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How We Got Sal (KhanAcademy.org) His Dot Com

Andrew Warner & Sal Khan

Andrew Warner & Sal Khan

I was already a big fan of Sal and KhanAcademy.org after I heard him interviewed by Jon Udell on IT Conversations. Here was a guy really making a difference. I could relate too, because if I’d had such a resource when I was a kid (Sal has hundreds of short-form math and science instructional videos online) I might have had a workaround for some horrible teachers that completely turned me off math.

A few months later Andrew Warner interviewed Sal for Mixergy (an awesome collection of interviews with entrepreneurs) and I heard this exchange as the interview came to a close…

Andrew: All right. Well, thanks guys. If you have any feedback, any suggestions, want to be part of this in any way, xxxxx@khanacademy.org, right? But you also have the dotcom.
Sal: No, I don’t. Somebody claimed the dotcom. I don’t own the dotcom.
Andrew: Who is the evil son of a bitch who has the dot com, who does not…
Sal: Well, I don’t know. I was almost able to get it, and someone got it. I don’t know. There are people more sophisticated at squatting domain names than I am.
Andrew: I guess so. Somebody get that domain name back for him. If anyone out there is listening, get that domain back. All right. Thank you…

I think it was the part about ‘almost getting it’ that really piqued my curiosity. So I began to look into it.
I discovered that KhanAcademy.com was registered with Enom. It was parked (the schoolgirl photo with lots of ads) with a link to ‘buy this domain’. That link took me to a site called AcquireThisName.com where I was presented with a ‘make an offer’ form. I did. My offer led to a brief exchange part of which was…

John,
To be honest, I’m not sure if the registrant is motivated to sell this domain. At this time, he is only asking for solid 6 figure offers for consideration. Please let me know if you have a offer you would like to be presented. Appreciate your interest.
Kind Regards,
Bxxxxx | AcquireThisName.com

Hmm, a ‘solid 6 figure’ offer for a domain whose value derives from the fact that Sal’s Khan Academy gets a lot of traffic? That made me mad. I started looking around the net. There were plenty of people mad at AcquireThisName.com. They had also been involved in numerous trademark suits, (see also). I found that Acquire This Name was incorporated in Nevada and that two of its board members, Michael Blend, and Matthew Polesetsky were also on the board of Demand Media. Demand Media owns Enom and a LOT of other domain related companies.

I checked to see if Sal had a trademark. If he had I would have suggested a WIPO action. It would have been a slam dunk. But Sal, busy teaching kids trigonometry for free, hadn’t gotten one yet.

A couple of months later I got an email from Acquire This Name informing me that KhanAcademy.com was about to go to auction at Namejet. Huh? Great! I signed in to Namejet and placed the $69 minimum bid. You HAVE to have placed the minimal bid before the auction starts in order to participate in the auction. I was able to contact Sal through Andrew Warner and Sal was happy to have me bid on his behalf. The morning the auction opens I log in and discover there are 30 people in the auction! The first two days the bidding stays well below our budget but on the morning of the last day I wake up to discover the price has shot up to $1600. I get on the phone to Sal and he gives me the go ahead to keep bidding. We’re down to 4 bidders now as the auction winds down to those last few nail-biting minutes but finally the clock runs out and we have it – for $5000.

So who was bidding against us? KhanAcademy.org is up to (by Compete’s numbers even) @250k visitors a month. Googling a couple of the bidder’s handles suggested Asian game site owners, probably looking to siphon off the .com type-ins. But who knows-  a shady domainer after a higher end-user sale to Sal down the road? A shill bidder from AcquireThisName?

Interestingly, about a week after the auction closed Namejet informs me that they had detected fraudulent bidding in the auction (bad credit card), and were refunding me $2012,  so in fact we got KhanAcademy.com for $2,988 (my highest bid before the fraudster bid it higher).

Sal has been so busy we haven’t had time to even transfer the name over yet. He’s just won a Google prize and recently Bill Gates declared Sal his favorite teacher.

So there’s the story. But I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Who got Sal’s money? Was it Namejet? They call themselves a partner of eNom. So is Namejet also owned by Demand?
And why the change of heart? Why sell now if you know how much traffic KhanAcademy is getting?
Does it have something to do with the attic cleaning going on at Demand around their IPO?
And who is Mark Barker Incorporated? They show up on the Whois as registrar now (it was Enom). They’re also owned by Demand.

My hunch is that Enom retains some domains that drop even when they don’t  have any generic value. If you look through the domains available through AcquireThisName.com there’s all kinds of names that look like they once belonged to a real business. For example, I found existing exact match companies for domains like BankOfElgin.com KentuckyHomeBank.com BudapestBank.com MichiganTalentBank.com FraminghamCoopBank.com ClevelandFurnitureBank.com. For what other reason could Enom own these domains except to sell them (though Acquire This Name) to the companies that are building value into their brands? No wonder people hate the domain industry. That’s sleaze!

I’m glad we were able to help Sal get his .com. In fact all it took, in this case, was Andrew’s information, my attention, and Sal’s checkbook! It’s not the first time I’ve been able to help someone out, but it’s the first time I’ve written about it. Usually it’s as easy as buying the name and putting up a “This is a present.” page. I call it Good Will Domaining.

See Also:
Hey just discovered a TechDirt article about this post. Interesting comments as well.
Michael Berkens: Here We Go Again: Now Enom Has A Site To Sell Its Own Domain Inventory: Where Did These Domains Come From?

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15 Comments

  1. Jesse White wrote:

    Good for you, and great for Sal. This is good news.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  2. John wrote:

    Thanks!

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  3. Hou-Wei wrote:

    good for you man. need more guys like you in this world for good deeds!

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  4. Saad Malik wrote:

    John, it was very nice of you to help Sal get the domain. You did a wonderful thing!

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Gagan Biyani wrote:

    That’s an awesome story and I’m glad you made that happen. I actually tried to buy the domain so I could give it to Sal but for some reason I was never informed about the auction. Either way, great stuff and I’m glad he got the domain!

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  6. John wrote:

    Just lucky timing in my case I think. Happy to be a part of Sal’s team if even just for a minute. And thanks to the other commenters as well. I should point out that in the earlier days I’m sure I reg’d a few questionable domains. Those are long dropped- but just want to point out that I’m not above making a mistake or two myself.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  7. Michael G.R. wrote:

    Nice work! Sal is great and I hope this helps more people discover him (those who would write the .com and then turn around, never finding the .org).

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  8. michael wrote:

    If you were willing to spend $5000 for the domain, (yes, it ended up being less) why didn’t you register the trademark and then get the domain that way?

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink
  9. John wrote:

    That’s a good point. Partly because of the timing-the domain was available NOW. But also, just because you have a trademark doesn’t necessarily mean you’d get the domain. There can be multiple trademarks in fact for the same phrase where the individual marks pertain to different uses. Just to make the point, supposing there was a martial arts school that taught a form of fighting called Khan. I’m pretty sure they’d be able to get a trademark as well. I’m no lawyer but from what I’ve read, results from UDRPs for taking a disputed domain can be pretty arbitrary. That said, had the bidding gotten silly, I would have suggested we go that route.

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  10. michael wrote:

    well, congratulations, the bottom line is to get the job done. It still would make sense to get the trademark. You could probably sell enough t-shirts online in a few days to pay for the registration fee. Or put it on a service like kickstarter with the saga of the domain name as background.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  11. John wrote:

    I’m pretty sure Sal will get a trademark especially since the Google prize. Like the t-shirt idea. I want one!

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  12. Great story and great job, John. It’s really great what the web community can do these days :).

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  13. John wrote:

    Danke schön Kristen.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  14. Chris wrote:

    A Good Deed well done sir!

    Personally I think the physical address and picture of all domain squatters should be put online for quick resolution.

    I sit on the board of a non-profit community theater and when one of our board members was late re-registering our .org domain name it got grabbed by a squatter. Luckily for us we were able to get the .com version.

    Your blog entry shows me some ideas that might help me get going on getting our .org back. Thanks!

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  15. John wrote:

    Thanks Chris,
    Agreed, at least, that the private Whois that has become so prevalent over the last few years does the domaining industry a major disservice by disguising sleazy behavior. I want to be quick to point out though that I do think there is room in the world for people who invest in domain names with the idea of later selling them. As long as they are generic or made up words and don’t cross the line into someone else’s business.
    If you’ve been doing business as a non profit for some time you have a Common Law trademark. You might want to send the squatter a Cease and Desist letter. See:
    http://www.domainsherpa.com/6-ways-to-recover-a-domain-name-from-an-infringing-cybersquatter/
    and
    http://www.domainsherpa.com/domain-name-cease-and-desist-letter/
    Best,
    John

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] the full story of how Sal got the KhanAcademy.com on [...]

  2. Quora on Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    If a charity or NGO acquires a .org TLD, but doesn`t own the .com TLD, should they try to acquire the .com?…

    Yes, especially if it’s a company and not a non-profit organization. COM is the king of domains. UPDATE After the poster re-phrased his question I am updating my answer with below. Ok, well, if the COM is not very expensive then I think the NGO could …

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