April 03, 2015    

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Going for Broke: Why Brian Null’s Family Bet the Farm On His Golf Domains

By Ron Jackson

Brian Null had moved 11 times before his 13th birthday. His dad was a career man in the Air Force and that meant there was no time to make new friends before it was time to pull up stakes again. Moving to a new state every few months made family members the only constants in a life of change.

Those  circumstances created an extremely close bond between the middle child Brian, brothers Scott and Bob and sisters Cathy and Linda that continues to this day. All of the siblings either work with Brian or invest in his domain ventures, as do parents Yvonne & Robert (who retired from the military after 35 years of service). 

Brian Null, Founder
Beach Farm Nine, LLC

The family finally settled in St. Louis, Missouri where Brian finished high school in 1981, then immediately followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Air Force when he was just 17. He was trained to maintain and operate radar equipment then shipped off to Bismarck, North Dakota where he served out his four-year hitch.

When he was discharged Null decided to head west and sample life in Colorado Springs. He took jobs repairing time clocks and installing fire alarms but one day his life took a dramatic change when he bumped into Colorado State freshman Kim Selting who was home for a visit. Brian fell for the bright coed, wound up enrolling at CSU himself, and the couple was married on August 15, 1992, just as he was starting his first semester there. 

Kim studied to become a veterinarian and when she graduated she was offered an internship at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. Brian went to New York City with her and landed a job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, thanks to some string-pulling by his mom who worked at the company’s national headquarters in St. Louis.

As Kim was finishing up her internship, Brian heard about a special training program Enterprise was offering current employees to teach them to become programmers. Since the course was being taught in St. Louis where all of Brian’s family lived, he applied and was quickly accepted.

Brian & Kim headed for Missouri where Kim set up a private veterinary practice and Brian morphed into a corporate IT guy. After a couple of years in programming, Brian transitioned into Business Analysis and wound up managing that department at Enterprise.

Life was good and made even better when he and Kim started a family that has now grown to include two daughters (ages 7 and 2) and a 4-year-old son. For the first time in his life, Brian could envision staying put for a change! However it was not to be.

Kim’s dream was to pursue a residency in veterinary oncology (the study and treatment of tumors). They spent two years talking about the pros and cons and Brian finally decided that “curing cancer” was more important than “renting cars”! After five years with a family-owned company that he loved, Brian resigned from Enterprise and the family headed to Fort Collins, Colorado where Kim began a three-year residency program at Colorado State.

The moved turned out to be an auspicious one for Brian as well, one that would set him on the Internet path he remains on today. In early 1999, his father-in-law, Dr. Wayne Selting (a Colorado dentist who is also a successful real estate investor), took Brian on a hiking trip on Camelback Mountain in Arizona.

During their long trek across the mountain, Dr. Selting gave Brian a talk that would change his life once and for all. “He said I was at a branch in life and now had an opportunity to choose a different direction. He talked to me about betting on myself as an entrepreneur. It was an inspiring talk to say the least and by the time we got back down the mountain I had made up my mind to go for the brass ring.  We sat down that very evening and he drew out on scrap paper how we could build an Internet business marketing vacation rental properties,” Brian recalled.  

This is where you expect to read how that business was an instant success. It wasn’t. Thomas Edison, who experienced many failures before coming up with inventions that changed the world said, “many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Brian Null in his natural element
(on the golf course)

Null realized he had come close. “What I learned from that first venture was the springboard for every successful move I have made over the past six years. It also introduced me to those magical things we call domains,” Null said. “When Wayne and I decided to launch our vacation rentals business we started looking for a name. I thought,  WOW…this is FUN!  It was exciting looking up names and settling on our short list. I remember standing on Wayne’s deck as we pitched the names to our family members for a vote. That’s when I got hooked on domains.” 


“Eventually I bought my own names and I can recall the thrill I got realizing that I owned these names and that I could put up essentially any content I chose (within reason), because I owned them…I found it bizarre and addictive!” 


Scott Null

That first venture also brought Null a valuable employee who remains a key part of his operation today. “Not long after Wayne and I started up, we hired my younger brother, Scott, away from Enterprise Rent-A-Car where he had become an accomplished programmer. Scott has been my developer ever since and has been vital in helping evolve my ebusiness strategies.” Null said.

“Once we pulled the plug on the vacation rental marketing business, Scott and I tried our hand at building websites for other people with me selling and him building. The first site we “sold” was to our sister Cathy who placed the order for the company she worked for. 


She asked us to invoice her. “Umm, invoice? We don’t really have an invoice per se,” I told her. She said, “OK, well then what is the company name and where should I wire the money?  “Umm… I guess just write Scott Null on it and send it to his bank account.” Two hours later she was our business partner and has handled operations ever since. THANK GOODNESS!,” Null declared. “Our other brother and sister and our parents have been investors and our biggest cheerleaders throughout.”


While Brian’s business was starting to gain traction, Kim finished her residency and landed a great job as a professor at the University of Missouri veterinary teaching hospital. Brian could take his business anywhere he wanted so they headed off to Columbia, Missouri where they remain today.


Another good piece of fortune came with that move. The home they had bought three years earlier in Colorado had jumped 50% in value by the time they sold it for the move back east. They rolled the profit into a new home in Columbia and as you will learn a little later, that equity in the new house made it possible for Null to reach a level he had only dreamed of in the past.


By the end of the year 2000, Null had amassed about 500 domain names. “At the time I was focusing on three areas that I thought were hot and would translate well to the Internet; Deals, Trips and Auction names. I bought names like CondoDeal.com, ItalyDeals.com, DenverTrips.com, EnglandTrips.com, BidOnFares.com, BidOnCoins.com, BidOnHotels.com, etc.”


“At the same time, our web development company started to work on building an ecommerce solution to sell to office supply dealers,” Null said. “As a prototype to show that our system worked, we launched OrderSuppliesOnline.com in January 2001. We spent the last $1,000 from my Enterprise Rent-A-Car 401K savings to buy traffic from GoTo.com and wound up with $17,000 in sales the first month with zero experience selling online and no real knowledge of the office supply industry! So we rolled the money into February and did $30,000 in sales!


“By summer of 2001 we were faced with a decision: are we a web design company or an office supply company that does it’s selling online?  We opted for the one bringing in money and transitioned out of web design and into selling office supplies online full time,” Null said.


This new line of work resulted in Null discovering both a problem and a solution that forever changed the way he thinks about domains. “Our own family and close friends could never get our web address right!,” he said. “They would call us OfficeSuppliesOnline.com, OrderOfficeSupplies.com, OnlineOfficeSupplies.com…every variation imaginable…and our customers did the same thing!”


”Being a domainer at heart, I started hunting for a better name than OrderSuppliesOnline.com and discovered OfficeSupply.com listed on a simple “For Sale” web page, along with several other good domain names. Here was the exact name of our industry and it was for sale!  I sent an email to the owner on a Friday afternoon and by the end of the weekend we had a deal,” Null recalled.


“I contacted Monte Cahn (CEO at Moniker.com) to walk us through the purchase process, as it was our first significant domain purchase. Monte came up with some creative financing in putting together a contract for the sale. It was done with an initial down payment followed by 3 monthly installments for the balance. Once we put the initial deposit on the domain and the name was transferred into escrow at Moniker, we then sold shares of our company to raise $50,000 in investment capital from family and friends,” Null said.

Monte Cahn
CEO, Moniker.com

“We had the money raised and the name paid in full within two months and in May 2002 we transitioned from OrderSuppliesOnline.com to OfficeSupply.com. THAT is when I learned the value of building a business on a prime domain name!  Not only did we discover the value of type-in traffic, but also the instant credibility we now had with customers.”


“I recall one specific instance when we called on a customer from a 200-employee company and the customer said she couldn’t believe a company as big as ours was calling on their little company…and here we were, a 3-person company working out of our basements!,” Null smiled.


Business was still booming three years later when Null stumbled onto another domain name that was about to change his life yet again. “In the summer of 2004, while we were still operating OfficeSupply.com, I was doing some research and came across that old OfficeSupply.com “For Sale” page from years ago.  There were several other names on the page including GolfLessons.com which really caught my attention because I enjoy playing golf. So I shot my old friend a note to see if he still had the domain. He did and we settled on a $20,000 price. My idea was to develop it as kind of a personal hobby. Of course I had to convince my wife that I could monetize that $20,000 hobby!,” Null said.


Making the "hobby" pay off. Null in Beach Farm Nine's first trade show 
booth at the PGA Merchandise Show is Las Vegas - September 2005


The domain bug now had Null firmly in its grip. “Before the ink was even dry on that deal I was already exploring what other golf domains might be available,” Null said. “I eventually came across the name GolfCourses.com and it was not resolving. It made me sit up straighter in my chair, I can tell you that much!”


“I did a little more research on the domain and then emailed the owner who turned out to be a great guy with rare integrity. After three months of discussions, he decided to sell and allow me the chance to take a run at developing it. The price tag was $55,750 and after some lengthy conversations with my wife, she agreed to let me take a second mortgage on our house to finance the purchase.”


(Editor’s Note: WHOA! Stop the tape! I’m trying to digest that one. Is it just me, or can any of you other guys imagine going to your wife and saying “honey, would you mind if I take a second mortgage on the house to buy a domain name?”  Thanks, I didn’t think so!)


There is an even more amazing twist to this bit of information about Kim agreeing to the second mortgage so Brian could follow his dream and secure a name that would be the foundation for his golf network. Soon after he got the name, someone almost immediately offered him a nice profit to pass the domain on to them. Brian considered it but when he took the proposal to Kim, she said “No, you said this was your dream, so you are going to follow it!


(Editor’s Note: For those male readers who are single, I’m sure you are now wondering if Kim has any sisters. I’m sorry we are bound by a non-disclosure agreement on that one.)


With some hot golf properties now in his possession, Brian talked with his sister and OfficeSupply.com partner Cathy about him breaking away to focus on his golf domains. She agreed and though they continued to work together as opportunities arose, by spring 2005 Cathy was also ready to try something new. They agreed to sell OfficeSupply.com, a move that would allow both of them to focus fully on the next chapter in their lives.


It didn’t take them long to find a buyer. In May of this year, Null attended his first domain conference, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West in Las Vegas, where he met Bob Martin and Marc Ostrofsky of iREIT.com. They quickly put together a deal for OfficeSupply.com and began a friendship that will almost certainly lead to more good things down the line.


Letting OfficeSupply.com go gave Null time and money that he quickly put to good use acquiring additional golf properties like GolfResorts.com and GolfShirts.com. He again turned to Moniker.com to arrange the creative financing that made the deals possible. “These were once again names I secured with an initial down payment, which then afforded me time to gather the funds needed to complete the transactions with a few months.” Null said.


So today, barely more than a year after he first stepped up to the golf domain tee, Null finds himself with a network of high quality names that address the key categories of that huge market:

  • Golf course information (GolfCourses.com)

  • Golf travel (GolfResorts.com)

  • Golf instruction (GolfLessons.com)

  • Golf products (GolfShirts.com)

Null (right) with GolfTips.com 
partner Grant Keiser (left)

“I like to say GolfCourses.com is the Michael Jordan of the group as it makes all the other domains around it that much better,” Null said. “It obviously helps to have GolfCourses.com when you call on course owners to sell paid listings, but it also lends credibility to our business model to be in the position to say we also have properties in our network such as GolfResorts.com, GolfLessons.com, GolfTips.com (a joint venture with Grant Keiser), GolfShirts.com, GolfJobs.com and so on.”  

Just as OfficeSupply.com had opened many doors for him in that industry, the quality of Null’s golf names gives him quick entrée to the key people in his new chosen field. “They absolutely get you past the first layers of screening and straight to the decision makers of large organizations. It’s one of the less talked about but most valuable benefits form having a prime name,” Null said.


Null added that advertisers rarely ask what his traffic numbers are anymore because the collection of domains as a whole communicates a clear picture of the value he can bring them. “We have focused on building a network of websites that provide content the typical golfer is looking for. Golf really transfers well onto the net and I expect our content and services to grow dramatically over the coming months and years.”


“As we continue to build our infrastructure, we see our incoming streams of original content growing along with ad sales and revenue-producing ecommerce transactions across multiple categories. We just keep peeling away the layers of the golf industry onion and realize we have a great foundation in place to build a true powerhouse in the online golf publishing niche,” Null said.


Null is part of a fast growing breed of domainers who are looking beyond pay per click monetization models to full development of their properties as a way to maximize revenue. “I like to pretend I am a domainer, because professional domainers are such a fascinating group,” Null said, “but in reality, I am an end user whose strategy is to build businesses on prime domains. Not just develop websites on prime names, but build businesses around the names.”


“As an end user, I sometimes pay full market price (or above) for a domain that fits my long term ROI (return on investment) strategy. Those same domains would not likely be as attractive to a domainer looking to monetize it through other means such as pay per click or pay per action. I believe that is the reason I was able to move into the space and put this collection together.” 


Null’s company sponsored golf outings at both T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West in Las Vegas and T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East in Delray Beach, Florida last month. Prior to this year he had never met others in the domain community face to face, but now he is a rising star inside the industry as well as outside on the web where his properties have such high visibility.


At T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East the 300 attendees (a group that included top executives from the industry’s biggest companies and individual domainers that are already worth millions of dollars) elected Null to represent them on the 9-person Board of Directors of the World Association of Domain Name Developers.


In 2004, Null was asking everyone else for advice and direction. Now he is the guy many hold up as the person they want to emulate to wring the full potential out of their domain names. That is quite a leap to make in such a short period of time and Null is quick to credit others for making it possible.

Null on "Success Stories" panel   
at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East
October 2005

“At the start of 2004, I joined the
DomainState.com forum, the first internet forum of any kind I had ever registered at. It has had a profound affect on how I evaluate domains and has dramatically increased my understanding of the domain industry as a whole. I find the generosity and consistent levelheaded approach of the three administrators of the forum (Paul Cotton, Paul Shaw and Matt Purtell) to be exceptional and I have a great deal of respect for those guys along with other members of the forum,” said Null (whose forum screen name is The Columbian). 


“Through reading this publication, DNJournal.com, I was fascinated with what went on at the original T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference that took place in the fall of 2004. So I contacted Monte Cahn to get a little more information and eventually had the privilege of joining T.R.A.F.F.I.C. co-founder Rick Schwartz’s private forum and that was a life changer.”


“Attending the past two T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences and having the opportunity to meet the stars of our space face to face has dramatically altered the landscape of my business model. As a result of the conferences, I am in daily contact with some of the most brilliant folks on the net and am continually blown away with how willing so many in the domain community are to share information that will help others grow their businesses. I’m not sure I can name another industry that rivals this one for genuine camaraderie,” Null said.


Now when people ask him for advice, Null has this to say, “There are almost as many business models in domains as there are people into domains, but for me, what has worked is taking an honest inventory of my assets. What’s my skill set, what are my strengths, what do I want to accomplish and how can I leverage my current assets to get there? Build a road map. Check your risk tolerance level. If yours is low, forget everything you have read in this story! Like many in our industry, I like to bet on myself and impact my destiny. That is not for everyone.” 


Null added, “If you are going to build a business on the net, one method to improve your chances of success is to build the business on a prime name. I really can’t stress enough how valuable that has been for me for the past five years.”


One last thing we need to clear up before we go. Since Null is such a proponent of prime names, how on earth did he come up with Beach Farm Nine, LLC as the name of his holding company? 


“When my wife and I purchased GolfCourses.com, we knew it was time to spin up a new company as we would be working to generate income from the golf properties,” Null said. “We wanted something that had meaning for us and essentially captured why we took the risk in the first place." 

"Our 6-year-old daughter had been saying for a couple years that she wanted to live on a farm and that it should be on a beach! So my wife and I have had a goal to one day make that a reality. That’s why we took the words Beach Farm, added the word Nine (for 9 holes of golf) and thus Beach Farm Nine was born!”


Acronym fans will also be interested to know Brian’s initials are BFN, so there’s another match. Better yet, this is one of the few domains in his collection he was able to get for a registration fee! With 700 domains now in his portfolio, including the gems we’ve talked about in this article, the future is truly BFN (Bright For Null).  

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