Interviews

A Domain Worth Investing In

Paul Rubillo, CEO/Founder of Dividend.com talks about this fantastic generic name and gives some advice to Internet entrepreneurs.

Mike: Can you give a little background on your business?

Paul: We started building our DARS (Dividend Advantage Ratings System) along with the site back in January of 2008. It took six months to launch as I rated each of the nearly 1600 dividend-paying stocks one at a time, but also had to have all the ratings up-to-date as we prepared to go live. Dividend.com is a hybrid site with free and paid content. We actually kept the site free till the end of 2008 and had built a big audience. We decided to put up our paywall giving everyone a month’s notice to sign up for the service in which we added some new features as well. The site is run by myself and Tom Reese who was the architect behind the site’s functionality and design. We have many bells and whistles in place to help us track the nearly 1600 stocks we cover.

Mike: Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Paul: The site gets over 150,000 visits a month and does over 600,000 page views. We also have a daily newsletter that now goes out to nearly 10,500 members.

Mike: Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Paul: We spend no money on marketing. We get most of our traffic from search engines and direct visits. Our SEO is strong and I credit Tom’s expertise along with our numerous posts we put up everyday. Search engines love to see fresh content everyday.

Mike: Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it? If so, what was the process you went through? Will you share what you paid for the name?


Paul: The site was never developed and I was fortunate to be speaking with the person about other domain names they had owned when they told me about Dividend.com. It was the perfect fit for me and my financial services/trading background. The track record for people trying to trade for a living isn’t good and my goal was to help build a site that can guide investors on putting their capital to work in the best possible long-term investment strategy that is dividend-paying stocks. There isn’t anything that comes close on Wall Street that can beat it. 80 years and counting of outperformance is what got me fixated on building a ratings system to help investors pinpoint exactly where they should be putting their money and when. Investors want answers and as much as they want to learn about investing, nothing beats specific stock recommendations to help one’s financial literacy along. The sale of the domain was kept private, but I can tell you that I needed the help of a home equity line of credit to go after my dream. There is an expression where if you are not nervous, that means you are not risking enough. Well, I jumped into it big-time, but I have never looked back since.

Mike: Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Paul: Without question, the domain name opened many doors and opportunities for our company. Within one month of launching we had a venture signed with TheStreet.com. One month after that it was Forbes and by November of that year, we signed a deal to provide Nasdaq with all our dividend news exclusively. It was great to get the credibility of those partners, especially with knowing that our model was going to be subscription-based.

Mike: Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Paul: Well there is a lot to consider. If you can help up, I would stick to a .com handle. I see there are .nets and other extensions getting some strong bids of late, but sometimes you need to step up and spend the dollars to save you some marketing costs down the line and also the worries of someone developing the .com version of the non dot-com you may have built your site on.

Mike: What do you think your competitors think of your domain? What do your customers think?

Paul: I believe they probably thought I had owned it since the mid-90s and were lucky to register, not realizing I made a huge financial commitment to building the site I was envisioning. That said, there is likely enough respect in the effort they see us put forth every single day.

Mike: Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point? Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Paul: I had recently had some conversations with parties that had inquired about our company, but mostly it has been lots of lip service and information-digging. The process actually got us more enthused about the space and we are working on a couple of more sites that will round out our offerings, all in an effort to help millions of people learning where to find money (personal finance and money-saving tips) to invest, then companies they should be investing in (Dividend.com), followed by a site to teach them how to hold on to their wealth (Retiremtment-focused). We are currently looking in the retirement and personal finance space for possible names as we start breaking ground on the sites.

Mike: Any other information you’d like to share?

Paul: I’d like to close out with some reality check items that I have learned and want potential entrepreneurs out there to consider when deciding if they are ready to take the next step and pursue their dream. Realize that you will have to work harder than you have ever imagined in your life. The web is not a Mon-Fri. 9-5 gig. If you are not understanding this fact first, you will lose money and time. There are plenty of books and seminars out there preaching for people to chase their dream and use the opportunity of the web to get started. While I love the motivational aspect of the message we often hear from social media gurus, the fact is that many people will walk away from the experience questioning themselves. I had many roller-coaster moments in building out Dividend.com and despite the site’s success still do today. The roadblocks you will encounter will test your will like you have never imagined. The many ignored e-mails, the tons of no thanks – but stay in touch responses, the useless biz-dev characters with little vision or any desire to build a strong relationship with, etc. You have to fight through all that and continue to press harder. You have to be willing to take the rejection and make it want it more. Realize that you will be fighting human nature’s wanting to give up at that point. But, if you have done your homework and know that the business you are looking to build is truly a real business that can make money, you must then fight ahead.

If you are building a site just for a hobby and you have a steady job that you will not jeopardize, then go for it. But if you have a family and need the income, I would think long and hard about what it is you are looking to do. Besides the many no’s you will receive, you will also run into the many “pay to play” parts of building out your brand. If you are able to land venture capital money (which we did not pursue), you will have an advantage in one area which is getting some social media coverage. The closer you get into social media the more you realize the politics of what really happens and why certain companies get more coverage than others. VCs know the right people that will pen articles about certain companies and try to build the hype machine on a particular company out. I shake my head when I see how the valuations of different financing levels are determined and how the social media space trots them out without hesitation. You will realize this when someone takes a look at your company that could be making real revenue and they throw out a ludicrous offer to want to buy your company. There is so much B.S. in the social media space, but I just put my head down and focus on building out a real business and most people should do the same.

To summarize what I would really want your readers to think about, is that they should chase their dreams with calculated risk. Don’t put the family at risk ever. The job environment is real tough out there. Build your dreams while you maintain your regular job. Step into things slowly before putting it all on the line. Most importantly, make a difference with what you are trying to do. If you can make a product or write about things that will make life better for people, you are on the right track. Don’t build the 6th best Facebook or 5th best site about your favorite team. Be the best at one thing and work your butt off to get there.

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Are Brandable Domains An Option?

I love the generic keyword domains and that’s where I like to focus my time, attention and energy.  But, in order to be balanced, I thought it would be good to get the perspective of some brandable end users.  There are plenty of successful sites using newly invented words as their primary domain such as Twitter, Flickr, Squidoo and others.  This is the start of a series where I will be sprinkling in some interviews with brandable domain owners and end users.  I hope to gain some perspective and share some new information with you along the way.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on these names, so please feel free to comment with your reactions.

My first brandable interview is with Cynthia Typaldos, the founder of Kachingle.com.  Cynthia shares her thoughts around domains, brandables and her business.

Mike:  Tell me a little bit about yourself and about kachingle.com.

Cynthia:  I’m the founder of Kachingle.  Our service is an offering in the new market space of “social payments” – easy-to-use systems for people to make voluntary micropayments to online content and services that they value.

Kachingle’s service is designed around the consumer, or Kachingler as we call them, and enables them to create a vibrant online persona based on the social cents they provide to the digital stuff they love.  Users sign-up for a $5/month subscription with Kachingle, then when they encounter a site, blog, musician, artist, application or whatever online that they value and want to reward and that has installed the Kachingle Medallion (a javascript widget), they simply “turn it on”.  Their $5 is then split proportionately each month across all of the Medallions they have selected based on usage.

So if I as a Kachingler go to the Mama-is blog every day, and the Boston Sports Media Watch blog every other day, then Mama-is receives 2/3 of my $5 and the Boston Sports Media Watch blog receives 1/3 of my $5 (minus combined PayPal and Kachingle transaction fees – 85% of the $5 flows to the blogs).  But of course the Kachingler doesn’t have to figure any of this out…it happens automatically and hassle-free.

Most importantly at the same time, the Kachingler is creating a visible social persona based on the digital stuff they love that they can then push out to their social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.  For example, here’s my kachingling persona: Cynthia’s kachingling.

Mike:  What made you decide to choose a brandable name over a generic?

Cynthia:  I wanted a name that was easy to find in a search, and that was unique and memorable.  I had noticed that when companies choose generic names searching for them results in an enormous amount of irrelevant stuff.  I’ve been fortunate in having a personal name that is unique to me, and it’s invaluable.  So I wanted the same thing for my company.  I also wanted a name that meant something.  And I rejected names that are missing vowels…I find these names annoying and hard to spell.  And to top it off, I wanted a name that sounded like “fun”, that wasn’t serious or heavy — a name that makes young people giggle when they hear it!

Mike: What does “kachingle” actually mean?

Cynthia:  The word is a combination of the sounds ka-ching and jingle.  In our FAQ section we answer this and provide the audio inspiration…look for “What does Kachingle mean?”

Mike:  Have you owned or do you own other domain names?  If so, which ones?

Cynthia:  Well, I’ve founded several companies before – GolfWeb and RealCommunities.  Obviously those names are a lot different than Kachingle as they are two English words stuck together.  That was the style before;  now it seems archaic and boring.   With Kachingle we have also registered all of the domain names in key foreign countries, and many of the possible misspellings too.

Mike: Are you willing to share your visitation statistics so far?

Cynthia:  Kachingle is not a destination site, it’s a service that runs in the background.  So visitation numbers are not relevant.  Our Medallion (the widget that resides on participating sites and blogs) is served up 1M times per day though…that’s the most relevant statistic.  Kachingle Medallion views exceed 1,000,000 per day!

Mike:  What type of marketing are you doing to promote the site?  Any online such as seo or ppc?  Any offline advertising?

Cynthia:  We are primarily using our participating sites and blogs and applications to promote Kachingle, along with our Medallion being present on every page of their site/blog/application.  We will be rolling out a news snazzier Medallion overlay in the next few months.  And we have received quite a bit of press (see our blog) which helps.   This week we are launching our Twitter application which will enable our users to tweet their kachingling.  Reaching out into our users’ social networks is key.  And we are developing a Facebook application too.   We will also be featured in some online advertising with one of our partners, PayPal, around their PayPal X service and October conference, that will greatly help us in reaching the application community.

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25000 unique visitors per day

I reached out to Andy Schepper,VP of Operations at Summit Sports Inc.  once I saw the long list of sports related domains the company owns.  Andy gave me his perspective on generic, keyword domains over brandable names, as well as a peek into the companies marketing and business logic.

Mike:  Summit Sports, Inc. owns a great list of premium domain names such as skis.com, hockey.us and inlineskates.net.  How important have these domains been to your business model?

Andy:  Summit Sports in a specialty sporting goods retailer.  These category specific domain names have given us the ability to create a specialty store shopping experience online.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic any of your sites receive?  Do you happen to know what percentage of your traffic comes from direct navigation (type-in traffic)?

Andy:  In season some of our higher volume sites will see 25,000+ unique visitors per day.  Direct traffic typically accounts for 10-20% of our traffic.

Mike:  How did Summit come to acquire these names?  Are you the original registrant or were they purchased on the after market?

Andy:  Most of the domain names that we own were purchased.  We have purchased them through many different sources including: private individuals and online auctions.

Mike:  What type of online marketing strategies do you follow for these sites?  What about offline or traditional marketing?

Andy:  Our marketing strategy both online and offline is the same.  Our goal is to create an online shopping experience as good, or better than an in store shopping experience.  Therefore, we are very specific in both our marketing and site content to maintain the specialty store emphasis.  We participate in every from of online marketing and we also use many traditional forms of advertising including print and billboards.

Mike:  Is Summit actively pursuing additional sport related domains?

Andy:   We are always looking for new sporting goods categories to expand into and grow our business.  We own several hundred additional sports related domains that we have not yet launched sites for.

Mike:  Would you consider selling any of your domains at any point?  Have you received any unsolicited offers?  Have you thought about venturing outside of sports?

Andy:  Currently we do not have any of our websites listed for sale.  We do receive unsolicited offers on a regular basis.  We will be using our sporting expertise to focus on launching site for the domains that we already own in the future.

Mike:  What made you chose the generic keywords over something more brandable like “SummitSkates.com?”

Andy:  As I have mentioned, we are a specialty sporting goods retailer and how much more of a niche site domain can you get than the search term itself.  Many people who are shopping online type in the keyword of what they are shopping for followed by .com or .net to see what comes up.  I even do it to this day.  Most recently I was shopping for a new digital camera and visited both cameras.com and digitalcameras.com.

Mike:  What advice do you have for others starting new businesses and selecting a domain name?  Do you have .com, .net and .us.  Have you found them all to be valuable?

Andy:  Your domain alone will not be the success or failure of your business.  As far as domain extensions are concerned .com is still king.  We have also had great success with .net sites over the last few years.  Our .us and .biz sites are very new but showing some early successes.

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Even a Great Domain Name Requires Effort

Joe Schodowski took the time to answer a few questions about his site Shelving.com and what his business model looks like.  A successful business running on a great domain name, Shelving.com still requires constant attention.  No doubt the name helped the company expand from their local market.  Joe provides some details and insight we can all benefit from.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your site online?

Joe Schodowski:  Shelving, Inc was started in 1960 by my father Jack Schodowski. Back then shelving products consisted mainly of slotted angle and nut & bolt shelving systems.  Because Shelving,Inc was based in Detroit, MI a majority of the customer base was either an automotive manufacturer (GM, Ford, Chrysler) or one of the suppliers.  All of our shelving was provided for heavy duty industrial applications. The first 35 years of the business was concentrated on supply shelving and storage systems for the commercial and industrial market in SE Michigan.

In 1996 we registered shelving.com because we are “Shelving, Inc”.  From 1996 – 2002 we utilized the domain shelving.com as a sales lead tool for our sales representatives. Late in 2002 we decided to try our hand in e-commerce and launched shelving.com on a Miva 4.xx shopping cart to accept orders on line. Currently, shelving.com is running on Miva 5.5 and we have plans to transition it to a more robust shopping cart within the next 90-120 days.   Shelving, Inc employees 16 full time and 4 part time team members.


Mike:  Has has owning the domain Shelving.com impacted your business?

Joe Schodowski:  Yes, it has impacted our business positively. From 1960 – 2002 a majority of our business was conducted in our local geographic market (SE Michigan). Since 2002 our market has expanded to all points of the USA and some international business as well. It opened our boundries for business and allowed us to weather the economic storm fairly well because we have developed a larger, more diverse customer base and in a larger geopgraphic market. Today 65% of our business is outside of SE Michigan and 35% is in our primary market.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Joe Schodowski:  We receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 – 30,000 unique vistors per month.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Joe Schodowski:  Mostly Google adwords ppc campaigns. We launched a business to consumer site www.TheShelvingStore.com in 2007 and have explored many more sales channels for that site.  Now we will do the same for www.shelving.com.

Mike:  Do you own other domain names?

Joe Schodowski:  Yes, www.TheShelvingStore.com, www.ShelvingCatalog.com and www.ShelvingandRack.com. All three of these sites are continually being developed and are constantly going through upgrades and merchandise changes.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name shelving.com from someone else that owned it?

Joe Schodowski:  We bought it directly from one of our customers who workred for a military supplier. He registered it for us back in 1996. I can’t remember what it cost us back then but it wasn’t a lot.

Mike: Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Joe Schodowski:For start ups make sure you are well caplitalized. Have cash and know what you are going to do with it. So many people I meet think e-commerce is simply building a website and sitting back lettting the orders roll in. That is so far from the truth.  You have to work constantly on driving qualifed traffic to the site through many sales channels and monitor the results ofad spend to return on investment. You have to work on SEO, PPC management, CSE feeds, Affiliates, Social Media, Blogs etc… In addition you have to change your merchandising, update pricing and stay on top of ahead of your competition. You can’t ever sit back or you will soon be taken out by your competition.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Joe Schodowski:  Sure, at some point we will sell the domain but not any time soon. Yes, we have received numerous unsolicited offers but none were legitimate offers.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Joe Schodowski:  We love what we do. Selling shelving.  By selling shelving the old fashioned way (face to face with a sales rep and customer), online or through our call center our passion is to “Make Space  Work Harder” by supplying the right shelving products for the right storage project. So if our customer needs to store engines, potatoes, books, paper, clothing, hardware or rocket parts we have the right shelving for the job.  Our solutions allow our customers to store there stuff safely and neatly so they know what they have and where it is. We create space and better organization with our shelving products. We’re happy to help any customer no matter how small or large their storage project may be. We have been doing this for fifty (50) years and have tens of thousands of satisfied customers. We look forward to continually serving our current customers storage needs and always willing and able to bring on new customers. We make it known throughout our company that our customer is the Boss. They are the only reason we exist and if we don’t take great care of them someone else will. We do everything in our power to make our customers happy and organized.

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Founder of Strings.com Talks About The New Service

Edward Balassanian is the founder of Strings.com, a service that allows users to connect all of their online accounts and lets them see their data in an organized fashion.  Strings.com also allows users to find information that is relevant to them.  I contacted Edward to discuss the fantastic keyword domain and discovered this new service.

Mike:  Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Edward:  I’ve been in the community here is Seattle for a close to 30 years now.  I started off at the University of Washington.  I have a degree in computer science.  Then I went to Microsoft in the early 90’s.  After that, I started my first business which was called BeeCom which, unlike our current startup, had a horrible name.  But that company’s success allowed myself  and the team to jump onto this venture which we’ve been doing for a couple of years now.

Mike:  Is the team behind Strings the same team from BeeCom?

Edward: When I started BeeCom, I was pretty young and so was the team I hired.  We were all sort of green.  We managed to get a lot of arrows in our backs along that journey and we worked really well together.  We all went off and did our own thing between BeeCom and this company and then reconvened for this one.

BeeCom was in a completely different space.  We were building operating systems for the digital home.  We were one of the pioneers in developing portable media players and in streaming multimedia content into the home and around the home.

Mike:  Tell me about Strings and how that came about:

Edward:  We all had this facination with crunching alot of data.  Part of the problem we played around with in the first company was getting the right content to the right user.  We worked with companies like Sony Pictures and Time Warner and Disney.  The libraries they had were growing and the amount of digital content that was available in both movies and music was well beyond any consumers ability to be able to sift through.  So we were faced with the question of “How do you remove all of these choices for the user and actually bring them things that they really want?”  At that time, it was sort of impractical to throw that many computer resources at that type of problem.  Also, users weren’t comfortable with the idea of a computer figuring out what they would want.

With Strings, it was a completely different market.  Now, users were much more invested in their online environments and they were consuming more and more things online.  The problem of being able to tell us what article you’re reading, what books you purchase, what groceries you buy, which movies you watch… we do a really good job of helping you filter the choices that are competing for your attention so you can discover the things that are really interesting and relevant to you.  That was the genesis of Strings.

Mike:  How does Strings work today?  How does it serve your customers?

Edward:  Right now, we’re focused on three elements of the site.  First, the idea of connecting your online accounts.  Take all of the accounts you have, all over the web and connect them back to Strings.  Then you can see all of your activity across those accounts, aggregated in a single stream.  As a user, it’s very valuable for me to be able to see all of my activity, all of the products I’ve purchased whether it’s groceries or furniture, electronics, etc.  All of that is organized by Strings.  I can get a break down of how much I’ve spent in different categories and see a time line of when I’ve been spending and how much I’ve been spending.

The second aspect of the site is that it allows you to follow other people and see what they are up to , to the degree that they want to share it with you.  That was the elementary step we wanted to get behind us and that was what the launch was focused on.

The next phase for us, which we announced earlier this Spring, was to go beyond this idea of track and share and actually incorporate this notion of discovery.  That’s the part we are working on now that will allow us to identify real time trends that are relevant to you based on the types of things you are already consuming.  So if you are reading an article and you are really into organic foods, we can identify organic food products at Amazon Fresh that people that are very similar to you have a high affinity for.

Mike:  How do  you track the data?

Edward:  We don’t do anything without the consumer opting into it.   When you sign up at the site, you can select from 60 different online merchants that we work with right now and allow your account to be connected back to your profile at Strings.  Once you set up your account and connect it to Strings, your activity is automatically logged for you on Strings.com.  It’s completely private.  At that point, you can choose if you want to share it or not.

Mike:  Are you integrated at all with the social networks like Twitter and Facebook?

Edward:  We have integrated with social networks in two ways.  One, we have the ability to track.  So if you have a Twitter or Facebook account, then you can connect your accounts back to Stings and then any articles, photos or videos will get aggregated back to your account on Strings.  You can also have Strings tweet your activity or push it out to your favorite social network.

Mike:  What’s your current user base?

Edward:  We are not disclosing our user base yet, but we will be soon.  I can tell you our activity level.  We have over 5 million unique items tracked and we’re getting a new item tracked per second.  That’s a metric we hit way faster than we thought we would.

Mike: Where did you pick up the domain name, Strings.com?

Edward:  I purchased it personally, over a decade ago.  I purchased it, interestingly enough, from a watermelon farmer in Oklahoma who I come to find out owned a lot of nouns and verbs in the dictionary.

Mike:  What did you pay for it back then?

Edward:  I paid $25,000 which I felt was exorbitant and I felt foolish.  Now I feel vindicated.  I actually ran into a colleague of his who remembered that sale and said it was once of his last sales before he moved his domains to parking.

Mike:  Can you tell me what kind of traffic the site receives?

Edward: No, we are not disclosing traffic yet but we will in a few months.  I can tell you the name has helped quite a bit.  We haven’t taken advantage of the name in terms of marketing because we didn’t want to get to cute with it.  It’s such a good name that we want to evolve the brand slowly.  We also haven’t done anything  to invest in SEO yet either, but will be included in our next release.

Mike:  Can you tell me about your marketing strategy?

Edward:  We work with merchants that are co-promoting but we’re focusing on SEO and PR  and relying on our over 100 partners to get our name out there.

Mike:  What can we expect in the future from Strings?

Edward:  We’ll be leveraging out name more in marketing more.  Let’s talk again in a few months to discuss where we are at.

Thanks to Edward for the interview and I look forward to a follow up conversation in the coming months.

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Rick Schwartz Answers My Questions

Rick Schwartz, aka “The Domain King”  is considered a leading expert in the domain industry by many, and doesn’t require an introduction (but I’ll provide one anyway).  He has a history of solid accomplishments and his sales make news even today.  His blog, RicksBlog.com, is well read and commented on by those that look to him for advice as well as those that criticize his philosophies.  Rick Schwartz is the founder of T.R.A.F.F.I.C., and owns and/or has sold some of the most premium domain names you can imagine.   Rick took some time to answer my questions and to share his perspective with you.

Mike:  You recently posted about “the domain industry expanding, but domainers are shrinking” as related to possibly keeping the 2011  T.R.A.F.F.I.C. for domainers only.  There are, as you point out, a limited number of full-time domainers.  What are your thoughts around part-time domainers?  That is, those with full-time jobs in an unrelated industry that are trying to become full-time domainers.  Is it possible for someone to achieve this at this point in the Internet’s cycle?  In your experience, do you see part-time domainers come and go or is there growth in this demographic of the industry?

Rick: Every domainer I know started at this part time. Every single one including myself. So I applaud and encourage all that are getting into it. I always say don’t quit your day job until it interferes with your money making abilities in domaining. However there are different types of new folks. You have folks like Tia Wood who get in, learn, understand, marry what she learns with her skills and then is able to contribute to help others. But unfortunately she is the exception not the rule. In the early days we were all Tia’s put together and then bound together. Many made no money but had that desire and passion to learn without peeing over other people in the process. Just classy people with the strong desire to do better for themselves and their families.

Today we have domain bloggers that are not even domainers but blog only for profit. That is fine, but folks that come in today are confused. They certainly don’t have to look up to me, but they can certainly look at who I look up to and respect and applaud because they know what they are doing. They can certainly look at dozens of others and their success stories. No two stories the same. But don’t confuse that with keeping score for success and failure. All the guys I look up to fail a lot and have no shame for it. They embrace failure because that is a stepping-stone to success. Imagine a gold miner that refused to sift thru dirt. Would not find any gold either. So when others laugh at your failure, what they are really doing is excusing and masking their own lack of success.  The folks I hang with don’t root for failure or get off when others don’t succeed. They encourage folks and are happy when their friends find success.

The mindset of so many new folks is they want the $$$ first and then they think they are entitled to something. The only thing they are entitled to is to work hard and find a niche that works for them that is profitable. But first you got to be on the right path so simply being a part time domainer does not mean much. You need to have successes along the way. But let me be clear, even the newest domainer can offer something of great value to the conversation. Domainers come from many different backgrounds and cultures. They have info to offer and share. That is what built the industry. Sharing. TRAFFIC is built on sharing. You never know who holds the single most important piece of the puzzle because they are all important pieces.

Mike:  You are considered among many to be the leading expert in the industry.  What is your opinion of the .CO TLD?  Is it the next best thing since .COM or an over-hyped release of yet another ccTLD trying to rebrand right out of the gate?

Rick: It’s nice that many say that but just as many would argue it and I can’t say I blame them. Many have done much better than me and have many more accomplishments. I have just been very outspoken and bullish on something when nobody else was. I figured a smaller piece of a bigger pie was a winning hand. That said I know domain names better than anything I have ever been involved in. It’s as if I was groomed all of my life for this.

As for .CO……Sorry, I am not smart enough to figure any of that out at this point. What determines the success or failure of any extension will not be domainers. It will be determined by end users and advertising budgets, brochures, billboards and all the rest. No ad dollars spent on an extension means RIP. It’s all about the ad dollars. Not the moon, the stars, the registry, the hype. So that is why each new extension is speculative. But that is what domaining is about so you need to do the job and get in or out based on what you believe and not what anyone tells you. But listen to your wallet the most. If it is getting fatter, keep going. If it is getting thinner. STOP and try something different.

.CO is an interesting extension. It will be years before we know if it is truly embraced or not and that is why patience is always a huge piece of the domain game. Meanwhile many domainers will make a lot of money buying and selling to each other and some end users. I have bought about 2000 myself. Time will tell. Right now, it’s a 12 month option and then I will re-evaluate and see. One thing I will say…..every domainer at a pretty equal shot at getting some domains of value. Of course if all folks do is register Pigeon Shit, then they won’t make a dime and they will lose their money. On the other hand the ones that do understand domains will pick a few winners that will pay for their entire investment and more. What do all the whiners say then? Who do they lash out then for keeping them back? Who will even take them seriously again? The answer, newbie’s who don’t know any better. There will always be an endless supply of ignorance and a limited amount of talented domainers that will hit gushers once again. Some that came into the industry 30 days ago will be bigger and more successful than 50% of the folks reading this. Then what do the whiners say? It basically impugned every word they ever uttered and the basis of their every thought. So at that moment they have a choice. Get even more angry and more frustrated or give it up, take a deep breath and give it a fresh shot with a good attitude.

Mike:  This next question can apply to both new and experienced domainers.  There are many bloggers and forum posters, each with their own and often conflicting opinions.  Particularly for those new to the industry, what do you feel are the best sources of quality information to learn from?

Rick: Well, I certainly would focus on blogs where the blogger has enjoyed some level of success. Some bloggers as I suggest above are not even domainers or just regurgitate or plagiarize posts by other domains bloggers or talk without much to back it up. If you want to know what is going on in the domain Industry I look to TheDomains.com, DNJournal.com and then Domaining.com to see who else has something of value to contribute. But I hate blogs that I have no idea who the author is and that takes away a lot of the credibility.

Don’t believe half of what you read and question the other half. Follow the financial motive of folks giving advice. Don’t be lazy. Find the source and verify. Successful domainers as a rule have hearts of gold and are more than willing to help others. Lashing out at folks contributing their time and thoughts and asking nothing in return is just not very classy and  whether you succeed or fail folks should have the dignity to treat others with respect. If folks take what I say personally without me naming a single domain name or single domainer’s name then I guess they have indicted themselves. If the shoe fits, they bought the damn store. So my plain spoken words are aimed at failure of the idea, failure of making a profit, failure of a successful plan. Failure to find the success they are looking for. Where is the personal name? But the shadows I talk to speaks back in highly personal and mean spirited ways and I will never make any apologies for not wanting to surround myself with narrow minded lowlife losers like that. When they grow up and get some class, then we can see until then, the nameless will name me without me ever mentioning them and those cheering them on are in the same league. So pretty easy to spot the losers. They call themselves out and it is amusing to those that know the difference. Invisible to those that don’t know.

So to the newbie’s….if you are reading a post or a blog and they spend their time taking pot shots at me…..it’s the definition of a loser. Not for disagreeing, we can do that and debate that all day if the motive is to find the best solution or answer. But for the mean spirited personal pot shots that are uncalled for and unnecessary. For those folks, I registered FuckYou.co and a few other socially negative domains. Like Asshole.co and Morons.co. Come on! This is the most fun profession in the universe and if you are not making money, having a good time doing it, then all I ever suggested was try something new or something different until you find something that does. Those 3 domains were all just registered. Total cost $103. Does anyone reading this seriously question I can’t flip for a nice profit right now regardless of the destiny of .CO?

Mike:  I believe you coined the term “Pigeon Shit” when referring to registering domains that are worthless.  I confess that I collected a lot of pigeon shit before I started to get a feel for what had some value.  In your experience, is this a trap most people fall into when they start to acquire domains?  Why do you think that registrars don’t include some advice, even to end users, on how to select a good domain name?

Rick:  Yes absolutely. We all own pigeon shit in our portfolios. Some domains pan out, some don’t. Like panning for gold. Knowing the difference is what domaining is all about. There is no guidebook nor could there be as the industry will always change and evolve and that is why there are so many ways to make money.

A registrar could not care less if they sell a premium domain or pigeon shit nor should they. Except for their premium auctions which is a printing press, their job is to register as many domains as possible and that’s that. Anyone saying anything else is not dealing with reality or just not being candid. So never listen to a registrar when it comes to domain names. Two different goals and agendas and they are not wrong. The ones not knowing and understanding the motives of each are wrong for not understanding this.

Mike:  Back in May, you posted on your blog about possibly starting up some domain trading based on a small subset of your domains.  Have you done anything with that?  Received any trade requests?  Do you think that, if this develops, it could be an equitable means of strengthening a domainer’s portfolio?

Rick: It basically falls flat every time I bring it up. But someday this will be common place. So now I do the trading 2 step. I sell a domain and then take the proceeds to buy the domain I would have traded for. I seldom go into the funds I have already set aside. I want new funds to buy new domains.  My business has always been self-sustaining. That means all the dollars I use to buy domains come from the dollars I made with domains to begin with.

Mike:  Do you still actively acquire names?  If so, how do you go about purchasing them (private transactions or through brokers)?  What criteria do you look for?

Rick: I do nearly every day. Some hand registered, some aftermarket. I buy many at auctions or private emails. But I get domains that fill a need or diversify what I do. The criteria I use is when the domain stands alone, it means something and is easy to spell. I focus on commercial but have a lot of social type domains. Knowing the difference is important. I was the first to even talk about the two classifications. Am I as aggressive as I was back in the 1990’s? No. That was a unique opportunity in time and I have said so many times. But there will be more unique opportunities and the key is recognizing them when they cross your path. I have never seen an industry with so many ways to succeed on a daily basis.

Mike:  How about selling names… do you seek out buyers or do they typically come to you for the domains? How do you decide what you feel is a fair price?

Rick: I have never really actively or formally tried to sell a domain name. I emailed Hershey’s twice and have had some domains included in a bulk domain ad. The whois is my best salesmen. As for price, there are so many factors at play and then circumstance is always a huge part. What would I do with the dollars I get? Is there a reason to sell? Is there a reason to keep it? Is there a domain I could buy with those dollars that would make my decision important. Is there a toy I want to buy but don’t want to put out the dollars? Does it make my overall portfolio stronger or weaker? Do I have a plan for the domain? What is the value of that plan? So many factors at play and I am not forced to sell to pay renewal fees. Some registered for fun or a hoot or a one time event.

Mike:  What advice do you have for those that are new or less experienced in the field?

Rick: Don’t just run off and buy or register a domain name. Learn the elements that make one domain have value or potential value and one that is something with an extension on the end. Your first buys become your foundation and most important. It is not rocket science. The domain is the centerpiece of every new business. There is still ample opportunity. So many qualified domainers do share their ideas and methods and they are often met with resistance. Some of it pretty ugly. What they do is not working yet they resist what is. So the first piece of advice is to not be so stubborn and defensive that you refuse to question your own decisions when they are not working the way you thought they would.  The second would be stop chasing yesterday’s news and events and focus how things will unfold in the future.

In closing let me say that In domaining there is opportunity every day at every corner. Some seize that opportunity and others whine when it passes them by. Black and white to me and I hope what I have said makes it clearer for you as well. My words are designed to sometimes be uncomfortable. Change is never comfortable and IF what you are doing is not working you have a choice, get mad at me for pointing it out or try something different until you find what works. If my delivery style is not to your liking, get over it or don’t read it. That’s like being stuck on something that does not matter. Stuck on stupid. In 20 years they can tell their grand kids how Rick Schwartz held them back from success because of his words and delivery. They won’t even buy that bullshit, why would they think folks are buying it now?

So nobody conveniently twists my words to suit their story line which seems to be in vogue these days, this is what I believe. I believe that Domainers, developers, IT, graphics and SEO folks along with others should be working together with a common purpose and goal. I have believed that since the day I got on the net. Unfortunately there are too many jealousies, prejudices, and Type A personalities to allow that. Together we could build empires, alone, a lot of ugly frustration among each group.

In the real world you might have a landowner, a developer, a general contractor, an architect and hundreds of workers working well together to bring an idea to life. Seems like that blueprint has been in place for a very long time and one day will be common online as well. We are the ones that should be making that happen.

I Thank Rick for his time, contribution and the level of insight he provides on the industury.

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A Domain With A Charge

David Danzig, the Vice President of Charge.com, spent a couple of minutes answering some questions about his business and the premium domain “Charge.com“.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your business online, etc.

David:  Charge.com was founded in 1995 to enable businesses to accept credit cards from their customers online, over the phone, by mail, or in retail stores.  We have averaged about 12 employees for the past several years.

Mike:  Has has owning the domain Charge.com impacted your business?

Davide:  Of course, owning the domain Charge.com has been very helpful.  When customers see that domain, they know that we’re big and that we’ve been around a long time, and that this means that we have the resources to negotiate better rates than smaller companies can.  And it doesn’t hurt that it’s very memorable, so they can easily find us again.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)  What results have you seen from these?

David:  Our main marketing strategy has been our affiliate program.  We pay affiliates $100 for each United States merchant they refer.  We’ve had thousands of people sign up at our Web site, http://www.charge.com/affiliates/, and our top affiliates earn thousands of dollars a month just for having a link on their Web page, so it works well for everyone involved.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?

David:  My family and I have had a few over the years.  The best one, besides Charge.com, was degree.com, which we recently sold.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?

David:  We are the original owners.  We paid $50 for it in 1995.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

David:  I am continually surprised by how many quality domain names are still unclaimed.  Every year that goes by, it takes more and more patience and creativity to find a good one, but they’re still out there.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

David:  I’d only be speculating, but I’m sure they respect what it represents, in terms of the years we’ve been in this business and our size and place in our industry.

Mike:  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?  What were the offers?

David:  We’ve received a few 8-figure offers for our company.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?  Tips for the readers?

David:  I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t let your readers know how easy and inexpensive it is for them to accept credit cards from their customers with a merchant account from http://www.charge.com/.

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Headsets.com – Sound Familiar?

I originally contacted Mike Faith to talk about Headphones.com.  I soon found out that he was the plural owner of another domain that I had interviewed the singular owner weeks prior.  So we shifted focus to Headsets.com.

Sullivan:  Can you give a little background on your business?

Faith:  We’ve been in business since 1997, and we now have 55 employees, mostly in San Francisco, and a handful in our Nashville location – bi-coastal is good for shipping and phone coverage.  We actually started with no website, we did everything over the phone and through direct mail.  The website came later when we did a deal to lease-to-own the headsets.com domain.

Sullivan:  Has has owning the domain Headsets.com impacted your business?

Faith:  The Headsets.com domain has been the smartest thing we ever did, I think.  It gives us credibility as a market leader, it’s an easy domain for people to remember, and ranks well in search engines.  We’ve also added other domains to our collection over the years – headphones.com in the US, and headsets and headphones.co.uk, although we haven’t capitalized on the UK ones, and are still deciding whether to open a business there or offer the domains for sale.  We’ve also experimented with micro-site domains, the latest of which is OfficeRunner.com, which sells the leading office headset, the OfficeRunner.

Sullivan: I actually interviewed one of your competitors some time back, the owner of Headset.com (singular) and I believe you know each other.  Which domain do you think is the more valuable asset and why?

Faith:  What a great question.  The plural is always better.  But frankly, I’d like to have both, and Jonathan, who is the owner, is a smart guy.  One day we’ll do a deal together, it’s just a question of in which decade it takes place.

Sullivan: Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Faith:  Yes, we currently receive about 18K visitors per week on our main headsets.com site.

Sullivan: Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)

Faith:  We were early on with Google adwords, and that drives a lot of business for us, as do our natural search engine rankings.  We’ve worked on banner ads frequently over the years, and have still yet to find the winning formula there – but we may be getting closer.  Stand by for more news on this one.

Sullivan:  Did you purchase the names from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the names?

Faith:  Most of our domains came through deals with other people.  Headsets.com was a 10 year lease-to-own, while headphones.com was a straight purchase.  And potentially the most long-term value one for us, OfficeRunner.com, was an outright purchase with royalties going forward.  We’ve found a little creativity can go a long way in making a deal work for both parties.

Sullivan:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?  Advice?

Faith:  I always try and avoid advice, in case I’m wrong, but my experience has been that having a domain name that ranks well in SEO is far more valuable than most people realize.  Let’s say OfficeRunner cost $1MM, just for example.  With the cost of money at say, 5%, that’s only $50K a year, or $1K a week, or $200 per business day.  If you’re going to run a serious business, then what’s $200 a day to have the domain that will work hard for you with thousands of visitors.  There’s a good chance we’ll part with headphones.com, which is more of a consumer domain than what we like to work with.  To the right party, who can truly monetize it, the domain is worth the huge amount, if they discount the cost of money and potential sales over the years to come.

Sullivan:  What have your customers said about your keyword domain?

Faith:  Our Customers love that it’s easy to remember.  We also have 1-800-HEADSETS, as well as several other 800 numbers in the headsets industry.  Immensely valuable to own the pair, the domain and the number.

Sullivan:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Faith:  Headsets.com – no.  Headphones.com – if the deal was right, maybe.  Same with the UK domains.
Sullivan:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Faith:  I think not, you’ve been very thorough, and I hope your business does well.  I’d imagine you’re going to rank well with all this great domain talk.

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Dutch Boyd, Poker Player, Domainer

Dutch Boyd is a professional poker player and a “part-time” domainer as he describes on his blog, DutchBoyd.com.  He has won 2 WSOP bracelets and has some other interesting facts on his resume.  Dutch has a bit of a roller coaster of a past with some highs and lows.  Coming off his latest WSOP and focusing on domain development for some items in his portfolio, I’d say he’s on a high at the moment.  He took a few minutes to share some information about himself.

Mike:  Looking at your bio on DutchBoyd.com, there are a few interesting facts.  First, you are the 2nd youngest law school graduate ever, starting college at age 12.  Tell me more about your early years that led you to college at such a young age.  What attracted you to Law School?

Dutch:  I pretty much just fell into it.  I was going to middle school in a really small town in Missouri.  Less than a thousand people.  When I was 11 and going to middle school I took the ACT as part of an enrichment class I was in.  I ended up scoring a 23 on it out of 36, which isn’t exactly stellar, but it beat out the average score of the high school seniors.  There was an open admissions policy at the local community college.  They’d let anyone in who scored higher than an 18.  My mom asked if I wanted to start taking classes there instead of going to middle school.  When she explained that going full-time and taking 12 hours meant sitting in class for two hours a day instead of eight, I jumped at it.  I dropped out of middle school and started going to college part-time in January 2003 a few weeks after I turned 12.

I only took 6 hours that first semester because we didn’t really know how I’d manage college… but I did fine.  Went half-time that summer and then started full-time in the fall.  After I got my associates degree at the community college, I transferred to Central Missouri State and started working on my Bachelor’s in Computer Science.  In my junior year, I took the LSAT, which is the test you take to get into Law School.  I kicked ass on it and got a 165 out of 180.  Which is a pretty decent score for anybody… and I was 14. So I was going to be able to get into most any state law school.  I applied and got accepted to Missouri University in Columbia and started law school at 15 after finishing up my BA.  I can’t say I was superpassionate about law… it was just going to be a job for me.  I was a teenager and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  I didn’t really find anything I was super passionate about until I discovered poker.

Mike:  How did you get involved in poker?
Dutch:  I always really loved all games growing up… Scrabble, Monopoly, Nintendo.  I remember the first hand of poker I was ever dealt was when I was 10 and visiting my grandma for a weekend with my little brother.  She pulled out a deck of cards and a big back of tootsie rolls and sat down on the living room floor with us and divvied the candy up.  Then she dealt us each five cards and taught us how to play Five Card Draw.  It was an awesome night.
I didn’t really get into poker, though, until law school.  I think I must have been in my third year when Rounders came out in theaters.  The movie, which stars Matt Damon and Ed Norton, focuses on Damon’s character who is a law student who plays pro poker in some of the underground cardrooms in New York.  That movie changed my life.  Up until then, I had never even heard of Texas Holdem and I certainly didn’t know people were playing cards for a living.  And then this movie comes along with my favorite actor playing a law student who drops out to be a poker pro.  It struck a chord and felt like a calling.  I went to the library and checked out every single book I could find about poker.  Then I searched on the Internet and found a couple places to play online.  I missed a lot of classes that last year.  I was hooked.
After I finished law school I moved out to San Jose to live with my brother who was working a Silicon Valley job.  I started playing at some of the bricks and mortar cardrooms around the valley like Bay 101, Lucky Chances, and Garden City.  I was underage, but very rarely got carded… when I finally turned 21 I got a job as a prop player at Garden City.  That’s where I’d say I really grinded my teeth and came into my own as a poker player.  After a little time there, I started following the tournament trail and doing pretty well.  I made a really deep run in the World Series main event in 2003, finishing 12th and bluffing all my chips off in front of the ESPN cameras to the eventual winner, Chris Moneymaker.  I won my first World Series bracelet in 2006 and my second this summer.
Mike:  You’re also a domainer, how long have you been involved in the domaining industry?  How did you get started?
Dutch:  I registered my first domain in 1999.  My little brother and I decided to try to make an online poker site and we picked up PokerSpot.com for the project.  We spent about two years on the project and were definitely over our heads.  For awhile it was looking like the site was going to be huge, but it eventually failed and I went back to the felt.  I registered a lot of really good poker domain names back then… but I didn’t know what I was doing and let all of them expire.In 2003 after I had my deep run in the WSOP main event, I ended up cashing for about $80k.  I still thought there was a lot of potential in domain names and the Internet and I used about $15k going on a hand-regging spree.  All the great poker domains were already taken, but I did manage to handreg some real gems.
About six months later, one of the Fabulous.com guys emailed me and invited me to park the portfolio with them.  I had never heard of parking domain names and up until then all of my domains were basically just a big $15/yr money hole.  I started parking them and couldn’t believe how much those clicks paid.  It still boggles my mind that people actually click on parking page links… but enough do that it started paying the bills and definitely was more consistent money than poker.I fell in love with domaining then… and for the first time since I discovered poker, I found something that I was really passionate about.  I’ve been pouring over drop lists ever since!
Mike:  Do you have any developed domains, or are you primarily an investor?
Dutch:  I have a few good developed domains… PokerTells.com is one that I’m pretty proud of.  One of my handregs.  Also worked up my own parking pages that I think look pretty good… you can see an example at PokerTilt.com.  Primarily, though, I fall into the trap that I think most of us do… the acquisition is the fun part for me.  I kind of feel like we’re in this golden age of domaining where there are so many great acquisition opportunities.
For awhile, I decided that most of my time was best used picking up new domains instead of developing the ones I have.   I will say, though, that I’m starting to spend a lot more time developing then I used to.  I recently started kind of getting into the mindset that if a domain isn’t at least making it’s regfee every year then it’s not worth having… so I turned off my autorenew and started saying goodbye to a lot of my domains. That really got me in the developer mindset and now I’ve been trying to turn all these little $8 moneypits into small profits.  Started building out really ugly mini-sites… WatchNecklace.com and WannaBeAModel.com were my first couple of attempts.  Those domains were making a couple bucks a year parked, but fell short of the reg fee.  So I slapped up the mini-sites and now they are each making several times what they cost me.  They’re very ugly sites, but they’re making a few bucks a month and I don’t have to do anything with them.
My newer efforts are a little more polished.  A couple examples are ArcadeNinjas.com, which I handregged a few months ago and tried parking with no luck… so I ran a $30 logo contest on NamePros and bought a $10 arcade script.  It’s not making me millions, but it made $2.64 in the last week on adsense… so it’s no longer a money pit and it’s worth keeping.
VegasAnswers.com went a similar path (although I still haven’t done a logo contest for it and did the ugly logo myself).  Handregged… installed a script… turned a domain that makes less than $regfee a year into one that makes greater than $regfee a year.
Mike:  What are some of the names you have in your portfolio?

Dutch:  I’m sitting on about a thousand domains right now.  My best one is hands down Cured.com.  I picked it up for a grand last year from the original owner when it expired and was in the redemption period.  Sold it on sedo about a month ago for $25k.

I’ve got a lot of good poker ones… HeadsupPoker.com, PocketJacks.com, Checkraiser.com.  Some better non-poker ones are Player.tv and PrisonLife.com.

My favorite domain in my port right now is probably Nineball.com.

Mike:  Can you share the some of the other names you have sold and at what price?

My biggest sale so far (that went through 🙂 was PokerHost.net for $10k.  There was a company who started a site at PokerHost.com and I had registered PokerHost.net when I tried registering the .com and it was already taken.  They actually tried to take it through a UDRP, but they had started their site well after I had registered my .net so they lost their case after I pointed that out in my response.  I sold UniversityPokerTour.com for $5k, CruisePoker.com for $2k, PokerMax.com for $3k, ReviewPoker.com for $2k… a lot of $1k domains.  I’ve got about five on the top 100 list of poker domains that have sold.

Honestly, though, I can’t really say that I’ve sold a lot of domains. Probably less than hundred in my domaining career and the bulk of those for less than a hundred to other domainers on the forums.

Mike:   Which do you find more fulfilling, domaining or poker and why?

Dutch:  I definitely see more of a future in domaining.  Even though an hour grinding online pays better than an hour spent domaining, I love the whole passive income aspect of setting up a mini-site and watching it turn a profit.  I don’t think a lot of people, even domainers, really get how much of a future there is in what we are doing.  The kids growing up right now that are natives to the Internet… in ten years they’re going to be dropping out of Harvard and coming up with the next killer app and they’re going to need a domain name for it.  The old guard who balks at spending seven or eight figures on category killer domains… they’re going to be replaced by these kids who aren’t going to argue that a domain like Candy.com or Sex.com is worth eight figures.

Domaining is also much more of a socially positive endeavor than poker. Every dollar I take at the poker tables comes out of the pocket of someone else.  It’s an even sum game until you factor in the rake and then it’s a negative sum game.  Domaining is different than poker in that respect… it’s a positive sum game and something I can feel better about doing.  There are no losers with what we do.

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Monster’s View – Part III

Hopefully you have already read parts I and II of this interview series with Rob Monster of Epik.com.  There is much to be gained from his insight, experience, and vision.  In this final segment, Rob takes us through site design, levels of  service, the revenue generation/sharing model and some recent enhancements.

Mike:  Are the sites on the Epik.com network plug and play or is there a lot of customization involved?

Rob:  We take a platform based approach to development in most cases.  We look to see if a particular site fits one of our platforms.  But in some instances, it doesn’t fit any of the cases.  If we think the name is strong enough, we may agree to take on a custom development.

An example of this case would be when Craig Peterson brought us Chat-Rooms.com.  We thought that a chat room network would be a very good fit with what we are building network wide.  That means that any site in the Epik network could be enabled with text, voice, or video chat.  This would tie back to your portable identity and portable reputation framework.  Single sign-on to any site, navigate to the chat tab and you should be able to log in and participate in chats without having to register at that site.

So we look at domains as to where they may fit in and is that domain big enough for stand alone development.

Mike:  Do you offer different levels of service?  Do you partner with some domain owners while other might just pay for your services?

Rob:  With every domain, we take the approach that we are a partner in the development.  The setup fee we charge for a given development, product portal is $249, video portal is $499, directory portal can be as low as $249 for a local geography and as high as $999 for a national directory like Dining.com.  In each case, the purpose of the setup fee is not to make a margin.  The purpose is to cover the hard costs associated with developing that  domain name into an income producing website.  Ultimately, the value we create is in the ongoing hosting and monetization of traffic which generates revenue.

Mike:  What does that revenue generation / revenue sharing model look like?

Rob:  We share between 50% and 80%.  It can be as high as 80% revenue share to the owner and 20% to us, depending on how much monthly revenue they are generating.  The starting point is 50/50, but the reality is that much of the 50% that we accrue, we turn around and use to develop improvements to the site with the objective to get it to position 1, 2, or 3 on the major search engines, notably Google.

Product portals are well oiled machines right now.  We produce about 200 of those every week and they are performing very well in terms of monetization.  Directory portals are somewhat newer and the mode of monetization is putting a much greater emphasis on selling directory listings.  We have acquired a company that gave us a call center which gives us the ability to build hosted directories with an emphasis on selling paid listings.  In addition, we have the ability to offer business owners  who are listing on our directories, additional ways to increase value.  For example, online appointment scheduling through our solution called Appointment.com.  The point to which we can extend  our value proposition to our clients using our hosted solutions is continually expanding.

That’s whats so exciting about what we’re building.  It’s not static.  It’s a complex ecosystem designed to make the web work better and in the process, there are ways to monetize some of the activities and work flows.

Mike:  I think you answered this question, but I wanted to ask if you promote the domains you develop?

Rob:  Yes, the SEO work is important and we do some of that and we have developed some vendor relationships that we think are pretty good and provide compelling value for white hat SEO.  However, Google is smart and the other search engines are getting smarter.  At the end of the day, the only way to sustain a top ranking on the search engines is by creating value.  That means original content and elements of community so users are contributing to content as well.

Mike:  What are some examples of users contributing to content?

Rob:  We just announced the Epik wiki platform.  I think that is a very good example of a user centric solution with a user emphasis on user contributed and user enhanced content.  If you look at the success of Wikipedia, Squidoo, Hubpages… they have all proven that if you get a bunch of users together who have shared interests, they will work together to create content.

So rather than happening on a one size fits all, all things to all people site like Wikipedia, we decided to bring this to happen on a domain name level where people who are enthusiast about a given topic have the ability to engage in contributing content.

We are applying a very similar model to video portals of which we announced at the end of last month.  Just like you have content sitting on sites like YouTube and more and more of these video aggregation sites, we think there is real value in creating segmented channels where video of a certain genre can be aggregated across a variety of sites, but ultimately is a direct repository of video of enthusiasts who are interested in that particular topic.

The power of this platform is that because we know that the video just submitted on a site is of a particular genre, the user has now effectively tagged that site as being of a particular type.  So keyword based, we now have the ability to syndicate that content to the other parts of the network.  YouTube has proved this, but the same concept can be applied on a federated basis.

To some degree, we are looking at models that worked elsewhere and questioning why this has to happen on a central site.  What would happen if we federated it and caused it to be distributed and mapped to a domain name when these core elements of content, community, and commerce can converge and thrive in the distributed hubs of activity where people have created value.

Mike:  What else would you like people to know?

Rob:  The big point that needs to be conveyed is that the era of parking has come to an end.  Domain names that go undeveloped don’t necessarily maintain their value.  What I mean is that getting ranked by search engines is getting harder and harder.  The longer you wait to begin to develop a domain name, the harder it will be for that domain name to get ranked on its strategic term.   There are situations now where hyphenated dot net names are ranking higher than dot com names with the identical term.  That seems counter-intuitive to the domainer.  The sooner you begin to develop and build trust with the search engines, the more valuable the name will be long term.  Waiting with the hopes that someone will come along and want to buy an undeveloped domain with the hopes of turning it into a more lucrative developed property may not be the optimal strategy.

What we have focused on is a capital efficient approach that allows us to develop a lot of names well, without spending a fortune.  You can experiment with developing and I think what you will learn is how difficult it is to develop a website successfully.  From the standpoint of helping people who are new to development to take large portfolios and convert them to income producing properties, it helps to have a capable partner.

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Condom.com

You can never be too safe.  Bob Ramstad, CEO and Founder of Condom Country, shared with me about about his domain, Condom.com and a bit about his success.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?

Bob:  We’ve been in business since 1994 and have been online since September 1994.  This is before Amazon, eBay, Yahoo existed.  (For the curious, I’ve testified in court cases involving e-commerce patents, as Condom Country was one of the first, and is considered prior art in the field.)

Mike:  Has has owning the domain condom.com impacted your business?

Bob:  I think it’s both a central marketing point for our company, as it makes people immediately recognize that we’re legitimate.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

I don’t feel comfortable disclosing precise numbers, but we’re consistently in the top five for condom related stores.


Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Bob:  We’ve tried a number of things over the years, but have found that there are no shortcuts.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before  condom.com?

Bob:  Not really.  The corporate parent is The Access Group and so for a while the site was at www.ag.com/Condom/Country but that was in the very early days.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Bob:  It’s been up and down, over the years.  In the early days, there weren’t that many people on the Internet, but there weren’t that many places to go.  When Condom Country was launched, we were one of perhaps three places online where you could buy something with a credit card and have it shipped to you.  As a result, there wasn’t a lot of Internet traffic, but pretty much everyone online in 1994 checked us out, and we were very visible as a result.  Over time, the number of people on the Internet has jumped massively, but there are many many many sites competing for the attention of surfers…  and of course, there are other sites selling condoms, where we had been the only one on the Internet for probably four years after we launched.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Bob:  No, we registered it with the registrars directly, and I believe in 1994 it was $40 for two years.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Bob:  Kind of laughable question actually, yes, of course.  Many millions of dollars of revenue over the 16 years can be directly attributed to the domain name.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Bob:  Well, it’s important, but I suspect that people who use logic, and a bit of cleverness, can find something workable.  Don’t just assume you need the most obvious term…  that would be my opinion.  Think about both the product or service that is sold, and also think about what problem(s) you are solving… there may not be any obvious product or service related names available, but maybe there’s a problem solving name that is easily acquired.

Mike:  What do you think your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

Bob:  I know competitors see condom.com as our major asset, and they are right, the domain and our established customer base are the two things that drive our sales and create most of the value for our company.

Our customers know that they are dealing with a reputable legitimate company because of the domain, and given the intensely personal nature of our merchandise, and the desire to buy quality product, it makes sense to do business with a market leader.  IMHO, no one wants “cheap condoms” — they may want something inexpensive, but not “cheap”.  We have good prices, every day, and back that up with great customer service.  Every condom we sell is purchased directly from the US manufacturer representative or from one of the two largest condom distributors in the country.  Every condom we sell has been FDA approved for sale in the United States.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Bob: As an entrepreneur I have always believed that you have to have a price in mind for everything… We do own condomcountry.com and a handful of other domains, so we could relaunch under a new domain if we had to.  If someone came along with $2 million USD in cash, we’d gladly sell condom.com through an escrow process.

We get a couple of unsolicited offers every month, and most of them are just silly, frankly, people offering a few tens of thousands of dollars.  Considering that our yearly sales are substantially north of a half million dollars, that kind of number is laughable.

(For the curious, given the difficulties of relaunching under a different URL, we’d sell the entire business, including inventory, related intellectual property and Condom Country itself, along with the domain, for $3 million.)

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Bob:  I do think we were in the right place at the right time for our niche.  There are still niches out there that can be profitable, but with some of the larger companies acting as category killers (Amazon, NewEgg), it becomes more and more important to think about what you can sell beyond putting something in a box.  Customer service, advice, editorial viewpoint — these are all very important additions.  Anyone can put a widget in a box.

Thanks Bob and continued success with Condom.com.

Can you give a little background on your business?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your site online, etc.

We’ve been in business since 1994 and have been online since September 1994.  This is before Amazon, eBay, Yahoo existed.  (For the curious, I’ve testified in court cases involving e-commerce patents, as Condom Country was one of the first, and is considered prior art in the field.)

Has has owning the domain condom.com impacted your business?

I think it’s both a central marketing point for our company, as it makes people immediately recognize that we’re legitimate.

Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

I don’t feel comfortable disclosing precise numbers, but we’re consistently in the top five for condom related stores.

Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)

We’ve tried a number of things over the years, but have found that there are no shortcuts.

Did you have another domain for your site before  condom.com?

Not really.  The corporate parent is The Access Group and so for a while the site was at www.ag.com/Condom/Country but that was in the very early days.

What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

It’s been up and down, over the years.  In the early days, there weren’t that many people on the Internet, but there weren’t that many places to go.  When Condom Country was launched, we were one of perhaps three places online where you could buy something with a credit card and have it shipped to you.  As a result, there wasn’t a lot of Internet traffic, but pretty much everyone online in 1994 checked us out, and we were very visible as a result.  Over time, the number of people on the Internet has jumped massively, but there are many many many sites competing for the attention of surfers…  and of course, there are other sites selling condoms, where we had been the only one on the Internet for probably four years after we launched.

Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

No, we registered it with the registrars directly, and I believe in 1994 it was $40 for two years.

Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Kind of laughable question actually, yes, of course.  Many millions of dollars of revenue over the 16 years can be directly attributed to the domain name.

Has the hyphen in t-shirts.com been an issue for you or does it fit the domain name well?

Cut and paste error, I think…  We don’t like hyphens in domain names.  In this particular case, I can see using it, as the words are commonly hyphenated.

Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Well, it’s important, but I suspect that people who use logic, and a bit of cleverness, can find something workable.  Don’t just assume you need the most obvious term…  that would be my opinion.  Think about both the product or service that is sold, and also think about what problem(s) you are solving… there may not be any obvious product or service related names available, but maybe there’s a problem solving name that is easily acquired.

What do you think your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

I know competitors see condom.com as our major asset, and they are right, the domain and our established customer base are the two things that drive our sales and create most of the value for our company.

Our customers know that they are dealing with a reputable legitimate company because of the domain, and given the intensely personal nature of our merchandise, and the desire to buy quality product, it makes sense to do business with a market leader.  IMHO, no one wants “cheap condoms” — they may want something inexpensive, but not “cheap”.  We have good prices, every day, and back that up with great customer service.  Every condom we sell is purchased directly from the US manufacturer representative or from one of the two largest condom distributors in the country.  Every condom we sell has been FDA approved for sale in the United States.

Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

As an entrepreneur I have always believed that you have to have a price in mind for everything… We do own condomcountry.com and a handful of other domains, so we could relaunch under a new domain if we had to.  If someone came along with $2 million USD in cash, we’d gladly sell condom.com through an escrow process.

We get a couple of unsolicited offers every month, and most of them are just silly, frankly, people offering a few tens of thousands of dollars.  Considering that our yearly sales are substantially north of a half million dollars, that kind of number is laughable.

(For the curious, given the difficulties of relaunching under a different URL, we’d sell the entire business, including inventory, related intellectual property and Condom Country itself, along with the domain, for $3 million.)

Any other information you’d like to share?

I do think we were in the right place at the right time for our niche.  There are still niches out there that can be profitable, but with some of the larger companies acting as category killers (Amazon, NewEgg), it becomes more and more important to think about what you can sell beyond putting something in a box.  Customer service, advice, editorial viewpoint — these are all very important additions.  Anyone can put a widget in a box.

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Monster’s View – Part II, Portable Identity

In the first part of this article with Rob Monster of Epik.com, we learned of Rob’s vision of the Internet.  We learned that Epik is taking an “Internet by Design” approach to creating a more user centric evolution.

In this part, Rob tells us how individual sites can compete against giants like Amazon and how our identity and reputation needs to be portable from site to site.  Be sure to read Part III next.

Mike:  Rob, in theory, it sounds great to move to a more focused level from a consumer standpoint.  But does this add a layer of complexity for the consumer dealing with multiple site?

Rob:  Yes, we have to make it easier for the user to navigate from site to site.  The walls have to come down around the siloed approach we have seen historically.  Early on in the development of Epik, we embraced the idea of portable identity and portable reputation as users go from site to site.  Single sign-on is a start but that is only one piece.

Another important piece follows the lines of you are an important contributor on site “A”.  Now you go to site “B”, “C”, or “D” but nobody knows you.   How can you benefit from all the effort you have put into developing a reputation on site “A” when you register on site “B”, “C”, “D”?  A real life example is if you have spent a decade building up your seller reputation on eBay, and now you want to create a different auction framework.   Good luck taking your reputation with you.  That creates a barrier to movement.  It makes it impossible to take your reputation and identity with you as you go from site to site.

We have been working on a way to do this.  Sites like Questions.com, Comments.com, Chat-Rooms.com are in development, built on the  assumptions that we will have horizontal components in the the architecture.

Mike:  How do you tie this back with your city planning metaphor?

Rob:   So just like the surface of a city, you have buildings.  But underneath the city you have sewer, water and electric that are architectured in a common way and are used in a common way by all the people who are building on the surface.  The same principle can apply to the Internet where we can have some common components that by designing them for shared use, everybody benefits.

Mike:   Obviously this architecture will exist within the Epik network, but what about sites beyond the network?

Rob:  Yes, this will be within the Epik network but we will open it beyond.  For example, the Comments.com framework will be opened up to sites that want to use that framework.  So now if you go to Comments.com/sully, there you would find all of your comments in one place.

Mike:  This sort of crosses into social networking, with people following comments of an individual, correct?

Rob:  If you think about how the web works today, if I want to “follow” you as people speak of Twitter, how would I follow you?  There is no convenient way to follow all of your thought provoking comments across the web.

One way to solve that is to take an aggregation approach.  Not just aggregating post fact, as some people are doing, aggregating by design.  The fact that there is single sign-on from site to site makes it possible for these comments to be automatically attributed to the person  who owns them.   I should be able to go to Comments.com/sully to find all of Sully’s comments but I should also be able to Identity.net/sully and be able to see everything that is known about Mike Sullivan that he wants me to know.

This is a very ambitious work in progress, but in the next evolution of the Internet, we have to make it more user centric and more intuitive.  The best way I know to do that is by starting with the who/what domain names and being able to map content to domain names in a way that is intuitive.

Mike:  How close do you think you are to making this model a reality?

Rob:  It’s a continual process.  We have already developed and launched these various components.  If you go to, for example, Dining.com and you review a restaurant or leave a comment about a restaurant, the comment is now visible on Comments.com in abstract form.  That’s useful for creating a back link,  but also for creating an essential way to discover comments made about certain topics.  The user handle you create on Dining.com or Comments.com is the same across any website in the network.

So architecturally,  it’s already happening.  We are now releasing our first major upgrade of our product portal platform, the first upgrade in four months, a major front end upgrade.  There, you will see evidence of portable identity and the portable commenting framework will show up in a whole class of site that didn’t initially have community.   The foundation has been laid in parallel to developing stronger foundation of shared developing components.   We are also building more of what I call “sky scrapers on Main street” as well as lesser  structures for situations that don’t require massive developments on the scale of say, Dining.com.


Mike:  What is your screening process when someone comes to you with a portfolio or domain they would like to get into the network?

Rob:  We really have an appreciation for names that have a high exact search volume.  It’s a great start having names with 1,000 plus exact searches, although we have had success developing with as little as 300.   Another good filtering is looking for CPC of greater than $1 as a further indication that there is enough margin in that category to justify developing.

At the end of the day, our objective is to make our clients money.  If we take a domain for development, there is a burden of responsibility on us to make an evaluative call on whether or not this is a domain we can make into a profitable domain.

There are two elements of profit.  One element is the operating income from the ongoing revenue of the site.  The second, which in many cases is even more valuable, is the increase in capital value, the resale value of the developed site vs. the value of an undeveloped domain.

When we look at a domain, we look at it as an uncut diamond.  What can we do with this?  We look at the business model or the value proposition that could be developed around this domain name in as cost effective manner as possible.

There will be a part III (the final chapter) to this article where Rob talks about the platform of the Epik sites, the revenue model and the promotion of the sites.

Chat-Rooms.com
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Monster’s View of the Internet

I had a great conversation with Rob Monster of Epik.com a couple of days ago.  I ended up with so many scribbled notes from that call that this is going to end up being a multi-post interview.  I’m just not sure yet if it will be two parts or three.  I hate to cut anything out of this one.  Rob has a strong background and a vision for the future.  Talking to him gave me a sense of his passion for his vision.

Mike:  Can you tell me a little bit about your background?  Who is Rob Monster?

Rob:  I’m Dutch-American, based in Seattle.  I grew up in the Netherlands and in Philadelphia.  I spent the summer time with my mother’s family.  They were all farmers.  I received my undergrad and MBA at Cornell.  Then I went to work for Proctor and Gamble  in Germany for 4 years and 5 years in Japan.  I moved to Seattle in 1999 to start my first company, Global Marketing Insite (GMI) and it grew about 100% per year for seven straight years.  I raised $48 million in private equity as part of that enterprise and remain a large shareholder and director.

In 2007 I spent a couple of years angel investing and started domaining as a hobbyist.  Then in March, 2009, I came up with the concept of Epik, based on creating something really game changing in the in the domaining/developing world.

Mike:  What is your overall vision for Epik?

Rob:  Two levels, one element is empowering domain developers and a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build income producing websites that they can operate without having a deep technical background.  It should be possible for a generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build online businesses but not have to master the subtleties of DNS and PHP.

The second aspect is a bit more audacious.  That is to play a significant role in capitalizing the rearchitecture  of the internet.  Not to talk so much publicly about web 3.0 or semantic web, but a big portion of what we are setting up to do in building this network of developed domains is also applying certain elements of the unified architecture to every new domain that we develop.

Mike:  How do you decide which submitted domains will be developed?

Rob:  I approve every name that goes onto the network.  The idea being, with each new site, where does this fit into the larger ecosystem.  Just as in designing a city, you might have some design assumptions on where should city hall be, the numbering system for streets, where should the airport be relative to down town…  When you get to a city that works, it’s pretty obvious it’s well designed.

Mike:  How does that vision compare to the Internet we know today?

Rob:  The Internet, in its origins, is very much like the wild west.  Things just happened organically, bit by bit.  The structure has kind of evolved, but not with an eye toward architecture or design planning.  As a result, to some extent, the internet has become overwhelming to a lot of people.

Mike:  How does Epik fit into this picture?

Rob:  Part of what we are doing with Epik is taking an architectural approach to finding what pieces go with what pieces and to create a more intuitive, more useful, and more user centric version of the Internet that can take things to the next level.

Mike:  I have seen some of the Epik portal sites.  What is the concept supporting these?

Rob:  What we are essentially talking about here is federating or distributing Amazon.  The person looking for a particular type of goods may not be the same person looking for housewares.  You can federate the web and have  different types of information on different domains as opposed to having everything residing in one massive repository.  It’s implausible that any one company is going to be best of breed at everything.

At some point, the Amazon model with cease to scale because there will be subject matter experts that can tell you detailed minutia about scuba diving gear and they don’t work for Amazon.  The degree to which we can bring together  content, community, and commerce into these federated sites, we are building a framework of a web that works better.

Mike:  How does this apply to other types of sites?

Rob:  The same principle applies to, for example, directory portals.  Just as we have yellow pages, it is possible to federate yellow pages so that there is a yellow pages for a metro area, a yellow pages for people looking for a certain type of service provider.  By creating these segmented sites that cater to a particular audience, we are creating the ability for content, community, and commerce to converge.

Look for part 2 of this interview in the coming days where Rob explains how multiple sites can compete with a giant like Amazon and how the silo version of sites we know today will need to change.

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Domain Magic

Like most kids, I was fascinated with magic tricks when I was growing up.  I would save my money and make weekly visits to our local trick shop.  I’d buy some little gadgets and practice for hours in preparation to amaze the other kids in my neighborhood.  I have to admit, I’m still a fan of magic tricks today.  Jackie Monticup of MagicTricks.com is living my dream and sharing the experience with us.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?
MagicTricks.com has been in business online since 1997. Peter Monticup, a professional magician since the age of seven, opened the website as an extension of his brick-and-mortar magic shop in Charlottesville, Virginia called, appropriately, Magic Tricks. Peter has owned a string of magic shops since 1971, first in upstate New York and later in Virginia. The name “Magic Tricks” was chosen because Peter realized that previous “clever” names for his shops (including The House of Magic and The Old Curiosity Shop) didn’t always make it clear what he was selling. When he opened the Virginia shop in 1994, he decided to be direct and call the shop simply “Magic Tricks”. It worked well.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  What was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name MagicTricks.com?
When we decided to launch the website, we used the same philosophy, and opened “MagicTricks.com“. Fortunately, the previous owner of the name was not using it, and was letting it expire. Literally the second “MagicTricks.com” became available, we snatched it up, paying only the yearly registration fee.

Mike:  Has has owning the domain MagicTricks.com impacted your business?
Obviously, the name clearly spells out what we sell, and that helps. Also, having the keywords “magic tricks” in the domain name has helped with SEO.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Over the years, we have tried most of the popular marketing strategies. Google ads are beneficial if you have a specific strategy in mind (for example, if you know that customers are looking for a specific product, and you want to come up on the first page of the search for that exact product, you can buy your way onto the first results page). Since the beginning, though, we’ve concentrated on good basic website practices- building an easy-to-use site that offers frequently updated pages. Fresh content is very, very important.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before MagicTricks.com?
Yes. When we first decided to go online, MagicTricks.com was not available, so we chose MagicSupplies.com. Even when we chose that first name, we felt that domains made from keywords were the way to go. We operated as MagicSupplies.com for a few months before obtaining the MagicTricks.com name.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.
In 1997, our business was totally brick-and-mortar. By early 2000, we closed the storefront and operated totally online. It was that quick. In the last ten years, we’ve seen steady continued growth, due in part to the fact that people are becoming used to online shopping. It’s a part of our culture now.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?
Absolutely! All it has cost is the yearly fee.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
DO consider using keywords as your domain name, or adding keywords to your personal or business name. If your exact name is not available (if your name is Bill Smith, for example), try adding a descriptive word to your name, like BillSmithPhotographer.com

There are still great names available, so don’t be discouraged when your first few name ideas are already taken. Brainstorm with your friends, and you’ll be amazed at the flow of good ideas.

DO use keywords in your domain name. Blissful is a company that sells body lotions, so bodylotions.com or blissfulbodylotions.com or even calmingbodylotions.com would be good choices. DON’T use hyphens. When you verbally communicate your domain name, it’s awkward. “Good-times.com” becomes “Good dash times dot com” over the phone.

DO look carefully at how your domain name looks in print. Sometimes it spells something other than what you intended. If you sell 50’s classic music on CD, you might consider using the keywords “oldies” and “hits”. But probably not as oldieshits.com.

DON’T use words that are hard to spell. If you use the English spelling for “color” and spell it “colour”, then people will probably misspell your domain name “ColourVisions.com” and not find your site.

Similarly, DON’T use cute or alternative spellings, such as “Books4U”.

DO use only the .COM domain. Customers think “.com”. Make it easy for them to find you. It also looks the most professional.

Mike: What do your customers think of your domain?
Our customers find our name very easy to remember, and very clear in meaning. The name is an advertisement in itself.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?
To sell the domain name, we’d have to sell the whole business. We do receive unsolicited offers every few months or so, but we are enjoying operating MagicTricks.com too much to sell it right now.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?
Thanks, Mike, for asking us to share our experience with you!

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Domain Profit Sharing

I originally reached out to Doug Marks, Vice-President of Click Shops, Inc., to inquire about the keyword domain “MassageChairs.com”.  Here I had found a nicely developed e-commerce site with a great generic name and I wanted to learn more about the company.  I soon found out that there was a great deal more behind Click Shops.  ClickShops.com has other great names in their portfolio, including GunSafes.com, LeatherFurniture.com, BackupGenerators.com and more.  Additionally, DomainProfitSharing.com is another facet to the company.  Doug and I had a great conversation about the business.

Mike:  Tell me a little bit about ClickShops.com.  How many sites do you have under the ClickShops.com umbrella?
Doug:  It’s constantly changing.  I think we currently have about 30 sites.  Even though we are involved in online e-commerce, our customers really benefit from our customer service.  There are people that don’t want to talk to anyone, and the online sales work fine.  But for those that do, our customers are assigned a customer service representative that are with them through the entire order.  The satisfaction our customers have expressed has really been exceptional.  ClickShops.com has 10 employees, all in Sanpoint Idaho.  There are a couple of contractors, but just a couple.  The company has been in business since 2004.  GarageCabinetsOnline was our first store.

My brother Richard is the founder of the company.  We founded it together and he was working it full time.  As it grew, we got an office and I just recently left the private law firm I was working with and came on full-time.   We started with a couple of names and then bought a couple more and built them from scratch.  We’ve developed a number of them over the years.  We’ve acquired our names from private individuals, a partnership, and brokers as well.

Mike:  How did DomainProfitSharing.com come into existence?
Doug:  It’s really just an extension of ClickShops.  Domain Profit Sharing came about because as we were interested in domain names for our business, we found that people were emotionally attached to the names they were selling.  It’s a strange business, maybe it’s a bit like real estate, but we found that the price they were asking were really not justified in many cases.  DPS gives us an opportunity to establish sites on good domains and gives domain owners an opportunity to make more money than they would if they just parked the name.  We also like to include the option to buy the domain in a set number of years at a fixed price.  That fixed price is often close to what the domain owner believes the domain is worth.

Mike:  How do you determine what you are willing to pay for a domain?
Doug:  We do all the keyword research on our end.  We can make a pretty good projection of what a domain is going to be worth based on the number of sites we have taken from nothing to page 1 in Google and the other search engines.  We can compare the keyword research with actual results.  We don’t have to guess what a name will be worth.

Mike: Among the estimated 30 sites you are operating, how many of those fall under the Domain Profit Sharing model.
Doug:  At the moment, none of them are operating at under the DPS model.  That’s something we’ve reserved for big domains that are really going to make money.  We haven’t really put a lot of effort behind promoting DPS.  We haven’t taken out any ads or anything like that.  Part of the reason is that we just bought LeatherFurniture.com and we’ve been focusing on some of our other sites.  It’s not our main focus at the moment.  We are in discussions with a couple of domain owners, but nothing has been finalized.

Mike:  What criteria are you looking for in domains?
Doug:  We look for a lot of searches and related searches.  We also look for names that will support products with fairly good sale prices.  We don’t really want to get into the $20 – $30 per sale market.  For example, we’re selling massage chairs anywhere from $200 to $7,000.  Same with gun safes.  They’re big and they’re heavy and they are higher priced items.  We’re looking for just generic names for big items.

When we first started with online sales, the word was that you can’t sell big items online.  You need to sell books and clothes.  We just kind of asked our selves “why?”  Especially with GunSafes.com and then GarageCabinetsOnline.com.  It’s a great deal for customers to be able to look at a huge selection online.  Much more than any store can carry.  If they do buy, they can have the items shipped to their home.

Mike:  How important are exact match keyword domains as opposed to brandable names?
Doug:  It’s hard to say. They’re important.  Having the key word name makes it easier, there is no doubt about that.  We have both kinds.  For example, GarageCabinetsOnline.com incorporates the keyword but it’s not exact.  But for “Gararge Cabinets”, “Garage Storage”, “Garage Storage Systems”…for all the biggest phrases, we’re right in the top of the search engines.  So it can be done, we know how to do it.  Getting to the top in Google is a lot harder if you don’t have a keyword domain name.  But it can be done.

For anyone interested, there is a submission form on DomainProfitSharing.com where you can submit your domains for consideration for a Click Shops site.  The email will go directly to Doug for review.  Keep in mind that they are looking for keyword domains with good search value.  They aren’t looking for brandable names.  They offer 3% of total sales, not just 3% of profit.

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Domains That Will Float Your Boat

I first reached out to Mike Gallucci to discuss Boating.com, but soon learned there was more than meets the eye.  Mike Gallucci is Director of Marketing at Triton Web Properties, owners of Boating.com and other quality names.  To avoid confusion with the same first names, I’ll be using last names in this interview.

Sullivan:  Can you tell me a little bit about Triton Web Properties?

Gallucci:  Triton Web Properties was created with the realization that our existing e-commerce strategy that operated SportsMemorabilia.com had huge potential to be a blueprint for new ventures.  Triton as a parent company is only a few months old but the basic principles and platform all stem from SportsMemorabilia.com which we acquired and redesigned in 2006.  The initial team that supported the first functional year of Triton’s first property included 4 guys; and currently, throughout all properties, it has turned into a 50 person operation.

The realization came when our numbers from Sportsmemorabilia.com were just rocking.  We saw huge increases in our year over year and now we are hovering around a 70% yoy increase for 2010 with impressive EBIT numbers that continue to rise as well.  The increase is contributed to a unique blend of team members from our marketing team to phone agents, building on what we learn from analytics and reporting every day, and great leadership from our c-suite executives.  That being said, the application of our platform to our other properties has been successful and we are already seeing positive results.  We’re really excited about the future of Triton.

Sullivan:  Among your properties are Boating.com, Yachting.com, Biking.com, Barbecuing.com, Skiers.com and SportsMemorabilia.com.  How have these domains positively impacted your business?

Gallucci:  The strong domain names that lend themselves so easily to branding are huge impacts.  Their names are easy to remember and not only support an efficient natural organic search strategy but type-in traffic as well.  Besides customer-centric branding, the domains attract attention from some of the largest and most well known industry leaders for obvious reasons.  If you are a vendor of ski gear it makes perfect sense to partner up with “Skiers.com”, and if you are a top barbecue manufacturer “Barbecuing.com” should definitely be on your radar as well.  The same can be said for all of our other properties.

As the offline world starts to understand the importance of partnering with companies who own prime time real estate online as well as know how to market online, our potential as a corporation to do some really special things increases.  Let me also say there are still challenges to this practice.  If we didn’t have the revenue numbers and analytics from our previous ventures made of the same mold, it would be much more of a frustrating process to find partners for product/services.  For example, when I pitched Boating.com to the major companies we have already partnered with, if I lacked a strong foundation of WHY we make sense as a partner besides our domain, I would have a frustrating time getting their attention.

If you want to stick your foot in the door of big time partners to talk about site development you better have your track record on hand and not just be taking shelter under your domain name.  So, it’s fair to say the premium domain is not necessarily the “secret sauce”, but it is part of the equation for our success.

Sullivan:  Does Triton own any other premium keyword domains?

Gallucci:  The Triton line up includes: SportsMemorabilia.com, Boating.com, Yachting.com, Biking.com, Barbecuing.com, Skiers.com, BabyFormulas.com, HollywoodMemorabilia.com, and CigarMarket.com.

Sullivan:  What type of marketing strategy does the company use?

Gallucci:  If you play around with various memorabilia search terms on Google you will find there is no secret that SEO is a big part of our strategy.  Thankfully we train and operate our SEO strategy in house.  The bill SEO firms hand over when they take on strategies like ours are extremely high and can run you into the ground if you aren’t careful.

It’s almost advantageous if our competitors seek outside SEO companies for help because chances are it drains their marketing budget while never actually getting them to a point they need to be at to compete.  This is the reason most partners choose to work with Tirton – they know our capabilities of mastering the search game in their industry and they often don’t have the time or want to spend their budget testing SEO firms.  We cover all other aspects of internet marketing but our complete strategy is obviously something that we keep safely inside the doors of our office.

Sullivan:  Can you provide the volume of traffic that any given site in your portfolio receives?

Gallucci:  We’re still a privately held corporation so we currently don’t release traffic numbers.  I can tell you currently SportsMemorabilia.com receives the most traffic from any sports memorabilia site on the net according to Alexa’s traffic rankings.  Our other properties are still new in our hands but we’re successfully growing traffic exponentially on all sites.

Sullivan:  What is the main source of traffic to your sites?

Gallucci:  Google is king in our world but it can’t end there.  Traffic flows in from a host of different places including type-in and shopping channels.

Sullivan:  How did you go about acquiring these names?  Can you share the process you went through with one of them?  Will you share what you paid for any of the names?

Gallucci:  The initial consideration comes from Triton’s CEO Jesse Stein, who has been the mastermind behind acquiring these high profile names.  Once he gets the initial batch of domains available, our EVP Stefan Tesoriero jumps in to add to the brainstorm.  It’s a lethal combo of minds that takes it to the next level.  They decide which of those domains mesh nicely with our model while researching our competition to find an opportunity in a market.

Companies or individuals can have a great domain name but if the potential to build the platform and strategy isn’t there then you are just a one sided player, which we aren’t.  Basically, you can look good in the uniform but if you can’t play the game then you’re not a valuable player.  The strong domains are just a facet of our game.  Some of the domains carried a high price tag, I can tell you the Boating.com & Biking.com properties were among our larger domain investments.

Sullivan:  Are you still acquiring quality domains or are you focusing on the ones you have at the moment?

Gallucci:   Jesse is a serial entrepreneur, his wheels are always spinning.  You never known when you’ll come into the office and hear about a new domain or strategy we’ve been commissioned to build out.  For the sanity of the Triton programming team I’ll say we are currently focusing on the ones we currently own.  In any event, Triton Web Properties is an exciting company to be a part of and everyone in our office is always up to the challenge of a new venture.

Sullivan:  Are you involved in any partnerships / joint ventures or do you own all of the domains outright?  If not, would you consider this?

Gallucci:  All are owned and operated by Triton Web Properties, Inc.  If someone comes along and wants Triton to be a part of their build out of a premium domain it’s possible.  But right now we’re doing very well on our own.  We consider anything, we enjoy hard work and success.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
Gallucci:   Like I mentioned before, it’s all about what you can handle.  Choosing the domain is a big step, especially if the domain is premium, but just know there is a lot going on behind scenes to make it actually work.  I think most people have these grand ideas of what they want to do but end up spending a ton of money on programming and design without knowing what actually generates the revenue.  In the end it’s the marketing that sells your product so make sure you have the right team and a smart strategy ready before spending your capital on a domain.  If you don’t, appropriate capital elsewhere.

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The Domain That Ties It Up

In a continuing series on keyword generic domains, Omar Sayyed, the COO behind Ties.comNeckTies.com, and WildTies.com provides some insight on the company, their business philosophies, and some great domain names.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?
Omar:  As a business, we have been operating since 1998 in the ecommerce space. As an organization our primary function is to develop and provide high-value men’s formal-wear accessories, always keeping Ties.com at the leading edge of fashion and representing those products and services through avant-garde electronic/ digital means. A great deal of our success can be directly attributed to our amazing team. They are the ones who keep the wheels turning. Certain members of our core team have been part of the organization since the doors opened. We strongly believe that as an organization when we take care of our employees, they in turn will take care of our clients who of course take care of our company.

Mike:  How has owning these domains impacted your business?
Omar:  I will be the first one to admit that owning Ties.com comes with responsibilities. We view it as a privilege to operate a “one-word” domain and aspire to do great things. Certainly there are inherent advantages to owning such a “juiced” domain. It gives us the ability to brand ourselves in much more powerful ways.

Mike:  The sites, Ties.com, NeckTies.com, and WildTies.com all seem to operate independently. Is that the case or are they all tied together (no pun intended).
Omar:  Very funny ;). Yes, the sites are operating independently because they each have their unique niche in the marketplace. Ties.com (TC) is our flagship store and it is, what we consider “America’s premier tie store”. TC’s main demographic ranges greatly from mid-twenties to beyond and aims to serve the trendy to the conservative. NeckTies.com, conversely is built to serve more price conscious shoppers who are seeking the latest styles but also want quality neckwear. WildTies.com (WT) is our oldest website. Like any proud parent, I can tell you we have a special place in our hearts for WildTies.com. WT is what put us on the map and continues to a viable force. WT has a dedicated and highly appreciated client base who have a deep sense of brand dedication.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic that your sites receive?
Omar:  So I should preface that we are a privately held company hence don’t discuss our figures publicly. Our visitorship is impressive and continues to grow exponentially given our talented marketing team.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?) What results have you seen from these?
Omar:  Your question reminds me of a great quote from Abraham Lincoln I recently heard. He said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 hours sharpening the blade.” Preparation, research, and authenticity are what we aim for at Ties.com when we look at any marketing platform. We are a very data driven group. While I can’t discuss exact strategies, I can advise everyone (if I may) to think strategically about marketing decisions. As a CMO or Director of Marketing, I am sure you have a plethora of options vis-a-vis where and how you can spend your budget. Maximizing your budget and meeting your ROI is only part of your challenge. Understanding what works for you and why it works for you, should also be something that you concentrate on. Not every platform or solution will be right for you. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of every marketing outlet will be the key to your successes.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?
Omar:  Aside from Ties.com and NeckTies.com, we don’t have any other “premium” domains. Again, it would be remiss if I did not to emphasize to your readers that premium domains are only part of the equation. The marketing arm that drives that vehicle of sales ought to be your main focus. Finding the right vehicle (if I can stay with the analogy) will be anyone’s biggest challenge.

Mike:  What is the main source of traffic to your site? (ie. Google searches, links from other sites, type in traffic, etc.)
Omar:  Most of our traffic comes from organic searches through Google and Yahoo. Marketing strategies are cards we keep pretty close to our chest, so I can’t share exact figures… but some basic research can reveal a lot of information.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.
Omar:  As mentioned before, our traffic continues to grow (almost) exponentially. We have an incredibly dedicated and loyal team who are extremely creative to say the least. We definitely view customer service as an absolute priority, which I feel has a direct correlation with our continued success. Our CEO would give the shirt off of his back if it meant making the end-user experience more friendly.

Not to go off on a tangent, but during a time when many companies are cutting back and customer service has been eroding as an idea, companies who have dedicated customer service response teams will flourish. On a personal note, I am dealing with a company that has failed to deliver what I have paid for. While widgetsRus.com is very nice about fixing the problem, their solutions caused more problems and seem to be hurried. This brings me to my next point. In college, my favorite philosophy professor would say, “practice doesn’t make perfect… perfect practice makes perfect.” Offering a solution to your client’s problem is (again) part of the solution. Offering the right solution is what you (as a company) ought to be aiming for.

Mike:  Did you purchase the names from someone else that owned it? If so, what was the process you went through?
Omar:  We did purchase our domains from other individuals. The process of acquiring domains can be very simple to more complex, depending on the asking price and the people involved. We have never released the prices we have paid over the years for domains, but some were very affordable and others have been astronomically high.

Mike:  Have the domains been worth the cost for you?
Omar:  Sure. It does however depend on what you mean by “worth”. Since we are absolutely passionate about neckties and consider ourselves evangelists for men’s accessories, we wanted a domain that best described our passion and product. While you have to amortize the cost of such purchases, cost-effectiveness is something that I am very sensitive about. Before even a penny is spent (especially for big ticket items) the right analytics (un-skewed and completely objective) have to support those decisions.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
Omar:  Good luck!! I personally know people who, during the early stages of the internet bubble, were writing programs to snatch up words. It can be a daunting task trying to find a domain that describes you, your company, and more importantly your product, etc.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain? What do your customers think?
Omar:  For the most part, I think our competitors like our name. If for nothing at all, our branding for Ties.com, helps the industry that they are in. Our customers LOVE our domains. Our domains are short and very descriptive. Again, with each respective site having its own niche, it allows us to focus on and cater to different demographics accordingly.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point? Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?
Omar:  Our exit goals are sensitive topics, primarily because we feel very passionate about our company, our customers, our product, our employees, and our corporate culture. We regularly get unsolicited offers, but nothing we would ever seriously consider. Not to sound like Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, but we know we have a sense of responsibility to our employee and their families and more importantly to our clients and their experiences.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Omar:  Two things… 1) Set goals, and chase them… unconditionally. Don’t continuously change your goals. When you are aiming at a moving target, it makes it difficult to hit the bull’s-eye. 2) Perhaps more importantly, don’t be married to your ideas. Often we come up with what we think is a great idea and we get tunnel vision. We don’t hear or see criticisms, suggestions, or opportunities.

As a thank you to your readers, we have engaged Sullyblog10 as a 10% off of all of our neckties, tie racks, cufflinks, cummerbunds, and other accessories on Ties.com. Enjoy!!

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Sharing a Domain With Other Businesses

While doing some general research, I came across the RootOrange.com web site. Their business is built on the technology to share a single domain across multiple businesses in multiple cities, stating that you can increase Click-Thrus by 45-105% with a Generic Domain.   I reached out to RootOrange.com for some additional information and here is what Camilo Acosta, a company representative, had to say.

Mike: Can you give a little background on your RootOrange.com?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your business online, etc.

RootOrange:  We’ve been in business for just over a year and currently have six employees. We went live with our website at SXSW on March 15th. We were finalists at the SXSW Accelerator competition that week.

Note:  The 2010 Microsoft Bizspark Accelerator showcased 32 of the hottest startups in a heated competition for most innovative in four categories: Entertainment, Innovative Web Technology, Personal Social Media, and Business Social Media.

Mike: What is it that RootOrange does for domain owners. Your approach to making domains load different business websites based on geographic location is unique.

RootOrange: Though we own domains of our own, the vast majority of names in our system are owned by domain owners large and small. Many have been struggling to monetize their domains since the demise of parking over the last few years. We currently do not work with geo-domains because of the limited sales scope they offer. Our focus, for the time being, is strictly on keyword domains.

Mike: Do you have any competition? Your site mentions patented technology.

RootOrange:  Nope!

Mike: How many domains are operating under this approach at the moment? What are some of those domain names?

RootOrange:  We have several thousands of domains under management. Our top tier includes names such as Attorney.com, DivorceLawyer.com, and YogaClasses.com

Mike: What appears if a particular region does not have someone leasing the domain space?

RootOrange: At the moment you get a Root Orange splash page in those regions. That will hopefully be changing soon – stay tuned!

Mike: What have your customers had to say about the service?

RootOrange:  Customers love it and are using it in creative ways we hadn’t thought of before. One of our enterprising customers pointed the domain he got from us to his business’s Facebook page!  Check out our Customer of the Month profiles on our home page for some success storie! There are also several testimonials on our website as well.

Mike: What struggles have you faced?

RootOrange:  One struggle is educating the public that we’ve shattered the old paradigm of ‘one domain, one website.’ Now many websites can use the exact same domain.

Mike: Is there any additional technology or services in the works that we’ll see soon from RootOrange?

RootOrange:  Our goal is to further refine our location targeting so we can get down to the zip code level and beyond.

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Diapers.com – Serious Type-In Traffic

I was a fan of the old sitcom, Cheers.  Every week Norm would walk in and take his seat and the patrons would yell “Norm!”  After that, Woody would sometimes ask, “How’s life treating you Mr. Peterson?”  The reply would differ from week to week, but the only one that sticks in my mind is “Like a baby treats a diaper.”

I’ve changed my fair share of diapers, so I am quite intimate with the topic.  Additionally, there has been some buzz around Diapers.com.  Matt Lindenberg, Associate Director of Marketing at Diapers.com and Yuriy Krivenko SEO Analyst, answered a few questions about Diapers.com.

Founded in Montclair, New Jersey by Marc Lore and Vinit Bharara, Diapers.com is the largest online specialist offering baby care necessities in the United States. As dads themselves, Marc and Vinit understand the world of diapers.

Mike:  Has owning the domain impacted your business?

Diapers.com:  Yes, diapers.com was essential to our record growth. The domain provided a great platform for our customers to find and buy various baby products. It was also instrumental in cutting our expenses and successfully building our brand reputation.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Diapers.com:  We are working hard to grow our on-line presence and visibility. Diapers.com traffic volume closely follows both off-line and on-line marketing campaigns and our overall growth patterns.  The 2010 Internet Retailer 500 listed our monthly traffic at just under 1.6 million monthly visitors, a number that continues to grow.

Mike:  What other online marketing strategies do you follow?   What results have you seen from these?

Word-of-the-Mouth is the best strategy. Happy moms drive our record growth.  Aside from that, we have an extremely strong cross-channel marketing program, and are always testing new things.  We participate in most of the major programs you’d think of – affiliate, display, search, comparison shopping, and more.  We also have some major integration partnerships with sites like Babycenter.com and WhatToExpect.com.  We’ve seen strong results across the board, and are always looking for new and interesting ways to scale our business.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?

Diapers.com:  Diapers.com is our primary domain; however, we are working on anther project. More information to come.

What is the main source of traffic to your site?

Diapers.com:  Returning customers are the most often visitors to our site. We get new customers by various marketing campaigns, including alliances with established websites, email campaigns, pay-per-click advertisement, organic traffic from Google and other sources.  We also have a very strong offline marketing program, including direct mail, print, hospital programs, television, and more.

Mike:  What percentage of traffic do you receive from type-in traffic?

Diapers.com:  Roughly half of our customers come from type-in traffic.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Diapers.com:  Inc 500 ranked Diapers.com as the fastest growing retail company in the US in 2009. http://www.inc.com/inc5000/2009/company-profile.html?id=200900350.  We’re also #85 on the 2010 Internet Retailer 500.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Diapers.com:  Yes, the domain name was purchased.   Unfortunately, we cannot share the cost.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?
Diapers.com:   Yes, it is at the core of our business.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Diapers.com:  The domain name should be ideally short, but represent the business well. Having a highly-competitive keyword in the domain URL also helps to conquer most of the search traffic for this keyword.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

We’re not sure what competitors think of our domain. As for our customers, diapers.com associates well with our business, as the key replenishment item that forms our relationship with our moms. It is also easy to remember and type-in.
Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?

Diapers.com:   The domain name is instrumental to our company and as such would not be sold.

As for the owners Diapers.com, life seems to be treating them well.   A generic domain with 50% type-in traffic probably the best example to be found.  I look forward to the other project in the works and hope to hear from Matt Lindenberg and Yuriy Krivenko again soon.

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Andrei Polgar and Auctionpus.com

Andrei Polgar of Auctionpus.com took some time to answer some questions about his new domain name auction platform.  The site surfaced prior to the Bido shut down and stirred up conversation on some of the domain forums.  The unusual name, 8 domains on auction per day, who is this guy?  What’s he up to?

Mike:  Tell me a little bit about your background and that of BillionDollarMedia.com

Andrei:  A lot of folks like to talk about how they started from scratch but then they all of a sudden start mentioning that $5,000 or $7,000 they had saved up and when I compare that to how things were back when I was learning the ropes, I find myself asking just one question: how is that starting from scratch?

I come from Eastern Europe (aka the middle of nowhere) and here’s what *my* reality looked like:
About 10 years ago, I didn’t even have heating. I used to live a 2 bedroom apartment heated by this electric thingy and to be perfectly honest, I have some great memories. I didn’t live in what you would call a secure environment (even a retired kindergarten teacher could have kicked that thing we called a front door into oblivion) but my past is a part of who I am.

When I first started looking at the Internet as a moneymaker, holding $200 – $300 sounded like a far away dream and as far as loans were concerned, let’s just say that they were out of the question. The result: I got started with an empty moneybookers account (we didn’t even PayPal over here back then).

Not a lot of people remember how they “fought for the first dollar” (most use it as a figure of speech) but I actually fought for my first dollar… literally. I’m sharing this story for the first time: I was on this forum and some dude offered to pay $1 (yes, one dollar) for performing some random task. Well, I did what he told me and he refused to pay. Next thing you know, I was “chasing him”, replying to every post he made about how he’s a scammer who had better give me that dollar! I kid you not, 100% true story: I actually chased after some guy for a buck.

Of course, I gradually upped my game and everything I did had one thing in common: I always offered services at rates which were so incredibly low that competing with me wouldn’t have been worth it for everyone else. I kept it simple, one service at a time and later on one site at a time. Then PayPal finally let us in and everything became a LOT easier.

I’ve seen it all and gradually went from making my first $50 per month online to making my first $100, then $500, then $1000, then $5,000 and so on. I’m anything but a one hit wonder and again, I’ve literally seen it all: services, development, paying for traffic and monetizing it via affiliate programs and then domaining.

People always ask me what I do and to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to answer. Do you develop websites? Yep. Does your company offer online services? Yep. Which services do you offer? It would be easier to say what we DON’T offer. Do you invest in domains? Yea. I never quite understood why some folks want to define themselves or anyone else as someone who does just one thing. If it makes money, I’m there and if anyone wants a definition of what I do, here it is: I make money for a living.

Mike:  With all of the auction platforms around, what differentiates Auctionpus.com?  Why should domain owners list with you?

Andrei:  Simplicity taken to the extreme, that was my business model for Auctionpus.com right from day one. There’s this octopus that’s pointing at 8 domains, that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.  I only list quality domains and with only 8 spots available, I’d have to be a complete idiot to choose a different approach.  The “hey everyone, let’s sell crappy domains” cycle needs to end because NOBODY wins. Sellers probably won’t even break even, buyers pay money to own a liability. Not exactly a win-win situation!  By only listing investment quality domains, you’re building something on a solid foundation and that’s what Auctionpus.com is all about.

Mike:  Do you feel your platform is a good alternative with the fall of Bido?

Andrei:  Auctionpus.com is what it is. I never like to compare my sites to other projects and as far as Bido is concerned, the owners are great guys who tried their best but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Mike:  I realize the site is in it’s early stages.  What is your ultimate vision of the site?

Andrei:  My goal for year #1 is a median sales price of $500 and as far as the future is concerned, this much is certain: get used to the octopus because you’ll be seeing more and more of each other 🙂

Mike:  You encourage no reserves and starting bids of $1. What has been the average winning bid on domains sold through Auctionpus.com?

Andrei:   I need to experiment like a maniac in order to find out what the market wants and act accordingly. I don’t have enough data to draw conclusions yet because I basically went with a different approach each day. Some days saw a median sales price close to my $500 goal, some didn’t, it all depends on the domains which are listed.

Mike:  Why the name Auctionpus?  It’s clear once the site is seen, but I have heard others comment on “pus” being mistaken for “puss” or a typo of Auction’plus’.com.”  Any concerns there?

Andrei:  Let’s not forget that I’m selling to people who make money online and not to folks who have just heard about the Internet. In other words, I’m pretty sure traffic leakage will not be an issue.  It’s an *octopus* which points at 8 *auctions*, in other words an *auctionpus*. Some people love it, some people hate it and that means I must be doing something right. I would have been worried if people had a neutral attitude towards this project to be perfectly honest, now there’s a nightmare for any marketer!

Mike:  Are you accepting submissions, today’s items all appear to be owned by you?

Andrei:  I am accepting submissions but only if we’re talking about quality domains priced to sell. Otherwise, I’m better off moving my own inventory. If I accept crappy domains, nobody will buy them. If I accept good domains with outrageous reserves, nobody will buy them. Win-win or no deal, that has always been my way of doing business.

Mike:  As mentioned previously, you encourage $1 starting bids, yet only one of your names has a reserve of $1.  Five names are at $45 opening bid and two at $145.  Can you explain that? (Note:  This question was based on domains listed earlier in the week.)

Andrei:  At this point, I’m experimenting. I’ll run no reserve auctions today, then reserve auctions tomorrow. The day after that, I’ll run 8 4-figure domains only to see how the market reacts to 8 2-figure domains a day later. It’s all a matter of finding out what the market wants.

Mike:  Are there requirements around the type of names that you’ll auction?

Andrei:  We prefer dot com domains but will gladly accept other TLDs if we’re talking about quality one-word domains with commercial appeal.

Mike:  What type of feedback have you received to date?  Are you open to suggestions from visitors?

Andrei:  We’ve received some amazing feedback from our visitors and are definitely not just listening but also implementing changes based on what our users want.  People thought that our initial design sucked, no problem. We changed it and now practically everyone agrees that it’s great.  This is just one example, let’s just say that only a moron would ignore advice given by someone who invested a few minutes of his or her time in order to contribute without asking for anything in return.

Thank you,  Andrei, for your time and your words.

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