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April 03, 2015

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Taking Care of Business: Is Ari Goldberger the Domain Industry's Ultimate Entrepreneur?

I’ve always been fascinated by entrepreneurs, a special breed of people who have the guts to take great risks and the ability to create something out of nothing. The great ones have remarkable tenacity and an unwavering will to succeed. Many endure great hardship and experience multiple failures before finally tasting success. The domain business is full of people like this and I think the chance to be around them, more than any other factor, is what drew me into this industry and continues to make it more exciting that any other field I can imagine.

I never tire of hearing and retelling great entrepreneurial stories from people who have become leaders in this business. One of the best I’ve heard involves Ari Goldberger. The New Jersey native was in business before grade school when he started collecting pop bottles on the beach and turning them in for a penny or two in deposit money. From that time on he has always been immersed in one or more busy enterprises.  

Ari Goldberger
ESQwire.com - SmartName.com

Most in this industry think of Goldberger as one of the world’s best domain attorneys. He is certainly that, but there's much more to his story. When I entered the business in the spring of 2002 there were plenty of corporate IP attorneys at the big domain companies, but just a handful of lawyers who represented the interests of domainers.

In fact, at that time I kept seeing the same three names over and over – Ari Goldberger, John Berryhill and Howard Neu. Though they ran separate successful practices they were so omnipresent in the business that they came to be known as the Three Amigos. For that reason, like most, I only thought “attorney” when I heard Ari’s name.
The Three Amigos (left to right): John Berryhill, Howard Neu and Ari Goldberger at the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Delray Beach, Florida in October 2004.

That’s why it surprised me to learn in 2003 that he had also started a PPC (pay per click) parking company affiliated with Yahoo! (SmartName.com). With all of the legal matters he was handling I didn’t know where he could find the time to run a company at the same time. Of course, that is the hallmark of a true entrepreneur. Burning the candle at both ends is the norm. 

I was impressed that he could juggle all of his responsibilities and still be successful with both enterprises. I was more impressed by stories I started hearing privately about Goldberger – about people in trouble that he had helped regardless of whether or not they could pay. Goldberger has always felt compelled to stand up for those no one else would stand up for. He can instantly identify with people in dire straits, those for whom help is nowhere in sight, because of the horror his own parents experienced.  

Adam and Ruth Goldberger are both survivors of the Holocaust. Only 5% of the 50,000 Jews who lived in Cracow, Poland before the war managed to survive extermination by the Nazis. Ari exists today only because his parents were among that tiny fraction that made it through the nightmare. 

Before the war, Ari's father Adam led a privileged life as the son of a dentist. When the Nazis invaded and herded most of the Jews off to concentration camps, Adam (then just 15 years old) was among 20 Jewish mechanics the Gestapo kept as prisoners who were forced to work on German vehicles. Near the end of the war Adam was driving a jeep that senior Gestapo officers were using to try to escape from advancing Russian forces. When they stopped for the night, Adam managed to drain the radiator while the Germans slept. He then convinced them he had to walk into town to get water for the radiator and used that opportunity to escape. Ari helped his father edit a book about his experiences called Prisoner of the Gestapo: How I Survived the Holocaust.


The Jewish mechanics. Adam Goldberger is standing, 3rd from left with arms folded. Ari Goldberger said "The mechanics were incredibly valuable to the Germans because they were in captured territory and needed working vehicles if they had to get away. My dad was particularly valuable as he was fluent in Polish and German." 

When Ari’s mother Ruth was 12 years old her mother, Leonora, was taken away by the Germans and later perished in the Maidonek concentration camp. Ruth herself later went through several concentration camps, including the Plaszow labor camp in Cracow (spelled Krakow in English) that was featured in Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List (the 1993 Academy Award Winner for Best Picture). Ruth's father, well-known painter Leon Lefkowitz managed to escape to Russia with Ruth’s sister Anna. Leon, whose paintings hang in national museums in Cracow and Warsaw today, rolled up some of his canvases and used them to bribe guards along his escape route to Russia. 

Speaking of his grandfather, Ari said, “he painted Jews and Gypsies, seeing a common thread in their homeless existence – never being accepted into the societies where they lived. The faces in his paintings foresaw what was coming. The irony is that when he escaped to the Russian side, the victims he had painted aided him when he became a victim himself.”  

In the camps, Ruth was able to draw nighttime kitchen duty and eat the raw skins from the potatoes she had to peel. She reunited with Adam in Cracow after the war and the couple emigrated to Israel in 1946. Ruth did not learn until 1950 that her father had survived the war and was living in Russia, but neither he nor Ruth’s sister Anna were allowed to leave the country. She would never see her father again as he died just a few years later. It would be another 26 years before Ruth was able to travel to Moscow in 1976 and see Anna for the first time in over three decades. 

After Anna died, one of her friends brought three of Leon’s paintings to the U.S. in 1990 to give them to the Goldberger family. Inspired by that artwork, Ari and his father traveled to Cracow six years later and cataloged some 50 of Leon’s paintings that hung at various locations in Poland. “I believe that I inherited a lot of my creativity and care for the underdog from my grandfather and parents,” Ari said.

1996 photo of Ari Goldberger (left) with a museum guide and Ari's father Adam at a gallery in Cracow, Poland. They are standing next to a work done by Ari's grandfather, noted Polish painter Leon Lefkovitz.

Ari’s parents moved from Israel to the United States in 1958, following friends and relatives who shared the dream of a better life in America. Ari was born 3 years later in Vineland, New Jersey, making him a first generation American. “My father worked as a truck mechanic and later was a foreman for a trucking company. My mother worked as a lifeguard, ballet instructor, and ran an exercise class she called “slimnastics” at the local YMCA

“I think my first taste of business was when I was around 3 or 4,” Goldberger recalled. “We used to go to this beach frequented by other Jewish immigrants.  I would ask people for their empty Coke bottles so I could get the 1 or 2 cent deposit and buy a pretzel stick, Sugar Daddy, or wax bottle.  When I was 5 or 6 a buddy of mine and I had fun doing these “stores” where we would lay stuff out in our front yard.  We didn’t care if we sold anything.  Just running the store was fun!”  

“We even ran a library – as we thought libraries could make money on the late fees!  Even though we didn’t make a dime, it was still a blast. I think because I was kind of shy that running a business was a vehicle for me to meet and interact with people.  I think it is that combination of the social connection of running a business, along with the gratification from succeeding that has motivated me from age 3 until today. It’s just fun!” Goldberger declared.

“Growing up, I knew at an early age that my parents were different. I knew about the Germans and there was always this sense of the preciousness of life and the importance of being kind to the “little guy.” When I was 8 my mom told me about the Jerry Lewis Telethon.  I had always loved Jerry Lewis movies but was so impressed that this guy dedicated his life to helping handicapped children,” Goldberger said. 

That motivated him to begin a summer ritual of running carnivals, getting the neighborhood kids to assist. “The first carnival was to benefit the local hospital. We probably raised about $20 but we were proud and it made the paper,” Goldberger said. “The next year I got more sophisticated and got the idea of calling local businesses out of the Yellow Pages for donations of merchandise and services to sell. I really gained a lot of business experience from this and loved organizing all the neighborhood kids and parents who helped out.”   

Above - newspaper clipping shows Ari Goldberger (in baseball cap standing to the right of the seated policeman) and friends he called on to help put on a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. Ari arranged for the policemen and patrol car to be at their carnival as one of the attractions.

“When I got a little older I got interested in stamp collecting, helped found a stamp club and organized Stamp Exhibits to benefit Multiple Sclerosis, as our adult advisor’s wife suffered from this disorder.  In high school, I was active in a number of clubs and had fun organizing dances to raise money for events.  I was shy and probably would have never attended a dance if I hadn't organized some first!” Goldberger said.   

Continue to Page 2: Goldberger Blossoms As Teenage Entrepreneur  

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