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January 01, 2014

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John Quail's Claim to Fame: How a Young Irish Entrepreneur Used Domains to Build a Booming Business

By Ron Jackson

28-year-old John Quail has had a lot of success buying and selling high end generic  domain names including Inside.com, Diseases.com, Vaccination.com, Laptop.net and several highly coveted 2-letter .coms. Now he is taking the next step, developing some of his better properties into full-blown businesses with personal injury referral site Claims.co.uk currently getting the most attention. 

As you can see just from the sampling above (and we will give you more examples in this article), Quail has already owned more high quality domains than a lot of industry veterans who have spent twice as much time in the business. We figured a lot of people would like to know how he got from point A to B so quickly and why he has now skipped past C to D (as in full blown online business Development.)

Quail's story starts in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he was born and continues to live today. "I  was raised in a time after most of the really bad troubles in Northern Ireland were over," Quail noted. "My mother is a great cook, and runs her own cafť, whilst my father is a plumber and my sister is the financial director for our newest company, claims.co.uk. I suppose I had the typical family upbringing. I wasnít a spoilt child growing up, but never wanted for anything, and my sister and I were always taught the value of money."

"Throughout school I excelled pretty well academically, not finding trouble with any 

John Quail in his Claims.co.uk office

subjects. Your typical straight-A student, even getting accepted to a summer school scholarship at Cambridge University via the Princeís Trust. However, I was later rejected from Cambridge University. They mustíve seen something they didnít like at the summer school!," Quail laughed.

"It was in high school that I first found computers, and was immediately intrigued. I suppose it started off with the typical things, nailing down all the basics, word processing, gaming, etc. and even dabbling in a bit of early programming with QBasic. Then the internet started getting popular and I loved it. The idea that anyone could start up a website for the whole world to see seemed amazing. Diving headlong into it I started teaching myself how to write HTML in Notepad, and messing about with early websites through the likes of GeoCities. From there it was only a matter of time before I asked myself how I could get a cooler web address than http://www.geocities.com/folder/anotherfolder/eventuallymyname.html," Quail smiled. 

"At the start I made the age old mistake of registering some absolutely terrible domain names (e-nternet.com springs to mind)," Quail recalled ruefully. "Thank God I only had the finances to register 3 or 4 before I found my senses!"

John Quail with his sister Claire (who serves as 
the financial director at Claims.co.uk.

Quail's name-picking skills soon improved though. "The first name I purchased from someone else  was Description.com," Quail said. "I had been searching through some of the domain forums (DNForum at the time I think) and came across some domains that had been picked up by Snapnames. Description.com seemed a cool name for a dictionary type site, so I emailed the owner out of the blue using the information in WhoIs and I agreed to buy the name for $500. I didnít have much money back then, so I used my parent's credit card (unbeknownst to them). Thankfully before the credit card bill came in Iíd flipped it for $1,900 on another of the domain forums. I was RICH!  The other bonus of course was that my parents wouldnít kill me," Quail laughed.

"After breaking the news to them and paying them back, they quizzed me for what felt like an eternity until they were satisfied that I hadnít taken up drug dealing, skimmed credit cards or identity fraud," Quail smiled. "Surprisingly calm after that, they even wished me well and let me go back to my little project."

"Thatís when things started to go really well," Quail recalled. "Day and night I was up checking domains that just popped into my head, emailing those that had terrible sites, no sites, or for sale pages. With each domain sale I reinvested my profits (easy when you have no rent, rates, food or electricity to pay) and this allowed me to shoot up to domains of higher and higher quality, picking up the low hanging fruit as I went. Buying and selling domains such as region.com, toddlers.com, prisons.com and Lapland.com. Picking the low hanging fruit meant that during the early days of domaining there was only one domain I didnít make money on and that was due to a suspect trademark infringement. I might have been doing well, but not well enough to defend myself against a lawsuit from a multi-billion dollar company."

Letter from Santa image from Bigstock

"Through my early domaining days I was mostly a Ďflipperí, although I did dabble with development with one particular domain Ė Lapland.com," Quail continued. "I had spent about £2500 getting a custom animated Santa Village created, and it did receive a decent amount of traffic for my first real development. During that Christmas I got about 350 letters to Santa. Unfortunately the site proved really difficult to monetize, and obviously, quite seasonal, so I made the difficult decision to sell it and move onto other domains. Iíve always regretted selling it due to the feel-good factor it gave, but its just a little too expensive for a vanity project."

Even though Quail was making money in domains, he still wanted to complete his education. "Moving up through domains whilst doing a Computer Science degree at Queenís University gave me a unique insight into things," Quail said. "Before long I had programmed a tool to scrape every single word out of the DMOZ directory and run it through Overture Keyword tool to check their popularity with the .com added. This gave me a great list of prospects to work through and email, and it was through this I had some of my greatest successes."

"One particular domain, Inside.com, I had managed to purchase from the owner for only $9,000. Fast forward a week or two later and I had it sold for $90,000. Unbeknownst to me, the domain was previously a well-funded news site which had gone out of business and a former employee was looking to take up the reins and restart the site," Quail said.

Actually developing domains is an entirely different animal than simply buying and selling them. Many domain investors have no desire to make that leap. So, what sent Quail off in a new direction, building and running a site at claims.co.uk  that helps people who need help filing personal injure claims

"I moved into the claims business about the same time as the recession started to hit," Quail recalled. "It seemed to be getting harder and harder to find good deals in domaining, with a lot of the lower hanging fruit having been picked off. I was cash rich, but cash-flow poor and was looking for an income stream that would be more stable than the volatility of having to find and sell domains when they came around. With my previous experience in website design and domaining, moving into running websites seemed like a natural progression."

Personal injury claim image from Bigstock

"The opportunity to purchase my first claims related site came about and I pounced on it. Claims were the perfect industry given the start of the recession. With the setup of the UK injury claims system, it was essentially recession proof. Soon after purchasing that first site, I got offices and hired a friend that had a lot of experience in SEO and website management. We managed to grow it into one of the most highly trafficked injury claims websites in the UK. As we were growing, I was always on the lookout for websites and/or brands that could push us to the next level, picking up complimentary established sites such as medicalclaims.co.uk and whiplashclaims.co.uk. What I really wanted though was claims.co.uk," Quail said.

"With my experience in the domain name industry, I knew the advantages a market leading domain such as this would give. While competitors in the injury claims industry were spending over £6 million a year in TV advertising to help build brand, a domain such as claims.co.uk is a brand in a box," Quail noted.

"In addition, being in such a competitive industry, there is a need to eke out any possible advantage over your competition, especially if it is one that they cannot easily reproduce. Aside from the trust factor that such a name reinforces, I was well aware of a study another 

domainer had conducted in the past. An advantage such as this over competitors can be the difference between losing a lot of money and making a lot of money in the PPC arena. Armed with information like this, and wanting to push the business to its maximum potential, pursuing claims.co.uk was a no-brainer."

"By February 2012 we had finalized the purchase of claims.co.uk for £100,000 (about $168,000 at the time) and one of the top 10 .co.uk sales of all time. After popping the champagne and celebrating the end of months of hard negotiating it was back to work," Quail said.

Even with the exact match domain he wanted now at his disposal, Quail still had to overcome some unexpected obstacles. "Unfortunately in March 2012 one of our other important claims sites was hit by a Google Panda update," he said. "This hit our revenue quite a bit, but thankfully by this time we had diversified our business across a couple of newly purchased/developed websites. This was due to some terrible link-building by the previous owner and an SEO firm that we had hired. This taught me lessons in the perils of thinking short term with your websites, and to make sure to keep a close eye on not just who you hire, but any work they are doing," Quail advised.

Quail popped the champagne when he acquired claims.co.uk but it was soon back to work and everyday beverages as he developed his business on the prized domain. 

Quail has many other domains with tremendous potential. One of his favorites is c.co.uk. "The opportunity to buy c.co.uk came around in August 2011" Quail said. "The previous owner had  purchased some domains from the trademark holders, who had in turn won the domains in the sunrise period, and he was looking for some quick flips. By this time I knew that claims.co.uk was the name that I wanted to build my brand around, so c.co.uk was a risky purchase at the time, as negotiations for claims.co.uk were still ongoing."

Letter C image from Bigstock

"In addition, the auctions for the non-trademarked short letter .co.uk domains had not yet come around, so no real market pricing was available. However, the opportunity was just too good to pass. I figured that if worst case scenario if I could not secure claims.co.uk, I figured I should be able to still sell off c.co.uk for break even, maybe even a nice profit. So, I purchased the domain at what turned out to be  below market value after the auction had finished. Since then, I have rejected offers of close to $100,000," Quail said. 

"We have no immediate plans for the name, but are holding onto it to help with future marketing efforts when we get claims.co.uk established in the marketplace. I think as well as being a helpful redirect to the mobile site (having a shorter address to type), it also has the same appeal as claims.co.uk by putting you forward as a leading internet company. After all, only 1 company can own the letter C (.co.uk)."

Many .co.uk domain owners are worried about plans that Nominet (the body that administers the .uk ccTLD) has to allow registrations in the base TLD for the first time (for example someone could have claims.uk instead of (or as well as) claims.co.uk). As to whether this development would undermine his investments in the space Quail said, "I think the first proposal from Nominet was terribly thought out, but they are moving closer to something that may work by allowing the oldest .uk domain owners to pick up their .uk equivalent. Whilst we would of course be happy at picking up claims.uk to reinforce our brand, it does pose problems for those with high value .co.uk domains where the .org.uk or other may pre-date the .co.uk. It is obvious in the domain market that .co.uk is the highest valued domain, so I could see people trying to purchase predated .org.uk's to secure the corresponding .uk ahead of the .co.uk domain owner."

"All the uncertainty has undoubtedly hit the .co.uk aftermark values," Quail added. "However, in my view this is only a temporary glitch of Nominet's doing until the confusion has been cleared up and there is a definitive system in place for release (or cancellation) of the .ukís."

"For us, we have a further complication with c.co.uk though. As this was released in the sunrise period (and was purchased from the trademark holder soon after) its registration date happens to be exactly the same as c.org.uk. Nominet hasnít provided any guidance as to how this type of situation would play out, and it could be argued that it was unethical auctioning off these domains knowing their value could be considerably impacted by the introduction of .ukís. If it ends up progressing to an auction environment for these types of situations, we would be aggressively pursuing the domain, as it is central to our future brand and marketing efforts."

As if the Nominet issue wasn't enough to think about, there is also the prospect of hundreds of new gTLDs arriving soon. Quail has a different take on those. "To be honest, the new gTLDs aren't  something I have given much thought to in planning forward with my business. My personal view is that while some may be a financial success, and there may be some adoption to a few select gTLDs, it will be extremely difficult to make any sort of significant dent in any of the established TLDs (.com and the ccTLDs such as .co.uk or .de)," Quail opined.

"I may try to pick up a few related domains in appropriate gTLDs for defensive purposes, but I really donít see the value to myself in pursuing claims.xyz or the likes. In my opinion the aftermarket will be very soft as the whole idea 

is to open up a wider possibility of domain combinations. Where people have more options, prices for these types of domains will inevitably be lower," Quail said. 

Looking further into the future Quail said, "Iím always on the lookout for business opportunities that may come along, maybe a quick flip, or even an angle I can see in another industry to take advantage of. One thing I am wary of though is walking the fine line between diversifying my investments and spreading myself too thin. Right now, my priority is claims.co.uk, and turning it into the best business it can be."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Quail (right) and his uncle at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro after they climbed to the peak to raise funds 
for the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice (a charity 
they promoted on their red  t-shirts).

"The claims industry in the UK has had some bad press in the last several years, mainly due to the conception of a Ďcompensation cultureí. Although this has been shown to be a myth, the government has passed various laws to make access to justice harder and harder. In my view, the claims business is simply a business that wants to give people help at what is quite possibly one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. As an extension to that, we have a major charity ethos at claims.co.uk. Although we are by no means a big company, we do believe that even the smallest help can make a big difference in a personís life."

"In addition to the donations and help which our company gives to charities close to us, our staff have taken part in some personal past and future fundraising efforts. These include myself climbing Mount Kilimanjaro back in 2007 to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Childrenís Hospice, and personally matching each donation pound for pound. Later this year our financial director, Claire, will be doing the Lizard to Lands End Challenge in aid of the Alzheimerís Society.

While Quail has been to the top of Kilimanjaro, his climb up the domain mountain still has a long way to go, but judging from the success he has had to date it seems certain he will scale that peak too.

*****


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