what could be more frightening than recounting how Register.com
laid out 48 million dollars in cash and stock to buy Afternic.com in
September of 2000 then, just 24 months later, shuttered the doors
after watching in shock as their investment dissolved into dust.
At the time Register CEO Richard
Forman said, “After two years and a lot of hard work, we've
determined the (domain re-selling) segment does not have sufficient
opportunity to continue devoting resources toward it.”
The company’s straightforward statement must have masked a
pain that few people (with the obvious exception of John
Wayne Bobbitt) could possibly understand.
So Afternic was dead and buried…or so
everyone thought. Last fall a businessman from Ft. Lauderdale,
Florida, a computer whiz named Roger Collins, salvaged the
last remnant of the original business when he bought the
Afternic.com name from Register. Contract terms prevent him from
revealing the purchase price but it is safe to say that it was pocket change compared to
what Register originally spent.
Though the price was right you might think that
after all of the trouble resurrecting the dead caused Dr.
Frankenstein no one would touch this corpse. I mean you could
excuse Collins if he never read Mary Shelley’s novel, but
surely he had seen at least one of the movie versions!
Didn’t he know that with a reputation for bad customer service and
assorted other ills, this creature had the commercial equivalent of
the Frankenstein monster’s bad brain?
Yes, Collins knew all of that. But he also saw
something in the tarnished Afternic name that was of such value to
him that it overshadowed everything else. That was traffic - the
Internet’s universally recognized currency.
Collins thought that
trying to attract the kind of traffic that came with the well-known
Afternic name would be a lot tougher than rebuilding the brand’s
image. Collins needed that traffic for a domain resale business he
had started last summer called NameBuySell.com.
“Afternic was and is the #1 site in its
market based on traffic. We looked at the poor reputation in a much
more optimistic way. We
thought, “If the site is that popular with a poor reputation, how
popular would it be with an excellent reputation?,” Collins went
on to say, “I have no regrets.
It was the deal of a lifetime for a business our size”
The traffic Collins expected did in fact arrive
with the name change from NameBuySell.com to Afternic.com. But what
possessed him to think he could succeed in making money from a venue
reselling domains when a corporate giant like Register could not?
To understand that you need to know more about Collins, a guy
who has never been one to think small.
Collins grew up in Central Florida, one of five
children, including the oldest, brother Michael, who is now his
partner at Afternic. While his mother watched over the brood as a
busy homemaker, his dad worked as a public accountant. Roger found
that he had a knack for crunching numbers too. While still in junior
high school he started learning to program a Commodore 64. One of
the first things he wrote was a checkbook management program that
stored data on a cassette tape.
Looking back on that today and seeing how Intuit
(makers of the wildly popular Quicken personal financial
management software) took that ball and ran with it, Roger ponders
other areas he dabbled in that wound up producing wealth and fame
“Soon after that I started selling Internet
access to my friends, using a server in my spare bedroom”, Collins
recalled. “That was before AOL. I learned it was one thing
to see an opportunity and a very different thing to make money from
Determined to master both of those
skills, Collins finished high school and headed for the University
of Florida to begin a formal computer education. He got his B.S.
in Computer Engineering then dove into the workplace to gain some
real world experience.
His first job took him to Columbia, South
Carolina where he developed System V Unix on NCR Tower platforms. He
went on to do software development work for IBM in Kingston,
New York and Bristol Technology in Connecticut among others.
13 years ago he moved back home to Florida with plans to go out on
“I spent time in big companies and time in
startups. I have an
addiction for entrepreneurship, but I saw firsthand that being
successful at it is a lot more difficult than it looks”, Collins
said. He decided he needed to arm himself with even more knowledge so, while continuing to work, he completed a Masters Degree in
Computer Engineering and earned an MBA.
Now he felt he was ready for the job at hand.
The idea for Collins’ first major company, ProProject.com,
was hatched in 1990. At the time he was developing software for Motorola
as a contractor. He
noticed that every week, every contractor would fill out a
timesheet, sign it, then have a meeting with the manager to get it
approved, then make a copy and then FAX that to the payroll office. “I
couldn’t stand to watch this slow process, much less participate
in it, without doing something about it”, Collins said.
He began developing web applications for
businesses that would dramatically improve their operational
efficiency. “Our product, ProProject ASP, is a system that
lets consulting organizations track time, expenses, and billing on
the Internet. It is a huge timesaver,” Collins said.
But exactly how did he expand his base from ProProject to
include ownership of Afternic’s 48-million dollar brand name?
Simple really. It was an accident.
Collins had never been anywhere near the domain
industry until just over a year ago.
“My brother Michael and I got into domain names as an
investment for the first time with the .US land rush in April
2002”, Collins recalled. “We acquired more domains than we
intended to because we underestimated the success rate of our
purchased about 400 and Michael purchased over 1,000!”
Collins thought that owning some premium domains would be
pretty much a one-time event for both him and his brother but life
has a way of taking you on some strange twists and turns along the
With 1400 new domain names between them,
Michael decided he had better look into how these things could be
sold. He tried to convince Roger that he should create another web
application for buying and selling domain names.
They had already
started a second internet business with ChangeNotes.com (a handy
free service that alerts you when content on your favorite sites has
changed), so Roger didn’t see how they could begin a third venture
while still trying to get the first two up to speed. Being the
oldest brother has its advantages however and Michael won out.
NameBuySell.com went online in June 2002 and quickly became the most
popular of their three sites.
Last fall one of their members sent them an
email about Register’s plans to close Afternic. Roger thought he
might be able to get Register to refer their former members to him
at NameBuySell.com, but when he called the conversations went off in
a completely different direction. After months of negotiations and
three trips to New York a deal was finally struck and Collins took
possession of the Afternic.com name on December 27th.
Just days later, 2003 arrived and the new Afternic.com was online replacing
Because of the publicity surrounding the
enormous price Register paid for Afternic, Collins understands the
morbid curiosity in just how little the company wound up taking for
their once prized possession. “We love seeing the words Afternic
and $48 million in the same sentence, but things were very different
then. I think that
might have been the last deal of the Internet Bubble,” Collins
Collins added that his purchase price really
wouldn’t be that hard to figure out. “Afternic’s financial
performance is to some degree a matter of public record for anyone
willing to do the math. One
tradition we have kept from the old Afternic is making all the sales
public. You can use that information to ballpark our monthly
revenue. Then you can
guess what businesses were willing to offer for that revenue. No one
was willing to offer $48 million, that’s for sure!”
Collins has nothing but kind words for
Register.com (though they no doubt would have preferred an extra
$40-45 million instead). “We
met some nice people during that negotiation. Afternic was too small
a business for a company their size. I believe it was a true win-win
deal. It was the right
thing for them to sell, and it was the right thing for us to buy”,
But back to the original key question we posed.
What possessed him to think he can succeed where Register did not?
Well for starters, Collins plans to change not only Afternic,
but also the entire way domains are sold in the aftermarket.
Today’s major domain registrars play a key role in his new vision.
“We plan to restructure Afternic from an
independent exchange into an exchange-broker network, with the
current domain registrars being the brokers,” he said. Collins is
busy setting up deals with individual registrars who, for a
commission, will offer the aftermarket names listed on Afternic
alongside their new domain name registration services. That could
make them a one-stop shop for customers who will be able to look
through both new and used domain names at their site.
Signing up key registrars (ironically like Register.com) could make
or break the new Afternic.
Collins explains that buyers have found it very
easy to find a registrar when they want to register a new domain
name. However for names that have already been registered and are
for sale, consumers don't know where to look. By putting Afternic's
listings where most of the market is already looking for domain
names - at the registrar sites, he thinks the current market can be
“We are targeting the top 25 registrars. One
registrar is going live any day now and we are in positive
discussions with many more. We’ll be attending the ICANN meeting
this month and making more specific announcements then”, Collins
said. (Editor's Note: Since publication of this story,
Afternic has announced DomainPeople.com
as the first two registrars to partner with them).
To make it happen, Collins has brought Denney
Cole on board as Vice President for Business Development. Cole, who
is a seasoned business developer in the registrar industry (and a
former Director of Business Development at Snapnames.com) , will be
in charge of recruiting registrars to open up this new channel for
Michael Collins, a former professional
photographer with business management experience, serves as the
company’s VP for Marketing. He is currently based in Orlando,
while Roger remains in South Florida. They talk on the phone every
day but agree that they will have to work in a common location
if the business continues to grow as planned.
Right now Collins says everything is on track. “Membership is growing steadily, about
10-20 new members join every day.
The inventory is also growing daily. We have about 260,000
actively listed domains, up from 20,000 when we acquired Afternic.
However, all of this is just the “before” picture as far
as we are concerned because our primary focus is restructuring the
domain aftermarket to make it much bigger than it is today”.
If the workload gets too heavy for Roger,
Michael and Denney, Roger has an ace in the hole he can play in his wife
Kristine. Like Roger,
she is an experienced software developer (they met when both
were working for IBM in New York). Kristine is taking the summer off to care for their three children, ages 2, 4 and 7, but plans
to return part-time in the fall.
With a team like that and a pattern of steady
growth behind him, Collins
doesn’t see any need to whistle past the graveyard as far as
Afternic is concerned. There are still several chapters to be
written, but this is one ghost story that may just have a happy
If you would like to comment on Ron Jackson’s article, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
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