magnifying-glass

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You know exactly what you want to call your company and immediately go to register the .COM. Then you realize what you were probably expecting from the beginning…someone else owns the domain. The normal reaction at this point is to think to yourself, “stupid squatter!” and instantly become both angry and annoyed at the person who bought the domain name before you and aren’t using it for anything.

Here’s the reality. 

That “squatter” that owns the domain name probably isn’t a squatter. It’s unlikely that they thought about you and your founders sitting around coming up with the name and therefore with years their incredible clairvoyance went ahead and registered the domain. In many cases the owner of the domain is one of two types of people:

  1. Another startup founder like you who also came up with the name just years before you did but never got their business off the ground
  2. A domain name investor who bought the name to sell for a profit

In either case you need to first determine if the domain is for sale (much easier if it’s a domain investor since the answer is yes) and next get in touch with the owner. The truth is, domain investor want to sell their domains, and they make it easy to get in touch with them. Startup founders, like you, aren’t necessarily trying to make money selling domains. They might have the domain under privacy protection and they also might still want to hang onto the name since, like you, they bought it for a business they once (or still do) believe in.

Either way, there’s a lot of confusion about how to get in touch with a domain owner so I thought I’d share a few tips to do it. While a good domain broker can definitely help accelerate the process, and in many cases can save you a few bucks on a domain, you can still try your hand at it at first and if you don’t succeed, call in the experts. There isn’t a big multi-step process for tracking down a domain owner, just one go-to technique that I have found worked the best years ago and still is the best way to reach a domain owner today.

It’s called doing a WHOIS lookup. Note: all the domain investors reading this post will say, “duh Morgan, everyone knows what a WHOIS lookup is!” and they’d be right…if we were just talking about domain investors and industry professionals. But normal people actually don’t know about WHOIS lookups yet it’s the best way to get directly in touch with a domain owner. There are a zillion services that do whois lookups, one of my favorites is iWhois.

Here’s how it works. Enter the domain name you want into a WHOIS lookup service and the domain owner’s contact information will be revealed to you. Most of the time. 

Here’s the catch.

Sometimes domain name owners choose to use privacy protection to hide their identity. In this case it looks like all of their contact information is hidden away and that there’s no real way to reach them. What most people don’t realize is that those long seemingly meaningless email addresses like jasdfsdf1234124@privacyprotectionservice.com, actually work – send a domain to the address in the WHOIS and it should (in most cases) route directly to the owner.

I can tell you with confidence, your average person doesn’t know this. Once again, if you’re a domain investor or domain industry insider who reads my blog, yup, you knew this. However, if you’re a startup founder, small business owner, or entrepreneur getting ready to start your next venture, this just might be news to you. Since I’ve told this to dozens of people who had no idea that those crazy privacy protection email addresses actually went anywhere, it means that for some of your reading this, I just blew your mind.

So my work is done for the day. Now go forth and email the person who owns the domain you’re looking for. Just remember to be realistic when it comes to price expectation. Sites like DNJournal and tools like NameBio can help you stay grounded in reality.

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teller-io-hackernews

There’s a new startup that’s trending like crazy on Y Combinator’s insanely popular Hacker News – Teller.io which is currently hanging out in the #2 spot with 425 points (which is a lot). It’s no secret that the .IO domain name extension has been a massive hit with startups, particularly anything targeting developers. Quick reminder, most people think .IO stands for “Input/Output” but in reality it’s a ccTLD (that’s country code top level domain) and actually stands for Indian Ocean.

Teller.io is a solid name for this API as it’s an API for your bank account. They are actually solving a real problem, one that you probably don’t run into all that often, but developers do all the time. The problem is that it’s actually hard for developers to get realtime bank data, which means that apps that your average developer builds lags behind reality. Bigger companies with direct relationships with a bank get all the premium access and you’re left building an app that might leave your users with day old data.

How many times have you thought to yourself “Damn, I really wish my bank account had an API”? I bet the answer is a lot. Well, today is the last day you will ever think that again because we are pleased to announce that the Teller API beta program is now open to the public. (Source – Teller.io)

Along with super fast access to banking data, Teller.io is also the first banking API that can actually move money and manage your accounts. If you’re a developer and want to take Teller.io for a spin, the beta is now open to the public – you can sign-up here.

 

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dollars

When I first started selling domains I had all these weird rules for myself. I told myself things like, “I’ll never sell a domain name for under $1,500 because someone out there can definitely afford at least $1,500, and heck that money isn’t going to change my life in any way.” After a while, I realized those rules were actually pretty stupid, since domain investing wasn’t a full-time business I was running, it was an investment vehicle I was using instead of your typical investment vehicles – real estate and stocks.

Fast forward to today and I honestly don’t have any hard and fast rule except that I need to at least double my money on every sale I make. Anywhere else that would sound like the greediest statement in the world, but in the domain world I think most people would say I leave a lot of money on the table…and at times I probably do, but I’m ROI focused.

I’m not a domain expert, and as someone that doesn’t spend my time focused on domain names…I’ll probably never be an expert. What I can do is try to be a good investor and hit the goals I set out for myself, and hopefully also exceed the ROI I’d make in real estate or stocks. I just sold a domain today for $5,000 (around $4,200 after Sedo’s commission) and a friend of mine in the industry told me I could have sold it for 3x that. But I paid $99 for the domain, and including renewal fees I’m all in for around $200…so at over 20x ROI, I’m okay leaving that money on the table to make the deal happen now.

What do you think? Should you focus on getting top dollar for your domains or instead focus on getting a good ROI? I want to hear from you. Comment and let your voice be heard!

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You might think that building a hit game means putting together a team of game developers and designers, spending a year or more plugging away, and then releasing a masterpiece. While that sounds awesome, the reality is that hit game studios actually do all of that, spending millions of dollars on a game, and then kill it for one reason or another. Sounds wasteful? It’s not, in reality this is how hit game studios become hit game studios, by learning from their mistakes.

supercell_logo_white_on_black

A great example of a game studio that takes this approach and has seen it work time and time again is Supercell, the creators of Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, and Clash Royale. The three games that Supercell has made so far have generated more than 100 million daily active players. Let me say that again, 100 million people a day actively play Supercell games, oh and they also pay money to do things in the game which generates just a bit of dough for the Finnish game studio.

While you might think that there’s some C-level exec at Supercell with incredible discerning taste who decides if a game will live or die…but that’s not the case. Like the name says, Supercell actually structures working groups into cells, and it is these groups that decide if a game makes the cut.

One might think that a company like Supercell runs comprehensive analytics when deciding whether or not to kill a game — and of course metrics do come into the conversation — but for Dower, the decision ultimately boils down to the gut feeling of a small team of experienced game makers. The execs at Supercell don’t issue a death sentence or grant a pardon, Dower said. The life or death decision is up to the people who’ve had their hands on the game. (Source – Gamasutra)

For those keeping score, you might say, “hey Morgan – Supercell has only three games” but there’s actually a fourth game that made the cut and is getting a lot of early buzz – Brawl Stars, which you can read more about here. Like all Supercell games, you can bet the Brawl Stars came from lessons learned in other games that didn’t see the light of day. The model here is an interesting one, it’s one that speaks well to startups and the mantra of fail fast.

For any aspiring game developer out there hopefully Supercell is setting a good example here and pushing you to release early and often, and most importantly, if people aren’t loving your game, helping you realize that you might need to kill it. There’s nothing wrong with killing a game, in fact, the bigger problem is not killing your game fast enough because the more time you spend on a dud, the less time you’ll spend on a hit.

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I’ve never sold a .AI domain name. I have sold .COMs in the past (sold Movon.com last month), and lately .IO domains have been doing okay for me (sold Arthur.io last month) but I’ve never sold a .AI domain name…but I think I might this month. It’s going to be a different deal than I’ve done before, but one that I’m actually feeling pretty good about.

The potential buyer is a pretty badass software developer that wants to use the domain for a open source project they are working on. My price expectations were out of their budget to start, but they threw out a cool idea, what if they included a little “thank you” at the bottom of their site to me for providing the domain name. Maybe it sounds silly but I’m a huge supporter of open source so while it definitely doesn’t represent any monetary gain to me, I like to feel like I helped contribute to some cool open source software. Okay, contribute is probably a big overstatement since I’m not writing any code, but I think the .AI name I’m looking at selling is pretty kick-ass so I think it will honestly turn this project into a really solid brand.

In return, I’m lowering my price about 75% off my original asking price. Yes, I’m taking a price hit for something as silly as some recognition for helping an open source project, but I’m actually pretty excited about the whole thing. Now you might be thinking, “Morgan, now that you’re writing about this the buyer is going to read this” And that’s fine by me, he knows I’m an open source fan and that I want to reduce the price to help him out, so I think that should be a-okay. Of course, these could be famous last words and I might write next week about the deal I lost because I wrote a blog post about it before it closed.

We’ll see. For now, I think I’m close to selling my first .AI domain and I’m really excited to see the super cool software that ends up on the domain. What do you think? Would you drop your price expectations for a little shout out on a cool open source project? Comment and let your voice be heard!

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reddit-logo-icon-797

It never ceases to amaze me when people call a domain name owner a squatter just because they own a domain name. Here’s the title of the post on reddit.com/r/Domains:

‘Telepathy.com’ is squatting on a domain I’d like. Any advice on how to try to deal with them, without getting ripped off or over-paying? (it’s the domain of a dead company I once worked for — I’d like it for fun, not profit) (Source – reddit.com/r/Domains)

It’s like getting mad at someone when you drive down the street, find the “perfect” house, and then realize – someone else owns the house, but they’re not living there, it’s investment property. Could you imagine calling the owner a squatter because they bought investment property? Yes, it’s 2017 and people have been buying digital real estate for more than 20 years now and they’re not all squatters. Last week Lola.com sold for $550,000 and yesterday NOM.com sold for $86,500 (Source DNJournal) and that’s just two of hundreds of domains that sold over the last week.

Given how many domain names sell in the five and six-figure range asking how to not get “ripped off” when a domain name is listed at $3,495 seems a little silly. Now “squatting” is a real thing, there are Cybersquatters and if you have a trademark and someone’s sitting on it, squatting on your name, there are legal processes to get it called a UDRP.

It’s always frustrating to see people call legitimate investors squatters. In April of this year, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis sold 20.com for $1.75M. Was he a squatter? Heck it only costs $10 to register a .COM domain name…should he have sold it to someone for $10 since he wasn’t using it? Crickets. Yeah, it’s a double standard. People can see well known entrepreneurs and investors sell domain names and consider them investors, but anyone else who owns a domain name as an investment…they’re a squatter?

To me this really shows just how early we still are in the world of domain names. As we evolve, I just hope people start to learn the real difference between a squatter and an investor, because the two really couldn’t be more different.

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e3-2017-logo

Tomorrow is the last day of the biggest event in the video game world – E3, a conference that has brought gamers, game studios, and game enthusiasts from around the world together to bask in all things games this week. If it sounds like a conference where you just get to geek out and play games for a week, well you’d be half right. Along with playing some of the latest-and-greatest games, some of which aren’t even going to hit the market this year, you also get to hear from the studios themselves about what they’re doing and where the gaming industry is going.

This afternoon Ubisoft took the stage joined by Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto (you know the guy who made Mario) to unveil a new Mario game along with a slew of other hits coming soon. While the expo doesn’t start until tomorrow, it’s pretty clear this is going to be an incredible year for E3 as the gaming world continues to grow like crazy. Heck, eSports could be in the Olympics in 2020.

Along with all the buzz around new games comes something that’s not a game, but is also already getting a lot of buzz leading up to the show – .GAME, the new go-to domain name extension for gamers. Major game studios like Blizzard, Nintendo and many more have already scooped up a number of .GAME domains related to their brand and games.

Blizzard Entertainment came out of the gate with a strong showing — the studio picked up .game domains for Warcraft, StarCraft, Hearthstone, Diablo and Heroes of the Storm during the early registration period, and got one for Overwatch when the game launched on May 24. If you thought you could beat companies to the punch for names like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo, you’re already out of luck. (Source – Polygon.com)

 

dot-game

As a relatively new domain name extension the neat thing about .GAME is that there are still a lot of words available, many of which have been gone in extensions like .COM, .NET and .ORG for a very long time. Unlike most domains, .GAME doesn’t sell for $10 or $20, it costs $318.88 (marked down from $510 at Uniregistry) which means that people aren’t going to buy these by the dozen and just sit on them. Instead, it looks like most of the people registering .GAME domain names are actual game studios and game makers. Sidenote –> this week you can save $75 on a .GAME domain using coupon code – E32017GAME.

What I like about .GAME is that as a consumer, it’s pretty easy to identify what kind of content you’re going to find at that domain name. If I hear about void.com I have no idea what to expect, here, check-out void.com and see if that’s what you expected. On the other hand, void.game – yup, not surprisingly, it’s a game. Seeing the big studios adopt the extension is pretty neat and given how many new game developers there are out there I think soon we’ll all be used to finding games on a .GAME domain name.

dot-game-e3-2017

If you’re at E3 this year, first – I’m jealous, second – make sure to check-out .GAME at booth #2550, the team will be there spreading the good word. Exciting times!

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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a .IN domain sale making news, but today I read an article on Elliot’s Blog about a recent auction that Sedo ran focused on .IN domain names. For those who don’t know, .IN is not a new domain extension, it’s been around a while it just doesn’t get much buzz any more. A lot of very premium one-word .IN domains sold in the Sedo auction, many of these would be six or seven figure names in .COM but are four figure names in the .IN market.

.IN domains

The top sale was Apartment.in which sold for $9,950. The next highest sale was Big.in which sold for $4,999. I actually do get the brandability of .IN in some cases and Apartments.in seems like a logical one to me. At the same time I’m concerned that almost no consumer knows about .IN so they’re likely to type in ApartmentsIn.com rather than thinking a domain name can end with an .IN.

Yes, for people in the domain name industry, you know .IN, you might not invest in it, but it’s fair to say you know about it. For the average person I think .IN is a mystery and if they see Apartment.in on a billboard they might not necessarily end up typing that into their browsers. Of course, maybe that’s just me but I don’t think .IN has had as much press as other extensions like .IO and .AI that are in the media just about every day.

What do you think? Was Apartment.in a good buy at $9,950 or is .IN a tough extension to brand around?

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One of the things I’ve always really appreciated about WordPress is the incredibly rich plugin ecosystem. You’ve heard the phrase, “there’s an app for that” well in the world of WordPress it’s pretty safe to say that for just about anything you’d want to do, “there’s a plugin for that.” From SEO to managing blog ads, security to customization, plugins make it possible to do so much without writing a line of code.

Oh and one of the best things about WordPress plugins is that the vast majority of them are free. I’m approaching the ten year anniversary of running my blog so I’ve had a lot of time to try different plugins. While there are some more premium plugins that do cost money I’ve mostly stuck to the free ones since they get the job done.

At the same time, there is one plugin that I actually pay $29.99/month for and it’s worth every penny. If there’s one plugin that you do spend money on as a blogger, this is the one that I do think is absolutely worth it. The plugin I’m talking about is VaultPress.

vaultpress

VaultPress is made by Automattic which is the company that makes WordPress and is the best plugin out there for backups and security. Along with doing comprehensive backups of your site (in realtime if you pay the $29.99/month which is pretty badass) they also have a really cool security feature. If your site gets hacked, or infected with a virus or malware, Vaultpress can actually automatically fix these issues.

This feature alone makes it worth it. A few years ago someone hacked my WordPress install and put malware on my blog. I hired a WordPress pro to come in and fix everything which cost me around $1,500. With Vaultpress, this could be fixed instantly and in many cases it would never happen because Vaultpress would detect a security hole before a hacker can exploit it.

security@2x

Vaultpress organizes everything into a handy dashboard so you can keep track of backups, security scans, traffic stats, etc. all from one place. I usually end up checking my Vaultpress Dashboard daily just to make sure everything is in good shape. Here’s what my home screen usually looks like (as long as everything is a-okay):

Okay, so with my glowing review here you might think that VaultPress is a sponsor or I’ve loaded a bunch of affiliate links into this post…but that’s not the case. I’m just a big fan of this plugin and like I said, it’s the only plugin I’ve found that I think is worth around $30/month because it buys peace of mind and that’s worth a whole lot more than that to me.

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startup-ecosystem

I’m from the Bay Area and watched areas like Mountain View and Cupertino become “Silicon Valley” and the headquarters for some of the most famous startups in the world. Over the last ten years alone the ecosystem has grown exponentially. While there’s still an ongoing debate about soaring housing prices, and yes, it’s a problem that is making it harder for people to live a normal life in the Bay Area, it’s no secret that it is global hub for Venture Capital. On top of that I think everyone would agree it’s the go-to example of a great startup ecosystem.

Startups in the Bay Area have phenomenal access to two insanely important things:

  1. Capital
  2. Talent

Now this isn’t to say that other cities don’t have either or both of these elements. Boston, New York, and Los Angeles and Seattle also have thriving startup scenes with amazing VC’s and amazingly talented people. I think it’s fair to say that these cities probably have a lot of the magic that it takes to be considered to have great startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley.

Of course the formula is a lot more complex than just having good access to capital and talent (duh). You need companies that have big exits that create employees that become founders and angel investors. Great Universities make a big difference, a few IPOs a year doesn’t hurt either. Forbes wrote an article earlier this year citing five steps to building a meaningful startup ecosystem in your city, #1 on their list was to start with a collaborative mentality which I think is so important, but it’s often overlooked as most people are fixated on KPIs like total dollars invested or number of unicorns per square mile (okay maybe not that second one).

The first thing to understand is that entrepreneurship is not “zero-sum.” Startups are exciting precisely because they have the opportunity to create new markets that did not exist before. When you adopt this mentality, a competitive startup, startup organization, or startup ecosystem does not have to lose in order for you to win…the most lucrative opportunity is to make the pie bigger for all. (Source – Forbes)

The challenge that many cities have outside of San Francisco, Boston, New York, LA and Seattle is that they often have a few of the ingredients that go into making the magic, but fall short on some that are so critical to making a good ecosystem a great one. One of the prime examples here is cities that might have a good group of VCs and angel investors and a very collaborative mentality but lack a solid history of previous startup exits and the founders that then give back and help build the ecosystem. In many cases, for better or worse, founders will end up leaving a second or third tier city and move to San Francisco, Boston, New York, or LA.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this in my opinion. I’m from the Bay Area, I miss it, it’s home. I also know that as our startup continues to grow, the Bay Area is likely going to continue to be a growing source if not the primary source of our capital. At the same time, I’m really enjoying being a part of the Austin startup ecosystem, there are some truly great people here and innovative companies, but I know we’re missing some of the key elements needed to make a truly great startup ecosystem.

I guess the question to ask yourself is – do you want to be a part of making an ecosystem great or do you join a great ecosystem? While the two aren’t mutually exclusive it’s bigger than just you and while you can always make an ecosystem better, you can’t control what happened before you got there. While there’s definitely no exact formula, there probably is a general formula that can be derived by looking at elements that the great startup ecosystem have in common.

What do you think? What makes a great startup ecosystem and is there one where you live, or are you still missing a few critical elements needed? I’ve said my piece now I want to hear from you. Comment and let your voice be heard!

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