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February 13, 2014

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The John Ferber Story: How The Secret Millionaire Sold His Company for $495 Million and Why He Loves the Domain Business Now

By Ron Jackson 

Few (if any) people in the history of the domain industry have entered the business accompanied by the aura of success that surrounded John Ferber when he arrived on the scene last year as a Co-Founder of Domain Holdings Group, LLC. Ferber was already an Internet business star after selling Advertising.com, the innovative online marketing company that he co-founded with his brother Scott, to America Online for $495 million in 2004 (press reports at the time said the price paid was $435 million but Ferber told us that figure was incorrect as the sales agreement also gave the Ferber brothers another $60 million in cash that was in the company account). 

The 37-year-old Baltimore native who now lives in Boynton Beach, Florida, also came with a reputation for being a humble, good natured guy whose primary mission in life now was giving back to those who have been less fortunate than he has been. The groundbreaking Microgiving.com website that Ferber founded in January 2008 has been the primary vehicle for his philanthropy, a passion that soon caught the attention of ABC-TV. The network wound up featuring John in an episode of its hit series Secret Millionaire on March 27, 2011 (the full program can be viewed here). 

John Ferber

While the nationally broadcast TV show gave viewers a lot of insight into Ferber's big heart,  it didn't delve into where this inspiring young entrepreneur came from, how he made his fortune and where he is headed now (hint: the answer involves domain names). All of that makes for a very interesting story that will be told in this DN Journal Cover Story.  

Though he became wildly successful in the business world, few who knew him in his youth, nor even Ferber himself, could have predicted how much he would accomplish. John was born in 1974 and raised in Owings Mills, Maryland, a suburb just north of Baltimore. The youngest of three sons, his father (who is now retired) was a tax attorney and his mother a real estate agent. "I was very fortunate to grow up in a loving household with conservative but very supportive parents," Ferber said. "My father worked very hard to provide a better lifestyle than he experienced growing up for our family and while I was young and growing up, his strong work ethic was probably the farthest from how someone would describe me back then. Throughout school growing up I never applied myself very much towards things like studying or sports. I would describe myself as a coaster, always doing the bare minimum required in order to progress to the next grade."

"I was fortunate that I didnít have to study very much and could still pull off a solid B average. I knew that if I studied more, I could pull off A's, but I didnít have a strong motivation to do so," Ferber said. Part of the reason for that was the role computers played in his life from a very early age. "I was one of the first generation of kids to grow up with a computer pretty much from 1st grade," John said, adding, "I also was one of the first generation to grow up with video games, etc. My first sports related injury was probably my thumb hurting from pressing the keys too hard on the Nintendo game system controller back in the late 80s!"

Within three years, 3-year-old John 
Ferber
(at left in the nursery school 
photo above) would be introduced to computers for the first time.

Ferber was first introduced to computers around 1980 when as a six-year-old he recalled watching his brothers and father solder together a Heath Kit computer that they had purchased from a mail order catalog. "I became mesmerized  by the amazing capabilities of the computer," Ferber said. "I spent hours trying to load software programs from cassettes that had to be perfectly synced in order to load properly and playing these mind numbing "Choose your own adventure" type games that required you to type commands like "look left", "walk forward", etc. in order to find clues and progress through the games."

"In first or second grade our elementary school opened up something called a Computer Lab and my class was the first to be introduced to the computers there. They were all Radio Shack TRS80s and I somehow persuaded my

parents to buy me one and next thing I knew I was inseparable from it. I spent my third grade summer at Radio Shack Computer Camp learning how to program it. I fondly remember nagging my father to buy me accessories such as remote hard 5.25 inch hard drives and these Epson dot-matrix printers that would weigh like 25 pounds and cost more than the computer itself!"

"Around the same time, my oldest brother Larry (now a Thoracic/Vascular Surgeon) was entering college and majoring in computer science and my father bought him an IBM-PC Clone. This opened the world to me -  to better computer games, but more importantly to Bulletin Board Systems. Some of you may be too young to remember, but the predecessor to the internet today was these BBS's which would enable people to communicate in forums, chat, download software, etc. There was a ComputerLand store in our town and they were operating a node of a national BBS called Fido Net. I think they were like node #2 or #5 and the guy at the store gave us the software and we became one of the earliest Fido Nets around. I remember spending every waking minute of my elementary school summers glued to the computer, yakking it up with people. There was a local guy nicknamed "Spiderman" who my brother and I used to speak with and we decided to meet him one day at a local mall. I'll never forget my brother's shock and surprise to see this 10 year old kid show up! It was an early experience of the fascinating components of anonymity that the future internet would provide," Ferber said.  

10-year-old John Ferber (left) with 
boyhood and lifelong best friend  
Michael Barnstein
at a time when
John was already hooked on computers.

Senior John Ferber (3rd from left) 
with friends from his Pikesville 
High School
class of 1992

Still, Ferber's love affair with computers cooled a bit when he started having hardware problems with his TRS80. Developing an interest in other things teens do like girls, music and sports also led to a period of several years in which John said he barely used a computer. Still old flames can be hard to forget and Ferber's passion for computer would be rekindled after he left high school, though there would be several twists and turns along the way.

After high school, Ferber and a friend bought a camper van and spent six months traveling across the country. When that adventure was over Ferber headed to Boca Raton, Florida where he enrolled at at Florida Atlantic University, a school located only a mile or so from the beach. "Admittedly, I wasnít ready for school and found myself spending more time on the beach than in class," Ferber said. "Ultimately

my grades lacked and I decided to move back to Baltimore where I wound up going to Towson State University. I had the typical random college jobs, telemarketing, delivering pizzas, etc., but I had a hard time working for someone else. At one job as a short order chef, the manager tried to make an example of me by insisting I wore this ridiculous hat. He picked on me because I was the new guy and all the existing people wouldnít wear the hats either. Long story short, after a heated exchange I quit on the spot, leaving in a huff with several burgers and hotdogs on the grill."

"I remember my father saying that he always thought I was going to have to work for myself in some capacity. He identified this in me much earlier than I was able to understand it, but the bottom line is that when asked to do something, I would bend over backwards to please the requestor, however when told to do something I had an acidic reaction and would do things very begrudgingly," Ferber recalled.

Ferber soon found a solution that worked for him. "In my junior year in college I started buying used computers and then re-selling them and also started doing "Internet Set-Up" consulting for other college students and small businesses. Just getting on to the internet back in the mid 90's was a very challenging thing to do! I found myself really enjoying this new business because I was my own boss and I alone affected how successful I could be.  At the same time I was pursuing a degree in Psychology and have always felt that it was a great degree to obtain because psychology is the study of people and why we do the things we do. Business is all about people, so I've always felt my degree helped me in business by understanding people's motivations, decision making, etc."

Ferber's love for computers also re-surfaced during his college years. "When I was preparing to go to Florida Atlantic my father bought me a used PC Clone that I could take to college primarily for doing word processing. However at the time (1992), online services like Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL were becoming all the rage and I soon became hooked on Prodigy in particular, spending hundreds of hours on there, exploring and chatting. Around 1993 or 1994 I heard of the World Wide Web for the first time. I can remember wasting hours trying to get modems to work, online services to connect, configurations to work properly, etc., but once I was online and connected I

John Ferber in his Delray Beach, Florida office (April 2011)

was absolutely amazed and transfixed about the realm of possibilities the WWW presented," Ferber recalled.

"During my last semester in college I met another gentleman online who was developing one of the first video games ever designed to be played with multiple people over the internet. I joined forces with him to market and distribute the game. This was in 1996 and the internet was still a scary big black hole and while thousands of people loved playing the free version of the game, very few were purchasing a license. After about 6 months working together we decided to pursue a strategy of selling advertisements in the game. We spent 6 more months trying to drum up interest in advertising in the game when a seminal moment occurred to me. I was speaking to an operator of an online casino as they were some of the largest advertisers back then, and he basically said to me, "Kid I could give two shits about advertising in your game, however the software you developed to track and measure the effectiveness of the ads is very interesting to me. "Long story short I ultimately ended up developing what would become known as white label affiliate management software. I sold the software to countless online advertisers and was doing quite well all at the age of 23," Ferber said.

Suddenly all of that time he had spent fiddling around with computers as a child started to look like time well spent. "A book I read called Outliers was based on the notion that most highly 

successful people are the product of at least 10,000 hours of training in their respective field, so in retrospect I can see now that all those countess hours up late at night, eating Triscuits, exploring the never ending possibilities and wonders of what a computer and the internet can do ultimately led me to where I am and what I do today," Ferber agreed. 

"I had always had a notion in the back of my mind that my ultimate career would be computer related, but until my life developed in real time, I never had any inkling as to how exactly that would manifest. I only had 2-3 advertising/marketing courses that I took in college, so arguably I wasnít trained like most people for a career in advertising. Had it not been for my time spent online, on the WWW, playing games, trying to sell advertising in something that was extremely foreign at the time, etc., I donít think my path would have ultimately led to where I am today, yet this was the only path I knew to take.  Overall I've lived my life then and really to some extent still today by the seat of my pants."

At the same time John enjoying his first taste of professional success at 23 his brother Scott was busy working for financial giant Capital One - a company famous for pioneering information based marketing, especially in the credit card space. Ferber said, "Over a number of discussions at family gatherings a combination of ideas that Scott and I shared ultimately led to us deciding to create a company that didnít focus on the licensing of the advertising software, but instead on the buying and selling of advertising itself, taking advantage of an opportunity to apply optimization theory and models to online display advertising. At the time, no one else was thinking about this. Everyone was focused on tonnage, but very little on value."

Ferber added, "Scott received his bachelors and master's degrees in Systems Engineering which is basically the science of finding optimal solutions to real world business challenges. We knew that the internet presented a very unique opportunity for marketers because of its hyper efficiency and track ability. For instance a direct mail campaign usually takes 3 months to measure whether it was successful or not, today via email marketing it takes hours and can also be modified based on response in real time, versus having to wait 3 months. Plus, with display advertising, an advertiser was able to track the efficacy of each individual ad impression and then be able to model against it. This is one of the true inherent components of internet advertising that makes it so powerful for marketers. Until the internet only direct mail provided comparable capabilities, however direct mail is much more expensive and time consuming than internet advertising."

"By mid-1998, the idea for Teknosurf (later renamed Advertising.com) was born and we launched around October 1998. Our principle product was an "Ad Network" that advertisers could purchase advertising on primarily on a Cost Per Click basis. Through Scott's Systems Engineering degrees as well as a relationship with his mentor from Stanford University we were the first company to really apply and focus on optimization of the media placement process online. Over the years we added more product lines, at one point having the largest Owned Email Newsletter Database, Email Newsletter Ad Network, Affiliate Network, Search Engine Management products and more," Ferber said.

Acquisition of a new domain name - Advertising.com - would also play a key role in the explosive growth of John and Scott's new company, but it took awhile before the power inherent in that great name was finally put to use. 

"We only decided to change our name to Advertising.com after we were getting increasing reports from our sales folks that the name Teknosurf was not intuitive to what we did and in a world where you had 30 seconds to pitch who you were and what you did, it was creating challenges for our sales force.  We had

John Ferber speaking at the 
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. South Beach
conference 
in Miami (October 18, 2010)

acquired the Advertising.com domain sometime around the middle of 1999 from a company who had originally wanted $1 million for it. We passed at that price but they found themselves in a distressed situation soon thereafter and we had an opportunity to acquire it for $100,000, provided we could wire the money the same day. We decided to buy the name but had zero intention at the time to change our name to Advertising.com. The simple fact was we acquired it because we felt safe knowing that it would always be worth at least 100k - it was more of an investment than a strategic purchase at the time. However, by late 1999 plans were in motion to change our name to Advertising.com," Ferber said.

"The company created/pioneered/innovated many things during our tenure there, but we are best known for basically inventing and having the best placement optimization technology ever developed. When it came to display advertising no other company could match the power of our technology to place ads so effectively enabling us to pay the highest rates for advertising inventory and sell to the most advertisers because our solutions were the most favorable in the market. To this day the technology is still the leading placement technology available online and Advertising.com is still the world's largest reach vehicle for advertisers as measured by Comscore. There was a period of about 7 years where we were number 1 every month. When I left in 2006 I had calculated that we reached on average 90% of everyone on the internet, an average of 20 times PER DAY!," Ferber said. We were the "Intel Inside" of the Online Advertising industry - touching everyone but with very little brand awareness to the average consumer."

Of course, Advertising.com's success did not go unnoticed and before long America Online took a keen interest in the company - something that Scott Ferber had predicted would happen years before the landmark sale occurred in 2004. "Scott predicted our sale to AOL back in 1998!," John marveled. "I remember vividly a conversation with him where he was telling me, that if we can accomplish, A + B + C that in 5 years or so a company like AOL would come around and want to buy us for about $500 million. At the time it just sounded like an amazing pipe dream, but when this unfolded in reality in front of me I am still amazed at my brotherís prescient ability to predict value creation. It's not that he is a modern day Nostradamus, it's that he has incredible business skills that enable him to recognize value when it's being created and envision how it scales and lead the way to realizing the potential of the technology and value proposition we had created."  

The Ferber Brothers (left to right) John, Scott and Larry
on a fishing trip in Puerto Rico (April 2011)

"Our first real tangible experience with AOL occurred in 2001 when they were investors in our Series E Funding round, and after they had made the investment it was basically impossible to get any meaningful attention from them as they were going through the various interior issues resulting from the Time Warner/AOL Merger. Basically two years went by and we couldnít get any traction, then starting in the fall of 2003, our media buying team struck up a commercial relationship with them and we started buying increasing amounts of their advertising inventory," Ferber recalled.

" Around New Year's 2003/4 I remember driving down the road on a vacation in Florida and our head of Publisher Services at the time - an amazingly talented woman named Nada Stirrat - called me, very excited to tell me that AOL wanted to come visit our HQ in Baltimore. This was unusual news to us and as such it was my first "feeling" that something more than a commercial relationship could potentially develop. Fast forward a few weeks and about 10 AOL execs came from their Dulles HQ and spent the day visiting us. I remember it was a magical feeling meeting for all of us and I could just feel something special was potentially developing. At the time I actually had long hair, it was long for 10 years but, true story, at the end of the day after that meeting, I went and cut all my hair off!," Ferber laughed.  

"The story gets more complex!," Ferber conitinued. "At the same time this was going on we had decided to raise approximately $100 million in an IPO and take the company public. So as such we were spending a lot of time meeting with bankers, drafting our IPO materials, etc. Simultaneously with each passing week in that winter of 2004, AOL became more and more interested in our company.  Finally in the spring we had to make a choice as to whether to continue to pursue our IPO or perhaps an acquisition by AOL. Of course we couldnít insist AOL acquired us, so we basically had to tell them if they were interested in acquiring us they had to put in an offer or otherwise we were going to have to focus 100% on going public and wouldnít be able to entertain any more conversations with them until after that point."

"Then one night in April 2004, my brother received a phone call late at night from someone at AOL telling us to check our fax machine. At the time we lived about 15 houses apart and my main method of commuting to work was an 18 foot deck boat that I'd park at the dock at our office building. We set out late at night to make the cross harbor crossing with my dog Cody at the front of the boat, and we got to the office, to find out that the fax machine was locked in the office of our general counsel! A few feverish minutes later we were able to reach him and find out a spare key was hidden elsewhere in the office. We raced to find the key, open the door and grab the fax out of the paper tray. In the tray was a one page letter, two paragraphs in total, that basically said they thought we had a wonderful company and they'd like to acquire it for $425 million in cash!"

"It was an incredibly surreal moment. We had some buy-out offers in the past, most notably a company would FedEx an offer to us every 4 weeks or so for the previous year with an ever increasing amount, but the highest they had offered was maybe $200 million. This offer was much more substantial and just felt real, and I could tell it was different because my brother didnít dismiss it right away as he did the others. The next morning we had informed our IPO bankers (Goldman Sachs) and by noon of that day the offer stood at $495 milllon in cash for the company."

"It was an incredibly tempting offer and at the time you have to keep in mind that this is before Google went public, and the stock market still had not recovered fully from the dot.com crash, and while we had solid fundamentals and 6+ quarters of profits, etc., the world was a place of uncertainty back then, and we had no idea how well our IPO would go, et. Next we called a board meeting and had a long discussion about what to do. Ultimately, the lure of the all-cash offer 

was too attractive to pass up.  The rest of the process was pretty quick, we signed a sale agreement and about 45 days later the transaction was completed, the cash was in the bank, and Advertising.com was now owned by AOL/Time Warner. The negotiations and due diligence process was pretty amicable and overall the folks at AOL were very welcoming, kind and open to us," Ferber said.  

The day after the company was acquired I had a private meeting with my brother and he asked me, "What are you going to do next?" At the time I really had no idea, things were pretty overwhelming and I hadn't given it much thought, although admittedly staying with the company indefinitely wasnít on top of mind, neither was leaving. I told my brother I didnít know and asked him what he was going to do and he replied, "I'm going to work my ass off for the next two years so that in 5 years the folks who acquired us will look back on this deal and say it was the best deal they have ever done". I was blown away by that statement. In retrospect I realize he was testing me. AOL offered us a little stock and cash to stick around, but comparatively it wasnít much, however 

After selling Advertising.com to AOL 
for $495 million, John had the 
freedom to do anything he wanted.

my brother with his incredibly strong ethics and morals instilled in me the importance of seeing things through and that your reputation is the most important thing you have in life. As such we both stayed with AOL for 2 years seeing through its acclimation with AOL," Ferber said.

"It ultimately became very hard for me to leave, as when something is all that you have done and all that you know for the past 8 years of your life, you grow attached to it. It wasnít just a company, or a technology platform, it was a group of hundreds of people whom I have grown close with and cared about and considered a part of a big extended family (spread across 15 office in 8 countries around the world). You've probably heard before the phrase that a company is only as good as the people running it. I learned from direct experience how true this was. Yes we had great technology, but it was people who created it. Yes we had great clients but it was our sales and business development folks who nurtured the relationships over time."

"Today the company has evolved greatly. Some of our first co-workers are still there, meaning that today they've worked at the company more than twice the time I was there - that's a pretty crazy feeling to feel like you've created something that lasts longer than your own tenure there. They are still the number #1 reach vehicle in the world for advertising and last time I heard they were serving more than 10 billion ads per day (compared with about 1 billion when I left in 2006).  I know it's been an emotional roller coaster being tied into the trials and tribulations of the parent company, but at the end of the day the services they provide provides true inherent ROI value for their customers and I think the employees take a lot of pride in that," Ferber said.

John Ferber, his girlfriend Jenna Wehner and their
Yorkie, Mason, at home in Boynton Beach, Florida

With the gargantuan sale behind him and his work with AOL done, Ferber now had an unlimited horizon before him. What does someone who has sold a company for hundreds of millions of dollars do when they have the resources to do just about anything they could imagine?

"Scott and I both left in May of 2006 and spent the next few months basically decompressing," John said. "I took a trip to Europe , Scott spent time with his family, etc. When we had sold the company one of the first things I did was acquire a vacation home near where I lived when I went to Florida Atlantic (Editor's note: John graciously hosted a gathering of the South Florida Domainers Group at that home on the evening of March 31, 2011). At the time of purchase I had no plans to live there full time, but by the time I left Advertising.com I had decided to kind of start from scratch and decided to relocate down to Florida," Ferber said.

"I spent the next few months just kind of exploring South Florida and getting to know the area, etc. I was starting to itch again to be involved with something, as I'm not one to sit idly by and do nothing for long. As I get older I get more and more impatient with doing nothing and find that I have to literally always be doing something from the moment I wake up until I go to sleep, otherwise I go a little stir-crazy."

"In January of 2007, I met my future business partner Jason Boshoff at a mutual friendís birthday party and instantly I knew there was something I really liked and appreciated about him. As well, separately around that time, I met Erik Simons, another internet entrepreneur and all around just a great guy, great thinker, strategist, product oriented guy. After a few months I decided to essentially set up an incubator to develop some new business ideas and concepts and see what we could make out of them. Thus was born Vandelay Industries. Seinfeld fans will recognize that name as the name of the fictional company that George Costanza claimed to work for in a few episodes. As a huge Seinfeld fan I found the .Com available for sale and we hung our corporate shingle up as that," Ferber said. 

"As a funny aside, the day we started operating as Vandelay we called Fed-Ex to setup an account and their response was "sorry we can't setup accounts in the name of fictional companies" - then we called Geek Squad and they basically said the same thing. We realized maybe not everyone would appreciate the name as much as we did, LOL! Anyway, technically Vandelay is just a holding company for my personal ownership in a few companies I either founded or invested in."

Last year Ferber branched out further, taking a big leap into the domain industry by co-founding Domain Holdings Group. "Domain Holdings Group is a merger of some of the business units from one of my companies, USONetworks, and the technology platform created by my partner Chad Folkening. I had met Chad in 2007 and we have developed a non-working friendship over the past 4 years, which is great, because it's great to get an opportunity to know someone on a friend level before you become business partners with them," Ferber said.

"Chad has been a domainer since pretty much the beginning and has one of the top portfolios in the world. USONetworks was doing some premium domain development and after a series of conversations Chad and I decided to merge his technology platform with our business units providing premium domain development, SEO, and SEM together to form Domain Holdings."

John Ferber (left) and partner Chad Folkening (right) 
get some love form legendary domainer Frank 
Schilling 
at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. South Beach
 conference in Miami (October 2010)

"Our mission is to become the premier provider of what we call domain life-cycle management solutions. Our objective is to maximize value of domain portfolios for their owners by creating development, management and monetization solutions for domain owners. We believe that no one buys a domain to park it, but instead because they have a vision for a business model that should reside on that domain," Ferber said.

"Our objective is to make it incredibly efficient and cost effective to develop the domain, enhance its intrinsic value and overall maximize the value of the domain to the owner. We want to help our partners identify the best domains to buy, how much to pay for them, what to do with them, and how to eventually sell them if that's what they want to do. Chad's experience directly in the domain space combined with mine and the rest of the management teams expertise in Internet Marketing, Monetization, etc we feel makes us uniquely suited to provide the best solutions to the industry and while we are a relative new-comer to the space, we are investing heavily in developing the best solutions for the domain community," Ferber said.

John Ferber (standing in white shirt at left) with other members of the Domain Holdings 
Group
team in a photo we snapped on an April 2011 visit to their Delray Beach offices.

"To me we are just in the infancy of the history of domain names. I admire and appreciate how many different strategies and methods those in the industry have developed centering around domains. Some amass tremendous portfolios and make their living buying and selling domains, others focus on quality versus quantity and own a few but spend more time and resources developing them, some do both. There is no right or wrong strategy to pursue - some people may find they are better at buying/selling while others are better to develop them," Ferber noted.

"Regardless I think it's indisputable that a developed domain is almost always more valuable than one undeveloped.  As such I think we are starting to see the next phase in the industry, where solutions providers such as Domain Holdings Group and others are working tirelessly to develop the platforms that enable Domainers to more easily develop and maximize the value of their domains in a fashion that is as easy to implement as traditional parking solutions," Ferber said.

"I also think domains will increasingly become the center point of an expanding world, where things like Domain Centric Mobile apps, social media applications, vanity email applications, etc. all contribute to the overall value of a domain name and the domain name is the centralized point of it. I think we'll start to see major Fortune 500 companies increasingly realize how important 

it is to own key product oriented domains relative to their lines of business.  I was speaking to a senior level executive of a retailer recently and was fascinated in how interested they were in the concept of owning the key domain name for one of their largest product categories. For less than the cost of opening a new store they can forever own the .Com in something they spend 10's of millions a year advertising, etc.."

"Like in every industry, the only constant is CHANGE, and as such I expect the Domain Industry to continue to evolve and become increasingly more sophisticated and there will be more solutions than in the past that will work to create increased value for portfolio owners," Ferber predicted. "At Domain Holdings Group we think about a domain in terms of Life-Cycle Management. What's the value of a domain today, what's the maximum value that can be achieved and when and how is the right time to dispose of it.  How many times have you the reader sold a domain for what you thought was a great/top price, only to realize later you sold it for way to cheap, too soon? I look forward to working with everyone in the industry to help take the industry to its next level and help every domain owner realize the maximum potential they can out of their portfolio," Ferber said.

john ferber

In addition to Domain Holdings Group, Ferber is staying busy with a number of other business ventures. He noted that he is the kind of person who has to be doing something - but some will undoubtedly wonder why someone with his options is still going to the office to work on multiple enterprises every day. To that question Ferber replied, "I simply love working with other talented individuals and feeling like you are creating value and technology and solutions for people that they use and appreciate." 

"My other companies include USONetworks (a company I co-founded) and an affiliate, Car-Merical. They are pioneers in an emerging field called Video Search Engine Optimization (VSEO). Just like companies desire to rank in the tops of the search engines, they are increasingly realizing how important an effective Video Marketing Strategy online is to have as well.  The second largest search engine in the world is YouTube and videos are also on the results pages on Google, Yahoo, etc. So understanding this for our clients is what the company specializes in. We also have a full video production studio and do a lot of custom production work, particularly in the automotive industry."

John Ferber and actor/singer David Hasselhoff

"The other company is called MyMojo and primarily focuses on providing internet marketing services for celebrities. They have also been developing a very cool technology platform for marketers that helps them pick the right endorsers based on more than 100 data points. It's in its infancy but it's very fascinating stuff to me and hopefully to marketers as well. Erik Simons runs MyMojo and USONetworks, and Karry Moore and Joseph Leblanc run Car-Mercial. I'm also on the board of a company in Baltimore called DoublePositive which is one of the largest Hot Transfers companies in the world (a hot transfer is a lead in the form of a live person being transferred to a sales agent), and lastly I proudly serve on the board of my brother Scott's company, TidalTV.com, one of the leading Video Advertisement companies in the world," Ferber said.

As excited as he is about his new commercial ventures, the project closest to Ferber's heart is the 

pioneering charity fundraising site he founded at Microgiving.com. "I've always been charitably inclined, if that is a word, and at the same time as I got older I noticed I became a little jaded with the traditional concept of donating to a charity because it wasnít very fulfilling to me," Ferber said.

"A few events led up to the idea for Microgiving. The first was 9/11, and as my colleagues and I, like everyone else, were watching the tragedy unfold live on TV and the aftermath it occurred to me that there wasnít an easy way to directly help a victim or a victim's family from 9/11. Then came Hurricane Katrina. I was down in Florida when it happened, and when Katrina first hit landfall, the eye of the storm passed directly over my house as a category 1 hurricane. I had some friends in town that weekend and while I normally always have CNN on in the background, this one weekend I didnít until literally Katrina was making landfall as a category 4 or 5 hurricane in New Orleans and like everyone else watched helplessly on TV as Katrina left a path of devastation in its wake. I immediately donated to the Red Cross, and then started thinking of driving up there to help people on the ground but if you recall in the near term after Katrina, there was lots of confusion and people thought it was too dangerous to go to New Orleans with reports of looting and random crime, etc."

A tragic incident that hit even closer to home also played a major role in the genesis of Microgiving.com. "In 2004 my Sister-In-Law, who had  Cystic Fibrosis, passed away after receiving a double lung transplant. After she passed I started donating to CF, but I also wanted to helpsomeone directly who had CF and I looked around and just couldnít find an easy way to do so. Then in 2006, Muhammed 

Yunis won the Nobel Peace Prize for Micro-Lending, which is the issuance of small loans to people who traditionally had no access to them. In the USA most people have never heard of Micro lending, but it's incredibly popular in third world countries and has been hailed as one of the most positively transformative inventions of the 20th century," Ferber said.

"Reading about Yunis, a simple thought occurred to me - a platform online that would enable people who wanted to help others find people in need, and people in need the ability to find help from people willing to help. I envisioned it as a cross between Match.com and Facebook and in January 2008 Microgiving.com was launched," Ferber noted. "The first 2.5 years was fairly slow as we launched at an interesting time when the economy was collapsing around us. People found themselves in tremendous need, however at the same time, the level of donations charities received dropped as a function of the economy as well. So we had lots of people looking for help and not that many people willing to help."

John and Jenna spread the word about Microgiving.com at a Secret Millionaire 
viewing party in Florida (March 2011)
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Neu)

"About 9 months ago we decided to enhance the mission of Microgiving. Until that point the platform was solely used by people experiencing financial hardships, whether it was loss of job, domestic issues, medical, etc.  We opened the platform to anyone who wanted to raise money for anything, and as such we've grown about 10x more since then. It's worked out amazingly well because we now access a small fee on all donations and use that fee to donate to the people who need help the most and are really struggling, so overall we're helping more people than we ever have in the past. I still fund the overall operations and our next goal is to become self-sustaining/sufficient and I plan to continue to fund it until we do so," Ferber said.

"Since launching we've been able to help thousands of people and it's been an incredibly rewarding experience for all of us involved. There is nothing better than receiving an email of thanks from someone whom we've helped be able to receive life-saving surgery, stave off foreclosure, leave an abusive relationship, provide temporary assistance due to loss of job/income, etc. As well now we are helping musicians and artists and inventors and community volunteers and non-profits and

so much more receive funding to help them in their goals. If you know someone who can benefit by using the Microgiving crowd funding platform, please help spread the word!

Ferber's philanthropic efforts were most recently recognized by ABC-TV when they featured him in the March 27, 2011 episode of Secret Millionaire. The program showed Ferber reaching out to needy people and organizations in Los Angeles's infamous Skid Row area. We asked Ferber how his appearance on the telecast came about and how the experience impacted him.  

"About 18 months ago I was contacted by a journalist from a magazine called 944," Ferber said. 
"It's only distributed in a few cities and I hadn't heard of it. He was doing an article on successful people under the age of 40 and asked if I'd mind being a part of it. I said sure and he emailed me a list of about 10-20 questions. Well I was busy at the time and actually forgot to respond to him and basically never thought about it again. Fast forward a few months later and a casting producer from ABC had contacted me about being on the show. I asked him how he found me and he referenced the article in 944 magazine - the journalist had still included me even though I hadn't responded to his questions!"

"The casting producer sent me some links to a few of the episodes that had run in the UK (the show originated there about 6 years ago). I watched them over a weekend and was really impressed by the spirit of the show and the impact that the participants had on the recipients of the show and was proud and honored to be asked to be a part of the US version. I was also interested in seeing if I could learn and get ideas on how to improve and grow Microgiving, so I signed up."

"Being on the show has had an impact on me in a variety of ways. The theme of my episode was homelessness, and while I am fortunate to never have found myself homeless, the experience really opened my eyes to the causes of homelessness as well as enabled me to become more compassionate and understanding to people who find themselves in that situation. For instance it never occurred to me that people could be homeless because of domestic violence. One of the woman I met while shooting the episode was a lovely mother of 3 beautiful young kids, whose father kicked her and the kids out of their house on Christmas Eve and suddenly she found herself homeless on perhaps one of the most family oriented days of the year.  I think a lot of us are cynical when we pass a homeless person on the street and are quick to blame them as a victim of their own circumstances but what I learned and would love to impart is that everyone has a story of how they got to where they are and it's best not to judge before you heard the story."

"The appearance has also raised the awareness of Microgiving and thousands of people visited Microgiving and learned more about it and signed up or donated since the show aired. As for me, I had my 15 minutes of fame and am happy to retreat to my relative anonymity and focus on helping people and building businesses and enjoying life as much as I can," Ferber said.

When it comes to enjoying life Ferber pursues a number of outlets for his energy as well - one of them being playing guitars - he has a fabulous collection of them hanging on the walls of his Florida home. "I've been playing guitar since I was 10 years old, so 27 years now, however 

John and Jenna on a visit to Hawaii

I consider myself still an amateur," Ferber said. "I can somewhat handle my own on rhythm, but I have friends who started later than me and can really jam out and I admire them for their skill. I love going to concerts, I've probably been to more than 500,' Ferber said.

"I also have a lot of hobbies that I kind of scratch the surface on. I recently painted my first painting and sold it with the proceeds benefiting the Microgiving Foundation and am excited to do some more in that arena. I'm also currently working on my pilotís license and just recently started soloing. I can't express how exciting and exhilarating it is to be up in the air in a machine soaring through the sky all by yourself. I love scuba diving, swimming, basically anything to do with water, boating, volleyball, the beach, etc. I enjoy traveling and spending time with my girlfriend Jenna and our two dogs, as well as with my family, brothers, parents and friends," Ferber concluded. 

John Ferber ready to catch the next wave in the Bahamas.

Fortunately for this industry, Ferber has widened his circle of friends and professional colleagues to include those who share his passion for this business. The good work he is doing to provide more options for domain owners and a better life for his fellow man make John Ferber a welcome addition to what remains one of the world's most exciting young industries. 

  *****  

Postscript: This story is dedicated to Cody, now departed, whom John described as his "best friend for 15 years" (a close up photo of Cody still hangs on John's office wall). 

John Ferber and Cody

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