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August 27, 2012

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Final Countdown Underway for Third Edition of Domain Roundtable
By Ron Jackson 

The domain industry's attention is turning to the Pacific Northwest where the Domain Roundtable conference convenes for the third time August 12-15 at the Seattle Sheraton. The first Roundtable conference was staged at this venue in 2005. Last year the show moved across Lake Washington to the Westin Bellevue for a successful event, but it is hard to beat the Sheraton's location in the heart of downtown Seattle.

While the venue will be familiar to Roundtable veterans, the agenda will have a completely new look this time around. 2006 Show Producer Jothan Frakes moved to a new position with DomainSponsor.com so Jay Westerdal, CEO of Roundtable organizer Name Intelligence, Inc., brought in Stephen Douglas to fill the void. Westerdal and Douglas have cooked up a tasty menu that looks like a sure crowd pleaser.

To get the lowdown on what showgoers can look forward to,  I hooked up with the dynamic duo for the Q & A session below. 


The Seattle Sheraton - Site for Domain Roundtable August 12-15, 2007

Show Producer Stephen Douglas (left) and 
Name Intelligence CEO Jay Westerdal

DN Journal: Let's start with a question for Jay who was the original force behind creating Domain Roundtable. Before we get into the specifics for the upcoming conference, give us an overview of your experiences staging Domain Roundtable why it was started, what you have learned from the first two outings and how that experience has shaped your plans for the upcoming third show. 

Jay Westerdal: I learned that if you believe in an idea and you have people who support your efforts, you need to continue to build upon that idea. The first event in 2005 was wonderful. Everyone that attended loved it and it was successful in that way even though it was a loss financially. We started the conference because we had over 100,000 DomainTools.com members in 2004 and thought a conference would be a great way to bring our members together so they could discuss domain names on a personal level. The scope of discussions and networking was world class.  I know that several people at that conference closed some good deals that obviously made those people glad they attended. The second conference we held the following year brought everyone back and many more new attendees. It was an even greater event. I am very proud of the second Domain Roundtable and what we achieved as we grew. 

Scene from second Domain Roundtable conference last year

This upcoming conference we have learned a few more lessons. Even as we added a wider field of domain industry interests at our topic sessions, we also decided to have some FUN! Now we have added a hip party for every night of the conference. That will be four nights of exciting friend-building parties. Those parties will be either sponsored by a top domain company or hosted directly by the Domain Roundtable. One of the parties will be a charitable event dedicated to Michael Mann's Grassroots.org group. We have several outstanding nightclubs and venues booked to make sure this conference's "afterhours" will keep the excitement going even when the conference day is over. 

I think the Live Domain Auction (LDA) will also be one of the main highlights of this year's event. It will to be the largest Live Domain Auction ever held. We have over 450 domains going to auction. Those domains have been well-selected and are some of the best names for the value, a key to making an auction exciting and profitable for everyone. The reserve prices are also very attractive to get the bidding started. 

DN Journal: Now let's go over to Stephen who has taken on the role of Executive Producer this year. Stephen, would you define the Executive Producer's duties in staging a major conference like Domain Roundtable and what you are bringing to the job from your past career experience? 

Former DRT Exec. Director Jothan Frakes
(now with DomainSponsor.com)

Stephen Douglas: My first duty was to thank Jothan Frakes (the previous director for the Domain Roundtable, now with DomainSponsor.com) for handing the position off to me. He did a very good job on the prior Domain Roundtables and it is hard filling his shoes. After meeting with Jay Westerdal and Ray Bero and the rest of the geniuses at Name Intelligence (I'm way outclassed sitting at a table with them), I took over the duties of designing the show format and creating the variety of sponsorship opportunities so our fine friends in the industry could help us produce a great conference. There are truckloads of other details about producing an event of this magnitude that I could blather about, but then you'd lose your readers! 

Essentially, my vision for the event was to bring as many people together in this industry as possible. All of us who invest in domain names, domain services and 

website monetization are at the forefront of an incredible expansion of our domain values and our image on the internet. We all need to meet and greet, and above all, STAY TOGETHER. Form a "domain industry juggernaut", if you will. 

What impresses me is there are domainers still involved in pushing this industry forward that really don't have to spend a moment dealing with it anymore because they've already reached riches beyond the common domainer's dreams. They could kick back and watch us all struggle while they sip on pina coladas, but many of them are still out there fighting for all of us.  Every domainer listens to these veterans and respects their success, and we want to learn not only the old solid lessons of hard work, innovative thinking and focus, but also learn of the outstanding new ideas and services so many new people are now bringing to this space. My own direction for the show was to try to establish a marriage between the two.  

This is why attending every domain conference is important. Any domain conference where more than six domainers get together is very valuable for EVERY domainer to attend. If you have never attended a domain conference, then you're not really in this game or you've already won, and that's not hard to figure out. Attendance can be somewhat costly, but not as expensive as not knowing how to operate in this industry, or not knowing what's around the corner, and more importantly, not personally meeting someone who might make YOUR domain investment skyrocket. 

My past production experiences have included working at a Madison Avenue agency as Director of Sports Sponsorships, suggesting which sports events and their "heroes" that our client would want to pour millions of dollars behind. For over 25 years, my other productions ran the gamut of all sorts of fun events. My life has been FUN! I produced rock concerts (my roommate was Matt Sorum, drummer for Guns N Roses, now with Velvet Revolver), nightclub acts, live TV events and modeling shows. This was all in the 80's and early 90's. I probably produced over 75 different live events. 

Stephen Douglas (lower right) in group shot with 
Guns N' Roses
and friends (Axl Rose is at far left)

Then I became the COO of an internet community portal for the "wild" crowd, basically college demographics, and I started buying domain names that matched "slang" terms and descriptive "types" of people so they could rent the domain as their email address. That was in 1999 and it was the hardest lesson I learned on the internet. I found out quickly that the email providing service was the most difficult and weird internet business you could get into. 

From that experience though, I met other domainers, learned to park domains and started my own portfolio, which hovers around 4000 domains today. I then helped design Domainhop's domain management interface. After that, Eric Rice hired me as the domain consultant for Bulkregister back in January 2005, and we worked together to design the best registrar domain management system ever built. Eric might not say that because he's too busy feeding his dogs and he's really shy, but I'll say it! After Enom bought Bulkregister, I worked as a domain consultant for Snapnames and took the executive producer position for the Domain Roundtable Conference. 

DN Journal: Before we tackle the show agenda, one obvious change this year is the return to Seattle. Bellevue was a great setting last year but downtown Seattle has obvious appeal as well. What was behind the decision to move from the suburbs back into the city? 

Jay Westerdal: Ironically, our first event in 2005 was in the same hotel we've come back to, the Sheraton Seattle. It was closed last year for over $130 million in remodeling. The hotel has been completely upgraded so it is really outstanding. The conference floor is completely self-contained and all events are within 50 feet of each other, with private conference rooms available to our sponsors to hold their own seminars or make deals without interruption in our private "Sponsors Exclusive Conference Room". 

Stephen Douglas: Another reason is that Seattle has killer nightlife and we wanted to take advantage of 

Remodeled ballroom at the Seattle Sheraton

that at this year's conference. We've heard some people say that the conference being in the middle of the August vacation period was bad, to which we responded "You'll be where you want to be if you need to be. If you can't see the unbelievable vacation opportunities that the Pacific Northwest offers you, then you haven't been to the Pacific Northwest!"  That fact seemed to work, so many of our attendees are booking week long hotel stays in order to take advantage of the Seattle area's beautiful scenery and exciting vacation spots. Also, don't forget that some of the Big Domainers come from Vancouver, BC, just a quick ride from Seattle. 

DN Journal:  Let's talk about the show agenda now. First I see the multi-track schedule has been adjusted from four tracks last year to no more than a couple of simultaneous tracks this year. It's a matter of personal preference, but I like the change because there were so many interesting seminars last year I hated to miss some of them when it came down to making choices. Tell us your own reasons for this adjustment.

Jay Westerdal: It's true. Four tracks was too many, so we chose to slim it down a little. Content is king and always will be, but it was hard to attend all the good sessions.  

Stephen Douglas: Well Ron, I have to admit, at our first Domain Roundtable meeting to find an exciting format for the event, I actually mentioned your comments in your review of the 2006 Domain Roundtable on DNJournal. (I did my homework) You made a reasonable lament that there were so many great sessions going on at the conference but you couldn't attend every one of them, and it was disappointing to you. It was a great point you made and we listened. So, this schedule is what we call the "RJ Session Format". (heh) We decided that we would hold only two competing Topic Sessions at a time, and each of the sessions would be geared to a different crowd. We may still have crossovers, but it won't be hard to decide where to get good domain information that fits your needs.

DN Journal: Let's talk about agenda specifics. The full agenda is posted at the Roundtable site, but give us a little more background on some of the specific sessions/events that you are especially excited about. Also tell us a little about how you landed Frank Schilling (head of Name Administration, Inc. and one of the world's most successful domain investors) as you keynote speaker which I think was a nice coup for the show and one that will be very rewarding for attendees. 

Jay Westerdal: Frank doesn't attend a lot of shows so it was nice that he decided to attend ours. I don't think it was a "coup," and I don't want him to be seen as a commodity for our event. His presence is greatly appreciated and respected and there is no question to the value his voice will bring to our conference. We're very proud to have him speak.

Frank Schilling
Keynote Speaker for 2007 DRT

Don't forget that we have invited a lot of expert speakers in many sectors of domain monetization techniques. We have probably the best SEO speakers available to show domainers tricks and concepts they are not aware of in building out their domains. For example, what happens when you take a blacklisted domain and try to develop it? That domain needs to be removed from the blacklist before it can be developed. A lot of domainers don't understand that there is an official Google Blacklist. Domains can't just be developed if they have been parked for a while.  Attending the Domain Roundtable will give you access to this information and the proper techniques to fix these problems, and they'll be hearing it from the best of the best panelists in every sector of domain and website monetization.  

Stephen Douglas: We're completely excited that Frank Schilling will be the Keynote speaker at our event. For me, Frank's appearance at the Domain Roundtable is huge, and I think all of us know this. I'd pay full ticket price at the conference to hear him.  

Regarding how we came up with the agenda of topic sessions, Jay and I went over a list of over 60 possible session ideas, and then we discussed the pros and cons of each of them. Finally we decided on thirty (30) specific sessions. This doesn't count the nine fabulous food functions. Or the four Planned Parties. Also, time slots can be filled by going to the Douglas Room if you're lucky enough to be invited by the sponsor holding that room. Spending time talking with every person at every exhibit booth is a very valuable suggestion also.  

DN Journal: A major new event this year is Domain Roundtable's first live auction.  Tell us how the auction will work, what some of the top names will be and what your hopes are for this inaugural live sale at your show. 

Jay Westerdal: This auction will be incredible! We've received such a great response to our format it's almost overwhelming. It seems a lot of domainers have heard about it and are checking out our submission system. Our detailed rules to participate will be posted shortly on the Domain Roundtable website, so I won't go into it too deeply here. In a nutshell, domainers will be able to bid online and offline. We are using innovative technology to enable the Auction process to be held with the least amount of confusion possible. We are pushing results to people's browsers and making sure this LDA will raise the bar for all domain auctions. This is a second generation auction platform built on new technology and it will make all previous domain auctions pale in comparison. We are also providing a lot of stats on the domains and doing a lot of legwork to make sure that we are offering buyers the best domains for fair prices. 

Stephen Douglas: We think our LDA will be exciting to participate in and and its results will be very interesting to watch. At the same time, it will set realistic standards for current domain values based on bidding interest. However, since domain buying tends to be incestuous, we don't want to intimate that our domain sales results at the LDA says this is where domain values are "stuck". As I've said before, the end user (business community) will eventually define the true value of our domains by creating a competitive demand. The key to raising domain values is right in front of our eyes: Show the business community what value domain names can bring their companies. Educate the marketing departments of Fortune 1000 companies. Get in depth articles on domain values written in every main business magazine. Get the Wall Street Journal to open up their eyes (and make sure they're not green with envy).  

Everyone has a chance to buy or sell domains in this auction, and they will find out very quickly where they stand when they submit them. But no worries if your domain doesn't make it into the auction. We will have future shows. 

DN Journal: Aside from agenda specifics, one thing that virtually everyone agrees on is the key to a great show is the opportunity to network. It looks you have built those opportunities into your schedule throughout the week. Tell us about that and you philosophy with respect to networking.

Jay Westerdal: Networking is the most important part of an event. I hate attending a show that has thousands of people and there are so many people that it is hard to remember if you've met the person before. I attended a Web 2.0 expo in San Francisco and it was too confusing to take advantage of all the networking opportunities. We wanted to avoid that so we hired nTag to help us with name badges AND making networking a breeze. These wireless badges will allow people to network in a new, productive way that sets the standard for future domain conferences.  

People get to know each other at last year's Domain Roundtable

Stephen Douglas: I discovered nTAGS while doing a simple badge-printing search. We saw the incredible benefits and agreed that if we didn't bring the nTAG devices on board, we would be cheating our attendees. Granted, the cost to implement these nTAG devices is astronomical, but the RESULTS will be remembered by every attendee and sponsor for our next event. You can see a demo on our website homepage, but to sum it up:

  1. Sponsors don't have to ask attendees to fill out forms anymore.

  2. You'll be notified immediately if someone with your same interests is within three feet of you.

  3. You can transfer your contact information with anyone you want by clicking a button on the name badge. Their information will be stored for you - automatically! 

That's just part of the benefits. You can participate in live surveys and see the results immediately, you can get messages from sponsors or the Domain Roundtable staff on what's changed or what's new, and every attendee will have their own secure webpage to review and manage the contact information they collected throughout the conference experience. The same goes with the sponsors. No more business card exchanges (although that's always fun), no more forms to fill out (not fun), no more wondering who is interested in the same topics you're interested in and how to meet them, and now your participation at the conference is logged as a "collective group", as opposed to being by yourself wondering what's next. Just imagine meeting 100 people at the Domain Roundtable who can make a difference in your business, and instead of typing in their business card data, you just download the data from your webpage into a text file. Networking will be a key productive event at the Domain Roundtable. 

DN Journal: As the domain industry has grown, the number of conferences has grown along with it. There is T.R.A.F.F.I.C., Domain Roundtable, DOMAINfest, Domain Focus and specific company events from firms like Sedo. So far, all of the shows seem to be doing well as people just can't get enough of this business. However, inevitably the conference game, like all areas of the industry, is getting more competitive which adds pressure to deliver something unique to attract show goers who now have several options. How have you approached that challenge and what do you feel are some of the things that give Domain Roundtable  its own unique character? 

Jay Westerdal: We really support all the domain conferences and wish them great success. Their success is the domain industry's success as a whole. However, as for the differences between the other domain conferences and ours, the Domain Roundtable is not run by a Parking Service, so it is a neutral place to meet and listen to the advantages of other Parking Services. We also are open for anyone to attend. There is no "banning" of anyone at our conference (unless they are psychotic). A conference that bans certain people in this industry for personal reasons or having positions that are opposite to the conference producers is not good for networking with smart new people or even long time domainers that no longer fit the producers' ideals but who may have significant contributions to give to the domain community.  

Jay Westerdal

Stephen Douglas: I agree with Jay. I think EVERY domain industry conference should be able to be attended by all domainers, no matter what their speed. No particular conference will give you more benefits on its own than all the conferences can collectively. That said, one of the reasons I decided to be the executive producer for the Domain Roundtable is because I wanted to bring the domain industry together and get all our minds moving like a symbiotic uni-brain. Literally hundreds of domain investors every month are getting into the game we're all in. This industry is still small but it's growing bigger every month. You can't advance progress by denying someone's voice, or by taking a polarizing marketing stance of an exclusive club "atmos-fear" of domainers who all agree with your ideas. 

Who can stand up and say "I know everyone and how valuable their contributions will be to this industry"?  None of us can. Opposite ideas and Devil's Advocates create the force of symbiosis. So my belief is that we all need to work together. Even if we disagree, we yell, we get into flame wars (which I personally always avoid *ahem*), working as a unit will help the domain industry reach its goals a lot faster. This is how I personally think the domain industry will reach its success and this is how I picture the Domain Roundtable. Bring on the noise! 

DN Journal: Jay, this will be your third straight show in your home area. You have mentioned taking it on the road in the past. Is this something you are still thinking about, or with all of the attractions the Pacific Northwest has to offer are you leaning toward keeping it close to home?

Jay Westerdal: I would love to move it from Seattle. Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York are areas that we continue to explore. I am sure we will hold our event in those cities over time. Right now we are staying in Seattle until the time is right to move. 

Editor's Note: Just before we published this article, Stephen Douglas brought us some fresh conference news.

Stephen Douglas and TrafficZ 
CEO Ammar Kubba (right)

Stephen Douglas: We just signed with TrafficZ as a major sponsor of the DRT and they will be sponsoring our first night's party at a Seattle nightclub called "SUGAR". This is important because it's the first domain industry party that is held as a charitable event. Grassroots.org is the recipient and managing the party, and CEO Ammar Kubba of TrafficZ is graciously sponsoring the event with assistance from the Domain Roundtable staff. I will be coordinating the party along with Angela Siefer from Grassroots.org (Editor's Note: Grassroots.org was profiled in an April 2006 DN Journal article).

We are looking to set up an online contribution system for domainers worldwide to participate in giving to Grassroots.org and having some fun even if they're not present at the party. Guests will arrive at the nightclub after Frank 
Schilling's keynote dinner appearance. Six to twelve beautiful models will be presented in bikinis for a body painting contest. There will be at least three men in speedos to keep the women in the audience happy and provide comic relief. Each model will be "bid" on by the domainer crowd to have the chance to paint her/his body with body paint. The three top bidders will submit their bid payments to Grassroots.org staff as their charitable contribution to be able to paint the model. Once all the top bidders for each model have been selected the painting begins! 

Then the rest of the crowd fills out their "bid cards" with the model's number to guess which model will win the contest, based on the actual artwork painted on the model. They give their "bid cards" to the Grassroots staff. Each card has a "player bid" amount, and players agree if their model does NOT win the contest, that bid amount can be doubled and charged to them. So if an audience member bids $10 on a model to win, and their model does not win, they will pay $20 to Grassroots.org. If the bidder's model WINS, they still pay the original $10 player bid amount, but they get photos taken with the winning model, and receive a novelty prize that Grassroots will be giving to the people who picked the right model to win.

The audience gets to pick who they think has the best body painting, with their "player bids" guaranteeing Grassroots.org will collect a contribution.  We are going to set a goal of $10,000 to be raised at the charity for Grassroots.org. I think we'll surpass it.

DN Journal:  I am sure there are some areas that my questions did not address, so let's close by inviting you to make  comments or points you would like to make about Domain Roundtable  2007.

Jay Westerdal and Stephen Douglas: We would like to thank you, Ron, for giving us a chance to talk about our event. We would also like to thank all the sponsors and domain industry experts who have come on board to make the Domain Roundtable Conference 2007 possible. Everyone has been fantastic to work with, and we're excited to meet everyone and help them achieve their goals. There is no doubt in our minds that all our attendees will further their progress in moving towards success with their projects, and we're dedicated to making sure everyone gets to network, learn, eat, and party their way to a wonderful and beneficial experience they'll never forget. 

Finally, we would like to give credit to the people behind the scenes who have been and will be vital in the success of this conference:  Ray Bero, Kristin Tetuan, Charissa McCuen, Hans Larson, Eric Rice, Sevan Derderian, Lorenzo Green, Jothan Frakes and many more. For all the DN Journal readers, we'd like to offer a special $200 discount price off the regular $995 price. Just use the Promo Code we've listed here, "dnj25". There's only 25 available, so move fast!

DN Journal: Gentlemen, thank you for your time and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing you in Seattle and covering this event for our readers. For those who have been thinking about going but remain undecided, I would encourage you to invest in your future by attending every major conference you can. Conference coverage has always been a central element of our publication because we firmly believe that getting out and meeting (and learning from) industry leaders and fellow domain investors face to face will have a more positive effect on your search for success than anything else you can do. 


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