Women in Domaining: Kathy Nielsen – NeustarMike Sullivan
Kathy’s digital career began in online advertising sales and management with BabyZone.com, a company that was eventually acquired by Disney. Her next adventure was to help build a group of content properties under a family of ecommerce sites owned by the eToys.com umbrella (Poshtots.com and BabyUniverse.com). In 2008 she joined Sedo as their Director of Brokerage. During her time at Sedo she served as Director of Strategic Alliances, then Director and VP of Business Development.
With a growing affection for new gTLD industry, she joined a domain name registry, .Green, as Executive Director of Operations and Channel Relations to help prepare .Green for the public launch. Today she works with Neustar, continuing to help educate consumers about domains, building and executing marketing programs, managing channel partnerships and developing premium name sales and auction strategy. She is active on the end user side as well, supporting several clients in domain acquisitions and helping them build domain name strategies.
Mike: How long have you been in the domain industry? Tells about your start at BabyZone.com.
Kathy: I’ve been in the domain industry since January 2010 and got my start with Sedo. But it was my work at BabyZone that really introduced me to the world of online publishing. It was the very early days of online advertising so a main component of my work there was educating about the benefits of online advertising to businesses that didn’t understand how powerful it could be to reach new customers and grow a business. We had a portfolio of directory type websites where each major city had a home on Babyzone.
I started out in my home town of Minneapolis at Babyzone.com, on the ground floor, selling online advertising to local businesses. The amazing part was seeing how some of the small businesses, like a baby photographer, could buy an inexpensive, yearly listing on our site, and it resulted in so many leads that they had to expand their business. I saw many companies that took a chance, dabbled in online advertising in those early days, who grew to be very successful. There were also major, national advertisers as well on Babyzone, but what I found most satisfying was seeing the impact that an increased online presence and traffic had on the smaller businesses.
I was lucky enough to be offered a job in Boston to come and build a network of regional ad sales reps and grow the revenue for Babyzone’s local sites.
Mike: You’ve played several roles in the business and at different companies. Did you ever feel that being a woman somehow put you at a disadvantage?
Kathy: I never used to think about it much but have reflected on that a bit more recently. I am the youngest of 6 kids and my 5 older siblings are all boys. I grew up in a world where I was always in that mix and it seemed natural to me. One of my first jobs out of college was at an industrial tool manufacturing company. I remember many challenging times there because I was a woman. I can’t say it ever affected promotions, pay, etc. but there was certainly a disadvantage. Working in that male-dominated workplace environment was awful. It was constant – inappropriate behavior all the time that created a such a bad environment. Being subjected to that environment every day just wears on you emotionally and all I really wanted to do was work. Maybe I was too young to feel any fear, but I never thought it was OK or that it was normal because it was a male dominated industry. I always spoke my mind if anyone crossed the line. I’m not sure how I came across on that front, but if nothing else, I definitely helped raise awareness of the issues at that company and there was positive change.
Today, I’m extremely fortunate working with Neustar. I am on an absolutely fantastic team of highly motivated people, many of which are women. I greatly value each and every one, it’s probably the most motivating team I’ve ever worked with.
Mike: Have you had one or more mentors in your career? How has that helped?
Kathy: A few people come to mind immediately. Tim Schumacher at Sedo was really the first person in my career that was great at encouraging me to try new things, knowing I would succeed with some and fail at others but in the end, learn and grow.
I have to say that the women in the domain industry have always been very incredibly supportive and open. If I ever have a question or want to float an idea by someone, I have this built in network of very talented people, in all areas of the industry, and that has been invaluable.
The two I look up to the most and from whom I have learned so much, come from the launch days of .co. I was fortunate enough to work with Lori Anne Wardi and Crystal Peterson during the launch of .co while I was at Sedo. They are fearless, smart and did a wildly successful job with .co. In the years between, they were always right there if I ever needed advice or support in any way. They have both grown into much larger roles in the industry and I’m lucky enough to be working with them today at Neustar. Grateful!
Mike: After all your success this far, what struggles do you face on a daily basis?
Kathy: Ha! It’s been the same for a long time.
#1 reaching the target audience
#2 explaining the value prop of a domain – such a basic thing but so many different answers to this based on who you are speaking to.
#3 the slow pace of change in a niche, ecommerce world.
There are honestly so many amazing naming options out there for businesses, individuals, organizations, and everyone in between. From super premium names, to great new descriptive domains, to category killers, brandable names and more, there really is something for everyone. The trick at the ecommerce level is understanding the intent of the individual user and helping to present the best and most meaningful options to them. Today, that experience is so different in the domain world depending on where you shop, and every sales outlet has vast amounts of room for improving in the future. Luckily, we’ve got technology on our side and things like machine learning and AI should be able to play an increasing role in improving that domain buying experience for the consumer in the future.
Mike: What is the biggest challenge, if any, that millennial women face in the industry or business in general?
Kathy: I have always worked in very male dominated industries but felt comfortable and fit in – probably due to my life growing up with five older brothers. But I never really felt like it was OK to just be me, a girl. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. Since I worked mostly with men, I always felt like I had to act more like one of the guys, just like I was with my brothers. When I worked with women, it was a totally different atmosphere and a refreshing change but then I found myself wishing there were some men on the team to balance out the dynamics.
As I began to work in more diverse teams with more of a gender balance, I saw the different dynamics at work and it was amazing. More personalities, more backgrounds, more (or fewer) egos at play – the diversity of the team brings a more open set of eyes to topics. It makes all the work we do simply better.
The importance of diverse and balanced teams can’t be understated. I’d encourage millennial women to seek them out. If you go on a job interview and don’t see any women in the company, or in leadership roles, that’s a big red flag. In the world of technology, it’s not easy to be balanced. Seek out those companies who value diversity. Help and support other women in technology so that they too can thrive and succeed in the industry. This will ultimately create a positive working environment for everyone. Don’t hold back, be yourself. Don’t ever stop learning, speak up, ask questions, participate, engage and bring your diversity to the table.
Mike: You seem like a busy woman, working both sides of the fence when it comes to domaining. How do you manage to keep a healthy work life balance?
Kathy: Personal and family time are both really important to me. Outside work and school, we’re very laid back and not a heavily scheduled family. I’m not running from work to take the kids to soccer, then hockey, then somewhere else like a lot of families do. We all pitch in to make the work/life balance work for us. My kids, my husband, all have busy lives, and we respect each other and help each other. Sometimes, you just need a break. We know its ok if you just feel like doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday or Sunday but binge watch a show or lay in bed and read all day. We also like to do things together like travel, go to a museum, a concert, a play, a soccer game, snowboard, hike, mountain bike, etc. Making time to get out together and experience new things is a big part of keeping our balance.
Mike: What would you say has been the biggest advance in the domain industry over the past decade and why?
Kathy: I think the biggest advance has been with the registrars and their advances in ecommerce. Before they could sell one TLD, at one price, period. They can now offer more products (TLDs), at variable pricing, from a wide variety of sellers (aftermarket premiums, registry premiums, standard domains). This is great because it makes it so much easier for the consumer to find what they want in one place. It’s not complicated. There is still a lot of progress to be made but I’m optimistic that competition and innovation will drive more change.
Mike: What has been the toughest decision you have had to make in your. Domaining career?
Kathy: Leaving Sedo. Sedo is a great company full of people I really enjoyed working with. Moving on to new challenges is always difficult but also rewarding.