend a significant amount of time giving back to the community serving on government boards, in economic development activities or non-for-profit initiatives such as raising money for early cancer detection. I have also been involved in numerous mentorship activities such as advising on the creation of MentorshipBC or acting as a mentor through the Women’s Executive Network for 7 years.

 

Mike: What is your prediction of the future of domain names… let’s say, 10 years from now.

Cybele: I think domains will continue to be relevant for some time to come, despite the growth of apps and self-contained online ecosystems. With the growing distrust of walled gardens like Facebook and Instagram, the need for independent websites, and therefore domains, is not going to go anywhere. Over the next few years, the remaining gTLDs from round one will launch some with more fanfare than others as has been the case over the last few years. Adoption of these less recognizable extensions will continue to grow, albeit slowly. Some will fail to survive, and we will see further consolidation in the industry with successful registries buying up the less successful ones. I do think there will be a round two launch of gTLDs but that will be a few years out given the policy work that needs to be done by ICANN working groups/subcommittees, approvals by the board, publication of a new applicant guidebook, public comment periods, and revisions.

I also think domain aftermarket will only become more important every year. We’re seeing that now. Business people have learned the value of a great domain and its importance to branding and digital marketing. More people are recognizing that it makes sense to purchase the best domain you can get for your business, if you’re in a position to do so. The trend in aftermarket will continue to value short or one-word .COMs highly but premiums in other extensions will continue to gain popularity. The continued growth of IoT and smart cities may drive the further domain name growth as all things in a home become connected to the internet.

 

Mike: When is a .ca name better than a dot com or any other TLD?

Cybele: If you’re a Canadian that’s targeting Canadians or doing business primarily with Canadians, .CA may be a better bet for you than .COM for a few reasons. A .CA domain offers some geo-targeting benefits on search engines when searches originate in Canada – it signals that your site is Canadian and probably more relevant to Canadian users. Studies have also repeatedly shown that Canadians, when given a choice, prefer making online purchases from Canadian businesses and retailers. It’s also going to be easier to rank locally in Canada with a .CA. As an added bonus, there is much better domain availability in .CA than .COM.

All that said, if you can get your .COM – do it. If you can get both your .COM and .CA, all the better. As the most recognized domain extension globally, .COM transcends borders and audiences. The bottom line however is to make sure that the domain you choose – be it .CA or .COM – is both clear and memorable for your users. All domains have equal opportunity to rank, so focus on branding.

Many of our clients register multiple domains under multiple extensions and forward them to specific landing pages on their main website or to a blog. With the low cost of domain names many businesses have come to recognize the value of protecting their brand and generating traffic through a strong domain strategy.

 

Mike: As a leader, what book would you recommend to entrepreneurs trying to get off the ground?

Cybele: Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It..and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish is one of my favourite and that of many entrepreneurs. It is a sequel to his Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.

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Must Read Interview, It’s Great, I Promise

I do quite a few interviews with premium, keyword domain owners. It’s sort of my thing. I love keyword domains especially when they are put to good use. I’ve ranted in the past about the rush of disgust that fills my stomach when I find a great name and its parked. Well, you’ll recall that back in April of last year, Erik Bergman was making the rounds in the Domain-o-sphere after dropping a few coins on the purchase of Great.com.  I caught up with Erik to see how things were coming along and, of course, I’m happy to share that conversation with you.

 

Mike: It’s been a while since we last chatted. How is the charity behind Great.com shaping up?

Erik: It has been a long time, and while the website has stayed relatively the same and it might not look like much is happening from the outside, a lot is going on behind the scenes. Our team has weekly video chats, we’re developing our organizational structure and communication process, and we’re putting the foundation in place to help us scale efficiently when the time comes.

The absolute latest thing that has happened is that we started posting our video calls online for anyone to see. The first episode is here, you can also see lots of content coming up on our Youtube channel.

 

Mike: Sounds exciting. There is still next to no information out there about what Great is actually going to be. Can you give us some more information?

Erik: Of course, Mike! We are finally in a place where we are comfortable sharing more information about our project. Great’s overall mission is to “Do as much good as possible,” which to us means “Doing Great.”

While this mission sounds great, the most important step is that we define what it means and how it works within the context of a self-sufficient organization – and more importantly, a charity. Great is a living organism, and we are constantly adapting, but as of today, we see a few specific areas of focus within which we can collaborate and have the most positive impact.

Great.com – Positing ourselves as an educational thought-leader

The first area of focus for Great is to position ourselves as an educational resource for personal and professional development. This will be one of the main functions of Great.com. We intend to publish high-quality content on various topics that can motivate people to make positive changes in their lives and aspire to greatness.

Whether we’re publishing a guide on how to prioritize better sleep habits for improved health or sharing an article on how to communicate more effectively with your partner, we truly believe that we can use our platform to spark genuine changes in people’s lives.

Great.com has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change for millions of online visitors. This opportunity aligns directly with our mission to efficiently use our resources to “Do as much good as possible.”

We do not intend to publish sponsored content, and there will be no advertising on this area of Great.com – it will simply be designed to share as much valuable content to the world as possible.

Additionally, by positioning Great.com as a thought-leader in personal and professional development, we believe that we can generate a lot of engagement with our audience and attract organic attention and backlinks – which will help our other areas.

Great.com/charity/ — Approaching charitable giving intelligently

The next section of Great.com will focus on charities and donating. Charitable giving can be a complex and convoluted topic – there are hundreds of charities around the world supporting similar causes.

If you are someone looking to donate to a cause you care about, how do you know which charity will do the most good with your donation? Simply put, there is not an efficient way to know – yet!

One of the first goals of our charity section will be to educate people on the concept of charity. We’ll provide resources explaining the organizational and legal components of a charity, looking at the concept of charity, assessing different models, and we’ll do our best to break down the complex topics and opinions associated with donating to charities — with the overarching goal to help people understand what charity means.

The second goal will be to simplify the donation process. We will develop tools and resources to help you quickly find the best organization based on your interests, beliefs, and the causes you support. There is a wealth of data surrounding charities and the extent of their impact for various causes – we want to collect that data and make it easy for people to digest.

If you want to find charities saving endangered animals, we want to show various organizations supporting that cause and give you data to determine which one you think is best. If you’re curious about which charity will feed the most people with your donation amount, we want to help you answer that question.

Great.com

We don’t want to tell people where to donate or influence them to support a specific cause; we want to give them the information to make an educated decision based on what they value the most.

Additionally, we’ve seen that many charities struggle to leverage their website effectively. They have low conversions, complex donation forms, and a generally poor online user experience. Our background in affiliate marketing gives us a unique perspective on these areas, and we strongly believe that we can improve the donation process and help charities receive more money.

Like the section above, the charity section of Great.com will be designed to provide as much value as possible. It will help people donate more efficiently and research causes or charities that they find most interesting. It will also provide a platform for charities to spread their message and receive more donations. We believe that this approach will also help Great.com acquire authoritative citations and recognition that can further support our mission and other sections.

Great.com/company/ — Developing a great company culture

Another pillar of our organization will be our actual organization. We want to create an organizational culture that inspires and changes the way businesses and other organizations approach hiring, leadership, project management, communication, and other operational areas.

We want to emphasize freedom, transparency, and flexibility in all areas of our organization. This section of Great.com will be designed to be radically transparent and honest about how we are operating at the micro and macro level.

For example, we will post our weekly video meetings on the website for people to follow our journey. We’ll share videos, podcasts, and blog posts outlining our organization goals, individual OKRs, and strategic objectives.

We want to share information about our employees, make our salaries public, and give an honest view of life at a completely remote organization. We plan to publish a lot of Great-centric content this year, and anyone who is interested will be able to see our successes – but more importantly, our failures.

This section of Great.com will feature a lot of content designed to help inspire and change the way other organizations are built. We believe there is a better way to approach work and a more productive way to succeed, and we want to use Great as a case study for how other organizations can make positive changes.

Great.com/product/ — Creating a commercial product

As mentioned, our mission is to “Do as much good as possible.” We believe one way to do that is to donate money ourselves to important causes. The more money we donate, the more good we can do – therefore, the more money we earn, the more money we can donate. As a result, we will have a commercial component on Great.com.

With my background in affiliate marketing, the commercial side will be an affiliate section that compares products across several different industries. From tires and automobiles to traveling and video streaming services, we want to create an amazing resource for people to compare their options.

We picked the name Great because of its brand power. You could see a future iteration of Great.com that features Great Tires, Great Insurances, etc.

We believe that the commercial section will benefit from our other initiatives. The other sections will help us gain authority as a brand which will lead to more trust and engagement from clients and users. The high-quality content and unique resources will generate citations and links which can improve the SEO of our entire site. We also believe that all of these sections, including the commercial side, support our mission and help us bring about the most positive change in the world.

As far as what commercial product will come first, we’ve spent a lot of time looking into the various industries to see which one gives us the quickest path to profitability. By looking at our current knowledge and experience, personal network, and market viability, we believe the answer is the casino and finance vertical.

We have yet to break ground on the development of the commercial product, but we do feel strongly that this market makes the most sense right now. We do understand that these markets may be controversial when combined with the idea of charity, but we feel confident that it’s a market we can succeed within and one that will allow us to do the most good.

Buying domain names

Mike: Wow, it a very big project you have taken on. How far along have you gotten?

Erik: It certainly is, and we do not want to rush into things without setting a strong foundation. We have made a lot of headway with certain sections, such as our organizational culture and how we want to approach radical transparency. However, other sections like the commercial product will see much more attention when the time is right.

 

Mike: In 10 years, what will I be writing about Great.com? What will people be saying?

Erik: By that time, I hope that Great is a positive example for other companies and initiatives. I want to have built a self-sufficient organization that inspires others and supports hundreds of important causes. I hope that our choice to donate all our profits, practice radical transparency, and freely share our ideas has caused a ripple effect across the world. In 10 years, I hope I can look back and see the positive impact that we’ve made in people’s lives, in our nature and wildlife, and within companies and other organizations.

 

Mike: It never gets old, but Great.com is a great name! Also, an expensive name. Ever have any regrets about the purchase? Why or why not?

Erik: I don’t have any regrets at all. I fall more in love with the name every time I hear it. Just the other day, Angelica published a post about our team titled “Great to meet you!” with our photos – it just fit perfectly! The word is so natural within our language that I’ll sometimes say it or type it in a sentence without even noticing, and then when I think back on it, it puts a smile on my face. It’s a great name for a great project!

 

Mike: How does building an online charity business differ from an online affiliate business. What are some challenges and/or similarities?

Erik: I actually see a lot of similarities between the two. As I mentioned a little above, improving conversions, creating a great user experience, and focusing on high-quality content are all element of affiliate marketing that can benefit the charity space. We will also operate much like a regular business, so I believe that we’ll receive a lot value from the charitable component. It’s much easier to inspire others when they are working for a good cause, and I feel strongly that operating as a charity can help us gain more publicity and establish better partnerships than we could operating as an affiliate business.

Great.com

Mike: While I’m sure you have your hands full with this great project (see what I did there?), is there anything else you are working on? How do you spend your free time?

Erik: First and foremost, I want to live great (see what I did there 😉?). I mean this both literally and within the context of Great.com. I want to embody the values of Great and make my life an extension of our organization. I want to be open and transparent in my personal and professional relationships. I want to provide value to those interested in learning more about Great and our goals. I want to create a healthy and positive environment for myself, family, friends, and others.

I want to continue to make myself and Great better, and I’m constantly looking for new tools and techniques to do this. To be honest, I don’t really see a clear distinction between the work I do for great and the work I do improving myself – they kind of just blend together. This is part of the fun of the project. As long as I’m taking steps every day to be better, it benefits Great and myself.

 

Mike: Choose a single book that you have read that has helped you in business and life, what book and why?

Erik: I’m going to give you two, and I recommend these two books every chance I get! I think they are both incredibly important and actually add value to each other.

The first one is How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I think this book should be mandatory in every school. It teaches you how to prioritize those around you. You’ll learn how to make others happy, how to inspire them, and how to interact with them in positive ways. If you can apply the steps in this book, you’ll become a better leader and a happier person.

The second book is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It takes the concepts from Carnegie’s book and delves much deeper. While it’s a slightly tougher read than the first book, you will benefit greatly from its advice. I honestly think this is the most important book I’ve ever read, and it has had a direct impact on the quality of my life.

It teaches you how to connect with others and truly understand them while also showing you how to empathize and connect. You will improve your emotional intelligence greatly by reading this book.

Carnegie’s book will help you establish several quality relationships, and Rosenberg’s book will teach you how to make those relationships last for life.

At the end of the day, both of these books focus on relationships, communication, and empathy – which are incredible skills to help you succeed in business. Everything is about people!

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Domain Name Investors

Buying Lights.com was a Bright Idea

Drawing from her experience working in design and lighting, Lights.com co-founder, Sheva Knopfler had a thought: buying well-designed, well-crafted lighting should not be nearly as complicated or expensive as it is. In the age of the internet, why are we buying four-figure chandeliers from pushy salespeople in a showroom? Instead, why not provide outstanding value by offering thoughtfully-designed goods directly to our customers?

Sheva’s husband, David, joined her in this vision, bringing to the table his expertise in marketing and business development. They cultivated a team of people, not only knowledgeable about lighting, but also well-versed in art, fashion, technology, and interior design, lending outside perspectives on what a lighting company can and should be. Together, they are striving to surpass industry norms and to discover new ways to offer their customers exceptional product and exceptional service.

 

Mike: Tell me a little bit about how David and Sheva decided to launch Lights.com?

Josh: Sheva, one of our co-founders, had been working in the lighting industry for several years and realized there was a huge gap in the market for well-designed, responsibly sourced and fairly priced lighting. The only options at that time were either mass-produced, poor quality or ridiculously expensive. She realized this better option could be accomplished by avoiding the traditional showroom model and selling directly to the customer online, and so Lights.com was born.

 

Mike: What has the growth been like over the past five years since they began?

Growth has been continuous. We certainly share challenging moments that come with the kind of expansion one sees in a small business, especially in a dynamic consumer goods industry. The challenge is staying ahead of consumer demands and updating product lines, while maintaining a tight supply chain that is uncompromising in both quality and design. At the same time, we ensure that our customers have access to our full line of lighting products at fair prices. We invest in quality and are proud of the outcome.

 

Mike: How did they acquire the name? Can you tell us the cost?

Josh: When we were a pretty small company, we received an email late one night from a domain broker who offered to sell us the name, Lights.com. It was a chance for Ambient Lighting to have the kind of reach and growth that would let us expand in a way that competes in a global sense.

David’s real estate background taught him to always say yes to a good deal and figure out finances later. This is what he did. Although it proved much harder to finance a domain name than real estate. The deal included an NDA so we’re unable disclose the price but we paid a good sum. It turned out to be a great investment.

 

Mike: You play an important role in the company as Marketing Director. Can you tell us more about your role?

Josh: I oversee the team here that manages all of the marketing for Lights.com. We currently focus heavily on digital channels, primarily social media advertising, SEM, SEO and email. As an online-only business, the performance of our website is deeply intertwined with our marketing results, so I lead all update and optimization projects, working with our designers and developers to make sure our site experience is the best it can be.

 

Mike: What challenges or benefits have you found in running an online business? Is it harder than most people think?

Josh: The most challenging aspect is that the challenges are constantly evolving. You will see another retailer (or ten) pop up that uses your exact value prop, with similar products, for the same price or less. Amazon continues to dominate e-commerce more and more and pull customers away from independent retailers. The barriers to entry to start an online business continue to get lower and, while a positive in many ways, this has cluttered the marketplace and driven up costs across advertising channels. It requires being more creative to get in front of the correct audience than it did even 2 years ago.

 

Mike: How many employees does it take to keep the “lights” on in a business like lights.com?

Josh: We have 17 people in our NYC office and 8 in our Los Angeles warehouse.

 

Mike: What role has the key word domain name played in the companies success?

Josh: Aside from receiving some traffic from people optimistically navigating directly to our website, I believe having a domain like Lights.com offers an air of legitimacy to the brand that would be harder to develop otherwise. The only downside is that because of how broad the name is, it takes extra effort to identify and communicate a strong brand personality.

Mike: What type of traffic do you see from people strictly typing in the domain name?

Josh: Metrics for this are tough to measure but anecdotally I’ve heard from customers who have found us this way. They’re typically a little less tech-savvy and may not be aware of the other methods for surfacing the products they’re interested in finding. They may also just be curious, and then we enjoy pleasantly surprising them!

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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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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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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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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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Domain Name Investing

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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Keyword Premium Domain Names

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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Domain Name Registration

VPN.com – Just like that!

Michael Gargiulo is a simple visionary. He loves to dream and get seriously bored with people who do not know how. He enjoys building websites and driving quality traffic to them. He studied finance and risk management but his competitive advantage over others is in search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization.

Sully:  You are the founder and CEO of VPN.com.  Tell me about the company and what you do.  Is it a VPN comparison site?

Michael: Thanks for the opportunity Sully to share some ideas with your readers. And yes, I am the founder of VPN.com where we provide information on more than 900 different VPN providers to help you find the right VPN for your needs and budget. We have spent thousands of hours researching the industry and nearly every provider inside of it to make it easy for potential customers to quickly find the information they are looking for before buying and downloading.

Sully:  In 2017 you acquired VPN.com.  I’m going to take a wild guess that purchasing a 3 letter category killer name wasn’t a cheap affair.  Can you tell me about how you came across the opportunity? Are you willing to share the purchase price?

Michael: This was probably the toughest part of our journey thus far. I had been pursuing the previous owner for more than four years before a deal was struck. Most of the time, I didn’t get replies to my emails or phone calls so it wasn’t like a negotiation was made during that time either. Three years into my chase, I brought in a broker to help with the acquisition and after working with him for nine months we were finally able to put a deal together. I highly recommend a broker for large transactions like this as we nearly lost the opportunity to someone else several times there at the end.

And unfortunately, I am under an NDA through July of 2018 on the exact price but I can say we will be in the top 10 domain purchases of 2017 according to DN Journal’s 2017 Year-to-Date Top 100 Sales Chart.

Sully:  Why a VPN comparison site.  Why not offer your own VPN service with a name like VPN.com?

Michael: We looked at several models for our site. Of course, building and selling our own VPN was one of them. In this space, you need $2-3 million to develop a competitive suite of products. We were not interested in making that investment to become just another VPN provider. Instead we wanted to maximize the potential of our domain name and we let this guide us to the version of the site you see now. Just like Cars.com, Hotels.com, and Apartments.com, none of these multi-billion dollar corporations own the products they provide information offer.

I believe if we execute on our current strategy over the next 18 months, we can bring 20 million people to the site per month and that type of volume will continue to attract many opportunities.

Sully:  This isn’t your first crack at business and not your first time leveraging a premium keyword domain name.  Tell me about ProxyServer.com and the business there.

Michael: I have been in the proxy and VPN space for nearly a decade now and it started in high school when I was trying to unblock different websites behind the school firewall. Its interesting to reflect back on those days. Most grand visions, like ours, take years to prune and even longer to gather the proper resources for. I am lucky to have ProxyServer.com and lessons it taught us. Without it, VPN would have never happened.

ProxyServer.com was the precursor to VPN.com. While we were trying to acquire the VPN.com domain I actually had most of the technology we would attempt to initially sell on VPN.com already set up and being sold on ProxyServer.com. I knew if we acquired VPN, we could easily migrate it over or pivot to another model.

Sully:  How important have you found the quality of your domain name to be in relation to the success of your business?

Michael: The domain name was the best investment the company will ever make. VPN providers, teammates, new hires, and even competitors take us seriously and for no other reason than our name is VPN.com. I have had many great conversations with CEOs and executives of some of the largest VPN companies on earth because our name is VPN.com.

I still don’t think we fully understand the value of owning the name. Moving forward, I think the domain will continue creating inbound opportunities for us especially as we move on to page one in Google for “VPN.” No matter if you are a provider, competitor, end user or investor, people will always respect a name like ours.

In addition, we receive dozens of offers on a monthly basis to buy or invest in the project along with some incredible partnership opportunities from various VPN providers. This tells me we are on the right track and that people are watching.

Sully:  You seem like you’re still a young guy, but while in college you bought and sold more than $2 million dollars of unwanted gift cards. How did you do this?

Michael: The gift card hustle was a critical period of my life. Primarily through Craigslist and eBay, I was able to purchase cards at a discount and resell them to larger buyers and make my cut on the spread. Selling the cards was much easier than finding people you could trust and buy from. Thankfully, I developed several relationships with contractors and builders who were constantly turning over cards and needed a quick way to cash them out.

Most of the profits I generated from gift cards I invested into my first websites. I knew gift cards would not last forever and wanted to move to a form of income that was a bit more hands off. Looking back on it, it was small decisions like this that moved me in the direction of what became VPN.

Sully:  You also built and grew 3 websites to 3,000,000+ monthly visitors (making $2-3k per day).  Can you give up some of your secrets? What’s the story behind these sites?

Michael: My biggest secret is buying a great name. The location you offer your products matters even more online. I was fortunate to make some solid domain acquisitions early on in my career that offered me great insight into search engine optimization. I grew all of my sites organically through search engine traffic and I have always believed if I couple a great name with a great experience there was absolutely no way I could lose with my visitors and no way I could lose with search engines like Google. Basically, this is the same formula I used for VPN.com and I expect to see similar results with it over the next 18 months.

Thank you for this opportunity Sully and everyone reading. Check out our latest VPN article on Yahoo targeted at Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, and Netflix VPNs. We plan to deliver more accountability to brands who don’t take the privacy of their users seriously. Stay tuned!

And feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

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generic domain name

Vaporize the dot com

Is a family run business and was started to help spread the word on vaporization and show the world that there is a better way to get the benefits from plants and essential oils.  Damon Inlow is the owner of Vaporizers.ca and took some time to discuss with me.

Mike:  Damon, you have a category-defining keyword domain for your website.  Did you register this domain through the normal process or did you purchase the name on the aftermarket?  Tell us about the process.

Damon:  Back in 2005, there was only a handful of American Vaporizer dealers, and we were the only Canadian vaporizer dealer. Not many people even knew about the concept of using herbs with vaporizers and very few people sold them. One big advantage of being the first vaporizer dealer in Canada is that we did have our pick of .ca domains. We decided to go with vaporizers.ca through the normal registration process.

Mike:  The tld of your domain is dot ca, which represents Canada.  How well have you found this tld to work for you as compared to a dot com name?

Damon:  With our product, we wanted to focus on the Canadian market. The .ca has been good for that, but it certainly limits your United States rankings and search exposure. If your goal is North America, you definitely want a .com as well as a .ca. For a focus on the Canadian market only, the .ca domains are a great choice.

Mike:  I don’t smoke or vape.  The site mentions “a much safer and healthier alternative to smoking.”  Is that a scientific fact or merely a guess based on limited information available?

Damon:  Smoking is combustion; combustion produces tars and other toxins. If you remove the smoke part and vaporize, you then only get the essence of the herb. Some herbs, like tobacco, are still bad news, but most herbs are safe when vaporized. There are many studies on vaporization, mostly medical, that are easy enough to find. Israel has done a lot of those studies.

Mike:  I’m not familiar with the laws regarding the devices.  Are there laws in Canada and the US regulating the sale?  Does that complicate things for you?

Damon:  Vaporizers can be used with hundreds of legal herbs so there are no laws against them. The American Government tried to cause problems over a decade ago, but they lost in court. The court clearly saw how many legal herbs you can vaporize and its medical uses. We have dealt with many non-legal complications like PayPal issues and advertising restrictions.

Mike:  Do you do any advertising outside of organic search engine results?  Do you use Google AdWords or any other paid advertising results?  If so, what has been your experience?

Damon:  We use organic searches as well as some limited advertising. AdWords blocked Vaporizers many years ago as well as Facebook. It was a very unpleasant experience at first as they were very ignorant of the benefits of vaporizing and the policies were not clear at all.

Mike:  What has been the biggest challenge running an online business?  How have you navigated this?

Damon:  Getting the page setup and getting those initial sales is tough for sure but we find the biggest challenges are the logistics. Not only getting the inventory to us but shipping across the country. Takes a lot of work and shipping is always a loss money wise. Every year rates go up and we lose more money on shipping. You can go dropship, but it’s hard to find a reliable one you can trust. Customer satisfaction is key and if your dropshipper fails, you fail.

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Shocking Interview

Kelly Bedrich is the Co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com and President of Cypress Capital Ventures. He is an IT entrepreneur focused on acquiring, marketing, and improving e-commerce sites. His current emphasis is on taking ideas from startup to maturity with sustainable business benefits.

Kelly is skilled at building and executing strategic initiatives by leading global product teams and guiding technical teams to bring results-oriented businesses to life. He is driven to build and develop efficient operational sites that maximize sales and marketing pipelines through low cost of customer acquisition and high retention.

Mike:  Kelly, what got you interested in comparing utility plans?

Kelly:  Good question. My co-founder and I both live in Texas, which has had an active retail energy deregulation market since around 2002. Like most Texans, we would have to choose our electricity provider and sign a new contract every year or so. To do that, we would usually visit the comparison site operated by the Texas Public Utility Commission called Power To Choose. The last few times we did this, we became increasingly confused and frustrated by their site and knew there had to be a better way. We wanted to answer some basic questions like:

  • What would be the $ amount of my utility bill if I chose a specific plan?
  • Why does Texas have 3 electricity rates on each plan?
  • What’s the catch with the teaser rates that appeared to be too good to be true?

The PUC site and other comparison sites in the market weren’t doing these things, so we decided to start our own. We focus on rate transparency and quality content that explains some of the inner workings of the retail electricity industry so that customers can make informed choices and save money in the process.

Mike:  Were you the first to register  ElectricityPlans.com and NaturalGasPlans.com  or were these domains you purchased on the aftermarket?

Kelly:  We acquired ElectricityPlans.com in late 2015 from a broker. However, we were able to purchase the .net version as well as both NaturalGasPlans.com and .net in 2016 as new domains. We launched ElectricityPlans.com in early 2017.

Mike:  Explain your business model.  How do the sites generate revenue?  Do you get a cut if someone switches providers?

Kelly: That’s correct. Like most comparison sites we are basically a matchmaker between buyers and sellers. Our focus is for the buyers (electricity shoppers) to find the best possible rate for their needs. To make this happen, we get paid a small commission from our retail electricity partners if a customer signs up for one of their plans. We do this both through affiliate links and through direct APIs with the electricity providers. We also have a free electricity shopping service for Texas customers where we compare a customer’s usage to our database and select the right plan for them.

Mike:  How well do your sites rank in Google?  ElectricityPlans.com comes up on the first page when I search for “Electricity Plans” (without quotes).  Did you have to put any extra effort into that ranking?

Kelly:  Since our industry is highly competitive on specific keywords, we don’t focus much on how our overall site ranks in Google or Bing. However, we religiously watch how certain keywords rank for us. Our customers typically don’t search for ‘electricity plans’ but instead search for keywords that vary by different states. We currently have 382 keywords (including variants) that appear in the top 10 slots on Google. We also have similar numbers on Bing. We’ve accumulated these results through classic SEO techniques like content focus and site authority.

There’s definitely extra effort over and above simply acquiring and launching an EMD (Exact Match Domain) site. There’s really no such thing as an EMD bonus anymore from Google. In late 2012, Google cracked down on ranking sites simply based on their domains. In fact, they began to penalize EMDs with poor quality sites according to Search Engine Land (source: https://searchengineland.com/ library/google/emd-update ).

In our experience, building out an EMD site really boils down to basic SEO – have a good quality user experience (including mobile), write good content, and focus on building backlinks. The benefit that you have from including an informative keyword in your domain is that you immediately set the user’s expectation for what they will get. If you site is done well, this will help your site’s overall authority and help in areas like bounce rates and backlinks. In our case it also helps potential partners find us.

Mike:   Have you received any unsolicited offers on the names?  Anything worth considering?

Kelly:  Yes, occasionally, but since we are an active revenue site I think buyers tend to shy away from making offers on just the names. There is an active market for domains in the energy vertical and we do watch the market for domains with our keywords. We have purchased several related keyword domains more as a defensive move than anything else.

Mike:  Do you feel it’s possible for anyone to make a living online with a good domain name?

Kelly:   Unfortunately, no. It takes a combination of several factors to make a living doing this in my opinion.

First, it isn’t really about the domain. It’s more about the product/service, content, and experience that you give to site visitors. Simply launching a site with a few keywords in the domain won’t get you very far. Think through your own digital shopping experiences and consider your recent positive experiences. This includes everything from things like product quality and customer service to the site interface itself. Do these things well.

Second, your product/service has to be marketed. If simply launching your site with a keyword or two in the domain is your marketing plan, you’ll likely be waiting a while (if any sales come through at all). By the way, marketing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. There’s a lot of room for creativity here.

Next, focus on your competitive advantage if your site is entering a competitive market. Do your due diligence on competitors and see what you like or don’t like about their products.

Finally, there’s the personal and financial aspect of owning a site. Do you have the financial backing to not only launch a site but scale it up to profitability? Do you have the patience to write content and duke it out in the battle for keywords? Have you determined what makes you uniquely qualified to fill a specific need? All of these factors come into play when deciding if you can head down the entrepreneurial path and make a living online.
Mike:  I noticed you have only a couple of states associated with the gas and electric sites.  Why is that?   Any plans on expanding?

Kelly:  Yes, definitely. We are currently in Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut with our electricity site and Ohio and Michigan with our natural gas site. We are definitely planning on expanding to other deregulated markets (there are 14 total for electricity and 20 for gas). We will soon go through the licensing and certification process in the other deregulated markets and enter them in an orderly manner through the end of 2018.

In addition, many countries have varying degrees of energy choice for consumers. Our long term plan is to enter these markets as well.

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geo domain

InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com – Geo domaining lives on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Domain Investor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike:  How many .jobs domains are currently registered?

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

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

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

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

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

Nat: Good to be here.

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

Nat: I missed the first one.

Braden: You missed the first one?

Nat: Yeah.

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

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

Braden: You gotta squeeze it in.

Nat: Yep.

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

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

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

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

Braden: Wow.

Nat: And…

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

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

Braden: But only by a few years.

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

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

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

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

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

Braden: So, you’re old school.

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

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

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

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

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

Braden: Yeah. You spend a lot of time.

Nat: Yep.

Braden: The Internet Commerce Association.

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

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

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

Braden: Uniform Dispute Resolution Protocol.

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

Braden: Procedure? Policy?

Nat: Yep

Braden: Something P.

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

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

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

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

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

Braden: Right. Any kind of brand.

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

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

Nat: Right. They are… They get…

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

Nat: Well, they don’t represent ICANN.

Braden: Signed by ICANN? How would you…?

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

Braden: How’s that possible?

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

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

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

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

Nat: Many of them are.

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

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

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

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

Braden: Nat, I come to you for answers.

Nat: Well, I can recommend a good restaurant.

Braden: Okay.

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

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

Nat: Okay.

Braden: So, how does someone support ICA?

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

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

Nat: My 20th year.

Braden: Wow. Happy anniversary.

Nat: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

Nat: Me.

Braden: Oh.

Nat: Sorry.

Braden: Us.

Nat: Us. Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nat: Yeah.

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

Nat: I believe you.

Braden: Yeah. Because I go to those.

Nat: Yes.

Nat: You’re out there.

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

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

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

Nat: What’s NamePros?

Braden: You haven’t heard it?

Nat: No.

Braden: Maybe…

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

Braden: Right.

Nat: Yes. And my hats are off.

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

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

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

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domain branding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

domain branding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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