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How Former Army Airborne Officer Wayne Wheat Went from Jumping Out of Planes to Selling High End Domains

By Ron Jackson

Live domain auctions have been an exciting staple of leading domain conferences around the world ever since Monte Cahn (then with Moniker.com, now with RightOfTheDot.com) staged the first one at the October 2005 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Delray Beach, Florida. As live auctions grew in popularity and were adopted by other major conferences, Cahn decided the global prominence of the events required a championship caliber auctioneer to call them. His search led to Texan Wayne Wheat, a former All-Around World Champion Auctioneer with 23 years of experience under his belt.

Still, Wheat had never sold domain names until Cahn put him in charge of the live auction at the 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York conference. Even though the country had become mired in the Great Recession that had started the year before, Wheat rang up over $3 million in domain sales making him the "go to" guy for Cahn and other major conferences, including NamesCon and DOMAINfest Global.

With nearly a decade of domain sales added to a resume that already included selling real estate, automobiles, business liquidations, fine art, antiques and collectibles at high profile 

Wayne Wheat 
Award winning Auctioneer & Author 

auctions around the world, Wheat's footprint has continued to grow. The latest feather in his cap was the publication of his new book, Bid & Grow Rich: The Secrets to Auctions, that was released June 16, 2016. With its great advice on how to do well at any kind of auction, the book was an immediate success.

The cover of Wayne Wheat's new book.

Less than 48 hours after it's release, Wheat's book hit #1 in Amazon's Kindle Store in the Real Estate Investment category and in the top three of other categories. 

Wheat credited his wife Katy for encouraging him to write the book. "Katy has been telling me for years that I needed to write a book so that I didn’t have to explain all the different parts of our industry over and again to our friends and family.  She said, “just write a book honey. I don’t think anyone really understands what you do!”  One best seller later, they no doubt have a pretty good idea now.

Katy also works the floor at some of Wayne's live auctions but only when they fall in one of two categories - benefit auctions (which is one of the Wheat's specialties) or - in a reflection of her good taste - domain auctions!

Wayne and Katy Olsta Wheat at the Water Night fundraising party held at the January 2016 NamesCon conference in Las Vegas. Wayne called the conference's successful live domain auction. (Photo courtesy of NamesCon).

Wayne told us, "Katy is a shining jewel in a tough industry. She never stresses about the size or importance of the event. Katy just says, “you’re going to do great”. And then she walks through the crowd looking for million-dollar bids as if they were twenty dollar bids. Nothing a bidder does knocks her off her game. She’s always just Katy. The problem with having her at the benefit auctions is that she wants to leave behind more money than we earn," Wayne laughed, "But, we always have a good time!"

Wayne Wheat's father during his time in 
the military before becoming Chief of Police 
in their hometown.

There was a time that Wayne, who spent nearly 15 years in the military as a U.S. Army officer, would never have guessed he was destined to be a globe trotting auctioneer rather than a career soldier. After being born in a small west Texas town of 5,000 where his dad was the Chief of Police, hard work and discipline were bedrock principles he was raised on - you only got what you went out and earned for yourself. 

"In a family of five there wasn't a lot of spare change laying around so I decided to find my own,' Wheat recalls. "I saw an ad for the Grit newspaper and, at age 12, signed up to be the sole distributor of their publication.  It came out every week or two all I remember is pedaling my bicycle all over that little town delivering those newspapers for two years. In the summer, I would work in the cotton fields "chopping" cotton, but I found out pretty quickly that you’re not supposed to chop the cotton! You chop the weeds popping up between the rows of cotton! I got up at 5am every day in the summer and would get home after dark. I saved all of my money and bought my first car for $2,000 cash in 1974 at age 14.  But - because my dad was the Chief, I didn’t get to drive that car for a year," Wayne smiled.

Soon after entering high school - the military appeared on Wayne's radar. "I was a decent athlete and did well academically, so in my sophomore year I began to look around at secondary education opportunities that offered scholarships," Wayne said. "My high school counselor recommended the military academies, so I applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The following year, I was appointed to the academy by Senator Lloyd Bensen. However, following graduation, I chose to go to ROTC basic camp in Fort Knox Kentucky, thinking that I would instead attend an affordable in-state school - Texas A&M University"

"I did not like the idea of spending four years on the Hudson River in New York. Following the 10-week basic training, I received a letter from a General that stated I had won a fully paid Army scholarship to any school that offered Army ROTC.  Not only was tuition, room and board paid for, I was to receive one-half of the pay of a Second Lieutenant until graduation and then I would owe the United States six years of active duty. I chose New Mexico Military Institute for many reasons, but proximity to west Texas was high on the list. I graduated NMMI as a DMG (distinguished military graduate) in 1980 and received my commission as an infantry officer. I went active duty to train in the Infantry Officer Course in Fort Benning, Georgia and also graduated from jump school as a paratrooper."

Once he fulfilled his military obligation Wheat, then a captain, had to decide whether to continue in the Army or try his hand in the private sector. His love of cars helped him decide. As he described in his book, he paid a visit to one of the biggest dealer car auctions in Texas looking for a bargain. Wheat recalled the hectic pace looked like 

Wayne Wheat's uniform after nearly 15 years as 
an officer in the U.S. Army's Airborne Infantry.

the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. "I was immediately hooked and I was absolutely certain I knew what I wanted to do as a full-time career," he recalled.

So, Wheat immediately dove into researching the field and in the process discovered the Missouri Auction School in Kansas City - regarded by many in the field as "the Harvard of auction schools." Three months later he was in a classroom there and a few months after that he was on the job as a professional auctioneer. In his book Wayne shares a lot of great stories about his experiences in the business over the years and also told us about one that is not in the book. 

"I was conducting a high end art and jewelry auction in Providence, Rhode Island and one of the bidders was none other than Jerry Seinfeld," Wayne said. "I had a chance to visit with him prior to the auction. He had never attended one before but happened to be there because he had a show in Providence that evening. In my opening statement I plugged Jerry’s show and said that it was originally scheduled for noon, but he didn’t want to go up against our auction. That got a decent laugh!" Wayne smiled.

Wayne Wheat running the live domain auction at the 
2010 DOMAINfest Global conference in Los Angeles.

A whole chapter of Wheat's book is about his experiences in the domain industry and, of course, those are the ones our readers will be especially interested in. We all know how confused people tend to be when we try to explain to them what it is we do but Wheat proved to be a quick study. Monte Cahn, who first crossed paths with Wheat in 2007, said "He was great!  He got it immediately due to his real-estate and asset sale knowledge. Our chemistry was perfect as well as him working together with my staff. We ended up doing auctions all over the world together after that."

Monte also recalled the event that brought them together. "Around 2006- 2007 I sold Auction.com to REDC Group, who was and I think still is the largest foreclosed home auction house in the world.  I needed a new auctioneer for DomainFest in LA in 2008, right after our merger of Moniker and Oversee.net.  A colleague of Wayne's who was working at REDC agreed to do our DomainFest auction that year. I found Wayne through that connection when that person was not available.  Since that time, Wayne has been my auctioneer.  He was the right guy and got it immediately having been the top auctioneer of physical property and homes for REDC/Auction.com. When explaining how domains were virtual real-estate to Wayne, he was on board mentally and became passionate about helping us continue to grow this industry segment that I originally created in 1999." 

Wayne Wheat and Monte Cahn working together for the first time 
at the 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York conference.

Monte added, "Its been a real pleasure working with both Wayne and Katy. We have become friends and both are well known in our industry as a result. I have extended our live and online auction exclusive arrangement with Namescon through 2019 so I am sure everyone will have the joy of seeing Wayne, Katy, and myself on the stage over the next 3 years!"

While Wayne and Monte hit it off right away, so did Wayne and the domain industry at large. Thinking back to his first domain auction in 2008 Wheat said, "I was surprised by how friendly and open everyone at the domain conferences seemed to be. I sat in on many workshops and keynote addresses and was impressed by the amount of information that is shared freely. The auctions had the feel of benefit auctions, where things were sold without a lot of high pressure tactics. In fact, Monte can be pretty funny on the microphone. I’ve accidentally had to cut him off a time or two (from expanding too much on the many possible uses of a domain name)," Wheat laughed. 

"As far as prices, I think that we are all surprised a little bit at every auction by some names selling for much higher than expected and high valued premium names falling short for whatever reason. It’s a finicky marketplace!"

Wayne & Katy Wheat
(the year they were married - 2010)

While his business takes up a lot of his time, Wheat tries to maintain a life away from the gavel as well. "The past few years, I’ve had less free time for my hobbies, but when I do have the time and there’s a big poker room nearby, I play Texas Hold-em," Wheat said, adding, "I try to golf a few times a year too. When I lived on a course I was a 6 handicap. Now, it’s probably 25." 

Until just a few years ago I ran a pole vault club on my property for young athletes. Many of my students earned college scholarships. In fact, one young man that I coached - Reese Watson - not only received a full scholarship to the University of Texas, he recently won the Big 12 Championship and is trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team."

In closing Wheat noted, "Even though my travel schedule and career is very tough and time consuming, there is not another career that I would have chosen. I love that I get to actually see friends from many walks of life and work with great people. I am very blessed to be married to a woman with a heart as big as Texas and to have a supportive family and children. My favorite word in the English language besides “God” is “SOLD!" Spoken like a true auctioneer, Wayne!


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