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South Florida Sojourn Earns Kudos for T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2007 

By Ron Jackson 

The T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2007 conference held at the spectacular Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida October 9-13 was the ninth outing for show founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu but they are still batting 1.000 when it comes to delivering informative, entertaining, energizing and enriching events. I believe that each of the 500 people who made the trip to South Florida from their homes around the globe would agree that those carefully chosen adjectives fit this show like a glove. 

As always, this edition of T.R.A.F.F.I.C. got underway with an electrifying evening cocktail party that, speaking personally, single handedly made this the most energizing T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference 

T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founders Rick Schwartz (left) 
and Howard Neu at a party during T.R.A.F.F.I.C. 
East 2007
in Hollywood, Florida

I've ever attended. Allow me to explain why I say that. The past few months have been the busiest time of my life. In addition to the daily work of producing DN Journal I have been criss-crossing the country covering conferences, researching cover stories, visiting my mother in the Midwest and moving my daughter back into her college dorm in the Northeast. In the midst of all of that traveling my wife and I also bought a new home and had to try to move on the few days I was in town (with us both being packrats this was an ordeal you can't even imagine!). 
When it came time to leave again for T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East I was perilously close to complete burn out. I went to the show thinking it was coming at the worst possible time but by the end of that first evening I realized that the timing could not have been better. Being in the middle of a 

Animated cocktail party conversations got
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East
off to a rousing start

crowd composed of what I believe to be the smartest entrepreneurs in the world produced a miracle cure. Though I was exhausted when I arrived in Hollywood earlier in the day, the conversations I had that evening recharged my batteries so completely that I was only able to sleep a couple of hours that night. 

I woke up at 2am thinking about the things I had heard, the fascinating new people I had met and how fortunate I was to be there to experience it. I never got back to sleep that night but it didn't matter - I couldn't wait to get going the next morning and as I write this, a week after the conference ended, the charge 

I got from being there still has me feeling like I could run circles around the Energizer bunny. While this is a personal anecdote I know I am not the Lone Ranger as I have heard from other attendees with similar stories to tell. If you were there you know what I mean. If you haven't been to a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show yet I'm not sure words can explain it (though in this article I'll certainly give it my best shot!).

Wednesday morning (Oct. 10) it was time to get down to business (which I did right after calling my daughter and wishing her a happy 21st birthday - where did the years go!). Following a breakfast buffet sponsored by Klickerz.com, Schwartz and Neu welcomed the crowd and introduced Moniker CEO Monte Cahn who detailed how to take part in the live domain auction that would be staged Friday. 

Internet Commerce Association Executive Director Michael Collins and the organization's Legal Counsel and Washington D.C. lobbyist Phil Corwin then took turns at the podium to talk about the one-year old trade group's efforts to bring domain owners together to protect their rights and assets from attacks that are steadily intensifying. Covetous parties that missed the domain boat are looking for any opening they can find (including getting laws and UDRP procedures changed) in an attempt to grab valuable domains without paying owners what their assets are worth. 

Corwin summed the ICA's mission up by saying "The ICA is about preserving long term value of domains for you and not for people who want to steal domains from you." Though virtually 
every other industry has a strong trade group Corwin said "There has not been a tradition of working together in this industry to collectively defend your interests." An unfortunate result of that apathy was Verisign's ability to ramrod a huge rate increase for .com domain names through ICANN despite almost unanimous opposition from the Internet community. Referring to that, Corwin wryly commented "I'm sure you all got your thank you note from Verisign for that $1 billion transfer of wealth."

It does appear that the ICA's message is starting to sink in. 

ICA Legal Counsel Phil Corwin (left) and Executive 
Director Michael Collins at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East

The organization received several new commitments of financial support at the conference (including $25,000 from T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s lead sponsor TrafficZ.com) that will help it continue to represent the industry's interests before Congress, ICANN and in the court of public opinion. 

The ICA is striving to get everyone in the industry involved. To keep ideas fresh and develop the broadest possible base, expansion of the Board of Directors is planned and new board members will replace some of those who founded the group at this same conference a year ago (the six original founders donated $50,000 each to get the organization off the ground). In addition every member of the non-profit organization is eligible to serve as an officer, including President. There are many membership levels (starting at $295) that make it possible for everyone to get involved. As I have stated in the past I think a strong trade group is a must if this industry is to maintain the prosperity it has earned through the capital put at risk by domain investors who had the vision to recognize how valuable these assets would one day become. 

Next on the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. agenda was a wide-ranging nine-man panel discussion about The Domain Industry: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Those on the dais included 

Matt Bentley 
Sedo's Chief Strategy Officer

(alphabetically by last name) Matt Bentley (CSO, Sedo.com), Jonathan Boswell (CEO, LeaseThis.com), Adam Dicker (Owner of DNForum.com), Ammar Kubba (COO, TrafficZ.com), Leland Hardy (Owner of NewYork.com), Ron Jackson (Editor/Publisher, DNJournal.com), Peter Lamson (Senior VP, NameMedia) and Dan Warner (COO, Fabulolus.com). 

As you would expect with that line-up, there were so many interesting views expressed that it would require a separate article to do them justice. Many different topics were touched on but one common theme among the participants was a belief that the rapid growth the domain industry is enjoying today will continue for several years to come. The accelerating migration of advertising dollars away from traditional media outlets to the web appears to be an unstoppable wave that should lift owners of quality domain names to levels that few could have imagined when the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference was held just three years ago this month.

After a lunch break (hosted by Casale Media) the afternoon session got underway with a panel discussion that explored the topic of whether of not domain owners are too dependent on pay per click (PPC) parking pages for monetizing their assets. This panel featured brothers Michael Castello and David Castello of Castello Cities Internet Network, Inc. (Michael and David were featured in our December 2006 Cover Story), Michael Gilmour (WhizzbangsBlog.com), Dr. Christopher Hartnett (Founder of USA Global Link), Ari Bayme (Managing Director of Modern Capital), Stuart Wood (Wifi.com) and Jonathan Boswell (Lease This.com).

The Castello brothers operate very profitable geo domain sites including PalmSprings.com and Nashville.com and are currently building out Cost.com as a major shopping portal in partnership with TrafficZ's Ammar Kubba and Kevin Vo (the latter two gentlemen are featured in our current Cover Story). With PalmSprings.com generating over $1 million a year from its home page alone, the Castellos are the poster boys for the rewards that can be reaped from good development work (and a talented sales force). With most domain owners holding large 
portfolios they understand the necessity to park names but they encourage owners to move forward with development of their top assets, partnering with others if necessary, to unlock their full potential.

Michael Gilmour has always been a fan of the PPC approach, in part because it is much less labor intensive than development and thus offers an excellent means of monetization for those who hold hundreds or thousands of domain names. However, the Australian domain investor also wants to see some big changes made in the way PPC companies currently operate. He is particularly irked by the current lack of transparency with PPC companies and has been on a crusade to get companies to open their books to trusted independent auditors so domain owners will know they are getting a fair shake when PPC revenues are divided between the companies and their clients. Gilmour has written extensively about 

Michael Gilmour

this issue and other PPC matters in his well-researched WhizzbangsBlog that I would encourage you to visit. You will find some of the most insightful information on the parking business available anywhere on the web.

In the final seminar Wednesday, The Castello brothers returned to team up with Freddy Schiwek (EVP, EuroDNS.com), Liesbeth Mack-DeBoer (VP, Sedo.com), Jothan Frakes (DomainSponsor.com) and Adam Dicker (DNForum.com) for a session on Local Search and the role .com and ccTLDs play in that booming space. Frakes has long been a champion of ccTLDs and at this session he noted "people who are looking for an opportunity to get into domains like that of .com in the 1990s should realize that is not likely to be repeated. However, there are rich opportunities in ccTLDs. Many are relaxing their Nexus requirements, making them easier to acquire, sales are growing and we're going to see a big expansion of locally oriented domains." Frakes also said IDNs (International Domain Names) will play a growing role as search goes local - noting the current widespread adoption of Japanese IDNs as just one example. 

(Left to right): David Castello, Michael Castello and Jothan Frakes

Adam Dicker concurred with Frakes on both the ccTLD and IDN fronts noting that he has purchased thousands of domains in each category. In fact on the same day this panel session was held, Dicker said he registered the last 4,200 three-letter .ca (Canadian country code) domains still available while listening to another seminar. Dicker, who is from Canada, said a lot of good generic domains are dropping in ccTLDs like .ca and represent a great acquisition opportunity. He also advised looking for .com domains that begin with a local name and end with a keyword that represents a popular product or service - for example TorontoFlorists.

(Left to right): Freddy Schiwek, Liesbeth Mack-DeBoer and Adam Dicker

As a Sedo executive Ms. Mack-DeBoer has a birds eye of the ccTLD market as her company dominates aftermarket sales in the country code category. She said that Great Britain's .co.uk in particular is a rising star and is now used by nearly 64% of the population in the UK. She noted that the other leading ccTLD extensions in terms of sales at Sedo are .de (Germany), .at (Austria), .ch (Switzerland), .be (Belgium), .us (United States) and .es (Spain)

Schiwek of EuroDNS.com said he thinks European country code domains are undervalued and represent a great investment opportunity. He noted that the European editions of popular search engines give heavy weighting to the local extension - for example someone searching in France will usually see sites that use that nation's .fr country code listed first.

Next on the Wednesday schedule was a speed networking session designed to hook attendees up with the largest number of people possible in the shortest period of time. These sessions, which have been staged in a variety of formats to keep things fresh, have always been
one of the most popular show features. At T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East last year, when you had just two minutes to spend with each person before moving on to the next, I made a new business contact in one of those 120-second time frames that has generated more revenue in the past 12 months than what it has cost me to attend all of the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences I have been to since they began in 2004 (including airfares and hotel bills). That relationship is ongoing and will likely continue to pay dividends for years to come. People often ask if it is worth the expense to go to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. I have yet to hear anyone who has actually been to a conference say no.  

Speed Networking
(photo from Barbara Neu)

 

After speed networking it was time to change gears from business to social (though at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. more business is done at the social events than in the business sessions). The evening got underway with another jam-packed cocktail party - with this one having a huge star attraction - billionaire Forbes Magazine publisher and former U.S. Presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Forbes, who was on hand to deliver the keynote address later that evening, had arrived at the hotel just minutes before the cocktail party started. He was under no obligation to attend that function but he immediately headed for the party where he quickly became the center of attention. 

Forbes obviously enjoyed mingling and meeting new people as he posed for countless photographs with show attendees, gladly joined them in conversation and displayed an exceptionally engaging sense of humor. One thought that struck me after spending some time

(Left to right): Howard Neu, Steve Forbes, Richard Meyer 
and Rick Schwartz at Wednesday cocktail hour

with Forbes and hearing him speak was how sad it is that Americans choose their presidents based on how they come across in 30-second TV commercials in campaign years. When Forbes ran in 2000, there was no way a 30-second spot could convey his innate intelligence, the thought that went into his policy proposals (most notably overhauling the inscrutable U.S. income tax system with a flat tax) and his true personality. All of that is lost in a system where being photogenic and adept at delivering short soundbites determines who runs the country (OK, I'm putting away the soapbox now!).

After the cocktail party attendees enjoyed a sumptuous dinner then listened to Forbes' keynote speech. Forbes put the world-changing nature of domains and the Internet into perspective by citing historical examples of how other disruptive technologies had turned the business world on its ear, improved life for everyday citizens and built fortunes for the visionary entrepreneurs that saw such changes coming and acted to take advantage of those paradigm shifts. 

Unlike most of his traditional media counterparts, Forbes recognized how powerful the web would become years ago and invested tremendous resources in Forbes.com while refusing (unlike the Wall Street Journal) to charge people for access to the site. He said he also recognized that 
print and the Internet were different mediums so the content on Forbes.com is almost completely different from what is in the printed magazine. Both entities are highly profitable and have helped his company escape the attrition that has hit other traditional media companies.

Forbes expressed admiration for domain investor/entrepreneurs and that in itself was probably more important than any other single thing he said in his speech. Those who missed the Internet/domain boat and remain bitter about their lack of foresight now stop at nothing to cast the entire industry in the most negative light possible. It is their hope that people will believe their misrepresentations (and outright lies) so that laws and dispute resolution policies can be changed in a way that will allow them to grab the assets they previously did not want - but now cherish - without having to pay for them. It has to be a blow to that camp to see one of the most 

Steve Forbes
delivering keynote address

mainstream of successful mainstream businessmen - and a respected political figure - stand up and give entrepreneurs in our space the credit and respect they deserve. Politicians are extremely careful about the company they are seen in. Forbes' mere presence at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. spoke volumes and should pay public relations dividends for months and years to come.
After the keynote dinner, attendees were off to the official T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party, a cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway hosted by TrafficZ. A large yacht - the Caprice - was commissioned for the event and was conveniently docked right across the street from the Westin Diplomat.

The Caprice took showgoers on TrafficZ's Midnight Cruise

By the time the ship shoved off at 10:30pm it was a full boat decked out with good food, great company, an open bar and a craftsman who hand rolled cigars for those who cared to indulge.

The party went on into the wee hours of the morning, delivering a fitting conclusion to the first full day at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East (and also assuring plenty of available seats at breakfast the next morning as those who partied a bit too hard gave their snooze buttons a good workout Thursday!)

Some guys have all the luck! Sevan Derderian of TrafficZ (the tall guy at the back with the understandably big grin) fills fellow cruisemates in on the benefits of parking with his company
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Neu)

 

Coming Up Next on Page 2

  • Meet the Bloggers!

  • Why is Kevin Vo Sitting in that Lamborghini?

  • Celebrity Edition of the Game That is Sweeping the Nation: Taken or Available?

  • The Parties Continue

NEXT PAGE


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