You’re A Startup With An $1,000 Budget – How Do You Pick A Domain?

It’s an incredibly common question and one that many startups face in the early days of the business. Limited budget but the need for a solid brand to build on. Sure owning a stellar $400,000 one-word .COM would make a difference but if you just raised $500K you’re not going to spend $400K of it on a domain.

Most startups begin in the wonderful world of bootstrapping which means every dollar counts. So how do you pick a domain name if your budget is right around $1,000. Below are tips I give startups with this same question just about every week:

  1. Check-out Namejet, Go Daddy Auctions, Afternic, and – there are great domains expiring every day that might resell for tens of thousands of dollars some day but can be picked up for a lot less, as long as there aren’t a zillion other bidders. Also domain marketplaces like Afternic and have some great deals and it’s easy to pick up the phone and talk to someone who can help you find something within your budget. Just remember, you don’t have to make something up and search for a name nobody else has registered, there are plenty of options available, you’ll just have to do some digging.
  2. Go with a .CO, .ME, .TV, .IO, etc. – the list of startups who have raised millions of dollars on non .COMs is growing every week. You don’t need a .COM to build a successful startup, yes in some ways it can help but it’s no longer the requirement. Once you get out of the .COM space you can sometimes snag the exact word you want for a much more reasonable price. A lot of startups are afraid that if someone already owns the domain name then they can’t buy it. Sure you can. Just do a WHOIS lookup with a service like DomainTools and shoot the owner an email, you never know where someone’s head will be at when it comes to pricing.
  3. Use a domain hack – while I think there are some pretty clear drawbacks to domain hacks they still serve their purpose and can be a good option if there is a specific word or phrase you absolutely want to brand around. Don’t have the budget for What about Yes, you will lose some amount of traffic to people accidentally going to but that might be a tradeoff you are willing to make.

Of course there are plenty of other options but the three above represent what I think is the easiest path to get a name you can run with in a lower price range. The most important thing you can do is to be realistic. You aren’t going to get that killer .COM or premium .CO or .ME name, you’ll most likely end-up with your third or fourth choice but you’ll still have lots of choices.

As I’ve said many times before, app-makers typically aren’t as concerned with their domain name so you might be able to stick with a name in this range forever. Other startups will begin with a cheaper name and upgrade once they have taken their business to the next level.

No matter what you do, don’t let anyone convince you that you need to spend 50%+ of your funding on a domain, this makes no sense. I typically think spending around 10% of your funding on a domain is reasonable if you are a consumer-facing brand and your website (and people remembering it easily) is critical for your business.

Last but not least. Always remember that the price of a domain has a lot more to do with who owns it than anything else. If you find someone owns a one-word .CO and wants $50,000 for it, that doesn’t mean that a name that you might even consider better couldn’t sell for $500, it really all does depend on the domain owner. That being said, don’t be ridiculous and go around offering one-word .COM owners $1,000 for their six-figure name.

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • December 14, 2013, 2:29 am


    I seem to disagree with you every tenth post or so.

    This time, I disagree with you vehemently. Take a look at your post, you effectively cut-off domainers from the food chain.

    I must say, Domainers and Bloggers ain’t what they used to be.

    Nobody who is a self-respecting domain name investor will buy a goddamn domain from these drop-catchers, and aftermarkets if they had a ny sense! I know I wouldn’t do it for a nickel. They sell pigeon shit domains for xxxxxx? How? Why? Then, they cut out domainers from the food chain.

    Real Domainers have exited this business, we are left with idol worshipers.

  • todd December 14, 2013, 9:03 am

    “I typically think spending around 10% of your funding on a domain is reasonable”

    I think if you have limited funds spending 10% of your budget makes sense because the domain becomes even more crucial with less funding. So if you only have a total of 10 grand to fund your startup spending $1,000 makes sense but if you have been funded with $500,000 I don’t think you need to go out and spend $50,000 on a domain just because it’s 10% of your budget. There are thousands of great domains between 2 and 10 grand that are stellar and it only requires 1% of your budget.

    • Morgan December 14, 2013, 9:15 am

      @Todd – excellent point and completely agreed. The 10% number I was using as more of an average, definitely not a must.

      @Domenclature – that’s what this blog is all about and it’s always okay to disagree with me! Definitely don’t think I’m leaving Domainers out of the picture, like I said I encourage startups to contact domain owners directly, everyone prices their names differently.

      Definitely don’t agree that real Domainers have exited the business, come to NamesCon or TRAFFIC and you’ll find plenty of full-time Domainers there 🙂

  • Ms Domainer December 14, 2013, 9:47 am


    I disagree for another reason: .com is still King and to build a business on an alternate TLD is a fool’s mission.

    Invariably, the new start-up will experience traffic bleed from the .com, and the young company either will have to rebrand or buy the .com for a large amount of cash.

    This may not always be true, but it is for now.

    Best option: if a company is bent on building on .io (which seems to be the flavor of the day), then build on it — with the .com version redirecting to it.


  • Louise December 14, 2013, 10:47 am

    #4. Made-up words.

    Those are made-up words from

  • Louise December 14, 2013, 10:50 am

    That last one was: <== There are strict rules what the owner and founder of BrandBucket will accept – so far, none of mine! These seem like ones one would more easily find the twitter/gmail handle avaialable.

    What about pharmaceutical companies? Those names are ridiculous, the ones they find to name their medicines and treatments. Probably, the dot com is available in those.

  • Jeff Schneider December 14, 2013, 11:48 am

    The Most Important consideration for any online business is to build their business on a lasting and permanent foundation. The gTLD gamble is analagous to building your businees foundation on a flood plane where it could be washed away.

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

  • Leonard Britt December 14, 2013, 11:52 am

    It is not unusual for small companies to spend more money on the wastebasket in the conference or break room than their domain name.

  • Cate Colgan December 14, 2013, 12:15 pm

    Love that you always speak the truth about this especially for startups 🙂

    “has a lot more to do with who owns it then anything else” 🙂 amen Morgan!

    • Morgan December 15, 2013, 9:31 am

      Thanks @Cate – much appreciated!

  • Tauseef December 15, 2013, 12:22 am

    Good Tips,. I think these are the basic tips that a new start-up should consider in its domain buying decisions. But, I think, zeroing on one domain name is not enough. A start-up should get at least 3 domains on a low budget and then decide which one to keep. This will help them to answer any questions pertinent to ‘after domain buying’ scenario.

  • HowieCrosby December 15, 2013, 4:11 pm

    How about

  • Viljami Ylönen December 16, 2013, 6:39 am

    You can definitely find an absolutely great, affordable name from aftermarket venues if you’re just willing to do some digging. I think that startups should at least take a look at those places: more names you see, more ideas you come up with. And if everything else fails you’re more than welcome to take a look at our portfolio @

  • Joe December 18, 2013, 10:29 am

    With a budget $ 1000. how to choose a domain

    First search for the keyword in Google Adwords (old to my best) to have a good result users USA, or another country

    After only spend $ 10 on a domain name. Com, the cost per year for two $ 20 (If no business well in the first year always start to be able to make a good sale and recover the budget or a little more. never known.

    Nor would it be different if you have more budget to buy domain names at high prices such as $ 1,000 I do not care when eempezar that all have to be ourselves and not others who give a name, co, me by this number dollars.

    If you wear has to create a start-up for a business of any category or industry can apply online or off support for other subjects such as accounting, tax, laws.

    However, if the startup is for investment domains who create this must already have much knowledge of the market and industry, well whenever another country and your favorite market is the USA and also because all TLD domain names to be purchased as domainers be focused your keywords to this large market and industry, then think better advice from someone who have the right qualities to be your Agent Domains among other obligations that parties agree to make the business a success.

  • Louise December 26, 2013, 8:39 am

    #4 Made up names

    Morgan, You’re great, and write an original, interesting blog. Please acknowledge me, that you should add, #4, to your list.

    For instance, Robitussin is branding on a made-up name:

    and running a campaign around it. It is a made-up name. It doesn’t fit into your list, not even, “hack.”


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