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A Walking Miracle: After Getting a Second Chance at Life Richard Lau is Determined to Give Back 

By Ron Jackson

Buckle your seat belt - we're in for a bumpy but very rewarding ride. NamesCon Co-Founder, veteran domain investor and lifelong entrepreneur Richard Lau is on top of the industry world these days and no one could be more thankful for that than him. Things could have turned out so much differently were it not for an answered prayer. Lau has stared financial calamity in the face and, much more daunting than that, survived a terrifying bout with cancer that was expected to end his life at 30.

Things like that can make a person grateful for just being able to draw a breath, let alone be successful in business. Lau has experienced both exhilarating highs and knee buckling lows but it is the latter that made him who he is today - a man with a special empathy for people going through hard times.  It is why his name is as closely associated with the life saving WaterSchool charity (which he serves as Executive Director) as it is with NamesCon and the many businesses the 45-year-old Vancouver, Canada based entrepreneur has been involved with  over the years.  

Richard Lau
NamesCon Co-Founder


Lau's fascinating journey actually began in England where he was born in 1970, becoming the youngest of three children. "My dad was from Hong Kong and went to school in the UK where he met my mother. She was 10 years his junior - what a player!," Lau laughed. "He started a Chinese restaurant in Derby called the King Pin and they built a house extension above the restaurant. I was born at home, so I was born above a restaurant!"

At right: Richard's father and mother on their wedding day.

Below: The family's King Pin Restaurant in Derby, England. Richard was born above the restaurant.


Sharp dressed man! An early portrait 
of budding entrepreneur Richard Lau

It didn't take long for Lau to get his first lesson in entrepreneurship, but he had to travel a long way to get it. "We moved to Canada when I was five years old and I watched my Dad arrive there with very little," Lau recalled. He got a job at a service company and when they shut down he set up his own company to take over their contracts. It was interesting to see a business start before my very eyes. It took the “scary” factor away. I just saw it as what you should do to build a better life."


"My father's business involved servicing commercial kitchen equipment at restaurants and hotels and I spent many summers with him in his van driving from place to place. I saw firsthand the pride he took in his work and the reputation he held with his clients," Lau said, recalling an ideal he would incorporate into his own businesses as an adult.

Adulthood came early for Lau who met his wife while they were still in high school. They had a lot in common, including entrepreneurial blood! "I went to the local fair with Vanessa (my girlfriend at the time and my wife today). She 

got there early and sold coupons to people in the line outside to get enough money to buy an all day pass. We returned the next day and did sales together. Then I went back the third day by myself and got pulled in by security. They called my mother at home and I then biked home to my mother and visiting grandmother. Instead of being in trouble, I was greeted with pats on the back and told to keep up the creativity!," Lau smiled. 


"After graduating from Prince of Wales High School in Vancouver in 1987, I attended the University of British Columbia (UBC).  I entered the Bachelor of Commerce program there and also worked at least one job all through university. My favorite summer job was working for a bank training retailers on how to use the new Debit Card machines. I saw then that checks were going to be replaced by this new technology, and it got my wheels turning on technology," Lau said. 


"Another job I had during my University days was providing new insurance for cars at dealerships. When a new car was sold, the company I worked for would send out a message to my pager and I would rush to the car dealership to issue new license plates. We offered a 15-minute guarantee and were responsible for providing top notch service. My boss’ mantra was “Just get it handled” and I found myself problem-solving my own issues. The importance of this mantra and responsibility was not lost on me, even to this day.


Right: Richard's 1992 University graduation 
photo from UBC. He had just turned 22.

Newlyweds Richard and Vanessa Lau

Richard and Vanessa were married in 1991 while they were both still in college. "People who didn’t know us were shocked that we were getting married so young, while friends who knew us weren’t surprised at all. We’d been dating since we were 15! A friend of a friend rented us a run-down tiny house (600 square feet) and we fixed it up with help from friends," Richard remembered.

In addition to getting married Lau also launched his first business while still at UBC. "I started Evergreen Communications with two church friends (one I had known since I was 6 years old!) and sold pagers and cell phones," Lau said. "Then, after graduating from UBC in 1992, I just stepped straight into this business. It evolved into a company  where we sold cell phones and pagers through Costco, Hudson’s Bay (like Macy’s) and a local chain store. Pretty impressive for guys operating from a basement office!" Lau smiled. 


"At UBC the Bachelor of Commerce degree didn’t have MIS or Computer Science

as a minor, so I took Marketing instead. This helped when the partnership launched its own paging reseller company and we began placing ads in local newspapers. My dad’s business advice was to provide a product or service that everyone wants. I pictured everyone with a pager, rather than everyone with a cell phone. I never said I was the smartest guy in the room!," Lau laughed.


With his friendly, easy going manner, a lot of people who know Lau today will be surprised to know he wasn't always that way. "I was extremely shy and introverted as a young man. I have my wife to credit for both pulling me out of my shell and also demonstrating by example how to draw others into conversation. I remember being out and about and not talking to a single person other than grunted yes/no/directions. That was me. So, I took a public speaking course, challenged myself to ask people questions and to get over the fear of conversation," Lau said. 


Having built up his social skills Lau was ready to take on the world and it seemed as if he never met a business idea he didn't like. "I had all kinds of crazy, entrepreneurial jobs in my young adult life. I took a job selling vacuums. Filter Queen to be exact. I did this because I’d been told that sales was the hardest job - and that vacuum cleaner sales was the hardest of those. If I could learn how to sell vacuums, then I would know that I could do sales. It wasn’t pretty but I did it. And I learned that the most important aspect of sales was that you truly believe in your product or service."


"I made a sales call to one lady who told me at the end of my hour-long presentation, “I’m not going to buy a vacuum from you today but I want you to know, you are a fine young man and you will be successful at whatever you do in the future.” Speaking into people’s lives and encouraging them as they start endeavors is vital and I have always remembered this particular lady’s words during the almost 30 years since she spoke them. I try and do the same now recognizing the importance it played in my life," Lau said.


"One of the most amusing jobs I had was delivering the Sears Catalog. I removed all the seats out of my car to make more room and with the tires rubbing on the wheel wells set out to deliver my route. I kept 

With Vanessa helping pull her introverted husband out of his shell and buoyed by a potential vacuum cleaner customer's reassuring words, Richard plowed ahead -  learning  by doing and endless variety of jobs.

the trunk and windows open with the car running as I ran to and from my car making the deliveries. As soon as I was done, I returned to request  another batch to deliver. My new boss refused, and accused me of having thrown the catalogs in a dumpster! He didn’t believe that there was any way I could have delivered them that quickly. I was stunned as I’d never been accused of being dishonest like that before in a job. I encouraged him to check on my work. The following day, he called me and said that he didn’t know how I did it but that he’d happily provide me with as many routes as I could handle. He pointed out that all of my deliveries were with the catalogs leaning against the front door whereas many of his workers would leave them anywhere ranging from the front steps to the front walk. My years of delivering newspapers in the rain taught me that no one wants a wet delivery! When I do a job, I put in 110%, doing it a bit better, pushing the boundaries of what the job entails. I find that I am always critiquing any business to see what something could be done better."

Lau has been through good times and bad times but through at all Vanessa always stayed by his side. Of course, having a matinee idol calibre mustache always draws in the ladies!

While Lau was living the entrepreneurial life he always wanted he also learned that being your own boss doesn't guarantee riches, no matter how hard you work. "While not living in poverty, when we were first married and both in University times were tough. I had cars that barely ran, with no gas gauge, wipers that only worked with a pulley system that I had macgyvered up. My wife reminds me of the many times she had to help push start our car when we were dating -  can you believe she married me?!," Lau asked in amazement.  


"Money is fine now, but I remember the days of going in to work with baggies around my socks so that my feet wouldn’t get wet from the holes in the soles of my shoes. And sitting on a garbage bag in the car because of a leaking window. But we were resourceful, hard-working and stretched our money beyond imagination. I was the Coupon King!," Lau declared with a laugh.  


"The paging reseller partnership eventually tanked. I even narrowly avoided bankruptcy in 1992. When we were handing over the assets of our failed paging reseller my wife instructed me to write a contract that, later, was the only piece of protection against having to file for 

bankruptcy. The “contract” was hand-written, in the car, on a scrap piece of paper. Our creditor had signed it when we handed in our assets (pagers and our customer list).  To me this impressed the importance of good advice. Or as my wife says: always listen to your wife!"


That setback only fueled Lau's determination to succeed.  "From the paging reseller, we moved over to running the retail sales for a new paging network. I worked like a dog. Definitely a workaholic. At the paging company, I outlasted/survived nasty bosses and took over as President. Turned the company around from losing money to profitability in 90 days, and won awards from our large retail customers including London Drugs “Vendor of the Year”. I wound up selling over 50,000 pagers in five years," Lau recalled.


The NamesCon conference that Lau launched in 2014 will make its third annual run in Las Vegas in January 2016. It is a city he came to know well during his days in that earlier business life. "While working for the paging company, I would go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every January. Being that I’m cheap (or ultra-economical) and that all my friends are too, we would all go down together and share my (company paid) hotel room. This isn’t two or three guys to a room. Picture the Fiesta Hotel in Vegas with 7 guys in one hotel room! I’m not saying I’m cheap, I’m saying I’m Asian and I have economical friends," Lau smiled. "We call ourselves CC which usually means Chinese Canadian but to us means Cheap Chinese!"


Lau has had a long relationship with Las Vegas dating back to his early days selling pagers right up to today when the Entertainment Capital of the World is home to his annual NamesCon conference.

While his time working for this company was rewarding it also re-affirmed Lau's core business belief. "The job running the paging networks was a challenging one that required customer service skills, legal stickhandling, public speaking and financial acumen. It also taught me that life is too short to work for someone else. So, in 1998 I took a six-month severance package and headed to Europe."

That trip would turn out to be a revelation and a turning point in Lau's life. "I backpacked with Vanessa through England, France, Italy and Greece for six weeks that year. It was our second honeymoon.  I loved the feeling of freedom with your life in a bag on your back and the ability to go wherever you wanted to go.  We looked around Europe at the history, people, food and different business ideas, and I held hands with my wife while we explored these new worlds together. It crystallized then that the world was an amazing place and that I wanted the same kind of freedom in my work world. To be my own boss, having the freedom to work on my own ideas with the ability to take them wherever I wanted to."

While on a six-month sabbatical after his time managing a pager business for someone else, Lau decided he wanted to have the same kind of freedom in his work life that he was enjoying in his personal life. He found what he was looking for when he discovered domains in the late 90s and planted his flag in an industry that was just starting to bloom.

As it turned out, the domain business would offer Lau exactly the kind of environment he was looking for. "A friend of mine had set up a dial up ISP (Internet Service Provider) during the paging days. It was while helping him with some marketing that I learned what a domain was. Three guys who worked with him (who later became the Chris, Eric and Scott of CES Marketing) talked with me about a real estate guru who was registering domains like Libya.com, and they were following suit with domains like IceCream.com, Chocolate.com and Basketballs.com."

"Another friend and I registered 50 car domains like NetCars.com, CarSource.com and many others with the idea of playing with html, tcp/ip, winsock and setting up a website for a local car dealer. Our day jobs were taking all of our attention, so we let the domains expire. Then Microsoft called and offered $10,000 for CarSource.com. We literally had to get the paperwork out of the recycling bin to find the invoice from Network Solutions to pay! In the end, it turned out that there was a trademark on the term so Microsoft didn’t buy it -- but the trademark owner paid us (a much smaller amount) for it," Lau said.

"This was back when ISPs 

were charging upwards of $150 per domain name to register a domain for a customer, and then the customer would have to pay $50 per year to Network Solutions when the paper invoice from NSI arrived in the mail. While still at the paging company, I created DomainsDirect.com and set up an “emailto” form that would send an email to Network Solutions when a visitor found a domain that was available that they wanted to register. I offered this as a free service.  I couldn’t afford to renew all my names, and I knew you were only supposed to have one domain per company (it was in the NSI Terms and Conditions). So, I let DomainDirect.com expire and just used DomainsDirect.com. Then Tucows registered DomainDirect.com and began offering a nearly identical service, but with more polish and better backing. At the time I was literally a one-man operation, working from home in my bunny slippers!" Lau said.

"I played by the rules. It never occurred to me to stockpile domain names. Instead I focused on helping others register domains, and I would upsell them to buy services from me, namely Email Forwarding and URL Forwarding. In 1998 when I left the paging business, I decided I shouldn’t focus on DomainsDirect.com if Tucows was operating using DomainDirect.com. 

Therefore, I launched a new brand and my site was called YourNameFree.com. It didn’t do well. I perhaps had one upsell order a week. The site worked, the scripts all worked, but the visitors were just local Vancouverites."

"At this point, in December 1998, my wife gave me a wake-up call saying “You have 30 days left to play”. My six month severance package was almost at its end.  So, I wrote a begging, heartfelt email to every Yahoo Canada email address I could find asking them to please list YourNameFree.com in their directory (alongside Register.com). And I prayed. I asked God to intervene. Some people will laugh, but I had faith that God was guiding my life. Sure enough, two days later, Yahoo.ca  listed my site. It was life changing!," Lau declared.

"Imagine. I was interviewing for real 9 to 5 jobs. Had two job offers I was considering but didn’t really want either. I didn’t want to work for someone else again. Then Yahoo Canada listed my site, and overnight I went from an order a week to ten a day. I still remember that first day. I felt like I had struck oil in my backyard."


"After being listed in Yahoo Canada the site continued to grow. We then received coverage on two TV shows. We decided to partner with Paul Lum of Registrars.com in order to receive a commission on the thousands of domains that we were helping people register through Network Solutions. We set it up so that when people found a domain to register we offered them the option of receiving an invoice later from Network Solutions or saving $10 and paying online through Registrars.com for their brand-new domain registration. We received a commission from Registrars.com but continued to receive nothing from Network Solutions. I was working with my brother David and I remember when we first set up the script. He set it up to send a message to my pager and we went out for dinner. The pager buzzed all throughout dinner and we knew we were on to something!," Lau said.

"We then applied to become a registrar ourselves and from that NamesDirect was born. One of the first 30 registrars, NamesDirect became our main brand. We also purchased a free DNS service called MyDomain.com as a lead for members to transfer their domains to NamesDirect."

"We then moved ourselves and the businesses to Bermuda. Things were hitting on all cylinders. My wife and I moved to Bermuda with our three month old son and we were ecstatic. Life was grand!"


Unfortunately, life also has a way of knocking us back down, often when we least expect it. It happened to Lau in another life changing event that just as easily could have turned out to be a life ending catastrophe.


"I continued to work long hours in Bermuda," Lau said. "We now had staff in three time zones and it seemed like there was always work to do. I remember sleeping at my desk many nights and working 18 to 20 hours per day. In the entire year I was in Bermuda I visited the beach less than six times.  As part of gaining a work visa there, I had to undergo a full physical checkup, including x-rays and more. They don’t make it easy to get in."


Just a few months after arriving in Bermuda Lau's business took two body blows. Godaddy entered the domain registration business with a low price strategy that made life tough for competitors. On top of that Lau's customer database was hacked but these would turn out to be the least of his problems.


"The biggest hit was that I was passing blood," Lau said. "My physical 3 months earlier had missed this. Then I was misdiagnosed with an ulcer by a visiting doctor from the U.S.  A week later I again checked myself into the hospital and the Chief of Surgery came to my bedside and he personally took charge of my care. An emergency colonoscopy found a massive cancerous growth in my colon, I was released to go home for the weekend with surgery scheduled for Monday morning. The doctors didn't think I would ever leave the hospital after the scheduled surgery. At 30 years of age, with my wife in a new country and our five month old son, I was given 3 to 6 months to live."


Richard had good reason to smile in this photo with his wife Vanessa. Were it not for a miraculous recovery from cancer he would not have been around for the many happy days that followed that dark time 15 years ago.

"After a series of miracles that strengthened my faith in God I was released from hospital with a short colon, but with the best diagnosis possible - no chemotherapy needed. The doctors couldn’t believe this was possible so I was sent to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a second opinion and came through with a mixed blessing. I had an 80% chance of the colon cancer recurring in the next five years and if it did I had a 50% chance of survival. I believe in the power of prayer and the hand of God. Here I am today, 15 years later healthy and strong with no recurrence, a living example of a miracle." Lau said.

The doctors also told Lau he should stop working to lower his stress level so he decided to merge NameDirect, MyDomain and YourNameFree with a California startup company called NameZero. He also moved his family to the Golden State and though he did not stop working he cut back to 40-50 hours a week, a schedule that made him feel like he was "on vacation" compared to the hours he had been working.

The "vacation" didn't last though and he soon parted ways with NameZero. "I  won’t air all the dirty laundry from NameZero, but if we fast forward 18 months, I was on my way back to Vancouver with nothing more than a severance check and my health," Lau said. " All the equity in my companies had evaporated. As Jim Beaver from eNom said to me at the time after hearing about my situation: “Wow, sucks to be you.”  I returned to Vancouver knowing I had to reinvent myself. I had to somehow self-insure should I die in the next 3.5 years, and I was ready to be creative. I believed that God was leading me through these tough times to show me how fleeting material success is. Business, equity, savings, mean nothing when weighed against your health and your family," Lau added.

While he was done with NameZero, Lau was a long way from being done with domains. "While I was  running MyDomain.com I had been invited by, I believe, Kevin Sinclair to join Rick Schwartz’s message board so that I could provide VIP customer support to his members who were using the MyDomain service. I would log on, search for “mydomain.com” and answer everyone who had a question. So when I was faced with reinventing myself, I turned to Rick’s board and posted something along the lines of “The writing is on the wall here and my tenure is coming to a close. Can you guys tell me what it is you do and how you do it?” I wanted to learn how these domainers were making money from the domains they’d been registering through my businesses," Lau recalled.

After parting ways with NameZero 
Richard headed home to Vancouver 
to "reinvent" himself.

Steven Sacks took Richard under his 
wing and showed him the ropes.

"I clearly remember Steven Sacks taking me under his wing. He showed me the ropes and I set off at a sprint. Steven is a godly man and we’ve had many deep conversations over the years - even if some of them are at 2am at a bar. He took me by the hand and showed me how best to buy and sell domains. I owe him a great deal of gratitude. Working from home, buying domains on my credit cards, I quickly built a portfolio of 400 domains that earned a small monthly flow of PPC income. But the real income came when I was asked to investigate a couple of members of the board who were suspected of buying stolen domains."

There was reason Lau was the one board members asked to do the investigation " I’d read a book about a man who used creative methods for tracking down non-custodial parents who had run off with their children. That apparently is the cause of the vast majority of missing children,' Lau noted. " After reading the book, I thought that I could use some of these same techniques to track down owners of domains who had old or false Whois information. Sure enough, I was right. I became a “broker” of sorts, helping people to communicate with domain owners who were hard to find."


"One member was accusing another member of somehow stealing domains just as they were about to expire. I was given a list of three one- word .com domains that this member had recently acquired. Tracking down the previous owners was difficult, but not overly so. Getting them on the phone was the challenge, but one I was determined to overcome. I managed to get all three on the phone and they all had a similar answer. A sweet young man had contacted them and asked for their domain. Not to buy it, not for them to sell it to him, but just a straight up audacious ask. And in all three cases they gave it to him!"


"Wow! I was blown away. Some of these names were worth over $10,000 back then. In one case the person said they paid the renewal fee for two years and didn’t want to ask Merlin to pay for it since he was such a nice kid. Yes, Merlin Kauffman. A crazy kid back then with kahunas the size of Texas," Lau laughed. " Merlin is now a close associate and a serial entrepreneur."


"From that point on, I started to focus solely on tracking down domains where the Whois information was inaccurate. This brought in  

Merlin Kauffman

broker commissions, and was also able to make offers on domains where the owners hadn’t seen an offer in years. I also used my skills in helping to track down owners who had had their domain names stolen from them and assisted them in getting their hijacked domains back."


"For my hijacking assistance I was awarded the first Domainer of the Year award at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. in 2004. And at that conference I was given my biggest challenge - righting the wrong of RL.com being stolen. That is an entire story that would be longer than this article so I will try and summarize it. Of the dozens of hijacking cases I worked on such as God.com, wifi.com, religion.com, kazaalite.com and many others, this was the most consuming. I became personally vested in the ownership of RL.com and only through years (yes, years) of court battles was I able to finally wrestle the ownership back after the hijacker had sold the domain to someone in California who had absolutely no desire to give it up."


(Left to right): T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founder Rick Schwartz, T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s first ever Domainer of the Year Award winner Richard Lau, attorney John Berryhill and T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founder Howard Neu at the inaugural T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in October 2004. 

While Lau's focus has been on helping others acquire (and keep) valuable domains, he started taking an ownership interest in some great names as well. "Most of the best names I hold are with partners," Lau said. " In buying and selling portfolios of domains you come across gems. Some are deals, most are not. You are buying real estate and hoping for capital appreciation over time. On almost all the gems we have paid at or above market rates, bidding against fellow buyers. In hind-sight they look like deals, but at the time, it was nail-biting putting down the funds necessary to tie up these names."


"Every name has a great story and there are many missed opportunities including Music.com,

99.com and having sold some two letter .com domains for what now looks like a pittance. Ocean.com (along with Ocean.net) is one of my favorites as it came out of a conversation in the back of a limo in Las Vegas at 2am during a Domain Madness conference. If I hadn’t been there I would have missed out on that fantastic domain purchase. I also love the purchase of Face.com that Andy Booth facilitated. He had secured the purchase and flipped it to me before paying for it at a 300% markup. I knew exactly what he was making and I didn’t mind. It was a fantastic domain and worth every penny," Lau said.


Resume.com partners Richard Kirkendall (left) 
and Richard Lau.

Lau and his partners have also ventured beyond domain ownership to domain development where they have also had success. "We own Resume.com along with Richard Kirkendall of NameCheap fame. Resume.com is an eight year " overnight success". It’s been a lot, and I mean, a freight-train load of work to build Resume.com to its current level of over 1 million members," Lau said.


"It is easy to sit back and think that things come easy to successful people, if all you hear about are their successes. But looking back, my road is littered with the carcasses of  

many, many cases of buyer’s remorse, seller’s remorse and straight out project failures. At the end of the day, so long as your successes outweigh your failures, you are a business success. Plus, it helps to not publicize your failures, but instead learn from them and move on," Lau noted. 


"Additionally, it is important to note that most of the above work has not been done by me. The secret to success is not really that secret. Surround yourself with smart, responsible, passionate people and give them the tools and motivation to build. James Morfopoulos has been working with me for about five years and has become my right hand man, and I trust his judgment, creativity and business insight so much so that he is now my business partner and I rely heavily on him daily. Plus he is just a great guy to hang out with. Ken Nybeck is the force behind the Resume.com service and the numbers speak for themselves. Our 1 million+ members are a testament to the hard work Ken and his team have expended. Loyal, generous and a real problem solver it's been a real honor to work with Ken for over 10 years. And at NamesCon you will meet Terri Potratz, our newest prized team member. Jothan Frakes, as co-founder of NamesCon, was instrumental in its success, and continues to “bring it” every day," Lau said.


The NamesCon team (left to right): Jothan Frakes, Terri Potratz, Richard Lau and James Morfopoulos.

Surrounded by so many good partners and teammates for more than a decade now, Lau has been able to make sure his busy work life hasn't overshadowed his top priority - his family. "After returning to Vancouver from California I moved into my first new house in 2003, and shortly after we had our second child, Ryan," Lau said. "I wanted to buy the house I would live in forever. But in 2006 a project with Directi took me on a three-year adventure to the UK. We set up dozens of registrars in a partnership with Snapnames and I worked from London."


"During this time, our family took advantage of the centrality of London to travel. Dubai, Europe, the Caribbean, all seemed easy to get to from London. My wife homeschooled our now two boys and we would bring their school along with us as we traveled. London was a treasure-trove of history, museums and educational opportunities."



Vanessa and Richard with their adorable boys


"In 2009 we moved back to our home in Vancouver and as we loved the homeschooling experience, we continued it (and still do to this day). We spend a lot of our time in Whistler (a ski resort town an hour north of Vancouver) and still love to travel. We’ve spent between 2 and 3 months a year in Europe over the past three years. Next year, my wife and I celebrate our 25th Anniversary! Time certainly flies by when you are best friends, loving and supporting each other. Behind every successful man is a woman. That adage is certainly true!," Lau declared, speaking from experience."



Richard and Vanessa traveling through Europe



Back on the business side of things, Lau's name these days is most closely associated with the wildly successful NamesCon conference that will make its third annual run at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas January 10-13, 2016. Lau's entry into what had been a crowded conference field caught some people by surprise. He explained how it all came about. "Some people would be surprised to hear that the catalyst of NamesCon was to be able to have an event around which to hold a fundraiser for the WaterSchool."

"At the 2012 DomainFest Global conference in Santa Monica, California Gregg McNair invited a “few” people to our suites at a nearby hotel. 140 people showed up and we ended up holding an impromptu “WaterShave” at 2am where three on-the-spot volunteers helped raise over $20,000 in pledges from party-goers by allowing their heads to be shaved in return for donations. Vern Jurovich, Jeffrey Gabriel and Bill Lozada were the very first WaterShaves!. Ron Jackson (you!!) became a WaterShaver at Domaining Europe in May 2012," Lau noted.

At the 2013 WebFest conference (previously known as DomainFest) in Santa Monica, NameCheap sponsored an official WaterNight where I personally shaved my head and DomainSponsor matched the crowd’s pledges. Jodi Chamberlain sacrificed her long hair in April 2013 at Domaining Spain. Then, in May 2013, I partnered with Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu to hold a WaterNight event (alas with no shaving) during the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show in Las Vegas. As you would expect, we knew we would want to hold a WaterNight at the January 2014 DomainFest. However, just a couple of months before the show was expect to run we still hadn’t heard any dates being announced for DomainFest."

"Since I was planning on going to Las Vegas for the CES show and for Affiliate Summit, I thought I could possibly hold a WaterNight there and try and get 60 domain people to come," Lau said. " We’d find a volunteer or two and raise $20,000 for WaterSchool. I would call it NamesCon - the non-conference conference. Just meals, networking and a big WaterNight party. Then Jothan Frakes called me and pressed me into the importance of an agenda. Jodi Chamberlain then called and 

Gregg McNair (left) and Richard Lau right after Gregg had relieved of Richard of his hair to raise money for WaterSchool in 2013.

said we could turn this into a real conference. Of course, we had 90 days to do it! So, on October 18, 2013 we announced our intention to hold the first NamesCon on dates less than 3 months away. We were crazy!," Lau laughed.

"I was supposed to be taking a sabbatical - a year of travel and time with the family as my boys are growing into teens and this stage of life passes so quickly.  Don’t all our children grow up in the blink of an eye? I didn’t want to miss it. I thought (wrongly) that I could have Jodi and Jothan do all the work and I could step in for 4 days and have some fun. I’m sure that could have worked if we’d only had 150 people (our original goal), but when almost 600 people were coming to the conference, well, let’s just say I have a very understanding wife!," Lau said.

Lau is riding the rising tide NamesCon 
has helped the industry generate.

"With the motivation of putting NamesCon on being to hold a WaterNight, I wanted to do the rest of NamesCon the way I thought a domain conference should be done, incorporating in all the complaints I had stockpiled during the 50+ conferences I’ve attended during the past 25 years. I wanted to bring together disparate sections of the internet naming sector and allow everyone’s networking to blossom into synergistic deals. I am an idealist. I believe fully in the importance of networking. We planned for NamesCon to be about the networking and the content. We stacked our stages with panels to be inclusive and avoid advertorials. We refused to pay for any speakers. Speaking at NamesCon is a privilege. If you have to be paid or enticed onto our stage, the audience will know it and thus, quite frankly, we don’t want you," Lau said.


"Put an idealist in charge, take away the food, and suddenly you can turn the conference world on its head. We priced our tickets at $199. But no lunch. We weren’t even sure if we’d offer tea. If you were coming for the food, stay home. We wanted people who were coming to feast on content and relationships. Face to face trust building networking is ever 

more important in an industry and age where screens and texting take up the majority of our time. As I said back then, I believe a rising tide raises all boats. NamesCon will rise the tide, you simply need to bring your boat."


"The first NamesCon was a roaring success and likewise the WaterNight gala saw us raise over $100,000 for WaterSchool. NameCheap has played a huge part in the fundraising of both WaterNight’s held at NamesCon and their support cannot be appreciated more,' Lau added.


Richard Lau welcoming guests to the 2nd annual NamesCon conference (January 2015) 

"The second NamesCon in January 2015 continued to grow and we learned and listened to attendees, sponsors and speakers. Frank Schilling’s Uniregistry has been unwavering in support for NamesCon. With our third NamesCon almost upon us, we have full-time, year-round staff working on our four-day conference. I liken it to juggling 100 balls in the air and all of them need to land perfectly in the span of 1% of the time spent. 361 days of work for a 4 day event. It’s intense, and amazing."


"One of the most unique features is the design of our Exhibit Hall in such a manner to ensure that Exhibitors are the not the forgotten stepchild. We treat the Exhibit Hall like a Town Center with the Keynote Room and the Breakout Session Rooms driving foot traffic through the Exhibit Hall. And with the Uniregistry Lounge, and games such as ping pong, foosball and pool, attendees hang out, converse, play and network. It’s a formula that works and delivers value to attendees and exhibitors alike," Lau said.


"This year we have a sold out Exhibit Hall and fantastic keynote speakers with product launches anticipated. We are also introducing 

Network Lane as a Sunday-only speed exhibit/networking event. From noon til 6pm on Sunday people will be able to visit pop-up exhibitors in a space that will be a cross between Affiliate Summit’s “Meet Market” and TechCrunch’s “Startup Alley”. These startup companies in our space will each have a hightop table and a retractable banner. And existing brokers, bloggers and suppliers will be able to efficiently announce their presence at NamesCon and arrange meetings for during the rest of the conference. It’s a formula that we’ve seen work extremely well at other conferences that we are adapting for NamesCon."

Knowing that NamesCon was born out of Lau's desire to raise money for the WaterSchool, we wondered how his relationship with the charity that plays a central role in his life came about. "I was a typical, cynical couch donor writing checks in December to various charities," Lau said. " One year I was told to check out Compassion.ca where you could fill a “shopping cart” with different charitable 

projects that needed funding.  My wife was looking through the projects and suddenly had a song come into her head from a Christian music album she’d been given when she was 6 years old. “Give a cup of water in the name of the Lord” and we felt that we should be funding a clean water project."

"I added Compassion to the list of charities I could donate to from the comfort and disconnection of my couch. In the new year, the cynical me contacted the various charities we’d donated to in order to see just how the funds were being spent. I met with several of the charities and quite frankly was dismayed. Only when I met with Compassion did I find the transparency I was hoping for. WaterSchool was spun out from Compassion.ca as a non-profit focused on providing education to enable people to make their own drinking water safe in a sustainable manner -- without the use of chlorine tablets, and without burning fossil fuel," Lau said.

"I introduced Gregg McNair to WaterSchool and Gregg started pulling people to visit WaterSchool’s projects in Africa. Being a germaphobe I had no intention of going but somehow Gregg managed to get even me to Kenya. Once there, I was hooked. The life-changing work was being done so effectively and efficiently that we set out to get as many people from our industry behind this solution as possible. We organized climbs up Mount Kilimanjaro, vision trips to Kenya and Uganda and continued our WaterNights in North America."


"When the founders of WaterSchool had health issues that forced their retirement, I stepped in to serve as the Executive Director. While I feel inadequate to fill their 

Richard Lau with some of the new friends he made in Africa while visiting WaterSchool projects in Kenya. 

shoes, I cannot help but feel the weight of responsibility that comes along with this mantle and I hope to rise to the occasion and do my best to fill the need. Alongside a varied and passionate board we serve a to represent a large donor base. This year at NamesCon I am excited that Tony Woodruff, WaterSchool’s Program Liason, will be at WaterNight to share directly on the work being done," Lau said.


"In the domain industry, I am just one of many people who support WaterSchool. We have had almost a dozen people become WaterShavers including Yancy Naughton, Jothan Frakes, Kellie Peterson, Kevin Kopas and Mike Robertson. And the list of donors to WaterSchool is basically the entire list of attendees to the conferences over these past few years.  The domain industry is behind WaterSchool and that is apparent with the overwhelming support for WaterNight."


(L to R) Gregg McNair with WaterShavers Mike Robertson, Kellie Peterson 
and Kevin Kopas
 at the 2nd annual NamesCon conference in January 2015.  

"WaterSchool has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and their families and radically changed their futures.  It is my humble honor and duty to be able to give back some of the extraordinary blessings that have come into my life. It’s not charity if the beneficiary can do something for you in return.  In Africa, as I saw some of the young children I thought, “Who’s to say that these couldn’t have been my kids?”  With big blessings come big responsibilities, we need to be accountable to others in this world and help in whatever needs strike a passionate chord with us. I’m so grateful for the many who have come alongside me in this," Lau said.


Lau, who was elected to the Domain Hall of Fame earlier this year, has clearly led an illuminating and inspirational life. Reading about it will no doubt encourage others to see just what this unique domain industry is all about. As a field that is constantly changing it can be difficult to get your head around so, before letting Richard go we asked him what kind of advice he would give people determined to try their hand in this business too.  


"I would advise newcomers to read, network and network," Lau said, emphasize how imperative the latter is. "And if you don’t like reading, then add in more networking! Seriously, in hindsight I now know that if I had networked more when I first started I would be many times more successful than I am now. Back when I was first setting up YourNameFree.com I 

Having been through "the valley of the shadow of death" 
Lau will always be thankful for the brighter path he and his 
family were so blessed to find. 

was a few miles away from Kevin Ham, Colin Yu and Frank Schilling, and I was watching Yun Yee pick up domains that I was allowing to expire. I was too introverted and shy to pick up the phone or even send an email. Ten years later, I was able to host these pioneers at a barbeque at my house and realized then the opportunities I had let slip through my fingers by not networking from the start with these humble, easy-going giants," Lau said ruefully.

"If you are interested in the hundreds of new gTLDs then come and meet with the registries at NamesCon. Talk with brokers. Find out how you can fit into the community in a manner that brings value to the table. Don’t sit at home wishing luck would come your way, come out and make your own luck."

Before saying goodbye Lau had only this to add. "My faith in God has helped me persevere through the many trials that life brings. That every dip in life, no matter how deep, is something on the pathway that is your own life. God’s hand is there. Not necessarily delivering what you think it should be, but it’s  

there. I don’t take credit for my successes in life. And it can be trite to simply thank God for them. But truly I have been through the valley of the shadow of death and feel comforted by my faith in God and the life he has blessed me with."


"I try to live my life in a non-judgemental way. I try to assume stupidity over malice. I didn’t always but I do now. I wish more people would be kind, gentle and smile. All is not rosy in this world and everyone, no matter how great you think their life is, is fighting their own battle. 

Life is about relationships, not likes, views or retweets.

Spend time with your family.

Be gentle

Be kind






Spend time with your family - they grow up fast!  


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