story starts in an unlikely place for a guy whose working
life would end up revolving around creating new businesses.
born in San Francisco in 1970 to two parents who were
walking advertisements for the hippie era,"
Stein said. "They got married in a park in 1969 in
robes with a peace sign on the wedding cake. They took me to
see Bob Marley and Van Morrison before I could
walk. Both were talented artists and loving parents. Their creativity
and unique world view helped me venture to
the unfamiliar side of the river in life. It probably also
cultivated in me an ability to think up and execute on
business ideas from slightly unconventional angles."
was also strongly influenced by his grandparents, Adelene,
Lynn, Yudy and Eleanor, who were
unfailingly optimistic and supportive (Adelene and Eleanor
are today a beautiful 91 and 93, respectively.) "I
thankfully never inherited any money. Instead, my
grandparents generously sponsored twenty years of education,
from kindergarten through graduate school, and encouraged me
along the way to follow what I loved." Yudy served
as an especially strong role model in business
"He was a self-made entrepreneur and my personal
hero," Stein said.
started emulating Yudy at a very early age, carrying around
his own little briefcase when he was just six years old. The
entrepreneurial seed continued to blossom from there.
was 10, I’d collect tips from our party guests for
serving drinks. At 15, I mowed lawns, sold luggage,
cold-called for Dean Witter and dreamed about going
to Wharton one day," Stein recalled.
would in fact make it to Wharton (the world famous business
school at the University of Pennsylvania) - but not
Wharton School of Business at the
University of Pennsylvania where Stein
earned his MBA/MA degrees.
before he expanded his horizons with some other stops along
the way. He went to college at the University of
California at Santa Barbara and after graduation headed
to Japan where we would spend the next five years
working in Tokyo.
first job there was door-to-door sales in Japanese,
where I was one of only 9 foreigners in a company of 2,000
Japanese," Stein said. "Even though I had
previously spent a year abroad attending Japanese college,
nothing could prepare me for the morning “chorei”,
in which the entire office would line up and shout out
corporate slogans while bowing maniacally. I was a fish out
of water. After that, I spent 4 more years in Tokyo working
as a financial journalist. On the side, I had fun
co-authoring “The Tokyo Nightlife Guide”.
his Japanese adventure, Stein decided it was time to head
back to the States and pursue another one of his dreams - a
degree from Wharton. "I
decided to apply to grad school at Wharton and the
admissions director must have been crazy the day he read my application, because miraculously I was accepted
and graduated with an MBA/MA from Wharton and
UPenn’s Lauder Institute," Stein said.
Stein on a visit to
Colorado earlier this year.
I wouldn’t trade my Wharton experience for anything, in
more ways than I imagined it taught me what NOT to do
in business. The school taught us to be perfectionists -
to perform mountains of analysis before making a business
decision of any consequence. Fresh out of Wharton, I thought
I’d take this ethic of perfectionism, combine it with the
theories and concepts from the classroom, and take the
business world by storm. Boy was I wrong," Stein
first real business, an online retailer of apparel called SmartCasual.com,
was a classic “dot bomb”. We spent way too much
time analyzing and precious little time executing.
Both the business and our venture capital evaporated
quickly. Trying to learn from this setback, I realized I was
at my best when I ignored the MBA obsession with
perfectionism. And I also noticed that the entrepreneurs I
admired most – from Andrew Carnegie to Richard
Branson to my Grandfather – were known for pulling
the trigger quickly in the absence of perfect
information," Stein said.
(right) with his SmartCasual.com partners and
lifelong friends, Adam and Wayne.
This venture turned out to be a "dot
bomb" but taught Stein some valuable
in successive ventures I began to 80/20 more decisions,
living by kind of a “screw it— just do it”
mentality. I found that in most areas, good is enough and
making it perfect takes way too long. As a result, I
began to seize opportunities faster, get more done in
a day and strike gold more often."
with two partners, Paul and Wayne, I founded,
grew and sold a Manhattan-based online advertising
agency - Soho Digital. Over a period of four years,
we grew the company into an interactive agency with 200
clients, 35 employees and $32 million in annual
revenues. Clients included Delta Airlines, NBC,
Starwood Resorts and AT&T Wireless. In
2004, we sold Soho Digital to an online media network funded
by Insight Venture Partners."
back on that life changing deal, Stein noted, "Even
after my Grandfather passed, I remained magnetically
attracted to him: that advertising agency was headquartered
just two blocks from where he worked for 50
happy Jesse Stein on the day in 2004 when his company Soho
Digital was sold.
the Soho Digital sale, Stein and his partner Paul started
and ran multiple Internet-based ventures. "In 2006, we
started and ran an online direct-response company
focused on developing from scratch and marketing –
exclusively on the Internet - health and beauty
brands," Stein said. "The companies created and
launched 9 branded products and acquired over 950,000 customers.
Within three years, we grew the business to $45 million
in annual revenue and 150 employees. All aspects of product
development, fulfillment and customer service were built and
managed in-house. All customers were acquired via
targeted pay-per-click and display
advertising. The flagship product, Dermapril-SP, was
one of the best-selling anti-aging skin creams in
2008." The next year the partners cashed by selling a
majority interest in the company.
major development in Stein's life came around the same time
he and Paul were starting up the health and beauty products
business. "My family and I moved to Key Biscayne,
Florida from New York City five years ago all
because of a CraigsList posting," Stein said.
"I posted a simple ad for a one-week apartment swap. As
luck would have it, a wonderful family living in Key
Biscayne responded. We did the exchange and ended up falling
in love with the island: a bi-cultural, bi-lingual paradise
filled with laid-back, interesting people — all within
striking distance of a great city in Miami. We
returned for good just 9 months later and we haven’t
May of 2005 Stein made a trip to Las Vegas to
attend a conference that would ignite the interest
in buying and developing top tier generic domain
names that has consumed him ever since. "I
first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference and
realized then that there might be an opportunity to
combine my online-marketing experience with a small
portfolio of category-killing domain names,"
Stein said. "Over the next four years, I
attended several T.R.A.F.F.I.C. shows and benefited
from people like Alan Hack, who was
especially gracious in mentoring me. I realized I
was way late to the parking game, so my only shot
was to develop."
attended his first domain conference in May
This scene is from that T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show
in Las Vegas.
2006, I started my domaining journey by purchasing SportsMemorabilia.com.
I had owned and operated two SEO firms over the
years, so we started immediately optimizing the site for Google.
SEO is considered the “Holy Grail” of traffic sources
because of its low associated customer-acquisition cost.
Thankfully, of any traffic channel, SEO is most thoroughly part
of our business DNA. For the last four years, no other
Website in the category has come close to ranking as highly
and consistently on the major search engines across a
majority of the revenue-producing keywords in the
designed and launched a website, acquired suppliers and
built an SEO-friendly technology platform that would handle
all workflows around eCommerce. We also realized we knew
nothing about sports. So, we brought on Stefan Tesoriero
and Mike Gallucci, two eminently talented executives
who have forgotten more about the business of sports than
I’ll ever know," Stein said. "Since then, we've
added more superstars and currently have an operating group
I'd match up against any of the best teams in online
forward four years to today and the property –
once just a lonely domain name -- is an Internet
Retailer Top 500 website and the leading
online retailer of autographed memorabilia
outside of eBay. The company enjoys
attractive EBIT margins and an operating team
that’s second to none. But it all starts with
the domain name. The one-of-a-kind nature of the
domain name “SportsMemorabilia.com” has
beyond our expectations. It has opened doors
to suppliers, vendors and strategic partners who
wouldn’t have given us the time of day if we were
something like “AAASportsMemorabilia.com”, Stein
team behind SportsMemorabilia.com
success of SportsMemorabilia.com also provided the Triton
team with a road map they could use as a business model for
additional domain assets. "We decided to go after a
small number of other category-killing enthusiast domain
names," Stein said. "In the 11-month period
between January and November 2010, we bought Boating.com,
Yachting.com, Biking.com, Barbecuing.com,
BabyFormulas.com and Hobbies.com, folding them
into an umbrella company called Triton Web Properties."
mapped our proprietary technology platform – now 5 years
in the making – to those other names, uploaded product and
began the SEO process. Some of those names are starting to
get a nice amount of traffic, but mainly we’re letting
them slowly build authority and trust in the eyes of
the search engines. Our plan is to build each one into the market-leading
website in its respective category," Stein said.
part of the Triton strategy is to get where they plan to go on
their own. "For better or for worse, our ventures
have been entirely self-funded," Stein said.
"Funding working capital out of our own pocket
enforces a level of discipline that might not be there
if it was somebody else’s money. Not being beholden to
outside investors has helped me control my own destiny
and really design exactly the lifestyle I want, which is a
privilege I don’t take for granted. Additionally, it has
helped me be more nimble, as I can make significant
changes to businesses on the fly without having to explain
to stakeholders why I’m doing it. Though access to more
capital and a professional board would be nice, I feel the
self-funding model leads to significant business and
lifestyle advantages," Stein said.
Stein white water rafting with his family. These rapids
can be tricky to navigate,
just as those in the business world are. Stein says self-funding
allows him to be more nimble and make quick decisions
again, it all starts with a name," Stein noted.
"A one-of-a-kind domain name opens doors and
strengthens brand recall, ad click-throughs, direct
“type-in” traffic, conversions, time-on-site and repeat
customers. For example, for the customer seeking sports
memorabilia through a search engine or other online referral
source, the name “SportsMemorabilia.com” creates an instant
a user skimming the top-ten Google results for “sports
memorabilia”: in 5 to 10 seconds they will choose between
the names SportsMemorabilia.com, AllAuthentic.com,
SteinerSports.com and Framethestars.com. Which name will the
average user be more likely to make an instant connection
with? The SportsMemorabilia.com name is not just a
brand, it also conveys what it is. It defines
the industry," Stein said in closing.
someone asked you to define the importance of a category
killing domain name in 25 words or less, those last
two sentences from Stein would do the job nicely (with seven
words left to spare). With a solid foundation of such
names to build on,
Stein and Triton Web Properties are well positioned to make major
waves in the e-commerce world.