What Should Your Startup Do If The .COM Is Taken?

Startup Team

It happens all the time, and I personally hear about it at least once a week. A team of people gets together, starts a company, comes up with a catchy name and then starts building. A year or two later they have a product, customers are flying through the door but there’s one problem, they don’t own the .COM of their company name and they want it.

If this sounds like a situation that you are in right now, then read on, if not, heck read on anyways.

Over 90% of the startups I work with want the .COM that exactly matches their company name. Around 25% of those companies can afford it and realistically speaking I think only about 10%-15% actually need it. Yes I said it, and I’ll go on record saying it loud and clear, you absolutely do not need a .COM to build, launch, and grow a successful startup. That being said having the .COM definitely helps.

Look at companies like About.meAngel.co, Vine.co, etc. and it’s easy to see that you can still be incredibly successful company without the .COM. I know most Domainers won’t love it when I say this but it needs to be said. Anyone who tells you that your business will not be a success without the .COM is really just thinking of themselves and a deal they want to make.

Like I said above, the .COM can definitely help but it really isn’t going to make or break your startup – you are. So before I dive-into what you should do if the .COM you have your eyes set on are taken I want to first cover the pro’s and con’s of going with a .COM vs. another TLD like .ME, .CO, etc.

Pro’s Of A .COM

  1. Easy to remember – most people will remember your name and go to the .COM first if they don’t know your URL
  2. Allows you to go by your company name – if your company is called Bongo and you own Bongo.com you can tell everyone your company is called “Bongo.” On the other hand if you own another TLD you need to make it clear when you tell people your company name that you are Bongo.whatever
  3. There’s a .COM button on smartphones – smartphones only have on TLD on them and that’s .COM

Con’s Of A .COM

  1. Price – the one and only con of .COMs can be the price. This can be a huge con though that should not be overlooked. If your company just raised $300,000, spending $150,000 on a domain name doesn’t make sense if you can get the exact same keyword in a TLD like .ME or .CO for $15,000

What I hope you can see from the above comparison is that when you’re looking at why you should or shouldn’t buy the .COM, the decision will most-likely come down to if you can afford it or not. Also, there are of course cases where you can afford the .COM but you don’t need it since your business is rocking and rolling fine without it.

I think it would be hard to tell the people over at Vine that they should get Vine.com rather than Vine.co, they have broken more records than most apps ever will and are still growing like crazy, the .CO hasn’t held them back at all. Do people sometimes go to Vine.com thinking they are going to the website for the Vine app? I’m sure they do, but I don’t think that hurts their business at all.

Now back to the title of the post – what should your startup do if the .COM is taken?

Many startups don’t know where to start when it comes to making an offer on a domain name and negotiating a deal. In many cases you’ve probably already contacted the owner of the domain and either been ignored or given a quote that is way out of your price range.

This is the point where most startups throw up their hands and give up. They say things like, “We tried to get the .COM but it didn’t work out.” The problem here is they really didn’t try to get the .COM, they just sent one email, heard back (or didn’t) and concluded that it wouldn’t happen.

Just like you probably wouldn’t negotiate your own Series A paperwork you probably shouldn’t negotiate your own domain deal unless it’s something you have done in the past. As a startup founder you have to be great at being a founder but you really don’t have to be a domain name expert. That being said, just like you’d hire a lawyer to negotiate and review your Series A paperwork, you should hire a domain broker to negotiate your domain name acquisitions.

Think about it. There are probably already many places within your company where you hire experts; lawyers, marketing agencies, catering companies, security companies, the list goes on. Companies have no problem hiring lawyers that charge $500/hour or more to provide their legal expertise, why not pay someone to provide their domain name expertise?

Here’s the catch. There are a lot of domain brokers out there and only a small fraction of them have experience working with startups. Of those experienced with startups only a very small fraction work under a reverse commission structure where they make more money as the price of the domain goes down.

Now I really don’t want this post to seem like a massive ad for the acquisition services I provide for startups. That being said, I have done millions of dollars in deals for startups and always work under a reverse commission structure so 100% of the time my goal is to get the best price possible for my clients.

As a startup every dollar counts, I know because my full time job is running a startup, Fashion Metric in Los Angeles. Still I absolutely love helping other startups get domain names and I cringe when I hear about a startup being ripped-off by a broker that didn’t fight to get their client a good deal. A good broker shouldn’t convince you to get the .COM but should take your budget into account and look at all the options. If your budget is $5,000 you probably aren’t going to get that one-word .COM you’ve been dreaming of, but a one-word .CO or .ME might be perfect for you.

Like most things in life, doing your research really helps and just like you want to pick a good lawyer, you will also want to pick a good domain broker. Like I said above I really don’t want this post to seem like a massive ad since my goal here is really to provide an answer to the question that so many startups have, what do I do if the .COM is taken?

In most cases the .COM will be taken, it’s .COM so it’s been around for a little while. However, just because it’s taken doesn’t mean you can’t buy it, nor does it mean you can’t potentially lease it either. The key is working with a broker that has experience with startups and puts your needs first. If you hear a broker tell you that you need a .COM to be successful, head for the hills, a good broker should give you all the options.

After six years in the domain industry I’ve put together a short list of the brokers I think are the best for startups. There are so many awesome brokers out there but I wanted to limit this list to less than ten options so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices. Just know that if a broker isn’t on my list, that of course doesn’t mean they aren’t a great broker, just use what you’ve learned in this article to test them and make sure they have your best interests in mind.

Startup Domain Brokers

  • Linton Investments – this is my company and we do not offer general brokerage services, instead we are laser-focused on helping startups acquire domain names.
  • Igloo – formerly Domain Advisors I can tell you this team has some of the best brokers in the business and some of the nicest people on the planet. I trust them with some of my own domains and we work together on deals as well from time to time.
  • Media Options – Andrew Rosner, the CEO of Media Options is one of the most savvy domain brokers on the planet. He has worked with many startups and is one of the best negotiators I’ve ever known.
  • Toby Clements – I’ve known Toby for years, he’s a great guy and he has a lot of experience doing domain deals. Toby is a no nonsense kind of guy and will always give you his honest opinion and his gut feel for a deal.
  • Buy Domains – with a team of incredibly bright and talented brokers Buy Domains has probably seen more deals than many of us will see in a lifetime.
  • Go Daddy – Go Daddy has always been a favorite of mine thanks to their fantastic customer service. Since they have access to more domains than you could shake a stick at you can imagine they are pretty good at getting deals done.
  • Domain Holdings – I like to think of Domain Holdings a bit like the Google of the domain industry. Everyone I know who works there truly enjoys what they do and they have hands down some of the best brokers in the business.
  • Moniker – a great team with an long-standing history of brokering domain deals, it’s all about the people and Moniker has great people.
  • Sedo – as a large domain marketplace and brokerage house Sedo has some very solid brokers that have a proven track record of closing deals.

So remember, just because the .COM is taken doesn’t mean you can’t buy it, however in most cases it will take an expert to make it happen. Last but not least, if you want to negotiate a deal yourself, go for it. By no means should anyone read this article and think that they can’t go it alone, you certainly can, but, just like a good lawyer can really help with legal issues, a good domain broker can really help with domain issues.

Enough said?

Photo Credit: hackNY via Compfight cc

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Mark October 30, 2013, 10:27 am

    What Should Your Startup Do If The .COM Is Taken? The best (and the only) choice is to buy .COM if is for sale…

    Reply
  • Rich October 30, 2013, 10:40 am

    Good article Morgan!
    I hear left and right,you loose traffic if you go with something else other then .com.
    If the name is typed in the browser,maybe.The consumer it’s not familiar this days with something other then .com but if you go on Google and you search a company that has a .co or .me they don’t loose the traffic because you click on their link.

    Speaking of bongo.co the price it’s not $15,000 it’s only $10,000 and if someone makes me an offer of $5,000 today,due to the love i have for your blog Morgan i will let it go.Ha!Ha!

    Reply
  • Morgan October 30, 2013, 10:41 am

    @Mark – that only applies if the price is within your budget. A startup that just raised $500,000 cannot spend $450,000 on a domain no matter how much they want the .COM.

    Reply
  • Brad Mugford October 30, 2013, 11:04 am

    A better question is probably – How do I name my startup?

    A lot of these startups put themselves in a tough spot to start with by launching a brand without the .COM. It would be far easier to come up with a reasonable name to start with where the .COM is actually available for a reasonable price.

    Brad

    Reply
  • domenclature.com October 30, 2013, 11:05 am

    Citing vine.co as an example of a successful non-.com needed more treatment to eliminate the fact it is an App utility, perhaps a more restrained, and qualified statement would have applied your hypothesis on that field alone. you will need to prove that what is good enough for Apstartups, is good enough in general, and you didn’t cone close to doing that.
    However, I still give you credit for making some definitive calls on the record.
    What you are promulgating in this piece is status quo. Companies that can’t afford thedot com, do not buy the dot com. Those that do, do. You must not miss the forest for the trees. Pointing st one or two abberations of success, and ignoring thousands of failures is dangerous thinking in business, where hopes and aspirations lie. It is now beyond debate, you need the dot com for a business site in the US.. It is no longer academic.

    Reply
  • Nick October 30, 2013, 11:23 am

    If someone owns the .COM for lets say 8 years and recently a startup created a product and trademarked with that name – and they want that domain name you have – who loses? Does the domain holder automatically have to give up their domain name?

    Reply
  • John Poole October 30, 2013, 11:31 am

    Thanks for the post Morgan, here’s my take–
    1) No one should start a business in the US without FIRST obtaining the “brandname.com” of their choice — startup cost: $10+
    2) If you are in the US, and you made the grave error of starting a business without first obtaining the “businessname.com” and now the dot com is not available or affordable, AND you do not contemplate exiting the business in the near future (selling your technology and/or “talent” to a “mothership dot com” like Yahoo, Google, etc.), then stop, and rebrand–(first obtaining the rebrandname.com). Yes there may be a few successful examples of other extensions, but starting a business is hard enough (most fail). A brand name with any extension other than dot com will ALWAYS bleed traffic to the dot com in the US.
    3) But if you are trying to do everything the “hard way,” and don’t mind sending customers to your competitor(s), then by all means, settle for some other “cheap” extension–or better yet, wait for one of the new 1000+ gTLDs–just don’t be surprised when no one can “find you.”

    Reply
  • todd October 30, 2013, 11:32 am

    There are tons of great dotcoms for under 5 grand that everyone can afford. The problem is the tech geeks that start these companies have zero creativity when it comes to naming so they go the easiest route possible and that is a one word domain. Doesn’t take to much effort to pick one word and that is the only reason some startups are using .co, .me, .io etc…. You guys need to put in some creative effort and come up with a more meaningful name than Vine, Spark, Jump or whatever else pops in your head. Domainers with good affordable names are more than willing to work with any startups looking for names. Morgan maybe you should put your money where your mouth is and change that long domain name, Domainsforstartups.com to a .co or .me. I would love to see that happen.

    On another note why didn’t someone tell the pothead to get off the couch. He is taking up way to much space in that crowded room. lol

    Reply
  • Brad Mugford October 30, 2013, 11:32 am

    @ Nick

    The situation you described is basically the definition of reverse domain hijacking.

    The domain registrant has superior rights, outside extraordinary circumstances.
    UDRP requires registration AND use in bad faith.

    However, the situation does happen quite often. Companies try to use legal intimidation to acquire generic assets.

    Brad

    Reply
  • Jeff Schneider October 30, 2013, 11:34 am

    Hello Morgan,

    To use these non .COM startups as examples of why it is not necessary, to build your startup on a crucially important .COM foundation is misleading information.

    These examples are anomallies and do not tell the real story of how high the overall failure rate of non.coms really are. You are pointing to the rare survivors here.

    These rare survivors chances of growing at a much faster rate with the .COM foundation as a starting point far outweigh the disadvantages they put themselves initially by choosing an inferior .Whatsthis?

    Gratefully, Jeff Schneider (Contact Group) (Metal Tiger)

    Reply
  • Nick October 30, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Thank you for the info @Brad.

    Reply
  • Joe Styler October 30, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Morgan,

    Don’t forget to mention GoDaddy as an option to get names for people. We consistently deal with individuals and companies at all levels, including countless start ups, through options such as the Domain Buy Service and helped literally thousands and thousands of people get the very name they want at the lowest price we can negotiate for them. We have free 24/7 support and plenty of other services to help a small business thrive.

    Reply
  • Morgan October 30, 2013, 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the reminder @Joe – you guys do so many awesome things I sometimes forget about this! I’ll update and add you to the list, as you know Go Daddy has been a favorite of mine for many years now and it’s where I keep a healthy portion of my domain portfolio!

    Reply
  • RaTHeaD October 30, 2013, 4:12 pm

    why in the name of god… in this day and age… would a start-up name a product a year before it was developed without any consideration of the domain name? are you being purposely obtuse?

    Reply
  • Nick October 30, 2013, 5:13 pm

    @RaTHeaD: Shhhh! Its folks like that who help me put food on my plate! 🙂

    Reply
  • Francois October 31, 2013, 4:48 am

    If you are a startup with limited budget but big plans the rent to own a catchy domain at http://www.catchy.com that’s another good solution!

    Reply
  • All Access October 31, 2013, 5:59 am

    For $10, you should get a dot com that’s related. For example, our startup is All Access LLC and we knew we’d never get AllAccess.com, and that was before Google announced Google Play Music All Access (phew!) but we got AllAccessMenus.com, since our business is mostly around menus. Later, we were able to get AllAccess.US and AccessME.ME and AccessUS.US which is great because we are trying to get our clients (restaurants and other businesses) to say ‘Access Us’ as they would say ‘Like Us’ or ‘Follow Us’ for Facebook and Twitter, so in this case, the non-dot-com domain extension is actually a *positive* whereas .co can sometimes be a negative. If you embrace the extension, it can work and seem like it had to be a non-dot-com in the first place.

    Reply
  • Eric October 31, 2013, 6:30 am

    I had a small startup company email me asking to buy my domain name cloudcomputing.co. I gave them my price but their “budget” was around $1,000 for a domain name. How could a successful startup look to spend so little on a quality name? Anyway, they’ve decided to wait until the new TLDs come out. I wish them luck. Lol

    Reply
  • Warren Royal October 31, 2013, 6:39 am

    Brad is right- it is incomprehensible to me that in this day and age, a smart startup (especially an INTERNET company) would choose their core brand identity without first obtaining the matching dotcom domain. It’s a no-win proposition- it causes brand confusion from the very start- something which can be fatal to a fragile startup seeking brand identity and momentum. They will have to overcome this by spending far more un marketing and PR . And if they do become successful ultimately, their success will cause the domain to be even more expensive and harder to obtain when they do finally realize they need it. Startups 101: secure the exact match dotcom domain name BEFORE you lock down your brand. And if it’s not obtainable, be more creative and select another brand that is.

    Reply
  • Johnny Ramoud October 31, 2013, 6:52 am

    Indeed, priority must go to develop products and services, because that what it is all about. Next, marketing – that is advertising by as many affordable traditional and moderner media as possible without putting the rest too much at risk. Businesses have existed without Internet for thousands of years. Yes, and if You want to be on the net, any domain is good. Any TLD is good. But a catchy or descriptive SLD is often better, especially if the TLD is a .com. People have learned that if it is a .com, it sure must be better. That is not always so, but, well, You know …

    Reply
  • Alan Vargas October 31, 2013, 9:37 am

    There are plenty of affordable dot-com domain names available for start-ups. They are likely not going to be dictionary words, but solid brandable names that an entrepreneur can build a business around. We’ve worked with thousands of start ups. We’ve found that starting with a domain other than dot-com will send some of part of an audience to the dot-com competitor.

    Reply
  • Nick October 31, 2013, 9:58 am

    @Eric: Hang in there. I’ve had people try to low-ball me with $500 or even $1000 offers for domains worth much more. Eventually sold those for 5-figures and probably to the same people because a lot of times, they come calling with throwaway email addresses which are new and have no history that can be found. Dont take your eyes off the ball.

    Reply
  • Eric October 31, 2013, 10:37 am

    @Nick Thanks! I’m definately going to hang in there with this one! I know Amazon owns cloud.co so my cloudcomputing.co has good potential for the Right end user.

    Reply
  • Irfan November 1, 2013, 4:23 am

    Very good article, now with new-gTLDs, Startups will have more options to choose a name. also, they can find other better marketing options to offset the loss caused by the type-in-traffic that goes to dot com owners.

    Reply
  • Adam Strong November 3, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Hi Morgan, there’s a lot of other people out there assisting startups and companies rebranding : Alan Hack, Bill Sweetman (nameninja.com), DomainGuardians.com and even DomainAgents.com to name a few off the top of my head. I’ve worked as a broker and naming “scout” for a number of venture backed companies to help them come up with a new or better name for their ventures.

    I agree with Brad and Warren about the startup getting off on the wrong foot with a bad name choice. You can easily work with a creative domain professional the same way you can work with the creatives designing your website. Find one that can dig in to the specifics of your product or service and help you to get to the point where you have a number of creative naming choices. Like Warren said “be more creative” and if you can’t, hire it . Finding a good domain/name for a company takes creativity, not a keyword search tool.

    Reply
    • Morgan November 4, 2013, 7:08 am

      @Adam – very true and unfortunately I knew I’d be leaving some people off of the list since it’s impossible to create a fully exhaustive list. At the end of the day it is really important for startups to work with someone who knows the startup space and understand branding, all the people you mentioned definitely do!

      Reply

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