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Startup Services Provider Enqos is Impressive Encore for Former Marchex Domain Manager Riccardo Soff 

I was surprised by how many domain industry veterans I ran into at this year's NamesCon conference in Las Vegas who had launched new companies of their own or were continuing to grow enterprises that they had started up after initially working for others or as independent domain investors. One of them was Riccardo Soff who was the Domain Manager at

Marchex when I first met him. After earning at MBA at Oklahoma City University in 2006 Riccardo began his business career with Amazon, then joined giant domain portfolio holder Marchex in 2008 and remained with them for nearly five years.

At NamesCon I learned that Riccardo had co-founded Enqos, a fast rising Seattle-based tech company, with his brother, Sherwyn. Enqos provides Engineering, Marketing and Support services to startup companies and now has a roster of clients that includes companies from the Fortune 500 as well as the domain and other industries.

I've known Riccardo for years and always looked forward to seeing him at conferences because he is one of those guys who always has a

Enqos Co-Founder & COO Riccardo Soff was the Domain Manager at Marchex for almost five years. He was serving in that capacity when we snapped this shot of him at the 2009 DOMAINfest Global Conference in Los Angeles.

smile on his face and a positive attitude that spills over to everyone around him. But it occurred to me that I had never asked him exactly how he found his way into the domain business after starting out with ecommerce giant Amazon. "I was responsible for moving all Amazon inbound inventory into their distribution centers," Soff began. "I did that for a year and then got an opportunity to meet with a family friend who was looking to hire people for this fun company that was investing in internet domains and doing some lead gen (that company was Marchex)."

"I met a few folks over coffee and the very next day they extended me an offer to work as an analyst generating reports for a small team. It's only once I got started that I really discovered that I was responsible and accountable for managing a portfolio of

domains. I used to run audits on the inventory to ensure the safety of names, managed the yearly renewal spend and always founds ways to lower the spend by negotiations with registrars. I consolidated about 300,000 domains that were spread across more than 20 or so registrars to about 3 where I was able to negotiate credit terms and demand lower pricing for the volume."

"After months of doing this and understanding how this works, I had a local news channel (KOMO 4 TV) inquire about SeattleNow.com and PortlandNow.com and I convinced them to buy them for $450,000 out of which we used $200,000 to drive traffic to these sites. This was the start for my journey into the domain world. The day the transaction completed, our CEO, Mr. Russell Horowitz,  told me to stop analyzing and start selling!," Soff smiled. From there on, I sold about $35 million in domains managing one of the prettiest portfolios on the market. I was accountable to sell about $10 million in domains a year and I focused on always increasing the average sales price and managed to consistently sell names in the north of $25,000 range. My complete record of every transaction was published by Marchex showing the volume and size of deals and I think this may still be available in the archives at DNJournal (Editor's note: It is - in this .pdf file). The value of quality domains and the ability to secure significant returns made me very interested in this field."

Marchex would later (in 2015) sell its domain portfolio to GoDaddy, but by then Soff had already decided to join his brother, who launched Enqos in 2010, to scale a lead 

generation business using digital marketing strategies. "My brother Sherwyn was with Microsoft at the time and was working in ad tech, engineering some of the foundational systems in paid search, real time federated ad exchanges for display advertising and ad SDK's for rich media ads," Soff said. "I was working at Marchex but this opportunity was very interesting because it provided visibility into how all this ad tech actually helped make a difference to small businesses. We created a co-located virtual team that was able to handle hundreds of thousands of campaigns and are still actively at work on that."

"Both of us have always been very entrepreneurially driven, so once Enqos was up and running smoothly we embarked on another start up journey that used technology to solve problems with cross border commerce. Sherwyn is an engineer so he started coding up the product, but the problem space was vast and we needed more top notch engineers to build this. We realized quickly that hiring engineers to work on a start up is hard, we tried offering equity to developers to work on the product part time, but it did not scale well." 

The Soff brothers also tried outsourcing and freelancers but neither produced the results they wanted. "So we decided to build our first co-located virtual engineering team in house where we hand picked talent that met our bar, who were dedicated to our product and who were vested in the success of our product," Soff said. "Soon enough a couple of  former colleagues and friends who ventured into building their own startups were facing the exact same issues and needed help, so we helped them using the same model. Slowly word spread and by the time we knew it we were helping half a dozen startups build products. The next thing you know, they needed help with marketing, so we leveraged our marketing team. They needed customer support, so we built a shared support team. We now call this product startup labs, as I like to say it was built by startups for startups."  

(Left to right): Enqos team leaders Haresh Sangani, COO Riccardo Soff and 
CEO Sherwyn Soff at their NamesCon 2017 Network Lane booth.

"Our mission is to enable entrepreneurs and product leaders to do more by reducing friction with respect to tech, talent, time and cost. For engineering we focus on providing two solutions, one is to help build top notch virtual teams (co-located or satellite) that is also affordable and the second is to offer CTO as a service for a more fully managed solution. Some of the core areas we focus on are mobile and web development, machine learning, Big Data, and UI/UX. We support a wide array of technology stacks like Node JS, PHP, .Net, React JS, Angular JS, Hadoop, Spark, Elastic Search, Python, Scala, Java, MySQL, NoSql DBs, iOS, Android, ionic and a lot more."

"For marketing, our primary focus is on digital and we do it all, from paid search, social media, content marketing, seo, mobile and display ads, retargeting, analytics and more. For support, we have a high quality customer experience team that can field calls, answer questions, manage forums, deal with support tickets etc. We strive to make customer support easy, on-demand and on-brand," Soff said.

The startup field has become red hot and has spilled over into the domain space with a Domain Startup Conference in Los Angeles last year as well as THE Domain Conference having a Startup Saturday before their regular show in Florida began last September.  We asked Soff about this trend toward closer integration of the domain name and startup space.

Image from Bigstock

"Naming a startup is hard." Soff noted. "Entrepreneurs spend days or months coming up with the right name that represents their product or service. You have to pick a name that is memorable, easy to spell, available (the .com that is available), clear of any Trademark, sounds catchy and is not confusingly similar to another brand."

"I have been in this position several times and I have personally helped and recommended branding  for several startups. Over the years I have experienced both selling to a startup as well as buying as a startup. I have seen startups spend anywhere from 5K to 50K on a domain name. They realize the potential of a having a great name and hence assign a generous budget to acquire the perfect branding. This is where domain investors with a wide variety of names tend to benefit, a focused effort to make available quality names to entrepreneurs has proven to be lucrative," Soff said.

"The latest trend I have observed with domainers  is their interest in building out products and framing a scalable business with a strong domain name backing, a couple of good examples are Soothe.com and Translate.com. Startup founders are looking at innovative ways to find brandable names, names like zookie.com and mambo.com, that did not have high value or much interest but have started trading well into 5 figures. This in my opinion is directly proportional to the rapid growth of startups."

When asked about some of the most exciting things currently going on in the startup space Soff said, "We like to partner with companies that are working on innovative ideas, be it startups or enterprises. There is a reason we do that, it helps us maintain a culture at Enqos that is always on the bleeding edge of technology, the vibe within the company is always high energy and positive, and the learning across teams is incredible. We work with companies in various verticals such as - adtech, global commerce, martech, food tech, communication and e commerce."

"One of the most exciting things happening across all verticals is that machine learning and AI is becoming an integral part of every product strategy. Product leaders are becoming more cognizant about using data generated by their users and augmenting this data for more BI. The software and tools are becoming more and more sophisticated in this space. All the startups we work with are awesome!," Soff concluded with his trademark smile.


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