probably isn’t a person in the domain resale business who hasn’t
run into (or been run over by) Michael Mann’s industry superpower
- BuyDomains.com. For competitors it can be a daily (and
debilitating) experience. A domain name they’ve been eyeing for
months is finally released, they’ve covered every base with the
drop catching services, yet their efforts prove futile as the domain
lands in the hands of their arch-rival. The situation has a lot of
people scouring the black market for kryptonite.
Some of those who keep drawing
the short straw think the 36-year-old
whiz kid must be bending the rules to dominate the expired domain market the way he has. Others reject
the idea that Michael is the Man of Steal, but believe he has a secret formula.
If they could just get their
hands on it, they're convinced they could be as big as BuyDomains (BD) too. There’s also
a sizeable faction that thinks pure luck is all it takes to reach the top. After all, Superman was super only because he had the good
fortune to catch a ride off Krypton at just the right time.
However, this is where fantasy
and reality part company. Nearly 100% of the time, it turns out that
successful people became successful through hard work rather than
happenstance. The fact that this also applies to Mann will no doubt
disappoint many who want to believe there are shortcuts on the path
to success or that a different playing field will prevent doers from
continuing to outperform dreamers. Of course, the great achievers
also start out with dreams, the difference is their efforts don’t
end with them.
Mann apparently was born to be an
entrepreneur. While growing up in Washington, D.C., he started
taking risks at a very early age. At 15 he decided he wanted to see
what life was like on the other side of America. A lot of kids
daydream about things like that, but Mann acted on it and within
days he could be found hitchhiking through Santa Barbara,
California. He must have also been a born CEO, unaccustomed to
answering to a higher authority, as he neglected to tell his parents
that he was leaving!
Mann managed to see some of the
world before being returned home safe and sound…but he didn’t
forget Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
After high school, he headed west again (this time with permission)
to enroll at Santa Barbara City College. The school is often called
Surfer Tech. Mann didn’t surf, but he learned a few things about
technology and a lot about free enterprise while he was in
He returned to the nation's
1988 and either launched, bought, sold or managed a dizzying array of
diverse businesses. There was a pretzel company called Totally
Twisted (any questions about whether or not this guy would end up
with a knack for domain names?), several messenger companies
including Marathon Delivery and Quick Messenger (still one of the
biggest in D.C.) and an internet service provider called Internet
Interstate. It was the latter firm, founded in 1994, that launched
Mann into the stratosphere.
He and two talented partners who
are still with him at BuyDomains, Eric Cantor and Chip Yamasaki,
bought up some of the smaller ISPs in Washington then focused their
attention on serving the commercial market with web development
services and T1 lines. The business blossomed and in 1998 industry
giant Verio plunked down a multi-million dollar
check to buy the trio out. That gave them the capital they needed to
go after even bigger game.
It also gave Mann the means to
quietly expand the charity work he has been involved with since high
school. You can almost hear his detractors groan in unison,
“Oh no! He’s playing the charity card!”
They would be much more comfortable thinking of him as a
workaholic real life version of Scrooge McDuck, but the record shows
otherwise (well at least on the Scrooge McDuck part). Mann applies
the same relentless full court press to helping those in need that
he does to building businesses.
He was chairman
of ByteBack.org for three years, a charity that Mann says should be
mimicked in every city in the world. “They have 9 computer
training centers in inner-city D.C. that give free PC skills
training to help people get a job or advance in the job they have.
This includes homeless people, AIDs patients, drug addicts and the
overall urban poor, among others”, Mann said.
done everything from volunteering at a local homeless service center
to teaching environmental education to underprivileged youth.
Mann came by
this interest in social activism naturally. His mother, Susie, worked
for the Environmental Protection Agency and his father, Larry, is a
prominent labor lawyer who has argued several cases in front of the
United States Supreme Court.
Mann’s pride and joy today is Grassroots.org,
an organization he founded last year that he is convinced will
“one day become a
major force in improving world social conditions”. Grassroots is a
provider of free Internet and business services, including domain
names, hosting, email and consulting to qualified charities. You
can find out more about the Grassroots movement in this article
by Shaun Conrath..
If you are
running out of reasons to keep sticking pins in your Michael Mann
voodoo doll there is still hope. No one likes a guy who works around
the clock! I mean...come on...isn’t that cheating?
By now it should be obvious that Mann could never have
accomplished so much in such a short period of time if he weren’t
cramming two workdays into every 24 hour period. We were surprised
to have emails we sent him well after midnight answered seconds later.
One of Mann’s
biggest competitors for premier domain names, Thunayan K. AL-Ghanim
(widely known as Elequa and the subject of a previous Domain Name
Journal Cover Story) is infamous for working as many as 22 hours a
day. AL-Ghanim paid Mann the ultimate compliment saying, “Michael
Mann is the only person I know who works harder than I
do!". AL-Ghanim also dismisses any hint of impropriety in BD’s business
culture. “They are tough competitors but Michael runs an extremely clean business. This talk
about BD receiving unfair advantages from domain sellers and
auction services just isn't true. They are paying for everything they
seeds for BuyDomains.com were planted soon after Mann & partners
sold their ISP to Verio. Mann says “I thought up the concept for,
hired a programmer to write and patented a program called NameFind
to help our customers land premium
domain names.” The technology
attracted many well-capitalized clients giving the new business and
immediate jump start . Mann claims
that “NameFind has been knocked off by almost every sizable
registrar in the world. All of them who aren’t under license are
about to be sued.”
1999, BuyDomains.com was online selling their premium domains and
allowing the general public to list
domains at BD free of charge. This quickly multiplied
the inventory available on the site and, by requiring sellers
to change nameservers and send their potential buyers to BD, it greatly enhanced the
site's visibility. Mann then aimed his slingshot directly at
resale giants GreatDomains.com (a Verisign company) and
Afternic.com. Playing the role of David, BD slew not one, but
Goliaths and emerged barely 3 years after starting up as the
undisputed King of the reseller jungle. The question on everyone’s mind is how
exactly did they do that?
says “I’m really not that much of a computer geek but I am
pretty good at hiring the best programmers and network engineers to
test our ideas. We also invested more money to build the best
systems and hire the best marketers we could find”. BD kept
spending to line up registrars who would catch domains
exclusively for them through their high speed connections to the
central registry. That is why they often beat SnapNames
subscribers and high
bidders at the auction houses for the best names (they also take
their own Snapbacks and place auction bids to further multiply their
chances of success).
result of that heavy investment was like pouring gasoline on a
raging inferno. BD’s growth over the last 3 years has been
spectacular. In 2000 they owned about 6,000 domains. Today they have
well over a quarter of a million and Mann characterized 175,000 of
those as “premium domains”. There are now 10 full-time employees along with a support
group of contractors, accountants and legal experts who are always
on call. Part of Mann's crew also works on
another of his ventures, BrowserMedia.com, a developer of high end
websites that has done work for many major clients.
BD is standing on top of the mountain but Mann sees some potential
clouds on the horizon. One is the rapidly escalating price of domain
names, fostered in part by the emergence of auctions as the dominant business model
for domain catching services. Final bids on expiring names at places like Pool.com and
often reach levels that would seem to appeal only to end users. BD is often the buyer in those auctions.
say it's "absurd" or "insane" for resellers to
pay these prices and surprisingly Mann does
not disagree. “We actually think there is no longer any profit to
be found buying new domains. We are hoping our aggressive tact will
encourage more people to drop out of the market, allowing us and our
customers a margin again from new acquisitions.” Before you
dismiss this as sheer lunacy, keep in mind that Microsoft took the
entire browser market away from Netscape by giving their product
addition Mann does not want to cede BD’s position as the
storehouse for top caliber domains. Competitors like AL-Ghanim, Yun
Ye of Ultimate Search and many wealthy private investors are
also bent on staking out the same high ground. What you have is a
game of chicken with several cars racing toward the same
intersection and no one willing to take his foot off the gas. The
degree of carnage that may result remains to be seen.
says even at today’s prices, “Selling the best of the best
domains as BuyDomains.com does is working fine. The weakness is in
clients and speculators trying to get fresh inventory at a low
price. This is essentially impossible at this stage of the game”.
course, the biggest storm cloud of all has Wait List Service (WLS)
written all over it. If
Michael is Superman, WLS sponsor Verisign is Lex Luthor. They have
been at each others throats for years and WLS is taking the
hostilities to a new level. BD lays out their anti-WLS case both on
their own site
and in a recent letter
Mann posted at Circle ID . WLS would insure that the first person in line for an
expiring domain will get it but in return Verisign would quadruple
the amount they receive for dropped domains that
have WLS subscribers waiting for them. Mann
doesn’t think Verisign deserves the windfall and a return to the
monopoly position they held at the dawn of the
is an extraordinarily well documented history of the Network
Solutions/Verisign monopoly abusing their customers, and even their
partners”, Mann said. ”In fact, as just one example, they had
offered to license our patented NameFind product back in 1999 only
to disappear and reappear with their own exact knockoff called MyNameFinder.
They finally came into compliance by licensing our software from a
third party vendor.”
went on to say, “They have deleted innumerable domains in paid
status from just about every major domain owner in the world. They
have tried to flex their monopoly power and political power at every
turn, despite the clear unfairness of almost all their proposals,
especially WLS. They hoarded millions of domains for years so
competing registrars couldn’t register them for their own clients.
One has to wonder what they reported to, and how they worked with,
Wall Street over the years. Could they be poster children for
Crime.org (one of Mann's Grassroots sites)? Shall I go on?” Mann asks. Only if we buy another 200GB
of space on our server!
Mann, who has been a staunch anti-WLS leader, admits that
implementation of WLS would actually benefit his company by lowering
BD’s domain acquisition costs. Mann explains “that doesn’t
mean the whole thing is not a scheme by the rich, powerful,
politically connected, Verisign Wall Streeters – because it is”. In his eyes it
is simply wrong whether it benefits BD or not.
The idea that WLS
could make BD even stronger is not one current competitors will
relish, but there may be no need to break into a cold sweat just
could institute WLS as early as October 11th but Mann doesn’t think
that will happen. “I
think there is only a 25% chance of it going forward in its current
form. Probably a 65% chance we will see some form of it in the next 18 months.”
lawsuits have been filed in an effort to derail WLS and Congress is looking at the issue as
it happens, Mann says WLS is likely to be more profitable than the
current drop process for his customers, but don’t expect BD to be
any less of a power than they are now. “The same players will play
for the most part. They will just have to feed the greedy,
monopolistic middle man and bureaucrats more than they get in
the current process. So the end users will ultimately pay more. It flows
downstream. We are going to be on top of the game whatever the
suggest that BD and a handful of other super powers will buy up all
of the good WLS slots within minutes of their availability. They
will certainly make the effort, but Mann expects some tough competition,
with some of it coming from his own well-heeled customers who will try
to stake claims of their own.
WLS is implemented it will affect only .com and .net. domains. SnapNames.com
and other drop services can still go after .org and new extensions
like .biz, .info and .us. Fans of the new extensions will be happy to
know they won’t have to face such stiff competition from BD on
those domains. Mann says his company's interest will be “Very little.
Those extensions aren’t profitable for our clients so far.”
WLS or not, it
will be full steam ahead for Mann who continues to bubble over with
new business ideas. One major initiative will allow the company to
monetize the vast pay per click revenue locked up in their domains.
“We are going to be launching 50 vertical portals (vortals) over the next year to
take additional advantage of the massive traffic to our sites,”
Mann says. When asked if those portals could eventually be opened
to the general public Mann said it's possible but “first we need to get the
content and dynamic nature of the sites together. Then we will work
on monetizing strategies." BD recently did a soft launch of PPC search engine SearchHere.com.
Mann has also been looking offline and plans to launch some land based
businesses as well.
critics target BD because they have been unable to compete
with them, others view the company as the model of what they would
like to be. Mann has some advice for those who want to be like Mike.
"Focus on constant incremental
improvements in your activities and be willing to test and fail at a
variety of small projects. Emphasize very clear communications and
documentation of your work and plan on very long hours with a strong commitment
to clear objectives. Hire the best workers and make most of
their pay incentive based." Mann adds "It might not sound
like fun, but from a business
standpoint its better than the alternatives."
is also one group he believes may be beyond help. “The new domain
registrars that are just now starting up to chase this market should probably think of
a new line of work."
Mann is a role model for many in the domain business, he has heroes
of his own. “I love Joe Gibbs and Paul Newman. I am also fond of
George Bush’s commitment to helping AIDS and addiction, as well as
Bill Clinton’s social justice activities. A few of their other
traits I could pass on.”
look at BuyDomains.com as the industry’s 800-pound gorilla, Mann
doesn’t think the company is there yet. “If we are, then how
come Yahoo hasn’t bought us? "
Can’t argue with that logic. Now I see that BD just beat me out
on another domain name. Time to say goodbye so I can go check the
current spot market price on kryptonite.
If you would like to comment on Ron Jackson’s article, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on Michael Mann, the link below will
take you to a recent text and audio interview with the BuyDomains'
president conducted by the WebTalkGuys internet radio site:
If you missed our previous Cover Story Click
Feeds the World With Domain Data: The Dwayne Rowland & Exody
other previous cover stories are available in our Archive
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