Branding With Available Domains – An Incubator

I recently reached out to a popular podcaster (Brandon from Automate My Small Business, awesome podcast!) when I discovered a valuable keyword domain dropping in his niche. We were able to acquire the domain in auction. I hope to blog in the future about our experiments to discover how best to put it to work. In the meantime he mentioned to me that he and a partner were in the midst of developing a new business. Basically, the company would capitalize on their design and marketing experience to help inventors bring their products to market. They had both decided that they liked ‘Mind To Market’, but the domain was gone, and would I care to help them look for a name? But of course!

Let’s refresh, from my last post… I’m looking for a name that invokes the spirit of the experience the company hopes to create; Passes the ‘radio’ test (could type it in your browser after hearing in a podcast); Is ‘easy to remember’; Has the exact-match Twitter handle; No Trademarks; And is available for $8 on GoDaddy!

My sandbox: ideas, invention, imagine, engineer, incubate, tinker, prototype, innovate, iterate, lab, garage, market.
Very broad! Also challenging in that we’re not building a ‘better mousetrap’ here. The concept is easily understood and communicated, but there aren’t a lot people doing this as a business, so you face the additional challenge of trying to communicate what it is you do in the name.

I looked around for inspiration and found a couple of amazing stories. The Russians Used a Pencil tells the story of how two guys built a physical product – an iPhone tripod, from idea to market in five months. They used Kickstarter to fund and market it! They used 3d printing to prototype!

And there’s Quirky! This is so amazing! Founder Ben Kaufman turned the experience of creating hit iPod accessories into a business built around the process of discovering new hit products. The Quirky community comes up with the ideas, vets them, evangelizes them, and buys them! Ben tells the story here.

Alright! Creative juices flowing and a clear picture of our naming goal. Let’s get busy with the tools. Market Samurai for keyword, niche value, and competition. A whole lot of Thesaurus.com, MoreWords.com, TheFreeDictionary.com. Throw in a little Rhymezone.com. my Excel column combination spreadsheet, and voila. Over 1200 possible candidates. Run through the GoDaddy bulk checker and… Hmm, a smattering of acceptable candidates. Now the Twitter check and… a pretty miserable collection of leftovers.

The Lean Inventor
cc by fostersartofchilling

With one exception. I mentioned I listen to a lot of podcasts. Over the last few months I’ve tracked down at least a half dozen Eric Ries interviews. Eric has worked very hard getting the word out about his book. There’s a startup education in these interviews.
This Week in Venture Capital #65 with Eric Ries, Author of ‘The Lean Startup”   mp3 audio
Eric Ries of The Lean Startup on This Week in Startups #199  mp3 audio
Eric Ries (BestSeller) – On Mixergy mp3 audio
Eric Ries (LeanStartup) – On Mixergy mp3 audio
Evangelizing for the Lean Startup – Eric Ries (Author) Stanford mp3 audio
There’s actually quite a few others, but that will get you started. At this point I’m well versed in the notion of ‘lean’, which derives from the idea of ‘lean manufacturing’ pioneered especially by Toyota in the 90s.
Eric applied it to startups and called his book, “The Lean Startup”. The idea so perfectly captured the idea I was going for, and it was available.

So did they like it? Yes, but not as much as a name they’d found in the meantime. I’m having trouble remembering it 😉 (I know there was an animal in the logo!) I’ll post a link when they launch and you can tell us what you think.

Update 4/14/12 One of the names I looked into for this project just dropped.
MakeItToMarket.com @MakeItToMarket Like it?  Update 12/10/12 Or perhaps this is closer to what you had in mind.
Make It To Market

How To Find A Killer Available Domain Name – Code School

Coding is being called ‘the new literacy’. If you love to code, think you can teach it, and have a twist on how to do it better, let’s get started. First, you’ll need a name.

ibm-1620-by-twid.jpg
IBM 1620 by Twid

I’ve tried most of the online tutorials. I broke my brain getting Ruby 1.92 on my Mac. I have Eclipse set up for PHP and Python. But so far I end up bailing out of the book, tutorial, video course. They’re not working for my brain! That’s why I was so excited to hear about Codecademy. Codecademy is a Y Combinator startup. They’re a couple of young guys with a great idea who seem to have caught a wave. The thing is, now four months and $2.5 million invested, they have all of three courses that took me an hour to complete. Yes they’re good, but…  Meanwhile the press just keeps on coming! (Isn’t this a startup no no – getting all this press before they really have a product?)

The namer/domainer in me couldn’t help but notice… Look at the spelling, codEcademy. Not codeAcademy. Not only that but CodeAcademy.org is a Chicago startup that has an CodEcademy CodeAcademyintense immersion how-to-code course in Chicago. Oh oh. What? CodeAcademy.com now forwards to CodEcademy.com. They somehow acquired it in the last month or so (I’d like to know that story). When I first looked, there was a forum there. IMO it would be hard to trademark Code Academy, I think (too generic), but looking around today I found that the CodeAcademy.org people seem to be in the process of obtaining one for ‘CA Code Academy’. The plot thickens- and gets murky, and maybe they should merge now before too many lawyers get involved. (Might a Domain Diligence Report from DomainNoob have saved a lot of trouble and headache?)
[Update 6/21/12: The lawyers have spoken! Andrew Allemann of DomainNameWire puts it succinctly: “The panel ruled that it (Code Academy) didn’t show it had any trademark in the term “Code Academy”. It was a victory for Codecademy, but the fight may have devalued both names. In making its argument, Codecademy suggested that Code Academy is merely descriptive. That could come back to haunt it as it tries to fight off cybersquatters in the future.” Here’s the actual WIPO ruling.]
[Update 10/6/12: Again from Andrew Allemann. Codecademy rcenetly bought CodeClass.com for $1,000.]

Anyway, the media attention Codecademy is getting should serve as a siren song for entrepreneurs. Coding is being called ‘the new literacy’. If you love to code, and think you’re a better teacher, or have a twist on how to do it, let’s get started. First, you’ll need a name.

My basic toolkit?
MarketSamurai for keyword/value/competition research. Thesaurus.com. MoreWords.com which is great for searching words that end with or start with. And my weird brain.

First, a look at keywords.
Initial keyword research indicates that ‘code’, as a verb, isn’t as popular as ‘program’.
‘Learn’ helps a keyword phrase score for larger click payouts, i.e. makes it more ‘valuable’.
Ads don’t really start to pop up until you drill down past ‘program’ to specific languages.
Running my list of keywords through the GoDaddy Bulk Checker. Hey! A couple of keepers.
LearningHowToProgram.com, Market Samurai tells me, is potentially the most valuable of the available keyword domains. LearnToCodeOnline.com This strikes me as the best of the availables in terms of branding a keyword domain. OnlineCodeSchool. Like this one too. Also CodeSchoolOnline.com.
Not bad! But they’re all more than 15 letters, so the exact-match Twitter handle is off the table. I’d still buy them. While the definitive word is still out on domains and SEO, they could be useful for focused mini-sites and Adwords experiments.

Then a look at what the competition is doing for “Learn to code online”.
Top Scoring Organic: lcwo.net (Morse code!), codeschool.com, & w3schools.com
Mostly you’re getting articles about learning, rather than actual places to learn. The articles lead to online Berkeley, MIT, Mozilla and Google’s Code University.
Paid (that mention coding specifically, not just online learning): www.polymathlectures.org, programming.justanswer.com

CodeSchool.com is by far the best url we’ve seen so far. Kind of ideal. They’re a subscription based video/tutorial/community ‘learn by doing’ site with a very popular free tutorial Rails For Zombies (interesting, which came first?). While we’re here, we should mention Treehouse, (TeamTreehouse.com), which launched recently (with help from VC money) and is gaining a lot of traction. They have a two-tiered subscription model. And of course there’s Lynda.com which has 69,000 tutorials for $25 a month!

Next up in our naming process is keyword combos. This is where I match the word ‘code’ with my collected list of internet destination words like ‘hub’, ‘works’, ‘planet’ etc. Very hit or miss, but in this case–it’s picked clean! Nothing worth mentioning available. Just as well, they’re not very good.

On to the brainstorming session. This is where I dig into the thesaurus to create brandable made-up names, portmanteaus, domain hacks, and word tricks. I’m playing in a ‘learn how to program code’ sandbox.

Let’s go over the criteria: Evokes the spirit of the experience your product hopes to create; Passes the ‘radio’ test (could type it in your browser after hearing in a podcast); Is ‘easy to remember’ (this often simply translates into ‘short’); Exact-match Twitter handle; No Trademarks. And again, in our case, $8 on GoDaddy!

And the winners are…

Acodemic.com @Acodemic

Codsy.com @CodsyCom

 

I really like Acodemic. Codsy is a little bit trendy (Artsy, Etsy) but it’s five letters! Try and forget it. You can spell a five letter domain out loud (radio test).  Pity about the Twitter, but five letter Twitter handles are pretty much a thing of the past. I also picked up three of the keyword domains, for SEO and Adwords experiments. CodeSchoolOnline.com, OnlineCodeSchool.com, and LearnToCodeOnline.com.

So what do you think? What would be a fair price for this package of domains? Think you can do better? I’d be happy to list your newly-registered domains in this post.  I do think I got a little bit lucky with this niche–not picked quite as clean as most. For comparison, here’s something just in today from TeachMe.comTwitter. (Will be interesting to see if Bill manages to get the Twitter as well.)
Is there a niche you’d like me to do a case study on?

[Update 4/12 I’m a couple of weeks into the Udacity CS101 class (free and now open enrollment). It’s awesome! See Also: O’Reilly School of Technology, (article, school), Bloc, Hitchiker’s Guide To Python, HackerSchool, really liking InventWithPython and LearnCodeTheHardWay.]

 

Jack Dorsey on Naming Twitter & Square

Jack Dorsey talks with All Things D’s Kara Swisher about inventing Twitter and later, Square

Don’t you love podcasts? Podcasts for me are what I’d always hoped television could be. Whatever your interest, the best of the best are talking about it somewhere. In this case, Jack Dorsey talks with All Things D‘s Kara Swisher about inventing Twitter and later, Square – two giant ideas that are changing the way we see the world. In these excerpts from a great talk at the Commonwealth Club, we hear about the naming process. The takeaway for me is that as genius as Jack is, when it comes to naming, we’re all of us in the same boat. Kara contributes her own ‘domainer’ story as well that will resonate with anyone who’s spent any time in the domainer forums.
Entire interview: YouTube iTunes.

ack-dorsey-kara-swisher-commenwealth-club-5-25-11

(Click arrow to play audio) Naming Twitter
(Click arrow to play audio) Naming Square
(Click arrow to play audio) About Square.com
[Update: Square.com now redirects to SquareUp, so it looks like Jack got the domain.]

 

Re-Branding Walk-Through, Sean Harper of FeeFighters Mixergy Interview

I love Mixergy and Andrew Warner’s interviews. Over the last few years I’ve listened to Andrew interview hundreds of startup entrepreneurs. I’m sharing this particular interview because it’s covers my favorite territory – domains and naming your company. You can find this interview, a transcript, and an audio version at Mixergy.

Sean Harper kept hearing that people didn’t like his company name, which at the time was TransFS.com. They’re a credit card processing price/feature comparison engine that helps you get the best deal for your merchant services. Somewhere around the time Sean heard his father mispronounce the company name, Sean and crew decided to go ahead and begin the painful process of renaming.
If you want to cut directly to the discussion of finding a name and then acquiring the domain, that starts around the 11 min mark. By the 24 min. mark, Sean has acquired the domains and then begins discussing implementing the changeover.

These are my notes. The process Sean describes is helping me formulate a process for an idea I’m working on called CrowdNamer.

FeeFighters.com is a service that helps it’s customers, usually merchants, optimize their credit card processing costs.
Formerly TransFS –Transparent Financial Services
Understanding we had a problem with the name.
They would say things like “How do you spell your name again? What’s your domain name?” Or, “I mentioned you to one of my friends.”
Started keeping track of how often the difficulties around their name came up.
Sean’s father mispronounced the old name.
It was more than a quarter of our customers that were having confusion with our name, when we looked at the data.
“Basically the methodology we followed was one of coming up with lots and lots of ideas and then filtering those ideas according to a methodology. The one we used the most is this methodology called Igor  I-G-O-R, which is a methodology for branding and scoring each name and then keeping a list of the ones that scored the highest.
http://www.igorinternational.com/
Free naming guide:
http://www.igorinternational.com/process/naming-guide-product-company-names.php
I called them Vectors -for naming.
Two word name. One describes, the other more emotional.
A lot of time with the dictionary. Bugged our friends, a lot.
Name brain storm.
Crossword dictionary- synonyms, by number of letters
Paper on the wall, writing all over them, hundreds of names.
Narrowed down in batches.
Ranked them by IGOR
Factors: Memorable, easy to spell, emotional, how close to your value proposition, how descriptive
8 variables.
Y axis all the names they’d thought of
X axis all the criteria
Rank them in a Google spreadsheet, independently of each other
Trying to add an objective framework on top of something fundamentally subjective
Personally loved CostHammer but the rest of the team didn’t like it.
Very exhausting. After a week. All start to sound the same.
Whittled it down to about a dozen names.
Used Survey Monkey to get opinions from friends, advisors etc. using same framework they’d used themselves.
Had people rate 12-15 names by survey with a small section for opinion
Tabulated the numbers.
Scores made clear: best, medium, dogs
Wanted a .com with no hyphen
Weren’t going to pay more than $10k
Some of the names were being used legitimately, some they couldn’t reach the owner,
some owners wanted too much.
Contacting and pricing domains very time consuming, lots of back and forth.
Needed to buy Feefighter.com and Feefighters.com Different owners, took days to contact each.
Ended up paying about $8k total for both names. ($4500 +$3500)
Were very happy (with the price) thought they’d have to go higher.
Had a few names they could have lived with. But going into it, everyone liked FeeFighters.
Had already thought through the whole branding, imaging, process for the top few names.
Sean then goes into details about getting the word out, switching the domain over etc. etc.
Thank you Sean and Andrew for sharing such excellent information.

Kevin Rose on Naming Websites

Update 12/12/11 Hey @KevinRose & @OinkApp people. My social media experiment doesn’t seem to be working. I noticed Oinck.com in the GoDaddy drop a few weeks ago and picked it up for you. I tweeted you a couple times but, well, either you didn’t notice, or you didn’t care.

From Glenn McElhose’s  Random Episode 15 with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferris which was shot mid May 2011. At around the 27 minute mark, Kevin begins to discuss the difficulty he’s having naming a new company. (HatTip to DomainShane)

(Click arrow to play audio) “Dude, this has been my hell for the last month and a half.”

kevinRoseDomains
Tim Ferris & Kevin Rose Discuss Naming Your Website

Notes and quotes.
It’s a combination iphone app slash destination site, meaning that there will actually be a dot com destination for it as well.
I want it to be short, like 4, 5, 6 characters.
Good names now are like, $100k.
Fred Wilson’s post about what you should spend on a great domain name. (‘Finding and Buying a Domain Name‘)
I’m trying to find something for around 20(k), trying to go on the cheap, crazy as (that sounds $20k being cheap!).
I’ve spent a lot of time doing this, so if you’re looking for a domain name, I’ll be glad to share.
Sedo.com > Advanced Search > Dot com > 5 characters max >Order search results by bid (previously declined offers- weeds out low interest domains)
Great names that end in mo, be, ly, es or start with lo. Look for them on GoDaddy.
GoDaddy.com Auctions > Advanced Search (right hand panel) > # of bids- none > Keywords- End with ly (for example) > Characters- Exactly 5 no dashes no numbers (for example) > Type- Select All >  Extension .com
Kevin zips by discussing ‘getting them to agree on price’.
Now you have to do a trademark search (Search Marks)
Now you have to check to see whether the iPhone app is available. (I like uQuery for this).
Easily understood in a crowded bar and easy to spell. Obvious spelling.
He’ll run a name by someone as though it already is an app or site, “Dude, have you tried —, it’s awesome. And they’ll be like, Oh, what’s that? Well what did you think it was?” To gauge other people’s response to how the name might sound, even though you don’t own the name.
Kevin suggests that if you have a great domain that fits the bill, (though he doesn’t mention the niche the product is in) you can send him your suggestion using the Twitter hashtag #krdomain. However, this was shot in May of 2011 so we can probably assume he’s already found it.

Update 9/9/11 Was it Oink.com? Is that what Kevin found? It appears to be a mobile voting and ranking app. Thoughts?
Kevin Rose Tweets Oink.com
Also, Kevin’s video interview site got a facelift and a new domain. Used to be Foundat.io/n is now Foundation.bz
I wasn’t sure so Googled it. “Did you mean: .biz domain
BZ is the country code for Belize.   I guess the .Biz was taken!
Just spotted 12/2/11 Now Foundation.kr! I guess as in Kevin Rose!

 

How We Got Sal (KhanAcademy.org) ConAcademy.com

But why ConAcademy.com?
According to the Whois info, ConAcademy.com was registered October 28, 2010. That’s only a few weeks after Google announced a $2M prize to Khan Academy as part of their Project 10^100 and about a month and half after Sal’s Fortune article.

Update: 5/25/12 (HatTip to domainnamewire.com) Oversee and NameKing are being sued by(pdf) jeweler Tocari for exactly what I describe in this post.

————-
Note: The views expressed here are my own and not those of Khan Academy for whom I freely volunteered my time.
Long story short in case you’re in a hurry. Discovering that ConAcademy.com was registered led me once again down the back alleys of behind-the-scenes domaining. This time the owner turned out to be Oversee.net, who own upwards of a million domains. I’m happy to say that eventually Oversee gave us the domain, no charge, and without legal wrangling apart from my emails. It’s a little more complicated than that, if you’re curious read on.

In our last episode, I’d helped (with help from Andrew Warner) Sal and KhanAcademy.org acquire their dot com. We traveled down a murky road that left a lot of basic questions unanswered. We discovered a web of companies inside of companies that led back to Demand Media (DMD) and wondered if the IPO had anything to do with how “only solid six figure offers” suddenly turned into an auction at Namejet where we won KhanAcademy.com for $2,988.

In the Ustream chat of Sal’s This Week In Startups interview with Jason Calacanis, someone asked if it was spelled ConAcademy and I was shocked to realize I’d never checked the obvious typo! ConAcademy.org was available, but the .com led me down another path I’m happy to share with you today.

conAcademy.com20101119.jpg

This is a classic example of ‘parked’ page. The owner of this domain is hoping someone who had typed conacademy.com into their browser bar, not finding what they were looking for, will then click on one of the links. When that happens, the owner of the domain will earn a rev share of whatever the advertiser is paying for a click. Seeing as this (online education) market is quite competitive, a click (there may be a secondary click required after this first one) can cost an advertiser anywhere from $3-$20 for some of the keywords listed on this page. Usually the clicks are monetized through Google or Bing. The business model has been very lucrative. While parking income is ‘down’, it’s probably the main reason we have large, publicly traded companies owning hundreds of thousands of domains. Not to mention individual domainers with 10s of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of domain names. I should mention now that I don’t have a problem with parking per se. If you were early enough and clever enough to register valuable generic keyword domains when that was still a risky business model, congratulations. (I will say though how grateful I am for my AdBlockPlus plugin.)

In fact ConAcademy.com was owned by Oversee.net.

Oversee.net owns one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world–more than 1 million names.
Monetizing domain “real-estate”
For owners seeking ways to monetize undeveloped domain “real-estate”, Oversee is a pioneer in offering landing page optimization technology that renders highly relevant keywords, PPC ads, and layout configurations customized for each domain.

Oversee’s entire business model is built around technology that populates domain landing pages with ads to click on. They also own a registrar- Moniker.com,  a domain buy-sell auction platform- SnapNames.com [update: Oversee sold both Moniker and Snapnames to KeyDrive in early 2012], and run an annual high-ticket domain auction conference called DomainFest. They are a major player in the world of domaining.

But why ConAcademy.com?
According to the Whois info, ConAcademy.com was registered October 28, 2010. That’s only a few weeks after Google announced a $2M prize to Khan Academy as part of their Project 10^100 and about a month and half after Sal’s Fortune article.

The registrar for ConAcademy listed on the Whois, was NameKing.com. NameKing is a landing page for domain inquiries. The form led eventually to a quote from someone at Moniker who informed me that the ‘owner’ was willing to except an offer of $2500 for the domain name.

In our previous example, KhanAcademy.com, there was the possibility that a prior customer had registered KhanAcademy.com, that it had eventually dropped, that Enom noticed the traffic, and so rather than releasing it, they kept it for themselves. But in this case ConAcademy.com was registered after a lot of attention was being paid to Sal and KhanAcademy.org. So it makes me wonder if some of this “optimization technology” Oversee is talking about isn’t actually programmed to find available misspelled dot com domains of trending searches and register them! [This just in 4/18/11! Recent UDRP decision confirms Oversee using automated domain registration process! Story from DomainNameWire, WIPO decision. That Oversee is ALSO auto-registering typos of trending search terms wasn’t mentioned in the WIPO decision.]

So there’s the why of it, sort of.  It’s profitable to own these kind of typo domains where type-in traffic generates income through clicks on ads. This, in the case of ConAcademy.com, in my layman’s opinion, was a classic example of typosquatting – benefiting financially from misspellings of someone else’s brand. IF a case could be made that ConAcademy had ANY generic value, I would be forced to concede that Oversee had every right to own it and offer it for sale. But it’s ONLY value derives from Sal’s IP. So I determined I would fight for this one.

I worked on this for months. People were busy, out of town, the conference, the wrong person, that person lost my email, and forwarded it to her who passed it on to legal who wanted documentation of the Trademark etc. Sometimes I knew the person’s name and other times it was ‘Admin’. My point here is that there was obviously no point-person to handle this kind of situation. I was trying to be patient, but when weeks went by without a response I decided to see if I couldn’t acquire some leverage, in a way I knew these people would understand. I was surprised to see, considering they own over a million domains, that OverseeSucks.com was available. With that in my subject line, someone got back to my email within a day and things started to move in earnest.

Let me state here- I do not hate Oversee (and want to thank Howard for his help). I do not think that automated registration algorithms are necessarily evil. I AM saying that if you’re going to own a million names you better have a system in place for promptly giving back domains you have no business owning! It took me FIVE MONTHS to get ConAcademy. Meanwhile Sal spoke at TED and the press hit the fan.

I think my mission is mostly accomplished now. KhanAcademy.com, ConAcademy.org, and ConAcademy.com all point to KhanAcademy.org. We now pass the ‘radio test’.  It’s a pleasure to have been of service to such a great cause. Go Sal!

 

Memory Helmet MemoryHelmet.com

There is a permanent record of the stream of consciousness within the brain. …hidden in the interpretive areas of the temporal lobes, there a key mechanism that unlocks the past… (Penfield, PNAS, 1958)

[Update 7/14 Wow! DARPA just funded, to the tune of $37 million, two research teams to explore how memories are stored and formed. Both teams will use implanted electrical devices to measure and record brain function around memory.]

[Update 10/13 We’re getting closer! Check out this article about DARPA funding transcranial ultrasound stimulation which can access and modulate deep into the brains accessing targets to a finely focused degree.]

Now hear me out… and check out the video below the photo. When I was a kid I saw a documentary on Dr. Wilder Penfield, a Canadian neurosurgeon and a pioneer of surgical techniques especially related to epilepsy. In the documentary, Dr. Penfield had a patient lying on her side, conscious, while her brain was exposed. He applied a very small electrical current using a two-pronged probe to the surface of her brain, and the patient instantly had the memory of sitting by the fireplace around the Christmas tree as a young girl. She described the room in detail. She recalled the conversation. Wow! I thought. Someday we’ll be able to put a helmet on our head and navigate our memories with a joy stick.

I’m a little disappointed they’re not here yet 😉 but am encouraged by all the interesting advances in brain science. They say about our experience that it’s all still in there. Let’s hope the memory helmets aren’t too far off.  (PS I think this is a great band name as well.)

Memory Helmet
Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Clarksworth