had accumulated considerable wealth in the first half of the
20th Century - wealth that would be confiscated when the
Communists took over the country in 1948.
One of his
ancestors (a great great great grandfather) named
Krizik was a famous Czech inventor.
Krizik created the arc lamp and is credited with
helping to electrify much of Czechoslovakia by building
power plants, tram lines and among other things, providing
lighting for the National Theatre. Today there is
even a metro station in Prague named after him - appropriate
because he also held a number of patents in train signaling
(in an interesting
side note that domain owners, who sometimes have to deal
with over reaching trademark interests, will be able to
relate to - Krizik successfully fought off a challenge to
one of his patents from industrial giant Werner
also vividly exchanged letters with Albert Einstein,
which our family still has in its archives. Though he was a
great inventor, he wasnít a very successful businessman.
However, one of his daughters married into the Barta family,
and they helped fund his ventures. The Barta family was the
largest cement producer in the country and also owned one of
the largest construction companies and a significant stake
in Staropramen, one of the most famous beer brands
Barta family's reach even wound up touching a family that
decades later would produce one of the nation's most revered
presidents - Vaclav Havel - who led the company after
the fall of Communism. Jan said, "The Barta
family owned the Barrandov Hills next to Prague, where we
wanted to build a cement plant. But in the 1920s we sold
it to the Havel family, who then built film studios there. I
am a huge fan of family heir Vaclav Havel and just recently
managed to have him play a cameo role in our movie Czech
Made Man, which was great (you can see
the trailer for that film here)."
Barta family's fortunes took a dramatic turn for the
worse when World War II wreaked havoc on millions of
lives across the continent. "My
great grandfather was the president of VSCHT, the Czech
Technical University. When Nazi Germany occupied
Czechoslovkia, the Nazis cleansed the Czech intelligensia
and sent him to a concentration camp, which he fortunately
survived," Barta said.
"The takeover of communists in 1948 was a tragedy
for the family. Since we had a business background we were
strongly persecuted, not allowed to study in universities
etc, so large chunks of the family ended up in exile,
including my parents," Barta continued. "My mother for a different reason Ė
her father was an RAF pilot in
the second world war and the communists portrayed all who
fought in the west almost as traitors - only members of the
resistance connected to Moscow were portrayed as heroes."
would be 41 years before the family's long
nightmare ended with the collapse of Communism in
1989 when at least some of the property the family
had owned before the war was returned to them.
"That brought a lot
of the members of our family back to the country,"
Barta said. " My father
started managing the parts of the estate that were given
the various branches of the family, having a personal stake
in them as well. This included two castles in the south and
about 1500 hectares (about 3,705 acres) of forests and agricultural
who was born on April 18, 1985, was four years old
of the castles the Barta family regained
of after the Communists lost power in 1989.
the family regained that portion of what had been
lost. He has early memories of growing up in one of
the castles in the village of Stadlec, home
to about 500 inhabitants. " Growing
up in a village was retrospectively fantastic," Barta
recalled. " I attended the primary school there
and spent my
childhood gardening, fishing and playing soccer." While
his father managed the family estate his mother
taught English in a larger village nearby. "My parents were a
huge influence on me -
to date they are the biggest role models for me," Barta
said. " I assume
that from my fatherís side I got the business genes and from
my motherís side the more social aspects of life."
Barta with a best friend
" Through my
mother I also developed a huge love for animals, especially
dogs," Barta said. "They have always been like family members for us, the
sadder it is when they pass away. Unfortunately I cannot
have my own dog now, since me and my girlfriend live in the
very center of Prague and I do a decent bit of traveling as
well. I at least help fund a dog shelter near Prague now."
Also, since my early childhood, I was fascinated by growing
things Ė I acquired this trait mainly through my father
and grandfather," Barta added. While following that
passion it soon became evident that this was
a boy who was born to be an entrepreneur.
" By the age of 9 or 10 I was growing vegetables
on a one hectare plot of land and employing village kids for
10 cents an hour to help me out, selling the produce
later," Barta recalled.
displayed many other talents while growing
up, including one that would presage one of
his current businesses as a movie producer.
"When I was 8 I was one of those child
movie stars, playing in a TV movie
called Stalo se na Podzim
singer Marta Kubisova," Barta
said. "My godfather is Jan Nemec,
a famous 1960ís film director, who gave me
the role. I still have a fondness for films
and actually produce them now."
the time he was 11, Barta had also developed an interest in
the stock market. "I remember that for about three years I was
glued to CNBC and Bloomberg," Barta
said. "After spending so much time
researching, I persuaded my parents to provide me with some
money to invest. For about two years I was massively
successful, so I believed I was a genius and
believed that there is no sense for me to even attend high
school! Then came the Nasdaq crash and I lost about $150,000
my parentsí money."
14 when the crash came Barta, like all good entrepreneurs,
got back up from the canvas and started planning a comeback.
"I was attending a school in the town of Tabor and
sort of felt I had outgrown my peers there, so together with
my parents we decided that I would move to Prague to attend
the English College in Prague (ECP), a prestigious
high school, where the curriculum is taught in English. The
ECP totally kick-started my career and personal
development. Our year was full of absolutely amazing people
and the professors were fantastic. It was in these high
school years that I developed a liking of existentialist
philosophy and a fascination for great literature. My favorite
writers include Nabokov, Dostoyevskij, Marquez
and E.L. Doctorow."
the ECP gave him such a big boost Barta decided he wanted to
give back by making it possible for talented but less
fortunate kids to have a similar experience. He does that
today by completely funding tuition fees and other expenses
for one student every year as part of his own ECP
Barta with his classmates at the ECP high school
(Jan is in the center of the picture in a dark shirt
and white jacket)
having his horizons expanded through his high school
studies, Barta decided upon graduation that it was time to
see more of the world. He his sites on London, England.
"I had visited the city for a language program when I was
younger and thought it was fascinating. My parents wanted me
to continue my education at Cambridge or Oxford,
but I applied for the
London School of Economics," Barta said.
Unfortunately they denied his application, but Barta was
still sold on London so he went to plan B. "I ended up at
University College London, also one of the top universities in the
studied Economics with East European Relations there,
finishing with a BA degree after 3 years," Barta noted.
"Although UCL is a great
definitely learned more by reading the Financial Times every
day and the Economist. What brought the most added value was
simply being in London and building all of the social
connections. I met plenty of very talented people and made
ton of friends there. For example, a classmate of mine,
Richard Irving, was my first employee when I started Elephant
Orchestra in Prague after University. Richard later started
his own competing domaining business called Tiger Names,
which was a little disappointing to me, but we are friends
again now. My best friend from University is Gafar, who was
my flat mate for two years and has a very similar mindset to
me. Gafar also has some domain investments now that I helped him with."
high school and college Barta also remained immersed
in the business world. His stock market losses meant
he had to find a new source of income and the web
provided just the solution he was looking for. " In 1999
me and a friend co-founded Nabit.cz, which became a top10
visited website in the Czech Republic (CZ). We were the first to offer
people black and white logos for their Nokia phones. That
was the foundation of B3net, our mobile marketing company.
We would run various mobile campaigns for blue chip clients
like Pepsi, Toyota and Kraft Foods,"
" During this time Ė
when I was 17 Ė I also had a brief internship at
investment bank UBS Warburg in Zurich for the
summer and I
think I still am the youngest intern they have had there.
was a great experience, because I realized I did not want to
be an investment banker after all and didn't want to
work for anybody else," Barta said.
"Just prior to starting university, I
managed to sell the B3net business to a larger mobile
marketing player and got something like $50,000 for it, which
was big money for me. I remember I blew most of the money on
promoting hip hop concerts, drinking and taking my girlfriend for
vacation! During my first year at University I co-founded
another mobile marketing company called Crazy Tomato,
which still exists today and I still co-own it. Itís one
of the largest mobile marketing companies in the CZ,"
"In my last year of University I hit
my first little
goldmine. I managed to persuade Vodafone in CZ to
give me a revenue share of what people spent on data on their
mobile phones through a technology called WAP."
Though that revenue stream did not last long it finally gave
Barta a nice chuck of change to enjoy London life after
years of being on a tight budget. Naturally, like a lot of
college age kids would do in that situation Barta said he
used the money to lead a ďrockstar life with party after
experience did have lasting benefits though as it
helped prepare Barta for his post college career as
a full blown entrepreneur and domains would
play a key role in the next stage of his life. " Being in
London, I wanted Crazy Tomato to expand into the UK,"
Barta said. " By
coincidence there was a company called Ringtones.co.uk that
just went bankrupt when I was checking out their site. So I
emailed them if they would sell me the domain. I ended up
buying it for $16,000 with a plan to build a ringtone
website on it." Barta got the site up but after about
three months it wasn't performing as well as he had
hoped. At the same time, while browsing the web he
came across Sedo.com,
the domain sales and brokerage company that everyone
in the domain business is familiar with.
"I emailed them
and asked how much the domain was worth," Barta
recalled. " Within
two days I got a $110,000 offer from broker Ash Rahimi (who
later co-founded NameDrive). The buyer was Mad.biz (who I
would later buy
a company represented by
Daniel Law (who just recently started Rook Media
with Ash). I obviously knew that you could buy and sell domains,
but I this was an ephiphany!" Barta declared.
"I saw that the new
owner had something that looked like an error page on
Ringtones.co.uk (I didnít
know anything about parking then)." Barta asked the new
owner if he could rent the domain until they found a new
buyer since they didn't appear to be using it. "I still remember their reply to this
day," Barta said. "They told me ďWe make more money then you are offering
now.Ē Thatís when I realized that parking can make a lot of
money and started researching the whole field in detail
with a plan to enter the business. Thatís when I discovered
DNJournal, DNForum, Frank
Schillingís blog and others," Barta
plan was to replicate this model in the Czech Republic and
thatís how Elephant Orchestra (EO) started," Barta
continued " The vision was
simple Ė acquire the top generic names in the CZ
and monetize the traffic. I realized I am coming late so I
needed an investor to put up the cash. Luckily Pavel
Stovicek and his partners, prior investors in Crazy Tomato,
just sold their IT integration company and were willing to
put up the cash, so we founded Elephant Orchestra in the
summer of 2007, just after I finished university."
" I went
on a buying spree and bought domains like pujcky.cz (loans),
leasing.cz, hracky.cz (toys) etc in the aftermarket. But I
discovered there isnít much type-in traffic in the CZ so
it would be necessary to expand abroad. I bought my first
.com portfolio in December 2007. Meanwhile, the Czech financial domains
I had acquired served as the foundation of our lead generation
arm. Lead gen is a concept I pioneered in the CZ and we are
basically the Czech QuinStreet now. Today Elephant
Orchestra has three arms Ė our owned and operated domain
portfolio, a lead generation arm and Elephant Traffic,
which is our monetization platform for domain traffic Ė we
sell type-in traffic directly to advertisers. I would say
that Elephant Orchestra today is a vertically integrated monetization
company," Barta said.
currently has 60 full-time employees. Pretty early on I
hired a professional CEO to oversee the growth of the
company, since I am not very good in day-to-day management. Iím more of a visionary focused on
strategy, so I brought
in Wei-Hai Chu, a Taiwanese born Dutch citizen as
CEO. He also sort of acts as the father in the company,
because most people in EO are very young. Peter Krajicek is
CFO and oversees finances and then itís the three
divisional heads Ė Jeremy Lopez runs Elephant Traffic,
Peter Misek is in charge of our domain portfolio and Arnost
Machytka is head of lead gen. Both
Peter and Arnost are my classmates from the English College
in Prague. Otherwise EO is a very multinational
have employees from 13 different nationalities including
countries like Peru, Argentina, Ukraine,
India and Uzbekistan. Also we have a lot of Americans working for us
from the Prague ex-pat community," Barta added.
of the Elephant Orchestra team in a photo from the
Jan Barta is 3rd from the left in the back row
(wearing a a blue shirt).
the past couple of years domain parking revenue has fallen
off a cliff, a situation Barta is painfully aware of. "It affected me pretty drastically, like everyone
else,' Barta agreed. "I donít believe monetization will
ever reach the levels
that we saw in 2007. However I do believe that there is room
for at least a slight rebound, though it is very
unlikely to come through PPC. The uplift I believe will come
through alternative monetization. Our Elephant Traffic
platform provides one way - there are certain niches where we are
already beating PPC significantly. I also believe in using
domain traffic for CPA (cost per acquisition), lead-generation and email
marketing," Barta said.
a completely untapped area is
somehow incorporating display advertising into domain
monetization. I believe there is going to be a renaissance
in display over the coming years, where display will grow
much faster than search. This will be driven mostly by
developments in behavioral targeting and real time
bidding," Barta predicted.
PPC has fallen on recent years, the demand for
ccTLDs has risen with aftermarket sales of country
code domains consistently outpacing non .com gTLD
sales. Barta commented on how the .cz ccTLD
representing his homeland - the Czech Republic - is
.cz zone is currently growing at about 10,000 domains a
month and there are now over 700,000 .cz domains out
there," Barta said.
and Elephant Orchestra models
at a 2010 Affiliate VIP event
What helps is that the registry, CZ.NIC is pretty competent.
EO is the largest holder of .cz domains. When it comes to
the aftermarket, my estimate is that the annual size is
about $2-3 million for .cz. We have seen some $500,000+ sales
in the past, including dovolena.cz (holidays).when
to other East European countries,
Poland's .pl is pretty advanced.
Hungary (.hu) and Slovakia (.sk) are lagging I would
believe that new technological developments and the rising importance of social media and mobile platforms will have a negative effect on the value and importance of domain names in the years ahead.
It may surprise some to know that Barta is among them.
"I donít think the overall prospects of the domain industry
are that great unfortunately," Barta said.
"I donít really believe
domains are that much of a growth business, itís more of a
share business with respect to who takes more of the pie, but
the pie isnít growing. So over the
last year and a half Iíve been heavily diversifying into
"Also, I believe that
in this decade, the
way users navigate across the web will fundamentally change
be it through social, mobile or whatever. There is a
pretty straightforward fall in type-in traffic over the last
two to three years. Obviously domains will be still very
important when it comes to building brands, but their effect
as traffic generators will probably decline," Barta
burgeoning business empire keeps him on the go.
happens, Barta plans to be ready for it by having
irons in as many fires as possible. "Domains are probably a minority part of my business ventures
now-a-days," Barta noted. " My crown jewel
for example is currently ePojisteni.cz, which is the largest
online car insurance provider in the CZ, I own half of the
company and see huge growth there in the next three years. I also
co-own slevydnes.cz, which is one of the largest players in
the daily deal business in the CZ, which we plan to expand
Semantic Visions, which
is a start-up focused on the semantics of the web. We just
signed a big deal with
SAP which will have SAP integrate our
semantic data into their business intelligence products. I
also co-own Duck On Truck, which is a Facebook developer
behind the recently launched Miss Internet app. I also
majority own a chain of liposuction clinics called Slim
& Go in the Czech Rep. Apart from that I fund a ton of
other internet start-ups that could have a bright future
ahead of them," Barta said.
of Barta's favorite pastimes have wound up
generating revenue for him too. "I
play poker 6-8 times a month and have become
one of the top high stakes poker players in the Czech
Republic. It's not uncommon for me to make $100,000+
in a month of playing poker just as a hobby,"
Barta said. As mentioned earlier, I also enjoy producing
movies and co-produced
a movie called Czech Made Man that is currently in
CZ cinemas. I believe itís the first movie ever made
about the life of a domainer - the legendary denny007, as he
used to be known on the forums.
Iím now producing another low budget movie, which is sort
of an allegory about current moral values. Iím also trying
to acquire the rights for Palahniukís short story Guts to
"Apart from that Iím a
pretty big tennis fan and I've recently been playing twice a
week. I also like spending time with my girlfriend and Iíve been doing
a lot more non-profit work
as solely making money isnít that much of a challenge
anymore," Barta said.
Barta thinks the future is uncertain for domain values, this
business remains #1 in his heart. "I
can't stress enough how much I owe to the
whole domain industry. There are so many wonderful people in
the business that it would take pages and pages to name them
all," Barta concluded.