You Have To Go In Covert (To Get Your Domain Name)

Jake Winebaum shares what he paid for Brighter.com with Jason Calacanis.

Once again the always excellent This Week In Startups provides a gem of wisdom around the subject of domain names. Whether buyer or seller this short exchange will help you formulate a strategy. Jason proves he knows of what he speaks with his guess for what Jake Winebaum paid for Brighter.com. Some of you will remember Jake from his Business.com days and the story of how he bought that domain from Marc Ostrofsky. If you don’t know that story I highly recommend you check out Andrew Warner‘s interview with Marc on Mixergy.

Jason-Calacanis-Tyler-Crowley-Jake-Winebaum

(Click arrow to play audio) You have To Go In Covert

 

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 Joe Fernandez Got Klout

Again, from the always excellent This Week In Venture Capital, Mark Suster interviews John Frankel, partner of ff Venture Capital. John was an early investor in Klout and in this audio clip, explains how CEO Joe Fernandez impressed John and proved his mettle by getting Klout.com.

(Click arrow to play audio) How Joe Fernandez Got Klout

Mark-Suster-John-Frankel-Klout

Update 10/29/11 Techcrunch adds a few more details to this story.

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!

 

.TV Was The Brainchild of Bill Gross!

I was surprised to discover that Bill Gross was the original brainchild behind .TV!

Mark Suster Interviews Bill Gross

I spent much of today listening to and learning about Bill Gross, the founder of IdeaLab. Take a look at the list of companies Bill has had a major part in. It’s actually scary how much he’s accomplished! Also very inspring to see how excited he is about eSolar and the potential this company has to change the world. The Stanford talk (audio) (video) is presented as a lecture followed by Q&A. You’ll hear some of his history, especially early history, but then much of his philosophy around building companies. Especially interesting to me was his description of a great team: E for entrepreneur, P for producer, A for administrator and I for integrator. The notion of a team needing a good integrator (someone who enables communication between the team) is not something I’ve heard anywhere else and Bill feels having one is essential.

I also listened to the always excellent Mark Suster, This Week In Venture Capital interview with Bill (audio) (video). Here Bill, at Mark’s encouragement, talks in detail about the evolution of his career and the many successful companies he’s created. I was surprised to discover that Bill Gross was the original brainchild behind .TV!
(Click arrow to play audio) Bill Gross on the idea of Dot TV.

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

P2PCar.com MowFo.com

I look at a lot of names, usually around ideas of my own, but often around a trend that’s breaking. Here’s a couple of names I found irresistible today. ‘Collaborative consumption’ is a buzz word around the phenomenon of sharing things rather than owning them outright. It’s estimated, for example, that the average electric drill will see a total of 12 minutes use in its lifetime. “What you really need is the hole, not the drill.” (Rachel Botsman, Collaborative Consumption at TED) People are starting to figure out how to share locally. Cars, for instance, sitting in garages while you’re at work, or in the driveway when you’re home for the weekend have become a target for peer to peer sharing. It’s kind of obvious the minute you think of it. There seems to be quite a lot of activity in the startup community around sharing cars. I was surprised to find that my first choice for a name, P2PCar.com, was available. I hope that, as new companies come into the space, one will be happy to find that a great name is available for a reasonable price.

p2pCar.jpg

As for MowFo? I saw that it dropped recently. I put it in my interesting list. And then I tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t. I just kept picturing a gardening truck driving by me with MowFo.com on the side. Or wouldn’t it be a great name for a grass cutting Roomba?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Commons License  credit: hagwall

We Will Watch You – WeWillWatchYou.com

We Will Watch You

Update 8/18/11 Probably Turntable.fm inspired, but here come a lot of rooms to hang out in. watch and comment on, videos. In Beta, these guys have a great domain http://chill.com.

This dovetails nicely into the previous post about CrowdNamer because it too involves a crowd.  Before there was Groupon there was ThePoint. Andrew set it up so that people could build critical mass around an action before the action executed. So, for instance, if you were going to protest something, but didn’t want to risk a lame turnout, you could post the campaign to ThePoint.com (still can) and only after reaching a critical mass of supporters would an action trigger. I’m also thinking of Kickstarter, especially that aspect of it that requires a target dollar amount to be achieved before any of the contributions change hands.

If you’ve ever made a short film, music video, or video ad for that matter, then you know how difficult it is to get an audience together to watch your work. Submitting to film festivals etc etc… Or sometimes you want early stage feedback to help you shape your story. Or you might have a fork in the road and want some audience to help determine which way to turn.

Introducing WeWillWatchYou (this one has an audio logo as well, it’s a drum beat, can you hear it?) Post a project. Collect committers until you reach your goal, and then- we watch online, together, and talk about it in a live chat!  Data! Fans even.

Since I’ve discovered Convore.com I can safely say that the chat part of the equation is done. The video can be posted on YouTube, even privately.  So all I really need is a front end where film makers and video artists can login and post projects. And watchers can create an account and commit to watching projects. Doesn’t sound too difficult but it is beyond my coding chops. If you know of an off the shelf CMS that could do it, easily, let me know. I don’t see a business model yet, but hey, it’s 2011!

Are you my CTO?

CrowdNamer.com, or is it CrowdName… CrowdNaming?

[Update 12/10/14 Just heard about someone who’s doing this. Wonder how much better they’d do with a great name of their own? Dockname.com ]

[Update. This is ready to test NOW. If you are looking for a name for your startup (or a better name) I will hand pick a posse of knowledgeable domain and branding professionals, and in a private, invite only chatroom, we will post our finds and suggestions. You only need to feel comfortable explaining clearly what you’re looking for in a name.]

Probably the main motivation for getting into domain names, at the time (about 3 years ago), was to scratch up some extra cash in order to self-fund a startup. I’d just sold one of the 4 domains I owned for more than I earn in a couple of months at work. “Really, could it be this easy?” Well, it’s not. Or hasn’t been. I used that money to buy a couple of hundred domains. Most of them were bad choices- experiments around keywords where there might be traffic (but not cybersquatting). I was trying to think outside the box, and indeed that’s about all there is left to think about when it comes to domains, as I’m sure most of you know.

Anyhow… Tough to start something without any capital, especially when you’re not a developer. But one of the great things about domains is how they can ‘lock in’ an idea. It’s not just an idea if you have the domain name as well!

CrowdNamer.com, CrowdNamers, or is it CrowdName.com. CrowdNaming.com? (Either way I’ve got it covered but I think CrowdNamer is the one). The idea starts out pretty straight forwardly. Get feedback from the crowd on choosing a name for your business. Let the wisdom of crowds help you name your company and find a domain for it. Along the way domainers might suggest one of their names, with a price. The crowd might help you find out who owns that Twitter handle someone is sitting on. They might help determine a fair price for a domain.

I’d really appreciate any feedback you have about the idea. Which of the three domains do you think makes a better brand? What do you think the minimum viable product that would provide enough real value to get started might be? Do you think reputation in a community would be enough to drive participation? Do you think a business model could be built around taking a small percentage of sales between domain sellers and buyers?

Are you my CTO?

crowdNaming.jpgCrowd NamerCrowd Name

Crowd Namers