when he was a freshman at M.I.T., King developed the first
PC-based multi-user financial management system for architects and
engineers. He set up a company to market his creation and
called it Semaphore. You may have heard the name. In 1997 Semaphore
was one of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in America.
By 2000 CEO King had 4 offices, 110 employees, and 2,000 clients
around the world. After 16 years at the helm he decided to sell his
brainchild to his premier competitor Deltek, Inc.
That might have been a good time to sit back and reflect on what
he had accomplished, but like so many tech industry whiz kids, the
lure of new worlds to conquer was just too much to keep King on the
sidelines. His foray into the world of deleting domains flipped the
mental light switch on again and he was off to climb a new mountain.
An all-star technology team was assembled and work began in Portland that summer
just three years ago. Wiener wound up leaving in May of last year,
explaining that his true love was building companies, not managing them.
King seems to be equally at home doing both and SnapNames appears to
be thriving under his leadership. The company is the acknowledged
leader in catching expired domains and the gap between them and the
nearest runner-up, Dotster’s Namewinner division, is a big one.
Initially SnapNames put more emphasis on protecting domain names
that major corporations already had than acquiring names for
individuals. Clients like American Express, AT&T and Coca-Cola,
would buy SnapBack (tm) back-orders on their domains to guard against accidental
deletion. Corporations often own hundreds of domains and if someone
forgets to pay a renewal fee, an important asset could be lost.
SnapNames offered cheap insurance.
However, King and company soon learned that there was an even
bigger market among individual buyers who wanted deleted names. The
industry did not have (and still does not have) a simple, easily
understood system for redistributing “used” domain names.
SnapNames set about bringing such a system to ordinary end users by
applying their technology at the registrar and registry levels. They
work with more than a dozen registrars to chase names ordered by
SnapNames customers and that combined firepower has allowed them to
achieve a success rate no one else has been able to match.
Not that others aren’t trying and sometimes with notable
success. Namewinner recently revamped their system and customers
report an improved success rate (though exact figures for domains
caught by the various competitors are not available). There are also
strong independents like DropCatcher.com, DropWizard.com and
Namefox.com who have had a hot hand at one time or another. There
are also big private players like BuyDomains and Ultimate Search who
frequently grab marquee names for themselves (they do not catch
domains for the general public).
That kind of competition keeps everyone on their toes. SnapNames
VP Mason Cole told Domain Name Journal “SnapNames tries at every
turn to be as effective as possible for our customers, and that means
we continually try to improve our technology and methods. We
have a very, very good set of dedicated engineers who
work extremely hard to get results for our customers”.
Cole also believes the company’s emphasis on simplicity has
paid big dividends. “We offer our service to all Internet
end-users, regardless of their degree of sophistication. Easy
navigation is the nucleus of the Internet and our mission is to help
everyone who needs a good name get that name.”
In the SnapBack system, all buyers at the SnapNames.com site pay the
same price, $69 to order an expiring name. Buyers must pay up front.
Most of the competing services use an auction format in which the
highest bidder gets the names those companies succeed in grabbing.
You only pay if you get the name, but for better names winners often
pay a hefty price. For example, Namewinner recently collected $27,502 for
Of course, buyers often have no choice but to go to an auction
service because savvy investors usually grab SnapBack positions on the
best names months before they reach the deletion stage.
If SnapNames fails to get a name, the buyer can move their
SnapBack to a different domain. These exchanges can be made an unlimited
numbers of times until the Snap expires one year after being issued.
The company has also been expanding its market reach by letting
affiliates sell discounted versions of the SnapBack product. These allow
only three exchanges in the one year period but can be
found for $40-$45 at sites like Snaps.com,
Cole says the company is working on additional variations of the
SnapBack product. “We do plan to add other TLDs, new pricing
structures and even greater efficacy in securing names”, he said.
Of course the specter of Verisign’s Waiting List Service
looms over the entire expiring domains industry. That is a topic
that is so fiercely debated that it will need to be the subject of a
In any case, SnapNames believes it has positioned itself to
succeed in any future scenario. “Our proprietary technology has
been licensed by Verisign as part of the WLS system, so we'll
help to power that system if and when it is released",
Cole said. He added "Post-WLS, we would continue to offer back-ordering for ORG
names, and would also work to partner with other providers to
let end-users backorder names in other TLDs.”
If you would like to comment on Ron Jackson’s article, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see last month's Cover Story click on
Unmasked: Unveiling the World's Most Prolific "Domain