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Hooray for Hollywood: Debut Edition of DOMAINfest Global Deals Attendees a Winning Hand

By Ron Jackson
With the ongoing explosion of interest in the domain business, more people than ever are looking for information and networking opportunities with industry experts. Against that backdrop, DomainSponsor.com (will full support from parent company Oversee.net) decided to throw their hat in the major trade show ring by staging their first DOMAINfest Global conference Jan. 31 – Feb. 3, 2007 in Hollywood, California.

They came up with a perfect venue, the new Renaissance Hotel that is part of the Hollywood & Highland shopping and entertainment complex that also houses the Kodak Theater (site of the movie world’s annual Oscar ceremonies) and Mann’s Chinese Theater (known for its courtyard featuring the handprints of Hollywood legends that have been permanently captured in cement). The south side of the complex fronting Hollywood Boulevard features the famed Walk of Stars while the Hollywood sign looks down on the development from the hills facing the north side of the block.

The Tinseltown setting provided a great stage for the many domain industry stars who were on the program or just showed up to be a part of the festivities. The show ran exceptionally well, especially for a debut event of this size. DomainSponsor did host a pair of smaller regional events last year in Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles and those “test flights” seem to have served them well in preparing to join T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and Domain Roundtable in the conference big leagues.   

Renaissance Hotel - Hollywood, California
site of DOMAINfest Global 2007

Hollywood sign - shot from the window 
of our 9th floor room at the Renaissance

Of course, no one was surprised that Oversee and DomainSponsor would prove to be terrific hosts. The company already had a legendary reputation for the DomainSponsor parties that have been fixtures at previous T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences. They had another unforgettable party at this event and that soiree alone would have been worth the remarkably low $395 conference registration fee (and even that sum was refunded to DomainSponsor customers who did a minimal amount of business with the domain monetization company). 

DomainSponsor is a giant in the PPC (pay per click) space so prior to the event we had wondered how much sponsorship support they would get from other PPC companies for a show they would control. We were also curious to see how aggressively the company would push the DomainSponsor service during what was billed to be a general interest conference. These were potential land mines that they managed to navigate with aplomb.   

Sedo booth in exhibit hall

They were able to persuade several competing PPC companies to sign on as sponsors or set up in the exhibition hall, including Sedo.com, Parked.com, Klickerz.com and iMonetize.com to name a few. If they promised those companies they would be given a level playing field during the show then they delivered. I never heard DomainSponsor plugged or pushed during conference programs nor were they even mentioned in signage dotting the show areas. Instead, the company ran a separate track for DomainSponsor customers who wanted to learn more about their latest system on a completely separate floor of the hotel. 

Scene from DomainSponsor User Track 

An identical program for DomainSponsor users was presented on  Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 so there was ample opportunity to take part in the primary show track as well as sample DomainSponsor wares for those so inclined. Many took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about their new customizable landing pages that allow user to choose multiple styles and graphics (including uploading their own). You can rotate a variety of different landers then use the new statistical reporting features to see which landers result in the most conversions for your domain.   

This dual track approach worked, giving the conference an independent feel while at the same time giving the organizers an opportunity to introduce themselves to new customers or provide guidance to existing ones through the separate track a floor above the general proceedings.   

Things got underway Wednesday evening (Jan. 31) with a brief orientation session conducted by DomainSponsor’s Director of Business Development, Ron Sheridan. He said that more than 300 paid attendees were on hand and approximately 400 people overall with the speakers and exhibitors factored in. Sheridan said the show agenda had been shaped by requests they had received from the domain community. The entire 160-person Oversee.net staff seemed to have a hand in making it work as they had representatives everywhere making sure showgoers were happy and had their questions or concerns promptly answered.

Shortly after Sheridan kicked off the event, the crowd headed for the opening night cocktail party, sponsored by Ask.com, at the Twist Lounge, located just a few hundred yards away from the show’s main conference room. 

Ron Sheridan, DOMAINfest Global

These social events often prove to be the most productive parts of any conference. Certainly the panel sessions provide very useful information on just about any sector of the industry you might have an interest in, but the personal relationships are forged at the parties, networking sessions and in the hallways between events. None of those opportunities should be missed.

This opening night event went very well with excellent food available in every corner of the room as well as at a central buffet line next to the open bar. The lounge was jammed with old friends who spent the evening catching up as well as people meeting each other for the first time (many seeing friends made online face to face for the first time). 

    Above - opening night cocktail party 
    Left -  attendees enjoy top notch buffet  

Russ Goodwin (Tidewinds Group) at left 
with veteran domain investors 
Grant Keiser
& Donna Mahony
Jude Augusta (Internet Commerce Association Exec. Director), Tom Murphy (BuyDomains) & Richard Meyer (American Marketing)

Before the evening was over I met at least half a dozen people I have known on the domain forums for years, but had never met in person. It was a particular treat to finally meet Donna Mahony and her husband James. Donna has been selflessly helping people learn about domains longer than I have been in this industry (she was also featured in our February 2005 Cover Story on women in the domain business). 

The first full day of business Thursday (Feb. 1) got underway at 9am with welcoming comments from Oversee.net CEO and Co-Founder Lawrence Ng. The 28-year-old Ng is a remarkable example of just how much a smart, motivated person can accomplish on the Internet, regardless of their age. I had met Ng several times before but never had the chance to be around him as much as I was at DOMAINfest Global. He is an extremely personable and gracious man and I soon came to understand that the warmth and hospitality I have witnessed from everyone in his company (not just personally but in the way I have seen them interact with others) is a direct manifestation of the way Ng conducts himself. 

Ng talked about where the industry is going with great optimism, especially now that we are witnessing massive amounts of advertising money leaving traditional media outlets for the web. 

Lawrence Ng
CEO and Co-Founder, Oversee.net

Ng then introduced the first of the day’s two keynote speakers, the Internet Real Estate Group’s Chief Visionary Officer, Mike “Zappy” Zapolin, who was accompanied on the dais by company President Andrew Miller (Zapolin and Miller were featured in our September 2005 Cover Story about their trailblazing firm).

Mike "Zappy" Zapolin
Internet Real Estate Group

Andrew Miller
Internet Real Estate Group

IREG holds a phenomenal group of one-word category-defining domains likes Software.com, Phone.com, Podcast.com, Chocolate.com, Luggage.com, Sweepstakes.com and many others. Zapolin recounted the company’s remarkable history which included buying Beer.com for just $80,000 and selling it three months later for $7 million! They have also developed and sold such gems as Diamonds.com, Computer.com and CreditCards.com. These days, with the value of such prime Internet real estate readily apparent, they are far more interested in developing and holding their domains than selling. 

They have started adding Web 2.0 components to their properties that were not available two years ago and Zapolin said this is helping to add great value to their sites. For those not familiar with the term, Web 2.0 generally refers to sites that have social networking components that allow easy interaction between visitors such as blogs, wikis or chat rooms and the ability to post user generated content. The strategy engenders loyalty and repeat visitors to sites that do a good job of implementing such features. 

Zapolin and Miller both emphasized the many advantages that a strong generic domain provides, including critical search engine positioning. For example, a Google search for chocolate brings up their Chocolate.com ahead of the sites run by such world famous brands as Hersheys.com, Godiva.com and Ghirardelli.com. This fact is one that many major brand owners have still failed to recognize. Owning the generic name of your industry makes you the gatekeeper for the entire category. People usually  search for the product before the brand and you can direct the traffic from those search inquiries to any brand you wish. 

Zapolin and Miller covered far more ground than we can detail in this piece about the entire conference, but DOMAINfest organizers plan to make a DVD available that will allow you to hear what all of the speakers had to say verbatim. Having access to the business building advice provided by Zapolin, Miller and the other conference speakers we will undoubtedly be well worth the price. 

Jeff Kupietzky
General Manager, Oversee.net

Next up was a panel session on Financial Planning for domain investors that included CPA Selwyn Gerber and four executives from Bank of America; Sheena Malek, Rita Young, Keith Drake and Ray Vasquez. Oversee General Manager Jeff Kupietzky served as the moderator. 

It was very encouraging to see a mainstream bank like Bank of America taking an interest in the domain space. BA is the bank that put together the $60 million credit facility Oversee was granted last month to help expand their operations. As banks come to understand the value of domain names the day is coming when they will be widely accepted as collateral for loans.

During the lunch session that followed the financial planning seminar, attendees were treated to a second keynote address from TechCrunch.com Editor and Founder Michael Arrington. Arrington writes the top blog in the technology space and is also intimately familiar with the domain space after serving as the first CEO of dropcatcher Pool.com.

In his tenure at Pool (detailed in our June 2004 Cover Story) Arrington had spectacular success, though at DOMAINfest he credited the company’s rise more to Rob Hall and Taryn Naidu (now with DemandMedia) than his own contributions as CEO.

Like Zapolin in the morning keynote, Arrington talked about the positive impact Web 2.0 features are having on domain values. Arrington noted the big plus is that user generated content is free. To show you how valuable that can be, Arrington said MySpace.com (a company based on this kind of free content) will earn $300 million this year. 

Content also draws search engine interest which can help elevate any website in the search rankings. Arrington advised everyone to start a blog, even if no one reads it! 

Arrington said Web 2.0 elements are also coming to parking pages and that DemandMedia’s eNom.com was working now on revolutionary pages that will include content, social networking and community elements designed to get people to come back to the pages over and over.  

As long as the overall economy remains strong, Arrington said he will remain bullish on domains. With business startups increasing all over the globe he pointed out that those companies will need domains and, as these new businesses are springing up all over the globe, they will need all kinds of TLDs, though .com will remain the most important. 

Michael Arrington
TechCrunch.com Editor & Founder

Arrington thinks the domain aftermarket would really explode if it was easier for people to access available names. Today they are scattered across multiple venues with differing purchase formats and requirements. “Executives are generally clueless about the domain market so they end up just making up names,” Arrington said. “Someone needs to hold their hand”.  You can bet there are already companies thinking about ways to make the process as easy as Arrington envisions. 

Next Page:

  • Experts Sound Off on the Prospects for IDNs, ccTLDs 
    and New TLDs

  • Will Domain Sales Continue to 
    Fly High or Could the Market 
    Crash and Burn?

  • Was This the Greatest DomainSponsor Party Ever?

  Continue to Page 2 of this story

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