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October 22, 2014

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Man on a Mission: He Made a Fortune When He Sold BuyDomains - Now Michael Mann Wants to Change the World With WashingtonVC 

Michael Mann is driven. He wants to make money - lots of money. Of course, that doesn't exactly make him unique. The thing that's different about Mann, who has already made tens of millions of dollars, is that his primary reason for chasing greenbacks is to give them away. He's been doing it for years through the well-known Grassroots.org foundation he started and he will step up his efforts with Make Change! Trust through its new website that just launched.

The energetic entrepreneur/philanthropist has been able to support those efforts because he is an extremely tough competitor in the business world. He co-founded BuyDomains.com and quickly built the aftermarket sales venue into an industry powerhouse. That did not sit well with everyone in the business. In fact in a DN Journal Cover Story that was published four years ago this month, our headline asked Superhero or Arch Villain? The Secret Identity of Super Mann

Mann was such a consistent winner in the fierce

Michael Mann
WashingtonVC Founder

competition for expired domains that many had mixed feelings about him. They admired the charitable work he did and certainly respected his business ability but they hated having to compete against him. It seemed that Mann never slept and it was almost impossible to beat him to the punch.

Those in the domain business who just wanted him to go away finally got their wish two years ago when Mann sold BuyDomains to the company that became NameMedia (and used BuyDomains as the foundation for what has become a global domain conglomerate involved in just about every aspect of the business). When he sold his company, Mann retained a financial stake in NameMedia (who was profiled in our June Cover Story) so he continues to benefit from what they have done with his "baby". 

Despite that, now that his non-compete agreement with NameMedia has expired, Mann has just re-entered the domain sales business with DomainMarket.com - one of several new ventures
he has a hand in through WashingtonVC  - the new company he founded to find and develop promising projects. In this article we'll detail where Mann is headed now and how the moves he makes could impact this industry and the world at large. 

When we last talked with him at length for that September 2003 Cover Story (that contains a Mann biography that is worth reading for those not familiar with the path he took to the top) he was still involved in building BuyDomains into the company that was sold less than two years later. When we hooked back up with him for this story we started by asking him why he decided to sell the highly profitable business. 

"At the time I just wanted some liquidity and a chance to work on other projects," Mann said. "One main project was a book I wrote, Make Millions and Make Change, which I think is

very helpful to businesspeople and charities alike and is available for free download to all or can be read directly online at KnowledgeIsPower.org. Also, I liked the idea of having a large team of professionals to bring BuyDomains to the next level, as they have. My team and I are still major shareholders in the new company, NameMedia, which has been outstanding in the marketplace."

After selling BuyDomains Mann wasn't in the news as much and some assumed he had retired from big city business life in Washington, D.C.  to his tranquil summer home in Dewey Beach, Delaware. However, anyone who knows Mann knows he is not a guy who is going to sit back and take it easy. 

"I didn’t take any break really because we had already started BrowserMedia.com and X3O.com and our charity, Grassroots.org, prior to selling BuyDomains. Since then we have been on a roll buying and creating symbiotic entities as part of our keirestu/incubator/catalyst project called WashingtonVC," Mann said.

"I started WashingtonVC because I want to make lots of money for our charity Make Change! Trust which funds many other very important charitable projects. The MC!T site just launched at MakeChangeTrust.org as will a new Grassroots.org site soon. Major new online services at Yield Software and Phone.com, among a slew of other announcements will be constantly emerging from the WashingtonVC family," Mann promised.

"We have a core strategy which has been working great. That involves managing an array of compatible technology companies that serve as a core for extensive ecommerce infrastructures and telecommunications services. WashingtonVC’s investments cover a breadth of 
interoperable technologies. These include a telecommunications company, a software download site, a web software development company, a search optimization software company, and a search optimization consultancy."

"Also included are a full service web development firm, an online television production company, a graphic design firm, an RFID asset management business, a biometrics company, a gaming and technical support enterprise, a holiday ecommerce site, a rock and roll video and download site and several other innovative assets," Mann said.

"We also own and promote the best possible brand names for each of our companies and control the rightful domains therein, like Phone.com, Software.com, SEO.com and HappyBirthday.com. WVC has a well-known 

WashingtonVC has all 
of the bases covered

specialty in naming companies and creating slogans, which is leveraged with each new company asset. With this infrastructure in place we can continue hiring the world’s best people and building out the world’s best digital assets," Mann noted.

"The main things we are currently missing from the fundamental strategy we formed some time ago is a next generation marketing and PR company as part of WVC and a deep financial base, but luckily I think we have those issues solved and you can expect announcements accordingly within the next month," he said.

Mann has so many irons in the fire you need a program to keep up. Asking entrepreneurs to pick their favorite projects is a little like asking parents which of their children are their favorites, but we put the question to Mann anyhow. "Well HappyBirthday.com is really cool and popular, and of course impossible to forget," Mann said. "You can get reminders for life on all your friends’ birthdays, and instantly send them
free flash-centric ecards, and overnight them some chocolates and flowers if you want. This site innovates in SEO and SEM strategy as well, since it has tested so many variations over such a long duration."

"We apply a lot of what we learn at HappyBrithday.com to other emerging ecommerce assets. With our core infrastructure now well in place most of our future assets will be ecommerce-centric, and almost all of those will use the world’s very best domains. More announcements coming, including the next generation of Software.com. Also keep an eye on Dial-a-Geek and Podcast.com which are two other cool, compatible assets in our family," Mann added.

Mann is also high on his new sales platform that will put him back in the aftermarket game he played so well at BuyDomains (a platform that will also have him competing with the company
he previously owned). "We are launching DomainMarket.com this week. DomainMarket.com intends to build the world's best and most liquid online market for the immediate sale of premium domain names. Only names that pass the stringent qualifications of world leading domain dealers will be placed on DomainMarket.com, the world’s best digital brand values," Mann declared.

"We will also act as market makers ensuring the prices for the best domains don't get too low. Currently DomainMarket has approximately $35-50 million worth of committed .com domains to start this market, with a considerable pipeline of potential future name additions."

"DomainMarket.com will be a relatively small market as far as the number of names, but is likely to ultimately become the most valuable and profitable of all domain markets given the quality and controls surrounding the inventory and our ability to appeal to domain buyers. You will not find valueless domains, overpriced domains, extremely offensive domains, or random ccTLDs" Mann promised.

"DomainMarket should not be confused with another emerging WashingtonVC asset, which will be a live auction of developed web sites, plus domains worth over $100,000," Mann said. "These markets may work together in some cases but DomainMarket is for domain only assets to be sold online, while the other project is for developed web sites to be sold in a live auction environment.

But what about the prospect of going head to head with BuyDomains and NameMedia (to a certain degree competing with himself since he still has a stake in those companies)? "I don’t

think DomainMarket or our auction will  compete much with BuyDomains for the time being since we are only intending to sell a comparatively small number of brands, with generally higher than average pricing," Mann said. "Also NameMedia has diversified into many promising market niches that we are not addressing."

"It seems to me BuyDomains has a very comfortable spot in the domain market irrespective of DomainMarket, and in any event a little competition keeps people on their toes to expand and improve the market for all stakeholders. I invite people to read the new version of my ebook which will help teach everyone how to thrive in competitive markets."

Mann's book is a very interesting read. Below is a 10-paragraph passage from Make Millions and Make Change that Mann says is a fundamental representation of his business mindset:

  Evolution is the result of a series of mutation tests. You must adapt 
your processes in a competitive market while creating mutations from 
the baseline of what currently exists in your market or business. 
Understand the status quo and force evolutionary mutating processes 
to expose the methods that will work best for your business, and 
against your competitors.

Take the double helix of a DNA strand, for instance. The two strands 
are dependent on each other in order for life to exist and DNA to 
replicate. The DNA's helix structure serves as a blueprint: one 
strand denotes faster evolving traits, like hair and eye color, while 
the other strand carries the stable genetic traits, like the 
formation of bones, lungs and so on.

Fundamentally, business works in a similar way. You should have your 
baselines, like CPAs, lawyers, data systems, and so forth to allow 
stability in your business and processes, but you should be making 
mutations in your sales, marketing, PR, merchandising, deal making, 
recruiting, R&D, and other methods in order to evolve and beat your 
competitors. On one hand, your basic structure and DNA is protected, 
while on the other hand you are in radical proactive mutation mode in 
order to figure out how to create additional wealth for your shareholders.

Likewise, life is a stable baseline that protects us and our art. 
While art helps mutate our minds and activities towards the next 
generation of life until we are ultimately stronger and more 
appealing to others, which means we can compete better. The stability 
of rational people ensures that the radical evolving, mutating nature 
of art does not lead us too far astray but only improves us, just as 
mutating evolution provides opportunity to improve an otherwise 
stable business.

For another example, we know that cash or salary makes employees feel comfortable and stable; however, since it's a sure thing, it doesn't make them terribly competitive. This is why stock options are often used to incentivize them to mutate into more effective, efficient, and ultimately more profitable workers. However, with no salary component, most employees feel insecure and unstable. The two are mutually dependant to enable an optimized competitive evolutionary environment for your business, much like the double helix DNA structure, life and art, and other mutually dependant evolutionary models.

Another example would be a chicken and its eggs. While the chicken is 
the baseline, the egg has the opportunity to mutate the genus to 
adapt stronger competitive characteristics, so the chicken's 
stability ensures that the egg does stray too far while trying to diversify.

Welcome to Hype Theory:
Based on the above we have crafted our own broad business philosophy 
that we have coined "Hype theory." Hype theory holds that two forces, 
hype and reality, follow the same patterns of natural selection 
discussed above, and are also mutually dependent on each other for 
optimal success; Hype and reality working in concert enable a 
powerful evolutionary force, as does a DNA strand.

For example, in the real world, you work hard every day on creative 
processes to make your clients happy. But at the same time, you can 
project the proposed greatness of your future company to the press, 
your prospective clients, and others-the hype. While this may be just 
hype for the near future, you are simultaneously protected with your 
base reality (of excellent plans, employees, intellectual property, 
staff, financing) and can therefore safely project your hyped up 
confidence in the market, which is likely to appeal to new customers 
and help uncover a variety of potential opportunities that you are 
qualified to leverage. Again, you are creating a self fulfilling 
prophecy while projecting your real world confidence.

Here is our attempt at an equation to explain Hype Theory: Life + Art 
= Nature + Nurture = Chicken + Egg = Cash + Stock = Reality + Hype

They all feed off the other and are intrinsic to the other to create 
success. They engage in codependent mutual self-preservation. One 
stabilizing force allows another force to radically explore options 
and adopt its best options without destroying the sanctity of the 
base business functionality. So to the extent that you hype and 
simultaneously believe in your own services, others will follow which 
will advance your business, just as the other parts of Hype Theory 
work together to guarantee successful evolution.

 

Mann's theory has obviously paid off for him. Of course, like others in this business he has also benefited from being in an industry that has enjoyed unbroken upward momentum for several years now. When they cycle turns back down (as cycles always do) we will see a more difficult climate to succeed in. We asked Mann how he advises preparing for days that aren't as sunny as those we have now. 

"One thing I have noticed is that there are many wealthy, smart domain owners who now need to diversify their holdings. But I have found that many of them lack expertise outside of their somewhat narrow market spaces and therefore are not prepared to properly diversify or make proactive, timely decisions on non-domain investments," Mann said. "Also, unfortunately, wealthy people naturally think they already know everything so converting them to new ways of operating is difficult. So they are frequently stuck in their old ways." 

"WashingtonVC has recently been working with owners of many of the world’s best unused domains to either build them into real companies like other WVC assets, or otherwise enhance and then sell them on our market(s). Failure to diversify would be a mistake in any investment environment," Mann concluded.

Mann (at the June 2007 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York party) knows all parties eventually end so he advises domain owners to diversify into other assets as well.

As hard as Mann works, he does occasionally stop and smell the roses - especially during the several months a year that he spends working from Dewey Beach rather than the Nation's Capital. "I am a committed beach person," Mann admitted. "I like watching the waves and feeling the ocean air when I am working, and when I’m not. I like French fries, pizza, sunrises over the ocean, and sunsets over the bay with Calypso playing nightly (no, this is not an eHarmony profile!). Then some great (and bad) bands are in town nightly - the best this summer was Cracker at Dogfish Head Brewery - they rock the house so you should see them when you have a chance!," Mann exclaimed.

Dewey Beach, Delaware

"Also tentacles of my extended families, stepfamilies, etc. are often nearby. All of us are beach-centric. When I was born my grandfather had a house a few blocks away. When I wasn’t near here I lived for some years in Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz when I was young; nice beaches."

"Also, lots of Internet, domain and finance people either vacation nearby or come in for a visit. My stepbrother/business partner Eric Cantor from NY is often partying in the neighborhood and many top Washington, Baltimore and Philly business people are nearby. So ask yourself, why are you not in Dewey Beach?! 

Good question. Another good question (at least when you want to see Mann's eyes light up) is to ask him how things are going with Grassroots.org. "As many people here know Grassroots.org is the coolest, and most important, project around," Mann said. "Currently 1,000 other charities

enjoy free technology, marketing and business services within our network. We expect to add another 9,000 members as we add a wide variety of new free services this fall within the “Grassroots Toolbox”. 

"The object is to provide each of these 10,000 charities with $10,000 per year of real service value, at no charge. Therefore Grassroots.org intends to have a $100 million per year positive impact on our targeted needy charitable communities."

"We also work with the Dingman Center at the University of Maryland which provides free MBA services to our members. We want to expand this with other universities around the country, leveraging the University of Maryland's leadership and best practices. Plus we help build and operate social action web sites for free like Shelters.org and ByteBack.org, among many others which are linked at Grassroots.org."

Grassroots.org Executive Director Angela Siefer at the organization's Domain Roundtable show booth (August 2007 in Seattle)

Having enjoyed such great business success and done so much good through his philanthropic work, I wondered, with so many positive things to reflect on, what gave Mann the most personal satisfaction. "Outside of my family, I am pretty focused on getting paid real dollars so I can use it to promote my charity work. To get paid and have a good time I like to work directly with the brilliant, innovative, hard working people who are making our plans into realities in the field every day," Mann concluded. 

With this article, Mann becomes the first person who has been the subject of a DN Journal Cover Story twice. Still, with so many innovative companies and charitable projects up and running and more on the way, we know his story is far from complete. The next chapter is sure to be one worth waiting for. In the meantime, you can keep up with what's happening in Mann's world at his personal website MichaelMann.com.

*****


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