Until now, the hard-working Karamouzis
and his company, Hallpass
Media, have somehow managed to fly under most
people in this industry's radar, even though he has spent
over $4 million acquiring domain names and has had massive
successes developing and selling the FlashPlayer.com
and AddictingGames.com websites he developed to major
corporations. Obviously this was a man with an interesting
story to tell and we decided there was no better time to
tell it than now when so many people are still
wondering just exactly who the "crazy" guy that
spent 350K on CookingGames.com really is.
Bill's parents, Perry and
Angela Karamouzis, were born in Greece and moved
to Canada in the 1970’s. Karamouzis recalls, "My
parents, like many Greek immigrants, were in the Food/Restaurant
industry. Growing up I was around restaurants a lot - behind
the kitchen, not sitting at a table end of it that is.
Anyone that has ever worked in the food industry will
confirm it takes 12 hours plus of daily work, no
vacations, and really becomes a controlling part of your
life. Watching my parents work like this without complaining
would have to be one of the first things I recall about work
ethic. Work is simply something you do, without
complaining about the amount or difficulty. It has really
been that simple for me since as early as I can
to right) Bill's sister Gina, Bill Karamouzis,
father Perry and mother Angela.
"I knew if I wanted to get
ahead the only way would be to do more, not equal,
and certainly not less then the people around me," Karamouzis
continued. "Without having any natural advantages the
only way you can move ahead is really to out work the
people around you. In my first 2 years working for myself
I’d mention to friends how I just came off another “all-nighter”
and they would be shocked at the notion of working more then
10 hours straight. The only thing that shocked me about an
“all-nighter” was the amount of Coca-Cola a
person could consume in a single sitting!"
Bill would grow up to be a
hardcore gamer who would turn that
love of games into a thriving business.
|"By the time I was 17, I was working full-time
while attending high school. I originally had plans to
go into accounting or law as both somewhat interested me,"
Karamouzis said. In the late 90's, when the Internet was
starting to enter everyone's consciousness, Karamouzis's plans
started to change though. "Around that time a lot
of my peers had entered university or college, but
myself and a close group of friends decided to "take
a year off” and find out what we really wanted
to spend our lives doing."
During this time Karamouzis, who had loved role playing
computer games like Dragons & Dungeons
while growing up, noticed that a game called Ultima
Online was breaking ground and introducing new
innovations in what would become the multi-player
online role-playing game space. Karamouzis said "Before
there was Warcraft there was Ultima Online
(UO) and for anyone that played during the first few
years of release, this game was the Wild West. It
showed what the net could really do for me, in a way I
could relate too. A lot of the things gamers did in-game
would later become mainstream things found
online. It was social media before the term
social media even existed. This game and the virtual
world I played in really consumed my life for at
least a year."
parents would be horrified to see one of their kids
spending that much time playing games it would turn
out to be time well invested for Karamouzis. "I
would spend 12-18 hours a day online so websites
were a natural extension of this world I was in,"
Karamouzis recalled. "I was self-taught,
learning HTML, PHP, and SQL from
online examples and tutorials."
time everything/nothing sites (blogs) were
becoming increasingly popular and the net was a very
exciting place. You could literally have millions
of viewers come to your site just for posting a
collection of funny entertaining pictures or jokes
online. Flaming GIF’s and mouse cursor effects were
in their prime - it was a very wide-open time for
web site development," Karamouzis said. "So, I
created a site and began posting various things I
found online - movies, games, jokes etc. It became a
collection of oddball things I found on the net and
due to the amount of time I spent online I became very
good at finding things which were viral and
entertaining on a mass scale. The site
eventually reached 6 million viewers and I started to
really understand the potential of the web and realize
I wanted to be a part of it."
|Before he would go out entirely
on his own, Karamouzis decided to apply his newfound
skills in the corporate world - a move that
would allow him to bring in enough cash to
finance his private endeavors.
"The Internet was developing at such a
rapid rate, traditional schools were really
having a hard time keeping up to industry
standards at the time. Having developed
programming and design skills online, I had a
lot of advantages formally educated,
entry-level developers did not," Karamouzis
said. "I was able to secure a great
consulting job at one of the largest and most
respected companies in Canada, Capital
Health, beating out applicants
with far more education. While they could code
in Visual Basic and C++, I had
working experience in HTML, PHP,
ASP and could use Front Page and
Karamouzis provided consulting services for
Capital Health over the next 3 years and he
added several other large companies to his
client list while growing his own development
While still in his early 20's, Karamouzis scored
his first large scale success with FlashPlayer.com
which grew out of that
Karamouzis in his office
at Hallpass Media
| first website he had
built after high school. Karamouzis noticed that
his Flash Animation and Games section was
drawing unusually heavy traffic. An ad
network he was working with, UGO,
convinced him a descriptive, relevant domain
name would help him take his site to the next
level. While researching possible names Karamouzis
was surprised to discover that FlashPlayer.com
was not owned by Flash creator Macromedia.
In fact, the owner of the name was actually
letting it expire and it was scheduled to drop
within a few weeks.
the domain daily and put a backorder on the
name," Karamouzis said. "To my surprise the name
actually dropped and I bought it for $80. I
thought I hit the jackpot! I put up a hit
counter on a blank page and expected to see millions
of hits in the morning. To my disappointment the
domain never received more then 200-300 hits
daily. Still, it was a great name and a perfect
fit for my Flash games and animation website. My
consulting company Flash Player Studios was
officially rebranded as FPS
Networks, Inc and it was GO time!
Karamouzis has a growing family as
as a growing business. Above: Bill and his
wife Ivana. Below: their new daughter Eleni.
FlashPlayer.com was online it really took
off," Karamouzis said. "We had fresh
content daily, a clean site that was stable
and loaded quickly. Other Flash sites were
displaying adult content ads, which paid more,
but really limited where their sites could be
viewed from and by who which really helped our
addition, many webmasters were doing
everything in their power to either bury ads
or force people to click on them. It
was natural for a backlash to occur
from this wide spread abuse. I
took a different approach - I always designed
my sites to focus on the user experience
while keeping quality spots for advertisers
offering compelling products or services to my
viewers. As a result I was able to monetize
FlashPlayer a lot better then a site of
comparable size, at the same time growing a
large and loyal audience," Karamouzis said.
As his site and development
team continued to grow Karamouzis's company started
to offer a wide range of consulting services
through FPS Networks. That opened the door for
his next big success.
"I had hired a talented in-house
team and saved up some rainy day funds so it was time
to expand," Karamouzis said. "I searched for quality
sites that I felt were under monetized. AddictingGames.com
was a prime example. The site had great
traffic, but I felt didn’t capitalize on it. The
owner was an extremely talented entrepreneur who felt
he had grown the site to a level he was happy with.
After 6-9 months of back and forth negotiations, we
agreed on a sale amount, I flew to Vancouver,
purchased the domain and flew back that night."
developed the domain from scratch in 30 days," Karamouzis
recalled. "After three months the new site's
revenue increased 10 fold, traffic was close to
a million viewers a day. Our re-development of
AddictingGames was an overwhelming success."
selling two of his marquee sites
Karamouzis diversified into
real world real
traffic counts on Karamouzis's network also started
attracting a lot of outside attention. "I
was contacted by venture capital firms weekly
and realized this was a great window of
opportunity to achieve many of my life goals.
I wanted to have financial stability, the
ability to remain independent for the rest of
my life and to be able to pick and choose the
people/projects I worked with so, after a lot
of consideration, I decided to put the two
websites up for sale," Karamouzis said.
efforts resulted in FlashPlayer.com being sold
to UGO (owned by Hearst) and
AddictingGames.com was sold to Atom
Entertainment (owned by Viacom) in
a deal that included having FPS Networks provide
consulting services and support for an
extended period. As part of the sale process I
met with legendary investors and tech leaders
such as Rob Burgess, Michael Moritz,
Mika Salmi and J. Moses. It was
an unforgettable, life changing experience,"
With a lot of
extra cash now in hand, Karamouzis decided it would be a
good idea to diversify his holdings. "I started a
commercial real estate company and moved some
of my sales proceeds into businesses I could touch,"
Karamouzis said. "I purchased and redeveloped a major
Edmonton landmark, Olive Plaza, a 22,000
square foot retail center that was very
challenging. Commercial real estate
management/ownership presented me with an entirely new
set of difficulties I was not used to. However I
find real estate extremely interesting. I enjoy the
dynamic of it and the face-to-face interaction it
provides with other businesses owners."
|Still, domains and
website development remain Karamouzis's first love
and he has equal respect for both. "Domains
have always been an important part of my
development strategy," Karamouzis
| said. "There are many arguments
for “generics” or “catchy” names and
many examples of success with each type. In my
case, I found generics really empowered my
business. They add a level of credibility
to the product. The “everything is taken”
statement I’ve heard time and time again
tells me even someone with limited net
experience can understand the value of
a good domain name. People say “You own WordGames.com?
I thought one of those Facebook companies owns
that” - nope, I do."
generic name also helps search engines find you,"
Karamouzis continued, "and it will always remain a
positive contributing factor to some degree in your
search rankings. It will not guarantee you
first spot on any term you want, but it will
certainly help you get there. Anyone that has
studied SEO knows it takes a multi-layered
approach when it comes to search."
must stress this point about generic names, and about
domain names in general though - they are a huge help
for myself and others who own them - but they are NOT
a substitute for a well thought out business plan,"
Karamouzis said. "Simply having a great name does not
guarantee success. I have seen this countless times
where a person or group of people buy a domain in a
field they know nothing about and have no real
interest in - only to fail. Buy domains which
help you achieve your business goals. Do not buy a
domain and then try and create a business
around something you have no passion for."
||Karamouzis's interest in acquiring
domain names that he could build into thriving
businesses led him to buy a number of domains
from South American domain
investor/developer Chris Chena who was
profiled in our July
2005 Cover Story. "I was very
fortunate to meet Chris early on in my
acquisition spree," Karamouzis said. "He
is a widely known and admired figure in the
domain investing community so reaching out to
him was one of the first steps in building my
current company Hallpass
I was not new to development, I was a novice at
“domaining” when I met Chris. I had many
conversations with him regarding PPC, the
general domain industry and the people to work with
and the ones to avoid while navigating it.
Chris and I completed several deals including my
purchases of domains COOL
("free games" in Spanish), Animation.com
Our transactions when added together would be in the
low 7-figure range. Chris is a pleasure to work
and speak with and we keep in contact to this
day," Karamouzis said.
|"Of the domains I’ve
purchased from Chris, two have been developed
in the last two months and are part of the
Hallpass Media network. Animation.com remains
parked and we have a few ideas on what we can
do with the domain once the time is right.
CheapGas.com was a very cool domain. I had it
around the time gas prices were breaking new
records daily so traffic and revenue were
fantastic. I was never going to develop the
name so when the right offer came, the name
"In addition to Chris’s domains, I
purchased portfolios from IREIT, Marchex
and a number of other domain investors. In
total I have spent a little over $4 million
on domain investments in the last two
years," Karamouzis said.
feels that his acquisitions have Hallpass Media positioned
to surpass all of his past success. "Hallpass
Media is the result of years of research into
online gaming, user patterns and content management,"
Karamouzis said. It began with HallPass
which is a general gaming website, however as it grew
I found it increasingly more difficult to get the
right content mix for our viewers. Every week we
featured a new mix of games and each week only a
portion of those games appealed to any one set of
viewers. It became increasingly difficult and
expensive to attract new viewers to gaming websites so
we had to come up with a new approach."
reading more about domains and domaining in general I
decided to leverage generic domains in the
popular content areas to create a niche network of
gaming websites. This allowed me to create a user
experience specific to each gamer along with
targeted quality type-in traffic. If you only like stick
games then why would I want my top content
spots displaying word
games? If you’re looking to blast some
bad guys, do I really want you to have to sort through
games to get there?"
stand alone sites they would have a hard time
reaching that critical mass needed to
attract quality advertisers, but together as a
network they have the reach needed to make us
an attractive option for ad campaigns,"
Karamouzis noted. "In addition to a large
general gaming audience, we also offer a targeted
gaming experience to those advertisers
whose products or services appeal to a smaller
section of the gaming market. Advertisers are
very careful how they spend in these turbulent
times so providing them with as many options
as possible was my goal."
added, "Hallpass.com and Girl
are the only sites that are even a year old.
The other sites are still very new and that is
what excites us the most. Our growth
and network synergy has been amazing. The
websites complement each other and gamers are
finding their way to the site which offers the
right mix of games for them. It is
still to early to see what the end result will
look like as our two most popular domains
still remain in the development stage.
However, once the rest of the network is
online I believe we will have created
something that is unique and positive
for gamers, developers and advertisers alike."
now Karamouzis's $350,000 purchase of CookingGames.com is
probably starting to make a lot more sense to you.
Here is what he had to say about that high profile
transaction: "This sale received a lot of
publicity but it was never my intention to have
this price published as it is probably the highest
multiple I have paid for a domain. However after
flying under the radar so long it was interesting to
see the reaction," Karamouzis said.
party stats are available showing our millions
of monthly viewers but even so people were overwhelming
skeptical about the sale. This was a name
I really wanted to complete our Girl
Games offering. Having great generic domains
in the two most popular areas; Dressup
Games was critical to a
gaming company that is a leader in the female
gaming market. Did domain investors miss the
mark? Hard to say, but I think the same domain
would be worth far less in the hands of a
different type of developer so in a way they
were right, but not for the right reasons,"
Karamouzis has now rounded up most of the names he
wanted for his network, no one bats 1.000.
"There are around a dozen domains I
marked but was unable to acquire,"
Karamouzis noted. "After months of trying, anything
that was missed was either far too
overpriced or not suitable for our
purposes. We have all the assets we really
need for the network and our main focus is now
on developing our assets."
someone who has successfully developed multiple
domains into real businesses people are obviously
interested in Karamouzis's advice on the relative merits of developing
domains vs. parking them (a monetization method that
paid big dividends until PPC revenues started
collapsing over the past couple of years).
said, "It is very unfortunate that PPC earnings
have dropped so drastically. I think as an industry
the reliance on just a few advertising
providers really limits and hurts growth. PPC
companies are doing a great job optimizing landing
pages but that bottleneck will always exist.
Development is a great alternative to PPC
revenue and my advice on development is fairly
straightforward - start with a business plan then
get the assets you need to execute that plan."
Karamouzis (in his Hallpass Media office) says
the key to development success is to
concentrate on what you are good at and what
you enjoy doing.
concluded by saying, "I recently sold great
domains like fact.com, cheapgas.com and turks.com.
I am not an encyclopedia, a gas company or a travel
agent so why would I pretend to be? I concentrate on
what I am good at and what I enjoy
doing. If you can take a hobby you truly enjoy and
make it into a sustainable businesses I believe you
will do exceptionally well in that venture."
Note: Bill Karamouzis generously offered to
invite our readers to contact him with questions or
comments about this story (or domain/development
questions in general) at [email protected].
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