While it may haved seemed to
some that Berkens suddenly appeared out of nowhere, his arrival in
the domain business was the culmination of a well planned trip
he has been on since childhood. Berkens always knew exactly
where he wanted his path in life to lead so he set about building
a road that would take him to his destination.
provided the inspiration for Michael's journey but unfortunately the
example he set was one that took years off his life. Michael was
determined not to make the same mistake. "My dad started
having major health problems when he was in his late 50s,"
Berkens said. "He was very heavy, smoked, and that certainly
lead to several heart attacks he suffered which was very hard
on the family. My dad died just a few years after they retired and
my mom lived for 14 years more, quite lonely, although she lived
with us for years, as well as years with other family members, but nothing could
replace my dad."
was an estimator in the printing business and my mom also worked all
of her life for banks and insurance companies. They
were very loving parents who worked hard all their lives, raised
their family in Brooklyn, and retired. They never made much
money - it wasn’t a priority to them - and they hardly ever traveled,"
decided that I would try to stay healthy, travel, do as much as I
could while I was young, and not buy into that part of the
American dream, that you wait until you retire to do all the things
you want, because you may not make it and even if you do,
you may not be in the physical condition to enjoy it. I was always
looking for businesses that could afford me the time to do
this and provide extra money in the event of
disability," Berkens said.
set about fulfilling his dreams by working his way through school. "I went to Brooklyn College because I could
live at home, and tuition was basically free, which was great since
my parents didn’t have any money to send me away to school,"
worked all through college, nights, weekends and summers. My summer
job was being a foot messenger in New York. I walked,
took the subways and visited some of the great buildings in New
York. My favorite was the World Trade Center. I loved
it when I got to do a delivery at the Port Authority; they
ran the building and were on a very high floor, which meant I got to
take the rocket-like elevators up 90+ stories. During the
attorney Michael Berkens had
worked his way through college & law school
|school year I worked at night delivering tuxedos. I would drop
them off fresh and clean on Thursdays for the weekend events and
fetch them all dirty and nasty on Monday."
hard work allowed Berkens to earn his degree and plot the next step
in his journey. "Almost as soon as I got to college I decided I
wanted to become a lawyer. I went to Stetson in St.
Petersburg, Florida because it was the only school in a warm
climate that I could cover tuition and room and board with my $5,000
a year government student loan," Berkens said.
"I did the law review
thing, worked for the Dean part time and the rest of my time was evenly
spilt between the library, playing ball and drinking with fellow
After I graduated from Stetson I went on for another year to get a
masters degree in tax law from the University Of Florida."
landed a job with a big law firm in St. Petersburg, but after he met
his wife Judi she urged him to start his own practice. Michael did
that and the two of them would go on to spend virtually all of their
time together, at work as well as at home. In April the couple
celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary but Michael recalls the
day they met as if it were yesterday.
"I met Judi
in a condo on St. Petersburg Beach where I was living,"
Michael said. "She came over to visit a
girlfriend/model that also lived in the building, who I hung out
with once in a while by the pool. So I saw Judi down by the pool in
a white bathing suit and I ran down to have the friend introduce me.
As you can see from the picture she undoubtedly
threw herself at me,
unable to resist my incredible good looks," Berkens laughed.
were married less than two years later and ever since we have worked together and been partners in
every business we have done. Judi
has been by my side every step of the way, which makes our story
even more special.
had the chance to travel extensively and enjoy every day together,
even during the years even when we worked 18 hours a day."
great to achieve success
& Michael Berkens on their Wedding Day
| in your life but it’s truly exceptional
if you can do it side by side with the one you love. Judi
and I are both big football fans, Florida Gators in college and the
Tampa Bay Bucs in the pros and we love to root for our teams.
the way a little life advice guys, marry your best friend and make
sure you root for the same team!," Berkens grinned.
Michael & Judi celebrate the Florida Gators 2006
NCAA football championship after watching their favorite
team beat Ohio State 41-14 in Glendale, Arizona
Jan. 8, 2007 (Editor's Note: It was hard for me to run this
photo - I went to Ohio State).
At left: Michael
& Judi at Super Bowl XXXVII, played at Qualcomm
Stadium in San Diego Jan. 26, 2003. They had just
watched their beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland
Raiders 48-21 to win their first (and only) Vince
Lombardi Trophy as NFL champions. (Editor's Note: I had no
problem running this picture as I live in Tampa and have
also been rooting for the Bucs since they joined the NFL in
|There is a third member of the family that
also plays a key role - the couple's beloved Yorkie - Bandit.
"He is actually the 5th dog we’ve had," Michael
noted. "When we first got married we had a boy and girl Maltese,
who in turn had 3 puppies and long story short - we kept them all
(very bad idea to have puppies born in your house). We
got Bandit after one of the puppies died at 10. All
the others had nice long lives and Bandit kept the girls
is now our only “child”.
been on over 40 planes including seaplanes, helicopters, props and
he’s a little spoiled.
know… you want to come back as him in your next life; me
too!," Berkens said.
& Judi's "only child" Bandit
has gotten used to riding in style.
& Judi's menagerie started with this Maltese mommy and her
"Around the same time
Judi talked me into leaving the law firm, I remember
reading in the newspaper that GTE, at the time the local phone company,
was going to start 976 number service in
Tampa. When I grew up
in New York, I remembered seeing ads for 976 sports, weather, and
“dial a joke” type of services. I thought I could put an
answering machine in my law office give out some information,
get people to call, and make money while I was working, sleeping, or
on vacation," Berkens said.
"I recognized early on that although you could make a nice living as
an attorney, you only got paid when you spent your time, and you
only have so much time.
your time is a pretty scary way to make your living since if you
get sick, you don’t work, and you don’t get paid. If you
go on vacation you don’t work and you don’t get paid. If
you spend time with your family you don’t get paid.
I figured I needed to find a business that would generate revenue
when you weren’t working, when you were sleeping, on vacation,
spending time with your family or simply unable to work."
seed for this mindset was planted when he was still a kid in
my Dad have so much downtime from suffering many heart attacks, and
knowing that heart conditions to a large extent is heredity, really
drove me to find a business that would provide income if I was
unable to work. I know I sound like a commercial for Aflac
Insurance, quack!" Berkens laughed.
researched the whole pay per call industry and one guy who was
already in the business gave me life-changing advice. Although he
had no good reason to do so, he counseled me, told me forget the
sports and the jokes, and do live chat."
as a team, Michael and Judi started a 976 service in a tiny office
where Michael practiced law in the front while phone operators worked
in back. To drum up business they started running local TV ads.
produced over 20 commercials that ran in the Tampa Bay area. With
that experience under their belts they were ready to take advantage
of a new opportunity when the local 976 services gave way to national
"Before we knew it we were producing
over 30 commercials a
year, running spots all over the country on local stations and nationally
on the USA Network and WGN out of Chicago.
expanded from our little office to our own building where we had
operators and had hundreds of commercials running coast to
every night," Berkens recalled.
1997 Berkens discovered a new technology that would lead to
his debut in the domain business. He still vividly remembers that
at a tradeshow for the 900 industry in 1997, a friend said "I want to
show you something". He brought me up to his room, opened his
computer and showed me a live webcam feed. He was on a dial
up connection, 28.8, as we all were back then. The picture
changed like every 30 seconds, was very pixilated and very small. I
watched for a few minutes and he said, “this is the future”.
given the poor quality of the Internet transmission at that time
Berkens said he also thought “who is going to watch this crap!?”
His friend replied "it doesn’t matter what you do on the net, figure something
out and do it."
knew how valuable good vanity telephone numbers were, so I started
registering domains, thinking that one day they would be a good
thing to own," Berkens said. " Still, I did not regard
myself as a domain investor back then, nor did I regard it as a
business. I simply thought domains would be a good thing to
Michael's new "hobby" would soon take on a life of his
own. "My first registrations were all geared towards adult and
in 1999 when other registrars were allowed to compete against Network
Solutions in offering domain registrations, I knew it would only be a
short time until one of the new registrars would allow the “7
dirty words" to be registered. So every day I would check to see
if one of the new registrars were up and running to try to register
a few of those domains," Berkens said.
famous routine by comedian George Carlin immortalized
the 7 dirty words you can't say
on TV. A few years later it became possible to register
those words as domain names.
"One day in July
1999, DomainBank.net, maybe the 5th registrar to
become accredited, went live and I sat and registered what I thought
were the top 100 adult domains with explicit words. Their
system was very primitive; I remember that you had to type in all
the contact and other info for each domain. I remember it
taking like 15 minutes per domain," Berkens recalled.
next day I called the owner of the registrar, to make sure they were
valid registrations and found out that there system was not
eliminating domains that had already been registered by other people, so out of the 100
domains I thought I got, I wound up with only 35. But
next day I turned down offers as high as seven figures for the 35
the $70 that each 2-year registration cost him, Berkens would
up seeing a phenomenal return on his investment without having
to sell the names. He noted that some of those domains have
earned into seven figures over the years.
& Judi visit Beverly Hills during their trip
2008 DOMAINfest Global conference in Hollywood.
added that he also made his share of mistakes along the way but said
his biggest regrets did not involve domains he bought, but rather deals
he didn't do. Michael summed it up saying "Although I paid way too much for some of the domains I bought, those don’t
bother me anywhere as much as the ones I could have had but passed.
I wished I had registered a lot more non-adult domains back in the
more than his share of hits Berkens does not waste time worrying
about his misses. "As a general rule I don’t think it’s tremendously productive to
look at each purchase, each sale, and analyze them to see what you
could have or should have done.
people should look long term," Berkens said.
"If you have been in this
|industry for five years, have you been successful? Is your
portfolio better today than last year, than 3 years ago? Is
your revenue growing? Is your business profitable year after
year? Those are the bigger questions and if you can answer yes to
those, you’ve done well.
So when you ask me about my greatest
success I would say it is that for the past 10 years I
can answer yes to all these questions."
has been in the domain business long enough to have witnessed all of
its ups and downs. In terms of PPC revenue and sales at the high end
of the market, we are in a down cycle now. Despite the gloomier
atmosphere brought on by the recession, some see new opportunities
that were not there a year ago, similar to 2000 when the ".com
bust" put a lot assets back on the market giving people like Frank
Schilling and Kevin Ham an opportunity to get into the game
relatively late and still thrive. However Berkens sees a fundamental
difference this time around.
in 2000 non-adult traffic was not really being monetized,"
Berkens noted. "What
burst in 2000 was the dot com bubble, where a ton of public
companies in the internet business went out of business and shares
of publicly traded internet companies plummeted. At that
time people thought there was no future in the Internet. They
Internet was an
over-hyped fad that had been proven by the
market to be a failed business model and doomed.
left a lot of people just dumping domains - if the Internet was done,
who needed domains?"
situation is completely different.
know that the Internet is here to stay. But
the business of domaining is under attack.
attack by trademark holders.
attack by ICANN who is considering lifting the price caps on domains which
would mean domain renewals would not be priced at $8 per
year, but each domain's renewal fee would be priced based on what each registry
considers each domain to be worth.
attack by Google and Yahoo, which have reduced PPC payouts by
50% or more.
while the Internet is thriving, domainers are having
problems," Berkens said.
Domaining is under
domainers who built huge portfolios by reinvesting their PPC
earnings, are finding their income halved or worse.
most domainers without cash reserves have to either sell more
domains than they are used to, and/or let domains drop as many simply
will not be able to afford the registration fees.
free spending, low savings society we all lived in, changed
overnight last year.
are no exception."
domainers re-invested all or most of their profits in more domains.
Many domainers, like most Americans, had too little cash reserve in case
times got tough.
times are tough.
think PPC has seen its best days, but that’s not to say that
another model will not come along that will one day equal or surpass
It's’s not all doom and gloom," Berkens added.
revenue is just a piece of the domaining business. I still
think there are tremendous values out there. I
bought RestaurantSupply.com in the last T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
New York live auction (which was held
during the stock market meltdown) for $20,000 and it will do
over $3,000 in the first year parked.
a bad investment.
day the domain will fetch in the six figures.
it’s a pure, clean, category killer.
don’t think anyone bid against me on the domain. I got it
for the opening bid in front of hundreds of people.
tell you this just as an example of the opportunity that
still exists," Berkens said.
mentioned the possibility of a new model someday taking the place of
PPC. Of course, many are already looking for something that can
restore the earnings that have disppeared since the pay per click
model fell into its ongoing decline. Some are trying CPA, some
mini-site development and others are placing more emphasis on
selling their domains. Berkens weighed in on the options.
"The problem for domainers is that there is no other proven, scalable
solution other than PPC
in the audience
at a live domain auction at
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York in Sept. 2008.
|for thousands, tens of
thousands and hundreds of thousands of domains. Therefore
the upstream parking companies, Google and Yahoo, are getting the
same domain traffic they were getting last year, but just paying
half as much for it.
you can pay half for the same thing you were buying last year,
wouldn’t you? I mean what is the incentive for Google or
Yahoo to pay more at this point?" Berkens asked.
PPC ever return to its highest levels? I
would say no, unless something breaks up the Google/Yahoo monopoly
on PPC upstream providers. This could be in the form of Microsoft's
Bing.com becoming a player, the acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft,
or a brand new scalable solution comes to market to compete with PPC,
thereby increasing the amount Google and Yahoo pays us to retain the
Internet, in and of itself, is ever changing. Remember when
Lycos and Alta Vista were major search engines? It wasn’t
that long ago.
when you ask if domainers need to be prepared for a permanent
replacement for that income stream, I say domainers need to be
prepared in general," Berkens said.
you need to have a plan.
acquisition plan. A
your income is going down then you may need to replace your income
by cutting your expenses.
Every day I
still see people by the hundreds spending $69 to backorder a domain
that isn’t worth the $8 registration fee.
every day someone sends me lists of domains they want to sell that
aren’t worth the registration fee.
the crap, be selective on your acquisitions, and start selling if
you have to."
business you should never rely on one source of
domaining is no different. So
yes, parking revenue is down and you should have already started
looking for a replacement for that income last year when it started
the decline is permanent or not, you need to try and replace the
income or reduce your expenses. You need to develop different
channels and different sources within each channel,' Berkens said.
we first started domaining as a business, we made a decision to sell
enough domains each year that my registration costs were met, so any
income from traffic would be pure profit. We have achieved this for the last 10 years.
many people are finally waking up to the idea of selling.
my advice is to try things, many things, everything."
you are parking your domains, try different parking companies, spilt
your domains up and try them at several companies, try affiliate
programs, try to find white label solutions like we did with LuxuryBedding.com,
DiscountBedding.com and HomeFashions.com."
you’re selling your domains try several channels, SnapNames.com,
Sedo, the Domain Distribution Network, NameMedia’s
network (BuyDomains and the AfternicDLS),
Bido.com, domain show auctions. Try different strategies.
Some will work and some won’t.
you’re going to win and sometimes you’re going to lose.
you don’t try different avenues and sit tight you are going to really
when it comes to monetization or sales, not every solution fits
every domain," Berkens added.
running his business is already a more than full time job, Berkens
has chosen to devote a major portion of each day to providing useful
information to others through his blog at TheDomains.com.
Consistent blogging requires a lot time and effort, usually with
little or no financial return. Berkens is certainly one of the best
at what he does but why does he do it?
started the blog to give back to the industry that has given me so
much," Berkens said. "A lot of people gave me advice, information and insight when
they had no reason to do so. So
I feel it’s only right to do the same. My
goal in starting the blog was to educate domain holders and
hopefully reach outside the industry to promote domains as an
Berkens helps young domainer Jeff Fischer
of industry veteran Larry Fischer) buy his first
at the 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas conference.
have to admit I am quite surprised at how much time the blog takes
not just finding stories and taking the time to write them, but
responding to comments and managing the blog. At least once a month I think about not blogging
there are other days, I think blogging its one of the best things I
ever decided to do.
upside is it forces you to get educated on all the issues, to keep on
top of everything going on in the domain and Internet world, and
definitely keeps you sharply focused." Berkens said.
have also had a chance to meet and communicate with a lot of people
in the industry that I otherwise never would have. There are amazing,
very smart people involved in this industry and it’s been my
pleasure to meet many online and have an open line of communication
to bounce ideas off of them.
"We have dealt with
many important issues and TheDomains.com
has become a forum for great discussions between domainers, industry
leaders, representatives from ICANN and VeriSign, many of the top
domain registrars and registries, parking companies, even trademark
holders - all joining in heated, yet informative discussions."
think in the year and a half I’ve been writing there has been a
noticeable shift by domainers away from registering trademark
infringing domains, towards generic domains. I hope that my opinion
on the issue was in small part responsible for the shift.
think I have helped educate the industry on the importance of the Internet
Commerce Association (ICA), increased their membership base, and raised a significant
amount of money for them.
now I think the industry is at a crossroads.
is just so much going on right now, from the possible introduction
of hundreds or thousands of new extensions, the expiration of the
ICANN contract with the U.S. Commerce Department in September,
ICANN's proposed URS (Uniform Rapid Suspension system that
could replace the UDRP), the possible lifting of price caps on domains, and the
PPC issues we are all facing, just to name a few."
I’m going to stick around during these highly volatile times to
try and shape some opinions, try to influence the outcome of these
issues, and move the industry forward.
the other hand I don’t see myself doing this forever.
all know that life is short, time is precious, and it can all change
in an instant," Berkens said.
mentioned the effort he has put into rallying support for the
industry's trade association, the ICA. While his persistent message
(and his personal financial contributions) have helped the
organization immensely, he is disappointed that the industry as a
whole has not done more.
|"The lack of support for the ICA is pretty amazing, yet I do
understand it in a way," Berkens said. "Several years ago when
Rick Schwartz and others were screaming
and yelling about getting
support for the ICA, the need for a trade
organization, the need for a lobbyist, the need for a PR firm, the
need for money, I have to admit I pretty much ignored their cries as
as usual was very forward thinking. Back
a few years ago I just didn’t have interest in ICANN or the issues
of the day.
saw what laid ahead.
today is a different day. Why?
Because what Rick and the other early members of the ICA, including
Frank Schilling, had the vision to see coming, has now
the VeriSign no-bid contract awarded a few years ago, the
of last year, Kentucky
seizing domain names (still under appeal),
the new proposed URS and the continuous pushing of ever changing rules
in favor of trademark holders, the need for the ICA is clear and
need for the ICA has become a no brainer.
need for the ICA is not up for debate.
don’t have to be forward thinking any more, the storm has arrived
and you either have to react or just be prepared to give up your
Legal Counsel Phil Corwin was hired
by the industry trade association's founders
to defend the rights of domain owners.
we have a bigger problem than even the lack of support for the ICA.
see a tremendous amount of disinterest by domain holders in any
issue dealing with ICANN.
a doubt any post I write about ICANN receives much less readership
then many less important topics."
number one excuse I get for not joining the ICA is that is “costs
too much ($295 a year).”
how many domainers submitted comments to ICANN on the URS, the
biggest threat to domain holders ever considered by ICANN? I
counted less than 40 responses by domainers. Commenting
to ICANN costs nothing, not a dime, just 30 minutes of your time.
Yet few took the time to comment," Berkens noted.
cost to join the ICA is a red herring.
issue isn’t the cost; the issue is the disinterest by the vast
majority of people that consider themselves domainers.
gets to the real question. Are you a professional domain
holder that conducts your activities as a business or are you just a
guy who owns some domains? Domain
holders need to decide if this is a business to them or something
they just can make a quick buck off of until something else comes
along," Berkens said.
Berkens reads a birthday card after his wife and
friends surprised him with a cake and impromptu party
at the 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in New York.
lot of people enter the domain world thinking it is a carefree way
to make an easy living. Berkens dispels that notion. "This is a very tough
business," he declared. "You
have companies in the “domain business” that have hundreds of
millions of dollars in capital invested, all the way down to the
newbies you see
offering the Michael Jackson domains for sale on eBay for
the general public they look at both as “domainers”, Berkens
you read TechCrunch
any time they have a post concerning domains,
read the comments and you will see what I mean - people hate
domainers. Although all of them wished they registered sex.com back
in the day and sold it for $12 million they hate you for having the
mentality is not exclusive to domainers.
nature is highly jealous of success."
along the way we went from a society who looked at success stories
and used them as inspiration to create their own, to one
that looks at successful people and eagerly awaits and looks forward to
their fall. If you could get the honest answer of the American
population, almost all would say they admire Donald Trump, almost
all would love to be like him, enjoy the success he has, but almost
all would say they would be happy if he lost it all."
would love to have 100 great domains they could have registered in
wants to have what Frank has.
99.9% of the general population missed the boat and now they’re
pissed off at the one’s who got onboard, who thought of it first,
who beat them to the punch."
who own a lot of apartments are called “slumlords." People
who take over public companies are called “corporate raiders."
who practice law and get large verdicts are called “ambulance
who have sudden success are dismissed as being “Lucky." People
who own a lot of domains are call “cybersquatters."
is human nature," Berkens said.
the domainers I know are extremely hard working.
I don’t remember the last day I had a whole day off. Its
certainly been many years ago, and probably because I couldn’t get
a connection or my computer’s hard drive failed.
I think that is typical of domainers.
domainers I know work, or worked, when they were building up their
portfolio, 7 days a week, 10+ hours a day, 365 days a year,"
the best thing about being a domainer is you can work anywhere, the
worst thing is you work everywhere.
by and large are self-made. I don’t know of
first dog ever to attend a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference!
Bandit with Michael and Judi Berkens in New
| any domainer who
grew up with a ton of money. We either made money in a
previous business or in the domain business but what we have, we
holders created an industry.
industry that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.
very profitable one. We’re
living the American dream," Berkens concluded.