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The State of the Industry January 2014: 17 Domain Experts Dish on What Happened in 2013 & How the Dawn of New gTLDs Will Impact 2014

T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2013: A Pictorial Review of the Big Show at the Bellagio - See more at: http://www.dnjournal.com/cover/2013/may.htm#sthash.BXu4j45T.dpuf
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2013: A Pictorial Review of the Big Show at the Bellagio - See more at: http://www.dnjournal.com/cover/2013/may.htm#sthash.BXu4j45T.dpuf
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2013: A Pictorial Review of the Big Show at the Bellagio - See more at: http://www.dnjournal.com/cover/2013/may.htm#sthash.BXu4j45T.dpuf
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2013: A Pictorial Review of the Big Show at the Bellagio - See more at: http://www.dnjournal.com/cover/2013/may.htm#sthash.BXu4j45T.dpuf

By Ron Jackson

Welcome to the 10th edition of our annual State of the Industry Cover Story. Every January since 2005 we have assembled a distinguished panel of experts drawn from every corner of the industry -  including domain investors, developers, top  corporate leaders and attorneys - to give us their thoughts on the key trends of the past year and what they saw coming our way in the new year ahead. 

This year we have put together our biggest panel ever, 17 of the industry's best and brightest, and split them into two groups of eight each - one comprised of investors & developers and one of corporate leaders. We filled the extra spot with an attorney who has a foot firmly planted in multiple camps. 

The lines themselves can be quite blurry because many top investor/developers have evolved into corporate founders or leaders over the years (perhaps the prime example being legendary investor Frank Schilling who 

What Now? image from Bigstock

now runs Uniregistry.com, InternetTraffic.com and DomainNameSales.com). In most cases we put our dual (or in Frank's case, triple) threats in the investor/developer group where they first made their marks. 

Incidentally, I'm sure many of you would like to know how panelists are chosen. Each year we try to provide a mix of well-known faces who always seem to be at the forefront of industry developments along with equally accomplished people that we haven't called on before to keep things fresh. Knowing how busy the experts we call on are, we know many we invite will not be able to participate in a given year, so we have learned how many invitations to send out to assure we end up with the 12-15 we aim for to have a well rounded panel (that number was exceeded this year, but in the case, we believe there is no such thing as too much of a good thing).  

Now, let me introduce you to our experts:

Investors & Developers

Top Row (L to R): Michael Berkens, Adam Dicker, Alan Dunn & Donna Mahony
Bottom Row (L to R): Michael Mann, Aron Meystedt, Frank Schilling & Rick Schwartz


Corporate Leaders

Top Row (L to R): Tim VChen (DomainTools.com), Debra Domeyer (Oversee.net), Tobias Flaitz (Sedo) & Jothan Frakes (NamesCon)

Bottom Row (L to R): Tessa Holcomb (Igloo.com), Daniel Law (Rook Media), Jason Miner (NameMedia) and Nico Zeifang (ParkingCrew.com)



Once we assembled our cast and set up the groups, we flipped a coin to determine which line up would have the floor first -  and the nod went to the investors & developers. They are presented in alphabetical order by last name on this page. If your interest is more in the corporate arena, you can check out that group first by going directly to page 2 - or, recognize the wisdom in the old adage "good things come to those who wait", and read the comments from top investors and developers on this page, than click the link at the bottom of the page to proceed to thoughts from our corporate experts.

Having set the stage, let's get this party started! Each of our panelists was asked what they considered to be the most significant events and/or trends in their sector of the industry and in the industry overall in 2013, as well as what challenges and/or opportunities, or trends, they saw ahead in the new year for themselves, their company and sector and for the industry as a whole. Here's what they had to say:

Howard Neu


Domain Investors & Developers

Paul Stahura, Co-Founder, Donuts Inc. 
Paul Stahura, Co-Founder, Donuts Inc. 
Paul Stahura, Co-Founder, Donuts Inc. 
Paul Stahura, Co-Founder, Donuts Inc. 
Paul Stahura, Co-Founder, Donuts Inc. 

Michael Berkens, MostWantedDomains.com, TheDomains.com & RightOfTheDot.com

Michael Berkens

Michael Berkens has amassed a portfolio of tens of thousands of domain names and in recent years has expanded into blogging at TheDomains.com as well as co-founding a new gTLD consulting company, RightfTheDot.com with Monte Cahn.

Michael Berkens: The most significant event in 2013 for both the industry and myself was ICANN's new gTLD program. Now that strings are being delegated and sunrise periods are being rolled out, it should now be clear to everyone that the domain industry will change.   

I started writing about the new gTLD program back in 2008 and during the years we wrote hundreds of stories and had thousands of comments on the program. So the new gTLD program is no longer about if or even when. It’s here for better or worse.  

I wrote a post back in  July 2012, entitled Domaining 6.0 its All About Branding. Following my own advice with the new gTLDs looming my company dropped about 10,000 domains. These were primarily long tail domains

that I believe are at the greatest risk to be devalued by new gTLDs in similar verticals. I did pick up somewhere close to 2,500 domains on the drops and various other aftermarket exchanges, which fell into the brandable category.

Not to repeat myself but 2014 will also be about the new gTLDs. The ability of registries to make a strong start out of the gate will be important. Every mistake made will be amplified by those looking for the program as a whole to fail.   

Many of these new gTLD registries will be entrepreneurs, and run in a manner closer to the .CO registry than Corporate owned Registries like Verisign. There are hundreds of business entities which will be operating new gTLD strings, failure for one or more of these strings will not be failure for all. Those who execute their business plan with a solid foundation and understanding of their market and have the resources to market their new gTLDs will find their way to profitability.

For domain investors, opportunities lie as they always have in finding the right names at the right prices, but investors also need to consider the company that will be operating the registry.  They are not only investing in the domain name but in the underlying registry's ability to market the extension to the general public and keep the excitement level and therefore demand by end users for the best domain in the extensions high.  

In my opinion domain investors should only invest in registries that run their extension in a manner where a domain investors can participate by having a fixed low cost renewal. I'm certainly not in favor of investing in any new string that has recurring premium renewals in the thousands of dollars per year.

Focus on the best names, names that make sense and are intuitive with the extension. I will have my eyes open for situations that present themselves in the same manner as I found when I participated in the .me auctions and acquired names like Meet.me. (Editor's note: Michael and his partners later sold Meet.me for $450,000).


Adam Dicker, DNForum.com, TheArtOfTheName.com


Adam Dicker

In addition to owning thousands of domain names, Canada's Adam Dicker owns the web's biggest domain forum - DNForum.com - and also provides domain tips on his blog, TheArtOfTheName.com.

Adam Dicker: I think overall the most significant event in 2013 for the industry was the new gTLDs. There has been so much talk and news with regards to these new strings, that a lot of other themes were overshadowed. I continued to focus on .com and .ca domains in 2013. I was  able to acquire many great domain names in the aftermarket, many times without being bid up in auction. These were mostly two word .com domains with meaning to an end user.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out as the new gTLDs start coming on the market. I do have my eye on a few strings and will participate if the value proposition lines up. I will not be participating in any launches where the only opportunity is for the registry.

Registries that over price their names or ask outrageous premiums, will be left in the dust by experienced domain investors.

I do think there will be those that are blinded by new gTLD marketing and will be enticed to jump in with both feet. They will either drop or liquidate some of their .com names to use for participation in the new gTLDs. I will be looking out for those drops or liquidations.

More people will smarten up and adjust their buying habits in 2014.  Smart domainers will build a business and plan for their future. Those that don’t build businesses in 2014 should be doing domaining part time and get a job.

DNForum.com will continue to be a leader in the domaining community. We will provide an opportunity for each registry to tell their story with their own section on DNF. We also look forward to our more seasoned members pointing out the benefits and pitfalls for new investors looking at the new gTLDs.


Alan Dunn, DomainHoldings.com 


Alan Dunn

Alan Dunn has been a very successful domain investor for many years, spending most of that time quietly going about his business off many ompetitor's radar. More recently he added a corporate position, joining DomainHoldings.com as Senior Vice President for Acquisitions and Divestment.

Alan Dunn: 2013 was an incredible year in the domain industry - one filled with innovation and inspiration. Many prior years have had only a single topic which overshadowed almost everything else - such as a new extension like .CO or .ME, a single huge acquisition (Yun Ye) or a new parking provider (InternetTraffic for example).

For me 2013 was the year which many of us have been waiting to happen. A year where domains took the forefront of discussion across major publications, one where many of the smartest minds in this industry were able to showcase innovation, BIG outside money investments coming in and one where we all are collectively discussing domains more and more. No one really knows for sure what the new gTLDs will bring and if there was ever a year

which brought the domaining industry together (even with different opinions) then 2013 was that year.

Outside of the new gTLDs I think the acquisition of Afternic and Media Temple by Go Daddy was extremely significant (and under reported) along with the introduction of NamesCon (technically a 2014 event). I have also never seen a year where such incredible inventory is now becoming available at reasonable prices. If there is ever a year to buy a good domain 2013 and 2014 may just be another window of time we look back upon and say "I wish I had ..."

2014 - If you like to gamble this is not the year to start. No one really knows what will happen or what influence the new gTLDs will have on the world. In my opinion, 2014 will be about brand domains and the people who win this round will be those who understand brands. 

Traditional valuations and metrics will be thrown out the window for the new gTLDs and we get to start again. Combine that with Google owning (or competing for) many of these extensions we are about to see a huge shift in search some day soon. Maybe not in 2014 but certainly soon. At the very least we are in for a nice roller coaster ride. There will be many winners and losers so grab the popcorn and stay tuned.


Donna Mahony, DomainBoardroom.com & DonnasBlog.com


Donna Mahony

Donna Mahony has been a domain investor for more than dozen years (when we entered the business in 2002 she was already here and graciously helping us learn the ropes)! Donna is still doing that at the popular private domain forum she founded at DomainBoardroom.com and she just launched a new blog at DonnasBlog.com. After a six-year hiatus, Donna will also be bringing back the Domainers Choice Awards in 2014.

Donna Mahony: Except for the new gTLDs, I found 2013 to be the year of the industry fading to just another job. Same old stuff as years before - just tired and worn out. There hasn't been much to get excited about, really. Lots of the old domainers have dropped out of the game, PPC companies are fading fast, conferences are simply going through the motions - offering less, charging more. To me, this once exciting industry has turned very "ho hum" in 2013.

2014 promises to be very different! We started the year with a bang with a new conference! NamesCon is going to force the others to step up their game or get out the way. I hear quiet rumblings of big changes at 

PPC companies and I've had a little peek...it is looking promising. Then we have...the big mystery...gTLDs. I don't have any interest in them myself except to sit back and watch. New conferences, big PPC changes, bigger and better sales, gTLDs. I'm going to relax and watch The Real Domainers of Internet County play itself out as I see the industry going into the most exciting year ever!


Michael Mann, DomainMarket.com


Michael Mann

Michael Mann is one of the most successful domain investors of all time. Mann, who founded BuyDomains.com (and later sold the company to NameMedia) has been profiled in two DN Journal Cover Stories (September 2003 and September 2007). He recently became host of the weekly Domain Masters radio program on WebmasterRadio.fm (heard live Wednesdays at 5pm U.S. Eastern time).

Michael Mann: In 2013 confusion was king. Nobody could tell what was coming next, or what would go up or down: gTLDs, traffic values, methods of conversion, valuations of premium .Coms, the economy, sales volumes of premium names, new ideas, apps, data sources, network technologies, and payment methodologies.  People risked a lot of money on abstract domain investment concepts based on questionable third party economic narratives. A journey down the boulevard of broken dreams. Day jobs. Pissed wives.

I am doing Domain Masters Radio in 2014 with the smartest and best guests related to domain names, internet technologies, and traffic monetization. We already have several

great recordings and many excellent guests scheduled ahead. I look forward to uncovering what is being done wrong and where the best economic and charitable ideas lie.

gTLDs will launch professionally for the wealthy lucky corporations (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, AOL, Apple, etc) who can leverage them in new ways and use them as loss leaders to upsell other brand products, possibly providing the domains free to their customers. But these pending new domain extensions with their absurd fees and processes will also become an even bigger scandal with loads of lost dollars, and I imagine lawsuits galore for ICANN and related hucksters. This ain't a charitable project, although they seemed to fool most people in the beginning.

Bitcoin and other methods of transferring assets will benefit the premium domain sales and auction industry in 2014. 2014 is for aggressive survivalists. Weak will cease to exist in 2015. See you in the boxing ring and in court, on Facebook and on my radio show.

I am growing our corporations WebDevelop.com, SEO.com, Phone.com, SocialInteractive.com and others leveraging the best premium domains throughout 2014. And of course our charitable ventures like Grassroots.org, Relief.org, Interns.org, ChangeTheWorld.org, Philanthropists.org and more.  Please see me online www.mikemann.com and download my book free www.makemillions.com.


Aron Meystedt, HA.com


Aron Meystedt

Aron Meystedt is a veteran domain investor whose portfolio includes the first .com domain ever registered - Symbolics.com. Like several other experienced investors Aron has added a corporate position. In 2013 Meystedt became the Founder and Director of a new Domain Name and Intellectual Property division at giant auction house - Heritage Auctions - the first of the "big three" auction house (a trio that includes Christie's and Sotheby's) to offer domain names alongside other high value assets. 

Aron Meystedt: In 2013 Heritage Auctions began work on bringing domain names and digital assets to affluent investors. We’re off to a good start, but it will be a challenging road ahead.  We appreciate the help and participation of the domain community as we venture forward with our efforts. If we can help investors recognize domain names as an alternate investment, we all will greatly benefit.

Now, for what I personally see is the most significant trend - Buying on speculation has slowed greatly.  Many domain investors would really like to see traffic and revenue figures if they are buying category names.  Yes, there

still are many people who buy speculative type names, but the prices that domain investors are willing to pay seems to have leveled off or dropped.  This isn’t a “doom and gloom” rant, but a majority of the people I am talking with are more selective with their money.

I think the uncertainty of what the gTLDs may bring has caused investor hesitation.  I, for one, am very curious to see how the gTLDs pan out. I definitely think premium .com domains and gTLDs can coexist – likely with little adverse results to .com values. 

I think two categories of .com domain names will continue to rise in demand and value.
Short acronyms like two and three letter .com domains seem to always have interested buyers.  End users are buying short acronyms quite often, and it seems the “sales pitch” to convince an end-user to make the leap isn’t met with nearly the resistance as the effort to sell a category-leading name.  I would continue to look at the shorter acronyms, as companies seek to make their online presence easier to find for customers.

Expect demand to increase for branding type names as well.  Branding names that are short, memorable and evoke action images or size are always coveted by companies. Elephant.com, Gazelle.com, March.com, Leap.com etc.  There is a finite number of names like this, and
they are branding names that a company can build around. 

I’d expect exact-match domains to not increase in demand. As Google continually changes their algorithm, buyers believe that an exact-match domain will help their business less than in the past. Buyers like quantifiable statistics like traffic, advertising budget savings, customer 

acquisition costs etc.  In 2014, expect it to be harder to convince companies to spend significant sums of cash on domains based on intangibles like perceived authority status / market leadership and ease of recall.  This is based on my personal observations and efforts of trying to sell category names to large corporations.

Expect a difficult road if you are trying to sell premiums to medium and large-sized companies. As the new gTLDs continue to make news, more and more companies are looking at this shiny new object (gTLDs) while they are failing to take advantage of opportunities right in front of their own faces (premium domains). Companies are getting counsel and advice from many places, and most of that advice is “pay attention to gTLDs … premium .com domains will become less relevant in the future.” 

A bit of advice for 2014 is this. Go out there and make it happen. People don’t wake up with you or your domains on their mind… so you have to be proactive and get people off dead center. 


Frank Schilling, Uniregistry.com, InternetTraffic.com, DomainNameSales.com


Frank Schilling

If there is anyone in the domain world who doesn't need an introduction it is Frank Schilling (who was profiled in two DN Journal Cover Stories -  December 2007 and November 2012). After having unparalleled success as a domain investor, Frank, in recent years made a big move into providing domain services. He operates popular sales and monetization companies and has also become a major player in owning and operating new gTLDs through his  newest company, Uniregistry.

Frank Schilling: 2013 was the year that domain name sales completely unhinged from PPC. In the past, sales were predicated on the health of PPC. We received more inquiries to purchase names this year from non-pros and end-users and those sales had very little to do with paid-search.  Sales inquiries were up in spite of a decline in traffic and PPC took a back seat to name sales this year in importance and dollar revenues.

With respect to 2014, I hear new TLDs are coming. ; )  There is so much demand for good names right now - couple the record demand of 2013 with general growth of the internet and growth in demand for unique content labels and 2014 is going to be like throwing a

drum of jet fuel on a roaring bonfire. It’s going to be a crazy year and there is a ton of growth and opportunity coming for anyone in this space.  2014 is definitely NOT the year you want to be sitting on the sidelines, folding your arms and observing, on a sabbatical, or tuning out on some side project.

Fortunes turn and are made in a second and this year fortune will favor those who lean forward, who pay attention and who participate. In the domain name business there are those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happened. This coming year (more than any in the history of the domain name business) you want to be leaning forward and making it happen for yourself.


Rick Schwartz, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. & RicksBlog.com


Rick Schwartz

Rick Schwartz is known as the Domain King for a reason. The colorful and controversial co-founder of the pioneering T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference has been making waves in the domain investing world with big sales and bold predictions since the mid 1990s. If you don't want to know what Schwartz really thinks, then don't ask him a question, because he will give you an unvarnished answer and let the chips falls where they may. 

Rick Schwartz: The key trend in 2013 was the  enormous and somewhat predictable turnaround the industry enjoyed during the 2nd half of the year. But perhaps more importantly is that domains are now taking center stage globally and will likely dominate the conversation in 2014-2015 for the first time in history. Domains are now mainstream. It may take a few months to get going, but by this time next year, I don't think any of us can even imagine the difference.  

It seems I have been focused on and writing about 2014 for most of 2013 because what is coming, is a wave. It (the new gTLD program) arrives much later than anticipated with all the delays. But that train is finally coming down

the track. Lots of fanfare and balloons. What we don't know is whether it will be a wave folks can ride on or a wave that comes crashing in with unknown and unintended consequences and ends in destruction.   

Speaking out may not be "politically correct" and may not even be in the best interest of T.R.A.F.F.I.C., but this is the domain investment business and I can't help nor ignore the pitfalls I see. It hits a nerve because some of the things I have pointed out are obviously things some never considered. That can't be good can it?  

I have always embraced expansion. That is my history. No matter what industry I have been in, expansion never did me wrong. It is what I live for. But I have never seen anything quite like this nor the motivation behind it and the most unruly rollout with dozens each month coming out.   

Some stupid things are being said out there that won't help their cause and has created some un-needed tension that only added to the skepticism many feel. As Lonnie Borck stated at T.R.A.F.F.I.C., "They all have to sell you something". And the way I see it, a good investment sells itself. If your entire sales pitch is the other guy sucks, then you have no sales pitch at all. It's weak. It's revealing. It's a loser.  

What do I expect in 2014? Spam overload. Every new domainer and some veterans too, looking for their fortunes are about to start emailing about 30 seconds after they register .this and .that. Especially if you own the .com version of .this and .that. They will list on each and every marketplace. Do you see or expect anything different? It's pretty clear this is what will be coming.  

On the other hand, I have a decent amount of cash sitting on the sidelines and earmarked for investment in 2014. EVERY morning I come to the gTLD question with a fresh set of eyes and look at it all from a different viewpoint and every night I come to the same conclusion. Not willing to gamble on it. I can't even come to the point of just saying I will earmark $1,000 or 

$10,000.  I always reserve my right to change my mind but have not seen a reason to. The best I can do is to sit on the sidelines for the first 1-3 YEARS and then see how well things are doing. It won't be like there won't be many for sale come renewal time. The market is going to flooded. No two ways about it.   

Some are going to make money. ICANN is already profitable. Many registries will make money. But the question for me remains, will the end user that they seem so worried about go to sea with a boat full of holes that leaks like a sieve and eventually go down? If that is the question and I keep coming to the same answer, how do you invest in that boat company? 900 of them? Most won't float. They are going down to the bottom of the sea. Some may be sea worthy. Can't be too many. And when all those boats launch and sink, how will it affect other launches? Those that say none are just drinking the Kool-Aid. How may stumbles before you get a fall?  And with all the competing interests, the potential for it to get ugly is not off the table. This may define ugly. In one year from now we can see if that word popped up.   

Some get me pointing out the myriad of pitfalls as being against gTLDs. Not so. If there is a success, I will find it. But am I supposed to just shut-up and ignore that truckload of pitfalls? I have been discussing them for a year and I feel like I need another truck! That's a canyon of difference from Clicking Ruby Red Shoes 3 times and wishing those pitfalls were not there and they won't have to deal with them. I just think reality is about to smack so many of them upside the head. Not my wish. But wishes and reality seldom mix.  

As far as I am concerned, "Common Sense" was burned at the stake on this one. The need, want and desire questions have not been asked or answered. Other questions simply ignored. That is what makes this a "Mine field" and that is why examining all of this and the progress will be one tall order for 2014. So tall I had to tackle it during most of 2013. Gonna be very crowded from this point on. 

Rick Schwartz (right) and Frank Schilling debating new gTLDs at the October 2013 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East conference at Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida.

I wish all the gTLD's great success. They will have the stage for 2014. They are all drilling for oil each promising a gusher is under that sand. If one or more are right, then bravo!! But I think most will just pump sand. I wish I could be more optimistic but I would be kidding myself.   

Just because you get to Broadway does not mean you have a Broadway hit. This is off Broadway. Way off Broadway. The audience and the ticket sales decide even though all the actors do the best they can and are brilliant. The consumer will decide and pick the winners and the losers. 20 new shows each and every week. The likes of which no business I know has ever seen. Either way, I am just going to enjoy and savor this year and next year as domains are a topic of discussion.   

From Obscurity to the centerpiece of the Internet. As it should be. Our debate is not what counts. Just inside baseball between us insiders. The consumer and the end user will do the voting. They will either embrace or reject. I think my job as an investor is to pay attention to them and tune out the other stuff. They lead the way and I will follow until they set the direction and then it might be time to jack rabbit over them to be at their next destination before they are.

NEXT UP! Opinions from Eight Domain Industry 
Corporate Leaders on
Page 2.


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