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April 01, 2008

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Born to Run: How Oversee.net Co-Founder and CEO Lawrence Ng Built a Company with $200 Million in Annual Revenue Before His 30th Birthday

The wave of consolidation that has swept through the domain industry over the past couple of years has left a handful of giants at the head of the pack. Oversee.net is certainly one of those, having assembled some of the best-known brands in this space, including DomainSponsor.com, SnapNames.com and Moniker.com.  

Oversee also owns approximately 600,000 domains of their own and through DomainSponsor they monetize over 2 million more for other domain owners. They also operate leading websites in the mortgage and travel fields with Low.com and LowFares.com. The company’s annual revenues topped $200 million in 2007 (up from $125 million the year before). 

Building that kind of empire would take a lifetime for most businessmen, so it is hard to get your head around the fact that Oversee’s energetic Co-Founder and CEO Lawrence Ng is just 29 years old. Ng and a pal from his college days, Fred Hsu, started Oversee from scratch in 2000, just after the original .com bubble had burst and everyone else thought the game was over. Ng and Hsu refused to believe that.

 

 

Lawrence Ng
Oversee.net
Co-Founder & CEO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oversee's Corinne Forti with company 
Co-Founders Lawrence Ng and Fred Hsu 
accepting a Los Angeles Business Journal Award

Fast forward to 2007 and there was Lawrence Ng accepting Ernst & Young’s prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Technology category for Greater Los Angeles. Also last year, the Technology Council of Southern California honored Oversee with its Internet and New Media Company of the Year Award and the Los Angeles Business Journal said that Oversee was the year’s third fastest growing private company in Los Angeles in any category.

I love entrepreneurial success stories and it was becoming obvious that a great one was unfolding at Oversee. Better yet all of these good things were happening for the kind of man that people want to see succeed. I’ve watched Ng interact with hundreds of attendees at his DOMAINfest Global conferences in Hollywood, California over the past couple of years and he is always polite and unfailingly humble. Ng greets everyone as if they were guests in his own home. From the first time I met him his manner struck me as being that of someone with wisdom and maturity far beyond their years.  

My guess was that Ng had been an “early bloomer” so when I began delving into his story it didn’t surprise me to learn that indeed had been the case – especially where business is concerned. Ng was born in Hong Kong but his family moved to the United States when he was 3 years old. After his parents divorced his mother was left to raise Lawrence and his older brother in New York on her own.

“One memory that stuck out in my childhood was that I was not given any allowance or other financial assistance,” Ng recalled. ”So at an early age, I learned I had to spend wisely and earn my own way. I always looked for ways to earn money and make a better living.” 

That drive to succeed served Ng well as he looked at every job as an opportunity to learn. “From paper routes and food delivery to buying and selling cars and various jobs in larger corporations, I gained a lot of experience and business acumen early on,” Ng said. “I think my thirst for knowledge has been the driving force behind me since I was young.” 

After finishing high school, Ng headed to New York City’s Pace University where his work ethic went into overdrive. “I held four jobs during that time that helped me learn about the inner workings of the business world, including considerable knowledge from a number of high-profile corporations. It gave me a taste for the tremendous opportunities that were available and gave me the foundation of the solid business practices that are now the linchpin of Oversee. I interned at Merrill Lynch, which provided me with exposure to financial consulting while a job at Smith Barney helped me better understand the role of marketing. Both jobs gave me excellent insights into all aspects of an organization and how it operates.” 

In 1998 Ng decided to move to Los Angeles and continue his undergraduate work at the University of Southern California while interning with the local Smith Barney office. While still in school he also took a job with a new Internet advertising company called Startpath. Fred Hsu, who was a computer science student across town at UCLA also went to work at Startpath. He and Ng met there and began a relationship that would change their lives forever. 

At Startpath they learned a lot about the technology and tactics used to drive traffic to websites.  However when the .com bubble burst in 2000 Startpath was one of the many tech companies that collapsed in the wreckage. Still Ng was excited about what he had learned - so much so that despite the dreary climate for web-based startups at that time he decided to start his own business. “Fred and I both realized the importance of quality Internet traffic and decided to use our collective expertise in online advertising, Internet traffic patterns and search engine optimization to create Oversee. This was at a time when many had given up on the Internet,” Ng said.  

“I think one of the most interesting things we did with creating Oversee is in the timing. There were no venture capitalists that were willing to help companies that were Internet-based. I envisioned how the Internet could really change the advertising market. This would be possible by taking a scientific approach by adding performance metrics that would bring quantitative results for clients. We quickly moved to understanding that quality Internet traffic would drive the future success of Oversee,” Ng said. 

Ng speaking at the 2007 DOMAINfest 
Global
conference in Hollywood, CA

“So, we used our modest savings and began Oversee without any outside funding. We started in a small office (about 400 square feet) located near the Skid Row section of downtown Los Angeles. It was not a pretty area! Ron Sheridan was our first employee.” Though they looked like a 1,000 to 1 shot at best, Ng and Hsu, starting with just $10,000 between them, beat all the odds.  

“Oversee has experienced tremendous organic growth in the last seven years, increasing the scale of our existing businesses that fall into either domain services or marketing services,” Ng said.  “DomainSponsor was really the beginning of it all and today we monetize 2.5 million domain names. We also have a $100 million line of credit with Bank of America to fuel the company’s growth through acquisitions.” 

“Our acquisitions of SnapNames and Moniker were based on the premise that we wanted to get into the aftermarket space and grow our share of the domain industry, becoming a one-stop shop for domainers and domain 

investors. And then Oak Hill Capital Partners, a private equity firm, invested $150 million in us," Ng noted. "We plan to use the investment to augment organic growth and acquire technologies that will enhance our suite of services in the online marketing and domain name industries.” 

Their meteoric rise has caught people’s attention, including the New York Times who featured Ng and Oversee in an October 2006 article by James Flanagan. Three months after the Times article, Oversee entered still another arena with their first DOMAINfest Global conference in Hollywood, California. They has previously done some regional shows but this was the first one with a worldwide focus. 

Scene from the SnapNames Live Domain Auction at DOMAINfest Global 2008 in January

When asked why Oversee got into the conference business and how doing so fit in with their overall mission Ng said, “I believe that the domain industry was maturing, which opened the door to a new and different type of conference. As a company, we wanted to bring competitors and 
partners together, which nobody had done before, to leverage each other’s good ideas and create an innovative forum where we could help to propel the credibility and respect of the domain industry to a new level.” 

“While there were other shows out there, none had taken the approach we had. The domain industry has incredible potential and I think, for the first time, others outside the industry are realizing that. The DomainFEST Global event has brought something different to the industry conference arena by offering a unique experience, including the SnapNames Live auctions, a great roster of speakers, global exhibitors, and a chance to network and have fun. We have received such positive responses from attendees that we are already planning next year’s event.” 

As they plan for the future Oversee has a lot more elbow room than they did during their days in that 400-foot office near Skid Row. A lot more manpower too. “Since our start in 200 we have grown from two employees to approximately 200 at the end of 2007,” Ng said. “We have significantly increased our square footage too, going from that first tiny office to a larger headquarters in downtown Los Angeles (26,000 square feet), then on to a beautiful new space that covers about 56,000 square feet on the 43rd and 44th floors of the City National building, also in downtown L.A. We also have SnapNames located in Portland, Oregon and Moniker is in Pompano Beach, Florida.” 

Oversee's new offices cover two floors 
in L.A.'s City National Building (above)

Lawrence Ng and Fred Hsu
Oversee.net Co-Founders

With the business continuing to grow quickly and the company’s future apparently secure, Ng said his friend and partner "Fred Hsu decided to “retire” from day-to-day operations in 2007.” Ng added “As Oversee’s Co-founder, Fred has been an essential part of our success, developing the technology that has helped to make us a leader. He continues to be a major company shareholder and is an active member of Oversee’s Board of Directors.” 

Meeting Fred proved to Ng how important it is to work with the right kind of people. “It is vital that we bring in smart, tech savvy people who have a good work ethic.” Ng said. “We also work very hard at continually improving our work environment so that we can retain the talented people we hire. I have pulled a lot of best practices from other companies to create a culture that encourages professional and personal growth as well as community involvement.  I believe that being a hands-on leader has helped keep

our talented team in place. In the end, it is really about matching positions with skill sets to build a more creative and productive workforce.” 

Ng is not the type who likes to spend a lot of time talking about himself but when pressed to describe what attributes he thinks helped him build Oversee into what it is today Ng said “I believe that I am humble in my approach towards business. There is always a way to do things better. For me, there is always a new goal to reach for to help improve my own experience, enhance the team’s talent, and grow the metrics of the business. There is a significant amount left to learn about business. I envision that the company will continue to expand, improving and increasing services in both our domain and marketing services divisions.” 

Of course the direction of the Internet advertising and domain industry at large will have an impact on Oversee’s individual fortunes. Internet ad revenues have been booming for years, growing at an annual clip of around 30%. Still Ng said, “I would not necessarily characterize the Internet ad business as experiencing a boom. That sends the message that there is a probability of a bust on the horizon. I believe it is better to say that it has enjoyed steady growth because of the returns generated for advertisers. In addition, the medium has offered precise targeting and accountability that has not been experienced in other forms of advertising.” 

Ng speaking at the 2008 DOMAINfest 
Global
conference in Hollywood, CA

Ng also had one other prediction about the future of this industry. ”I certainly see consolidation increasing over the next couple of years.  This is only the beginning of what’s to come. We hope to be leading much of this consolidation.”  

Though things look good there is always the chance that something could upset the apple cart. I asked Ng what he viewed as potential threats to the rapid growth the industry has enjoyed in recent years. “As with any industry, the domain industry and its stakeholders must continue to mature where more standardization and best practices are instituted to raise the bar on who participates in this business,” Ng said. “By incorporating a higher level of quality initiatives, those that do not fit that standard should fall by the wayside. This will be vital for the industry because as more people become interested in online advertising and domains, they will demand the same level of accountability and standards that have long been a part of the traditional advertising mediums.”  

Ng added, “In terms of legislation that is being proposed about standardizing the industry, we 

have to be clear about what our industry does, its reputation and its willingness to live by best practices so that regulators, legislators, and the media perceive us correctly. That’s why we all have to work as a group to build a true understanding of the issues.” 

To that end, Oversee was one of the co-founders of the Internet Commerce Association, the non-profit trade association based in Washington, D.C. that represents the interests of domain owners. 

Though Ng has sprinted to the front of the domain field in record time, he always has the long run in mind. In fact he is a marathon runner in real life. He has completed two Los Angeles Marathons and is already training for the 2009 event.

L.A. Marathon runners turn onto Hollywood Boulevard
Ng has been there and done that (twice).

Though no one can predict what the future will bring Ng’s approach will be, as it has been throughout his life, to make his own good fortune through hard work. “We are continually
looking for ways to extend our current capabilities whether it is by adding new talent, acquiring more domain name portfolios, partnering with the right organization, or buying companies. Our goal is finding the right people and companies that are capable of working with our technology and our culture. There is so much potential out there!” 

That’s a fact and it reminds me of something Grambling’s legendary football coach Eddie Robinson once said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Lawrence Ng is a prime example of the kind of person Eddie Robinson was talking about.

 

Ng greeting attendees at the 
2007 DOMAINfest Global Conference

 

 

*****

 


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