In 2010 at least a dozen large
scale events are on the show docket including 6 T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
conferences, 2 DOMAINfest
events, a Domain
Roundtable (dates and location still to be
announced), a GeoDomain
Expo, a Domainer
Mardi Gras and the recently announced DNCruise
which will be the first domain show to be held on a cruise
ship (can the final frontier - space - be far away
Still more events may be
announced before the year ends...and we're not even counting
the regional events held around the world, popular company
specific events like the annual SedoPro
Forum, local domainer
meet-ups or domain related shows (many of them bigger than domain industry
conferences) that attract domain owner/developers interested
in topics like affiliate programs, web
publishing, search engine optimization, tapping the local
advertising market or specific sectors like adult. Whew!
line up to register for the
2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas conference
course we would never have seen this conference/meeting
explosion if the interest in domains had not exploded as
well - so that is a good thing. You also do not hear
show attendees complaining. Those who actually go to the
various events almost universally give them rave
reviews that are posted everywhere from industry blogs and
forums to Facebook and Twitter. Those people
understand the high value of networking face to face with peers and potential business
partners and in learning first hand about the latest developments that
will affect their own bottom lines.
there are far too many conferences for anyone,
including me, to attend all of them anymore, the sheer
abundance of shows and, equally important, the lower
registration prices fostered by the fierce
competition, makes it far easier for people to find a
meeting they can attend at a price they can afford.
fallout from conference oversaturation is falling
squarely on the
| shoulders of the show
now find themselves losing money despite
drawing decent crowds and favorable feedback from their
guests. Is that sustainable or is a shakeout
That is a
question we are going to explore further in this article,
but to better understand where we are going, it is important
to know where we have been. The full story of how the
domain conference business got started is one that only
a handful of industry pioneers have been familiar with -
You may be saying - wait
- I already know that the large scale domain conference era
began with the first
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Delray Beach,
Florida in October 2004. That's true, but the idea
was planted in the minds of T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founders
Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu two years before
they held their landmark debut event - and a few conference seeds
had been planted even earlier.
before I entered the domain industry in May 2002 (and before
DN Journal debuted on New Year's Day 2003), someone
else was already documenting the initial activities that
eventually led to the overflowing banquet of domain meetings
that we enjoy today. That someone was Marcia Lynn Walker
who, along with her husband Warren, were among the
first people I met in this business at the debut T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in 2004.
was a member of a private domain forum that Schwartz had
begun operating a decade ago. In 2000 and 2001, Marcia had a
chance to meet a few those board members one on one in
personal visits. In 2002 those meetings continued and
expanded into small group gatherings. Marcia has published a
complete timeline and even photographs of
those early meetings on a web page at MillionaireClub.net.
The notable meetings included one at Schwartz's Boca
Raton, Florida home in July 2002 that was dubbed BocaFest.
Dark Blue Sea founder
October 2002 another event was held that truly set the stage
for the birth of domain conferences as we know them today. Dean
Shannon, the founder of Dark Blue Sea (the
Australian parent company of Fabulous.com)
invited the board members and other clients to come to Beverly
Hills, California to hear about some new products and
services his company was launching. Two other Dark Blue Sea
execs, now well-known industry figures Richard Moore
and Dan Warner, were also on hand to greet guests
when they arrived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for
an event that came to be known as DeanFest in honor
list included a virtual Who's Who of the domain industry -
both then and now - with people like Frank Schilling,
Scott Day, Sahar Sarid, Steven Sacks, Donna
Mahony and Roy Messer (to name just a few)
among those on hand (Marcia identifies and has photos
of many others at MillionaireClub.net).
in attendance were Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu. The
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. co-founders liked what they saw at DeanFest
and after a few more small group meetings in 2003 and 2004,
they decided the time was right for a large scale conference
for domainers that would bring people from around the world
together to meet face to face and discuss ways to grow their
That historic show, the first
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference, was held at the Delray Beach
Marriott October 20-23, 2004 and it was a huge hit
with the 125 or so attendees on hand. They heard Schwartz
declare "We are the real estate barons of this
era" and they had good reason to believe it.
and Neu made sure everything from the food to the keynote
speaker (actor/author Ben Stein) was first class.
Their attention to detail and determination to give their
guests a world class conference experience gave everyone who
was there a sense that they were part of an emerging
industry that was for real and that was destined to
go places that many of them had never dreamed of going
before. In the ensuing five plus years - that sense that
something big was about to happen was realized
as domain values rocketed and mainstream business investors
began piling into the space.
Co-Founders Rick Schwartz & Howard Neu
(R) at their first conference in
October 2004 at Delray Beach, Florida
conferences played a huge role in getting investor's attention and spurring the growth we have seen since 2004.
They also played a huge role in permanently changing
relationships between domainers. Instead of being limited to
online messaging between between screen names, people were now meeting face to face,
producing new business partnerships and life long personal
their initial show's success in South Florida where both men
reside , Schwartz and Neu decided it was time to take the
show on the road. They formulated plans to hold a T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
West conference in Las Vegas in May 2005. However a
problem cropped up. One of the attendees at their debut
show, Jay Westerdal (who at the time owned and
operated Name Intelligence Inc. - the parent
company of DomainTools.com), announced he was
starting a show of his own to be called Domain Roundtable
that would debut in Seattle - also in May
Founder Bob Parsons
was among the guests at the
2005 Domain Roundtable
conference in Seattle.
|The opposing shows
wound up colliding as they ran on the same dates
that month (T.R.A.F.F.I.C. rolling May 24-27 and Roundtable
May 25-27). My daughter happened to be graduating from high
school that same week so those wound up being the only
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and Roundtable shows I have ever missed. I
did however still put reports together on both
Heavyweights Leave Las Vegas Stronger Than Ever After
Quality Time at Traffic West and Debut
Edition of Domain Roundtable Served Up Rich Banquet of
Seminars and CEO's.
Roundtable scored a coup that year that helped
establish the show's credibility. They got GoDaddy
Founder and CEO Bob Parsons to attend and
serve on a panel (the year before we had profiled Parsons in a September
2004 Cover Story). To
date the 2005 DRT show remains the only domain
conference Parsons has appeared at though GoDaddy
has continued to send other executives to industry
shows over the years.
in domains was so strong that neither show had its momentum
blunted by their face off in 2005. As it would happen, the
competition for attendee dollars was just getting started.
In 2006 both T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and Roundtable would face new
challengers as DOMAINfest and the GeoDomain
Expo arrived on the scene.
DomainSponsor division, who had been T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s
lead sponsor, would end up going into the show promotion
business themselves with a pair of regional DOMAINfest
in 2006 - the first in Barcelona, Spain in July of
that year and the
second one in Oversee's hometown - Los
Angeles - in September 2006.
same year, DomainSponsor's Ron
Sheridan told me about a group called Associated
Cities that was staging their first GeoDomain
Expo in Chicago June 2-3, 2006. I had a scheduling
conflict at the time so could not consider attending, but I
kept the Associated Cities and GeoDomain Expo names in mind
and would learn much more about both later that year when I
meet AC Executive Director Patrick Carleton and AC
board members and brothers Michael and David Castello
for the first time at the 2006
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East conference in Hollywood,
A popular December
2006 Cover Story about the Castello Brothers
(L to R):
Michael Castello, Ron Jackson & David
Castello at the 2008 GeoDomain Expo in Chicago
came out of that meeting and the following year I would
attend my first GeoDomain Expo when I was invited to be the
keynote speaker at their November
2007 conference in San Francisco. I have been to
every one since then and continue to benefit from the Expo's
unique focus on domain development.
was a year of strong growth for the T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
conference as well. They started the ball rolling for everyone with
that initial show in 2004, then expanded to two events in
2005 - the Las Vegas conference I mentioned above and
another back in Delray
Beach in October 2005 that drew twice as
many people as their debut show had attracted in the same
location the year before.
T.R.A.F.F.I.C expanded yet again - moving to three annual
shows - Silicon
Valley in January, Las
Vegas in May and Hollywood,
Florida in October. The Silicon Valley show was
the first one designed to get the attention of high tech
investors by putting the event in their own backyard.
of the crowd that turned out for the 2006 T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
Silicon Valley conference
strategy worked extremely well and as that year progressed
investments involving tens of millions of dollars
started pouring into the domain industry to form or purchase
companies, buy large portfolios or both. Meanwhile, the Las
Vegas and Florida shows both doubled their attendance
from the previous year as each event set records by signing
in more than 500 people.
Domain Roundtable, sticking
to its one a year format, returned for its sophomore outing
2006, this time moving across Lake Washington
from Seattle to Bellevue, Washington. That was my
first Roundtable conference and the event produced by Jothan
Frakes impressed me. There was not just
one - but four keynote speakers, including Internet
pioneer Vint Cerf and then ICANN President
and CEO Dr. Paul Twomey. The conference also had a
unique four-track format which had multiple seminars all
going on at the same time. You could pick and choose from
the menu to design the "curriculum" that best
suited your business.
If there has
been one golden year in the domain conference
business, 2007 was it. Business was booming in just
about every corner of the industry and the growth at the
shows reflected that. The year got underway in January with
DOMAINfest Global conference in Hollywood,
Kupietzky (then Oversee.net's General Manager,
now their President and CEO)
welcoming guests to the first DOMAINfest Global conference
in Hollywood, CA (January 2007)
Oversee obviously learned well from the two
smaller regional shows they had run in 2006. A combination
of a very low $395 registration fee, great content and
entertaining social events staged in the entertainment
capital of the world served notice that Oversee intended to aggressively
compete for leadership in this space.
at DOMAINfest Global 2007 listening to a keynote
speech from TechCrunch.com founder Michael
rose to the challenge with a trio of spectacular shows in
2007 beginning with T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
West in Las Vegas that March. I still have
a vivid memory of walking into the ballroom on the first day
of that show and having my jaw literally drop when I
saw how big the crowd was. Over 600 people were in the room
at the Venetian Hotel.
part of the
record-breaking crowd at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West 2007 in Las
was also a this show that then SnapNames VP Nelson
Brady made what was, to my knowledge, his only public
speaking appearance. In 2009 Brady would be identified as
the infamous alleged shill bidder "Halvarez"
who reportedly cost SnapNames bidders hundreds of thousands
of dollars. It is a mess that current Snapnames owner,
Oversee.net is still in the process of cleaning up (Oversee
bought SnapNames two months after this 2007 T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
2007, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. made another huge move by taking their
show to the media capital of the world - New York City -
for the first time. This
show was arguably the biggest one ever for the
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. series. A record $12
million worth of domains (a record that still stands) were sold in Moniker's
live auction at the show. It was a far cry from the first
auction at T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s debut show when names were
written on a dry erase board and people could walk up and
put their name and bid next to a domain if they were
interested in it.
The conference also attracted multiple
Brady (AKA Halvarez)
speaking at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2007
mainstream media representatives for the first time with the
Associated Press, Forbes
Magazine and all of the major New York
newspapers sending reporters
and below: Scenes from Moniker's record-breaking $12
live domain auction at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York 2007.
closed out their golden year when they returned to Hollywood,
Florida in October 2007 with a former U.S.
presidential candidate, Steve Forbes (of Forbes
Magazine), as their keynote speaker! Forbes expressed admiration for domain investor/entrepreneurs and that in itself was probably more important than any other single thing he said in his speech.
Forbes after delivering his keynote
speech at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 2007
I wrote in my review of that show, "Those who missed the Internet/domain boat and remain bitter about their lack of foresight now stop at nothing to cast the entire industry in the most negative light possible. It is their hope that people will believe their misrepresentations (and outright lies) so that laws and dispute resolution policies can be changed in a way that will allow them to grab the assets they previously did not want - but now cherish - without having to pay for them. It has to be a blow to that camp to see one of the most
mainstream of successful mainstream businessmen - and a respected political figure - stand up and give entrepreneurs in our space the credit and respect they deserve."
is not to say that here in 2010 we have won the PR war -
clearly we haven't, but every battlefield win helps people
who have a sense of fair play see through the smokescreens
opponents have put up in an effort to steal assets they have
no valid claim to take.
Roundtable and the GeoDomain Expo also moved forward in
2007. The Expo with the San Francisco show I mentioned
earlier and Roundtable with a return to Seattle
in in August 2007. Stephen Douglas took
over as producer of that show which introduced some
impressive high tech twists including a new Internet auction
platform that allowed people at home to bid online in real
time along with those in the auction hall. That system
helped generate close to $4 million in sales.
Global again kicked off the new year in 2008 with their
second Hollywood event,
one that helped them move the ball further down the field as
a crowd of 600 flocked to the Renaissance Hotel for
the show. The many highlights of that conference included a
Town Hall meeting with Frank
Schilling who answered the audience's domain
related questions. There was also a keynote address from Wired
Magazine co-founder John Batelle.
Schilling answers audience questions at DOMAINfest Global
grew yet again in 2008 by adding their first international
show, an event in Australia that closed the year after
three U.S. conferences. They kicked off 2008 with a February
return to Las Vegas, then in May took their road
show to Disney
World in Orlando for the first time.
was off for the Orlando show with most speculating that Disney's family
atmosphere didn't appeal to the many young men who make up
such a large part of the industry demographic. The general
economy and PPC payouts were noticeably starting to slip by
this time which also had to play a role. Whatever the reason
for the lower turnout, those who were there agreed this was
one of the most fun shows in the entire T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
series - one that presented an overall experience they would
gladly do again.
a sword, Dr. Chris Hartnett gets into character for
Pirates of the Caribbean ride at T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
Orlando 2008 at Disney World.
speaker Barbara Corcoran (from
ABC-TV's Shark Tank) with Rick
at T.R.A.F.F.I.C New York 2008
economic downturn people were noticing in May 2008 had turned
into a full fledged meltdown by the time
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. took its next lap around the track -
returning to New
York in September for a show at a new venue -
the Brooklyn Marriott. Still, even as the goliaths
across the East River on Wall Street had entered into a
tailspin, the domain investors gathered in Brooklyn remained
optimistic about their prospects.
Schwartz put things into perspective in welcoming comments
to attendees saying, "There is no doubt that we are at
the epicenter of history in the making. All the
titans of business across the street are crumbling and here
this little tiny group of domainers is becoming the next
generation of "real estate" barons in the world.
Domains may turn out to be the safest asset in the world.
You can control them from anywhere in the world at any time
- you don't have to wait for the bank to open - you can move
them on a whim. They produce income
|and if you have good
ones, the value is rising. So we have a lot to be
thankful for." That is something that has remained
true throughout a historic recession that has still not
been vanquished as I write this in early 2010.
November 2008, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. made their first big overseas
leap with a show
on Australia's Gold Coast that was staged by Fabulous.com
under a licensing agreement with Schwartz and Neu. Fabulous
pulled out all of the stops and many show regulars told me
they thought this was the best show they had ever attended. They loved the exotic locale and flipped over the unique adventures Fabulous took them on during
domainers accepted an invitation from an Aborigine dance troupe
to show off
their moves at the November 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Down
Under conference in Australia.
Fabulous gave their guests from around the globe an
unforgettable experience, they lost money on the show and that
is a perfect illustration of the problem all conference promoters
were about to face. With fewer attendees to go around, how do
you continue to produce a big budget world class
event without losing your shirt? We'll talk about that on page
Up on Page 2:
- By the end of
2008 the economics of domain conference
promotion had changed - how will show organizers
- Undeterred by
heavy competition, new players enter the game in
2009 and 2010.
- Despite the
financial challenges some shows grow bigger and
better than ever, taking guests to Europe, the
Playboy Mansion & Mardi Gras!
- We answer the
question posed in our headline - can domain
conferences survive oversaturation?
to Page 2