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DOMAINfest Global 2008 Delivers Dazzling Conference Encore in Hollywood, California
By Ron Jackson 

The organizers of the DOMAINfest Global Conference 2008 in Hollywood, California, Oversee.net, did just about everything right during their three-day run at the Renaissance Hotel January 21-23. Well, everything except keeping away the highly unusual (for Southern California) cold rainy weather that prevailed throughout the week. The area was in dire need of the moisture though and inside the Renaissance, the DOMAINfest crew kept attendees in a sunny mood with a well-thought out agenda, comfortable quarters, good food and drink and great people everywhere you turned.  

 

Scene from DOMAINfest Global 2008
held Jan. 21-23 in Hollywood, California

Let's start with the people - there were a lot of them and  that was the first of many surprises that would be served up during the week. Last year approximately 400 people gathered in the debut DOMAINfest Global show at the same venue. With the general economy struggling now I expected them to come in around the same number this time out and was shocked to find over 600 hands on deck opening day - many of whom were attending their first domain conference. By the end of confab, Oversee said the number had risen above 700 with several attendees who couldn't spend all three days in Los Angeles popping in for a day or two. It was the first sign that despite what  is happening in other industries, the domain business remains a paragon of good health.

Attendees take a break in a very 
comfortable sponsor exhibit area

The show officially began, even before the welcoming remarks,  with a noon luncheon Monday (Jan. 21). Very smart move. Let people sleep in so they arrive well rested, then give them a great meal to put them in the best possible mood. Next - again before any formal programming - they scheduled some    in the sponsor exhibit hall. I immediately saw why they wanted to show off the exhibit area right off the bat. This was more than smart - it was a masterstroke. Even though they pay most of the bills, at many shows sponsors find their booths have been pushed off to the side away from the primary flow of traffic. DOMAINfest solved that problem by putting comfortable sofas and chairs, snacks and  

beverages smack dab in the middle of the exhibit area. That made it the place to hang out during breaks and the schedule was set up to make breaks plentiful. The result was a constant crowd on hand for the exhibits and the sponsors loved it. 
To further insure the booths would have a steady flow of visitors, Oversee gave all attendees a passport containing the names of each sponsor. You had to visit each booth to get your passport stamped and they made it worth your time to do it by tying it into a contest with some great prizes, including a big screen LCD TV. If you got your passport stamped by every exhibitor you could drop it into the box the prize winners were drawn from.

It was a great idea and helped make this fresh approach to bringing everyone together in one place during down time - including sponsors, attendees, speakers and show staff - work like a charm. (Note to Oversee CEO Lawrence Ng - the person who thought up the exhibit hall experience deserves a big raise!)

With all of the pleasant preliminaries out of the way, everyone headed for the main ballroom to hear welcoming remarks from three of Oversees top execs. Director of Business Development (and one of the most familiar faces in the 

Oversee.net CEO Lawrence Ng 
welcoming crowd to DOMAINfest Global



Adventurer Brent Bishop
delivering Monday's keynote speech

domain business) Ron Sheridan kicked things off, Oversee's amazing 29-year-old wunderkind CEO Lawrence Ng followed, then Executive VP Jeff Kupietzky completed the trifecta. Kupietzky noted that Oversee had polled registrants to find out what they wanted in this show and more opportunities to network topped the list. Oversee made that happen with the frequent exhibit hall breaks I mentioned above, scheduled formal networking sessions and social events every evening.

While it was obvious that Oversee had everything planned down to the nth degree they had to improvise almost immediately when they lost their opening keynote speaker at the last minute. Famed mountain climber Peter Hillary was scheduled to talk but had to bow out when his father, the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary, passed away. A state funeral was held for Sir Edmund in New Zealand and Peter, of course, was there. Fortunately, his good friend and fellow conqueror of Mount Everest, Brent Bishop, was able to take Peter's place and delivered an inspiring talk about overcoming obstacles. Bishop said he saw many parallels between mountain climbers and domainers noting that both required skill, vision, persistence and a stomach for risk. 

Bishop said "Attitude is the most important ingredient for overcoming obstacles. You have to believe it is possible to reach the summit and believe that you will survive the challenge." Bishop added that mountain climbers and entrepreneurs (like domainers) have another thing in common - they love challenges. If they overcome a challenge they will soon start looking for another one to test their skills.

A half-hour break followed Bishop's talk, then it was time for the first seminar session at 3:15pm. To open the additional networking time attendees wanted, the seminar focus at this show was more on quality than quantity and that was a good thing. There were only two hours of seminars Monday but there were two sessions to choose from in each hour. These 

were usually structured with one seminar aimed at newcomers to the space with the other geared toward industry veterans. The opening hour featured a session for the beginner/intermediate level called Domain Industry Boot Camp with a simultaneous panel discussion for experienced domainers covering The Aftermarket & Appraisals. I sampled both by spending a half hour in each room.

(L to R) Boot camp panelists Jothan Frakes, Sean Stafford, Michael Gilmour & Adam Strong

Both panels were loaded with talent so you couldn't go wrong. The drill sergeants at boot camp included Jothan Frakes (Oversee.net), Sean Stafford (DNZoom.com), Michael Gilmour (WhizzbangsBlog.com) and Adam Strong (DomainNameNews.com). I know all of these guys well and for helping get newcomers quickly up to speed, this was a real dream team. They covered the ins and outs of buying, selling and monetization and also allowed plenty of time for attendees to ask questions from the floor. Incidentally, Stafford just released an ebook called Domain Graduate: Tapping the Online Mines, that is an excellent resource for new investors in this space.

Aftermarket seminar draws big crowd on opening day

In an adjacent room, another all-star team was counseling industry veterans on the aftermarket and domain appraisals. That panel featured Victor Pitts (Moniker.com), Tom Murphy (NameMedia and their AfternicDLS), Matt Bentley (Sedo.com), Dan Warner (Fabulous.com and their Domain Distribution Network) and John Tompkins (Trellian.com). These gentlemen provided so much useful information that it would be impossible to convey it in an article that has to cover as much ground as this one does, so instead let me refer you to
our August 2007 Cover Story on the domain aftermarket that features in depth interviews with top executives from  four of the five companies that were represented on this panel.

There was actually a third track running at the same time in another corner of the hotel. Oversee's popular PPC company DomainSponsor.com ran four sessions during the week to help their clients learn how to get maximum benefits out of the services. Unless you asked for directions, you wouldn't even know this was going on and that was by design

Oversee made a commitment to make this an open conference where their brand wouldn't be given a major advantage over any other sponsor that participated. Last year I was skeptical about whether they could resist the temptation to "toot their own horn" but they did and they had an even lower profile for DomainSponsor this year (their booth was in the middle of one wall - no more prominent that anyone else in the hall and less so than most). That tack was the only way to assure that DOMAINfest would be viewed as a conference for everyone. To their credit they understood that well and delivered on their promise. 

The second seminar hour started Monday at 5pm with dual sessions on Negotiating to Win and Easy Steps for Building Out Domains. The negotiating breakout was a one-man show featuring Charles Ruffalo, who is known as the NetworKing. Since I had to split time between the two sessions I only caught the first half of Ruffalo's routine and I was exhuasted by the time I left! He is a man in constant motion - running out into audience, using props, pulling people up on stage - whatever it takes to try to make a point or hold the crowd's attention. He is certainly different and  entertaining but I hadn't learned much about actual negotiating before it was time to go and check out what was happening across the hall. It's quite possible that the topic was directly addressed after I left but whether it was or not, I enjoyed the show - definitely different than your every day seminar!

Network king Charles Ruffalo (center) 
makes a point during his negotiating seminar

While Charles was busy ruffing up would-be negotiators, a top-notch four man panel was offering tips on domain development next door. The dais featured Frank Michlick (SharedReviews.com), Brian Benko (NoParking.com), Sujan Patel (SEO Manager at Oversee.net) and Eric Littman (Managing Partner, WashingtonVC)

One of the most interesting things I heard in this session came in the audience Q and A period after the panelists had covered the basics of building out sites, including AdSense, affiliate programs, social networking, etc. Littman was asked, as a venture capitalist, how someone who has developed a successful site can get VC help to take it to the next level. He suggested getting to know him (or other VCs) personally (another example of why conferences are so important to success - there is no substitute for meeting people face to face - even in a business where we spend most of our time alone in front of a computer screen). 

Littman added that it is also crucial to be well prepared - do your homework. Learn about what others kinds of investments the different VCs have made. If they have already put money into your sector it is one they know and might be interested in finding additional investments in. Also, don't try to sell them any half-baked ideas. If your site has weaknesses hire someone or find a partner to help you bring everything up to par.

You also have to keep in mind that VCs are usually only interested in projects that have the potential to make a lot of money. Littman said they are looking to hit home runs, so the more you have developed the site and bettered your team, the better chance you will have of attracting outside funding. Littman said most VCs are interested in the team more than anything else.

Eric Littman
Washington VC

After another half-hour break it was time for the first big social event, a raucous evening cocktail party in the hotel's Twist Lounge. With the huge growth in attendance this year just about everyone was hoarse by the end of the evening after shouting over the din for three hours - but I didn't hear anyone complaining. These are the events where a lot of the real relationship building gets done. 

Centerfolds sign autographs for fans

Oversee took care of a lot of the overcrowding by stationing three Playboy playmates at the back of the lounge to sign autographs and pose for photos with attendees (at least it took care of the overcrowding if you stayed in the front of the lounge!). 

I mean absolutely no offense to the lovely playmates but I'd rather have my picture taken with the Diana Jacksons, Donny Mahonys and Sally Letzers of the world  - those are my kind of women. They are actually interested in domains (or at least do a great job of faking it!). Seriously, let's say you are out at a romantic restaurant and want to talk about the latest drop you just caught (as all real men do) - what kind of conversation are you going to have with a  playmate? I rest my case! 

Below are some more snapshots of attendees unwinding at the Twist Lounge:

(Left to right): Michele Neylon, Mark Klein, Tom Murphy and Jothan Frakes

(Left to Right): Christoph Grüneberg, Ammar Kubba & Diana Jackson

Page Howe (left) & Monte Cahn

Above: Bill Kerr (left) & Frank Schilling

At right: Dan Stager (the first guy to ever buy a domain from me - back in 2002)


Coming Up Next on Page 2 of our DOMAINfest Global 2008 Review:

  • Frank Schilling's Town Hall Meeting

  • GeoDomain Heavyweights Dan Pulcrano & the Castello Brothers 
    Provide Advice on Cashing in on Local Advertising

  • The First Ever SnapNames Live Domain Auction

  • Another Legendary DomainSponsor Party!

Continue to Page 2


Jump to Page 3 

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