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The Babe Ruth of Business Development: Ron Sheridan's Rise from Orphan to MVP

By Ron Jackson 

At the end of January, one of the key figures in the domain industry boom that followed a turn of the century bust began a new chapter in his life. Ron Sheridan, the quintessential Business Development Director at DomainSponsor.com walked away from his full-time job at the company he helped build into a powerhouse in the PPC space.

Though Sheridan remains a stockholder in DomainSponsor's parent company, Oversee.net, and will continue to serve them as a consultant, the advice and support he showered so many domainers  with will be sorely missed. 

Sheridan made a lot of friends along the way because he felt the best way to help build up his own company was to shepherd individual domainers and entrepreneurs who were striving to build something of their own.

Ron Sheridan

Legendary domain investor Frank Schilling summed it up well, telling us, "Ron Sheridan’s story is long overdue. Ron’s fingerprints are on every facet of the modern domain industry. It’s also heartbreakingly beautiful how he’s made so much with the hand he was dealt. Ron never knew his biological family. I like to think this helps to explain why he adopts so many others."

Ron Sheridan conducts a "Town Hall Meeting" with 
Frank Schilling
(right) at the 2008 DOMAINfest 
Global Conference
in Hollywood, California.

Schilling gave me an example of what he was talking about. "We had a mutual acquaintance who’s life fell apart in a really unfortunate way. This individual went through a messy divorce, insolvency, drug addiction - it was terrible. Ron took it upon himself to fly out to his home and extend a helping hand," Schilling said.

"Ron approached me and others to assist. I gave Ron several domain names to pass along to this gent so he could get his life back on track.  Ron went on to sell the names for him at a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference for more than a hundred thousand dollars. Ron became this man’s safety net. Were it not for him, 

I'm not sure he would have had one. He’s a wonderful person with the biggest heart.  I am really grateful our work-lives intersected - that I could say I knew him during these years," Schilling said.

With Sheridan now at a crossroads in his own life I knew this was the right time to tell his story, though I knew pulling it out of him might not be the easiest thing in the world to do. 

Sheridan is not a guy who likes to talk about himself. He would rather talk about you and what your needs are, about his co-workers and what great people they are, about this industry and how fortunate we have all been to be a part of it - anything but himself

I figured the best way to go about it would be to get him to talk about something he especially loves - then see if I could switch the subject! With Sheridan, the best bait for that trap is baseball - he is nuts about it. At the April 2006 Domain Roundtable conference in Seattle Sheridan chartered a bus to take a big group of show goers to a Mariners game against the Texas Rangers

Sheridan took the hook. "One of the things I liked best about traveling around and meeting

Sheridan (standing with Sevan Derderian) among a 
group of domainers at Seattle's Safeco Field in April 2006

with customers was taking in a ball game," Sheridan acknowledged. " My favorite baseball fan in all of domaining is Howard Hoffman, even if he is a San Francisco Giants fan (GO DODGERS!!)

Giants fan Howard Hoffman and Dodgers fan Ron Sheridan at the ballpark.

Howard Hoffman, a domain investor based in Palo Alto, California, said advice from Sheridan made it possible for him to quit his 9 to 5 job to concentrate solely on domains. "Ron Sheridan really opened my eyes with respect to the potential for domain parking revenue. Around 2003, at a San Francisco Giants baseball game (Ron is unfortunately a fan of the hated Dodgers), Ron told me about upcoming changes at DomainSponsor that were certain to cause parking revenue to go up substantially," Hoffman said.

"As a result of that meeting, I completely changed my domain strategy to traffic.  Prior to that time, I focused on domains for resale, with parking as a fringe benefit.  It was as if I was Benjamin, in the movie, The Graduate, and a trusted, wiser person just said "Howard, I want to tell you one word: "Traffic."

You hear anecdotes like Hoffman's and Schilling's over and over, all underscoring what Schilling said earlier - that Sheridan essentially decided to adopt the domain industry. His path to becoming a father-like figure to so many in this business was a long and winding road indeed.

Ron Sheridan conducts a panel discussion 
Jan. 28 at the 2009 DOMAINfest Global 
Conference
as Michael Castello looks on.

Sheridan himself was orphaned at the age of 7. He never got to know his real father because the Air Force veteran was a POW during the Korean War. "When he returned, things were never the same for him and when our mother left he decided the best thing for my brother Richard and I was the orphanage and he was right," Sheridan said.

Sheridan had been born in the tiny town of Roaring Spring in south central Pennsylvania, but by the time he was 17 he had lived outside Washington, D.C., in Miami, Minnesota and northern Indiana. His travels began at 11 when he was adopted by a foster family headed by a Federal Aviation Administration bookkeeper named Edward Holson. Soon after taking Ron in, Holson went into business for himself, buying a pizzeria in Riverdale, Maryland called Pizza Haven. Over the next four years, Sheridan would get a real education in what being in business for yourself really meant. 

"I worked in the restaurant long hours, 7 days a week during the summers and many week nights, even during the school year.  We all did.  My foster father was a hard working entrepreneur and I learned a lot just by watching him and incessantly asking questions which he would always patiently answer.  Later I worked briefly at a McDonalds down the street and absolutely hated it.  I think I those consecutive experiences were the genesis of my personal entrepreneurial evolution," Sheridan said.

Sheridan would learn much more after a series of family moves eventually brought him to Indiana. "I started my sales career selling aluminium siding there," Sheridan recalled. "Yes, I was a Tin Man. I was a canvasser and my brother Richard quickly became a closer.  Talk about baptism by fire!  I was knocking down $1,000 a week or more while all my friends were slugging it out working in factories.  I had found my calling: Sales," he said.

I knew "I could not stay in the hard sell sales business though, so I started looking beyond and settled on retail and chose my favorite subject - music.  I set my sights on owning a retail music store.  After getting married an opportunity came up when an employer wanted to close 2 of his 3 stores and I offered to buy one of the two." There was one small complication here. Sheridan didn't have any money! However, like all good entrepreneurs, he found an unconventional way around that obstacle. 

"My wife let me sell her car for the down payment and the money needed to “operate” the cash register. It was thin but we made it. Unfortunately I soon realized that being anchored to a retail store was not the life I wanted. I liquidated the business at a healthy profit within a year and moved to Portland , Oregon to get into a new field that I believed was going to be the next big thing: Personal Computers." Sheridan said. 

Though he now had experience owning and operating his own business, Sheridan had to start at the bottom to learn the ropes in his new chosen field. "I had to take a job at a computer store for $3.25 an hour just to break in but it paid major dividends as I was the only “Sales Professional” working among a team of serious geeks and propeller heads," Sheridan said. "I taught them how to ask for the order and they tolerated my inane questions.  The IBM PC arrived soon after that and the money seemed to be raining down from the sky. Apple's Mac quickly followed and I saw the light, and made even more money."

Ron Sheridan at the 2007 DOMAINfest 
Global Conference
in Hollywood.
He had come a long way from his 
$3.25 an hour job in a computer shop!

Energized by his newfound success, Sheridan delved deeper into the world of high technology. "I began going online and trying to understand the BBS subculture and services like the The Source and Compuserve.  Apple leaped over everyone with a GUI based online service for it’s staff, dealers, educators, etc. called AppleLink. I quickly discovered how to pull down the entire subscriber list and became one of the first bulk emailers the AppleLink staff had encountered," Sheridan said. 

"I was promoting a very popular software title from a company I was working for at the time, which I offered to Apple peeps at $15 a copy, so they were real cool about it.  As a result the company built a large base of advocates within Apple and the reseller network. I later learned by reading a book by Guy Kawasaki that I had created a small army of “Evangelists." Who knew!  Next came the VC money and I learned how venture capitalists sink as many companies as they float."

Though the company that made the product he was promoting wound up on the rocks, it was another great learning experience for Sheridan and, as is so often the case, when one door closes, another one opens. Over the next few years that process repeated over and over with each new opportunity moving his career further down the field. 

"Soon after my Mac software foray I started my own software publishing and distribution company,' Sheridan said. "That effort led to a friendship with a guy who ended up at Netcom and that relationship was my entree to the World Wide Web.  I had to close my software company in '94 but I was offered a VP of Sales and Marketing position for a feisty little budget software company in Orange County , California.  By '95 I was convinced I would soon be full time internet focused and by '96 I was," Sheridan said.

"I had a brief stint playing with buying domains but I was too focused on wanting to build out companies and missed a major chance to build an impressive portfolio," Sheridan recalled ruefully. "I remember seeing a table at an InternetWorld expo in San Francisco where this kid was showing a long list of domains he owned and was there with a booth at a trade show trying to raise money to buy more. I asked him why raise money to buy more, why not build out?  He 

patiently told  me that domains would be more valuable than people imagined since every internet business needed a domain, and many would be willing to pay a real premium for the right name. Another missed opportunity for Ron!"

Sheridan doesn't remember who that young domain investor was but before long he would find himself immersed in the world of domains too. "I stumbled around in the online advertising and marketing space until I decided in the middle of the dot com bust of 2000 that PPC and other performance based models would dominate the space in time," Sheridan recalled. "By 2001 I was aggressively looking for a Los Angeles based company that needed an experienced sales professional as much as I needed a place to leverage my skills and experience (a job that paid money)."

Sheridan said by that  time he had realized that he was better suited to be an “Intrapreneur” (a team player who could help build a new company up from the inside) than an entrepreneur. Sheridan added, "I also lacked any technical skills or depth. I was actually unemployed when I came across Lawrence Ng online as a result of reading an online
advertising discussion list." (Editor's Note: Ng, the subject of our March 2008 Cover Story, co-founded Oversee.net with Fred Hsu).  I think it took me two months to even get a face to face meeting.  Lawrence and Fred had a perfect combination of focus, discipline, dedication and drive. Fred also has some serious tech skills and I knew there was a strong fit and the chances for success were even greater.  I started on September 16, 2001 as their first employee.

Over the next seven years, Oversee would become a powerhouse in the domain industry, starting with the pioneering PPC company, DomainSponsor, that Sheridan would become the front man for. Oversee, who also had their own ad network, would go on to acquire Moniker.com, a key registrar and provider of brokerage and aftermarket sales services, as well as SnapNames.com, a company that birthed the drop catching business. 

Oversee.net Co-Founders Lawrence Ng 
and Fred Hsu (right) made Ron Sheridan 
their first employee in 2001. 

As soon as Oversee put Sheridan in the DomainSponsor saddle as their Director of Business Development, he was off to the races. In addition to courting individual domainers face to face, he attached the DomainSponsor name to every high visibility sponsorship opportunity he could find - including lead sponsor for the industry's first major domain conference in the fall of 2004, the initial T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show in Delray Beach, Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Berkens

Michael Berkens, a veteran Florida based domain investor (who writes a popular blog at TheDomains.com) still has vivid memories of his first face to face meeting with Sheridan. "I had talked to Ron on the phone and online and had actually started doing business with DomainSponsor, as we all tend to do, before we met more than six months later," Berkens said. "Ron called and said he was coming to Florida and could I suggest a place for lunch. I suggested a restaurant where we could sit outside right on the beach. I thought you’re coming to Florida, how can you not see the beach."

"So I brought my wife, Judi and my dog Bandit and we had a great two-hour lunch. I think it was the first business meeting Ron ever held, that a dog attended! Strike one on me," Berkens smiled. "It was mid-July and very hot and humid. By the end of the lunch Ron was just dying from the heat. I of course, never having met Ron, didn’t realize that he was a bigger guy, more likely to be effected from the heat. I remember him saying. "How can you live here!" Strike two.

"Hot and exhausted from the heat and sun, Ron gets into his rental car that had been parked in the sun for hours with the windows closed, and he turns on the A/C, but doesn’t know about the recycle air button, and as he tells it, he sat in this boiling hot car waiting for the air to kick in, thinking to himself “I’m going to die right here in this car." Strike 3!," Berkens laughed.

But Sheridan was quick to forgive - if not to forget. "Finally he figured out the A/C system and got the recycle button working and cool air came into the car. He said it still took an hour for him to cool down. He tells me every time I see him he remembers that day like it was yesterday. Over the years, every time Ron was in Florida he would call me. He would say "It’s your town and I have to call and say hello". Sometimes we would get together, sometimes one of our schedules meant we couldn't meet up, but he would always call," Berkens said.

Berkens went on to tick off the qualities that he and others appreciated in Sheridan. "A straight shooter. Hard, hard worker. Huge heart. Big personality. Visionary. Those are the first words that come to me when I think of Ron," Berkens said. "For many of us, Ron was DomainSponsor and although over the years I got to meet many people at Oversee, I had a special relationship with Ron."

"The funny thing is everyone who Ron dealt with probably felt the same way. Ron made you feel like you were his most important client. That was his magic."

"Ron only wanted the best for the industry and his company. In my opinion he personally pushed the domain industry forward miles and miles from where it would have been without him. Ron still has all those valuable traits - he’s still is the guy I meet 7 years ago. Ron’s still a young man, especially by my standards. He’s still got a lot left in the tank and I’m sure he will continue to accomplish much in his life. 

Personally I know I have a friend for life, because, as we all know. I am Ron’s most valuable client!," Berkens concluded with a smile, knowing so many others feel the same way.

Describing his uniique approach to his job, Sheridan said "The ETHOS that I believe became the genesis for our success was set by Lawrence from day one: We would take the high road in every instance and always treat people with respect, we would always express our gratitude, and be humble."

"I had the know how on building and growing high value business relationships and I leveraged that steeped in the confidence that we would treat our clients with respect and gratitude, and I could always count on Lawrence to allow me to do the right thing when the time came. We learned so much from our friends and customers in the early days. So many shared so much and had a hand in our early success.  I will never be able to say thank you enough to so many people."

"We invested a lot in opportunities to meet people face to face sometimes when they least expected it, to make sure they understood how much we valued the chance to work with them. A belief in the immense value of a high valued relationship was always at the forefront of my thinking and actions. Having spent over 2 decades in professional sales I knew that one-on-one relationships are the bedrock of any successful business, so I set out to make that the bedrock of our business," Sheridan said.

DomainSponsor facilitated a lot of face to face meetings in unforgettable surroundings by throwing a series of spectacular parties at major domain conferences - events that ran the gamut from the hottest night clubs (like the legendary Ghost Bar in Las Vegas at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West on 2006), to a James Bond themed casino night at 

DOMAINfest Global 2007 in Hollywood and right on down the line to this past January's crowning event at the Playboy Mansion during Oversee's 2009 DOMAINfest Global Conference

In the photo below Sheridan (wearing the red vest) enjoys a special moment with his Oversee teammates. Sheridan said "This is my favorite picture and one of my fondest memories – from DOMAINfest Global 2007 in Hollywood California. This is the best team and the finest people I have ever worked with."

Getting to be James Bond for one night was a hard act to top, but last month Sheridan was on hand to see it happen at a Playboy Mansion party that set a new high water mark attendees will be talking about for years to come. Like Ted Williams who hit a home run in his last at bat, Sheridan knocked one out of the park in his final trip to the plate for Oversee.

"We wanted to do the Playboy Mansion party last year but the stars did not align properly," Sheridan said. "This year we had an opportunity to work with an excellent event coordinator and promoter Jon Orlando (son of Tony Orlando) who suggested we incorporate a charity auction to our event as a way to broaden it’s appeal and shift the focus off of the images some have of an event held at the Playboy Mansion."

"I think it worked and allowed us to help Autism Speaks at the same time.  Aaron Kvitek, Oversee’s Marketing Director and the entire DOMAINfest Global marketing team put so much effort into conference and the party and everyone saw the results.  I truly deserve none of the credit, they do, and I will always be grateful to them for their hard work and dedication."

Above: DOMAINfest Global 2009 guests begin arriving at the Playboy Mansion

Below: The DomainSponsor tent fills up as the party swings into high gear.

On the night of the Playboy Mansion party (January 29th), Sheridan let his friends know that the event would be his last as a full time employee at Oversee. He would be leaving his position at the end of the week. The Oversee-Sheridan marriage has worked so well for both sides, that many questioned why they would split now. "I want everyone to know that the decision to leave my full time role was mine and mine alone," Sheridan said, adding, "I never intend to “leave” Oversee. I am now engaged as a consultant to the company and hope to be indefinitely. There is much more I can and hope to do, and with good reason. As for the why: it’s time for me to try to do it all over again."

"Work wise, many of my friends in and out of the space will tell you I am a start up guy.  I need the environment of a startup to fully realize my potential on a day to day basis.  I have a burning need to achieve, I love the challenges, and believe only when I am back in a 

start up situation will I be able realize more of my potential.  Oversee has grown so much and has been able to attract some of the most talented people I have ever worked with. With any luck the startup opportunity I seek will be one that I can help develop with Oversee. Nothing would make me happier or more successful," Sheridan said.

"In my personal life I will  spend more time with my family and friends, invest more in my own personal enjoyment and take more time to play with my toys. I’d really love to go back to Europe and travel across the continent for a while," Sheridan added.

People who know Sheridan cannot envision him in a "life of leisure" for long though. Like others in this industry, he is used to putting in far more hours on the job that anyone could ever guess. He has gladly done it because he loves the business. Is there really anything he would enjoy enough to keep that desire to get back to work at bay? 

"Good question!," Sheridan said, one he obviously liked because it gave him the chance to talk another true love. "I’m a hobbyist musician, as in I have little talent but enough money to buy the instruments. I tried the professional route in the early 80s and all I got for it was a pile of debt and a one line mention in WikiPedia (Editor's note: Sheridan was the drummer for a notable Portland garage rock band called the Miracle Workers)."

"In the end I  realized I really just loved playing music and in particular playing live and non rehearsed.  We in the biz refer to this style as Jamming.  I also realized the other route requires some real serious skills. Just ask “Mighty” Joe Higgins of DomainSponsor (Editor's note: Joe is a top notch drummer who was featured on national TV in 2007 when he was with The Likes of You, a group competing on the FOX TV show America's Next Great Band). Some months back I moved up to Ridgefield , Washington and reunited with some old musician friends and converted my living room into my own personal Abbey Road studio," Sheridan said.

"On my last trip back before DOMAINfest Global our bassist Phil gave myself and our guitarist Barry a compilation CD he made of our recorded jams to date.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was to listen to the tracks.  Seriously it is possible alcohol played a role in my enthusiasm - I honestly don’t remember." 

Sheridan's home studio

"We had previously decided to take the moniker of “The Skid Row Clowns” as our band name.  And yes I reserved the domain.  No typo regs guys please!  Our music (using the term liberally) can best be described as wet cats climbing blackboards meets Death Proof. I need to find a world class webmaster to build us a site worthy of our eminent worldwide acclaim! At left is a picture of the planned cover for our first CD release which will be online only and free (priced in direct relationship to the value listeners will get from it). The songs were never rehearsed, were only played once and will never be played again (for good reason)," Sheridan laughed. 

While Sheridan freely admits that music isn't likely to pay the bills, he thinks he knows of an asset that will, despite the  perilous economic times the world finds itself in now. "Domain owners are sitting on massive collections of some of the most essential assets that will be 
in greater and greater demand, and used by more and more business operators all over the world," said Sheridan (who has some gems like Manage.com, tucked away himself). "Using a build out domain as a marketing platform for generating new revenue for an existing or new business is now, and will become even more so, the most cost effective way to drive New Revenue, and New Revenue IS the life blood of every business."

"The opportunities are greater, not less, however so are the challenges. I think we will see some much needed innovation in the space, and as a major shareholder in Oversee I hope it starts there but it can of course start anywhere and likely already has," Sheridan opined, adding as he said goodbye (at least for now), "If it was easy they wouldn’t need us, right?" Right. One door closes - another one opens. It will be interesting to see which one Ron Sheridan steps through next.

*****


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