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From Sorrow to Success: How Lori Anne Wardi Turned Her Woes Into Resounding Wins 

By Ron Jackson

People from all walks of life have found their way into the domain industry through various avenues and unique sets of circumstances. Neustar Registry Services VP Lori Anne Wardi, who helped "write the book" on successful promotion of a new gTLD during her time with the .CO Registry, is a prime example. Lori Anne is widely known for her work with .CO Internet S.A.S. CEO Juan Diego Calle in transforming the re-purposed .CO extension from a long shot startup into a prized asset that Neustar paid $109 million to acquire in 2014. However, her domain journey started long before that and in the worst possible circumstances.

After leaving the corporate world (Goldman Sachs) to start her own business consulting firm in New York City, one of the most infamous events in American history - the 9/11 terror attack in 2001 - set a string of events in motion that derailed Lori Anne's business and personal life. "With the whole city in mourning, team building and leadership development were the last things on anyone’s mind," Wardi recalled. "I had just bought an apartment in Manhattan, and now had a mortgage and lots of expenses to worry about.  With no steady paycheck, health insurance or consulting contracts on the horizon – the panic set in. What do I do now?," she thought.

Lori Anne Wardi
Vice President, Registry Services
Neustar, Inc.

How Lori Anne rebounded from that low point should inspire and encourage anyone who is facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. We will detail how it happened for her and how it proves that when one door closes, being forced to go through a new one can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. The door to domains was not the first new one Wardi had to walk through. She had been testing "new doors" her entire life on a circuitous journey aimed at finding her place in the world. This is how she made it through the maze and found the home she was looking for. 

"I was born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn - you know, the neighborhood made famous by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever," Wardi began. "Where I grew up, people were very traditional.  The Dads worked, the Moms stayed home with the kids - in fact I can’t think of a single friend whose Mom had a job unless it was inside of our school! The youngest of three children, I was blessed to have a very happy childhood. My parents have been happily married now for close to 60 years!"

A girl who marched to her own drum

"Pretty much from the word “go” it was clear that I was a kid who was going to march to the beat of my own drum. I went to a very strict all girls Catholic grade school taught by nuns.  And while I absolutely loved going to school every morning; practically every afternoon the nuns would send me home with the equivalent of a demerit slip for my parents to sign due to my bad behavior – it was called a “YOU DO NOT LISTEN”.  On the front of the slip was a picture of an OSTRICH with its head in the sand," Lori Anne recalled.  

"The nuns were totally right.  I really did not listen.  While I somehow still managed to get good grades – I was a kid who was brimming with energy; constantly fidgeting; easily bored and almost always distracted. I also had terrible impulse control.  I was always getting into some kind of trouble - calling out in class, forgetting assignments, and breaking all the other Catholic School rules of engagement. As I got older and my life grew more complicated – my impulsivity and distraction only got worse.  And that made life harder and harder as my responsibilities grew," Wardi said.

"Luckily, there was no ADD diagnosis available back in those days, or I might have thought I was incapable of achieving a lot of the things I ended up doing. Instead, to overcompensate for my challenges, I think I must have just quietly resolved to work harder than everyone else simply to keep up.  I suspect that’s where my workaholic roots were born. The official ADD diagnosis eventually came – but not until I was 30 years old!  By that time I had already graduated from law school, practiced law for 5 years, and started on my graduate degree."

As much as ADD impacted Lori Anne's early years, an equally important influence in her life and the kind of person she would became was her father. "My Dad owned a nightclub – which turned out to be one of the largest and longest running night-clubs in Brooklyn’s history with a lifetime spanning over 50 years," Wardi said. "For decade after decade my Dad’s club was “the” place to go in Brooklyn. And in a true case of art imitating life – it was actually the disco that inspired Saturday Night Fever in the first place!"

"Still, If you ever met my Dad, you would never believe that he had been in the nightclub business.  He is (and has always been) gentle, soft-spoken and kind – a man committed 100% to his family.  Never one to put on airs and without even an ounce of ego – the furthest thing from the club owner “stereotype” you could ever imagine," Lori Anne declared.

"I have often wondered how a man with his temperament was so successful for so long in such a notoriously fickle and cut-throat business - especially in a tough town like Brooklyn. Looking back now, with the benefit of having my own 25+ years of work experience as my lens – I realize that it all comes down to people."

Lori Anne Wardi with her father George Wardi

"My Dad has always had a special way about him. Everyone who meets him loves him.  And in the most sincere and genuine way. I’ve never heard a single bad word said about him by anyone – ever.  In fact, to this day, at nearly 89 years old, and now retired for 20+ years - everywhere we go in Brooklyn, he is still treated like a celebrity.  People he doesn’t even recognize anymore stop him on the street to shake his hand and hug him; We can’t go out to dinner at a local restaurant without someone sending him a drink; And I have heard countless stories of former employees or old friends who wax poetic about how much they just love my father – and why they think he is simply the best (boss, friend, person... etc.)"

"So, my Dad has been an incredible role model for me.  In addition to being a great entrepreneur – he is a great human being. And as simple as it sounds - that was the secret to his business success. I have always wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps - not by owning a nightclub of course - but by having control over my own livelihood – and how I treat people along the way. The lessons he taught me have served me well through the years –and have helped shape every aspect of my career and life journey," Wardi said.

Muhlenberg College campus in Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from Bigstock

After high school Lori Anne went off to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania where she graduated with a major in International Relations. "While I would like to tell you that my course of study was chosen due to a deep interest in foreign policy, politics, and geopolitical dynamics – the reality is, at the time, I simply wanted a good excuse to allow me to travel the world," Wardi said. "Thanks to my major, I finagled my way to Russia, Latvia, Estonia, London, Ireland and Spain during my college years – and started a lifetime love affair with travel."

"Likewise, I wish I could say that my next career step, going to law school, was made with any real forethought or 

planning. It most definitely was not.  I was a straight A student who was bad at math and science, and utterly clueless about what career path I wanted to take - so law school seemed to be the obvious choice. As lame as it sounds, I bet a full half of my law school class was there for the same pathetic reason.  Perhaps that’s why there are so many unhappy lawyers in this world!," Lori Anne laughed.

Though law would prove to be the wrong door in Lori Anne's quest for a fulfilling career, she excelled at it and graduated magna cum laude from Brooklyn Law School.  "Thanks to my workaholic nature, I graduated law school at the top of my class.  That opened the door for me to join Proskauer Rose, one of the country’s leading law firms, based in New York City," Wardi recalled. "I practiced ERISA (pension) law for five very long and very miserable years. While I loved the people I worked with, and the firm treated me very well – I was simply never meant to be an attorney."

"I worked all the time. And when I wasn’t working, I was devouring every self-help book I could on how to manage my time; how to become more organized; how to be more productive; and generally how to “fix” what I perceived to be my faulty brain. How was it that I could do the most complex legal analyses, but managing my time-sheets, keeping my calendar, paying my bills and managing my giant piles of paperwork were virtually impossible feats?  Why couldn’t I seem to pay attention in meetings, to remember what people told me, or to stay on task long enough to finish my projects on time?," a perplexed Wardi wondered.

"Chronically anxious and constantly overwhelmed - I don’t think I slept more than 3 or 4 hours a night during my entire five years practicing law. It was on the eve of my 30th birthday that I finally quit.  I was sick and tired of hating my work – and my life - and didn’t want to live with the same stress and strife in my 30s that plagued my 20s.  I knew there was something better out there for me – but I couldn’t imagine what it was," Lori Anne said.

Lori Anne - the lawyer

"Again, without any real plan in mind, I did the only respectable thing I could think of.  I packed my bags and went back to school.  Cornell University had a one-year Masters Program in Human Resource Management for people who already had a JD degree – and so I moved to Ithaca, New York to earn my Master’s Degree.  It was essentially a “stop the world, I want to get off” moment.  I was there not so much because I had a plan for what to do with my new degree, but rather, because I was clearly traveling at a 100mph down the wrong life path and I needed an exit strategy that would help me to course correct - without humiliating myself too much in the process!," Wardi smiled.

"Within a week at Cornell, I stumbled upon a “Learning Skills Center” for students.  With nothing to lose - and what seemed like all the time in the world on my hands – I decided to go there to see if they could help me figure out what was wrong with what I perceived to be my “broken brain.”  I took a series of tests, and met with a clinician - and that’s when I was diagnosed with ADD. It was 1998 and I’d never heard of that term before.  I immediately devoured every book I could get my hands on related to the topic.  There were only a few books that even existed at the time."

"This may sound strange – but getting the ADD diagnosis was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I understood what was going on in my head.  And I understood why – despite the

outward appearance of great success - I always felt like that Ostrich with her head in the sand! Once I let go of the fantasy that I could somehow will myself into becoming that hyper organized, detail oriented, corporate robot I thought I was supposed to be – everything else in my life started to open up," Wardi said.

"Finally – I could stop trying to contort myself...to fix what I perceived to be missing... and to start to focus on just “being myself”.  I could start focusing on simply building upon my strengths – instead of relentlessly trying to “fix” all of my weaknesses.  For a perfectionist like myself, I can’t express enough what a giant sense of relief that was!"

When Lori Anne finished her Masters at Cornell, she was recruited by Goldman Sachs and accepted a job in their global technology division. "I was given the opportunity to manage corporate learning and development for technology executives around the world. My job was all about helping people to be their very best at work – team building, leadership development, success coaching, etc.  I loved it all right from the start.  It was all about personal development and maximizing human potential," Wardi said.  

"To go so quickly from doing work I hated to work I loved was incredible. Even though I was making less money, work went from being drudgery to being a joy.  I was fueled by passion and purpose – as opposed to panic and fear.  And I was totally addicted."

The only thing thing Lori Anne thought would make life even better would be owning her own business.  "Inspired by the .com boom in 2000, I left Goldman Sachs to start my own consulting firm (Pebble Alley LLC) to help other Wall Street firms maximize the potential of their employees" Wardi said. "I couldn’t have been happier. For about a year, things were literally perfect. I had great “big-brand” clients, I was doing work that I loved—and I was making more money than ever before."

The National 9/11 Memorial at the 
World Trade Center Ground Zero site.

(Photo from Bigstock)

That's when her - and America's - world was suddenly turned upside down. "Then the 9/11 attack happened - and right alongside of the World Trade Center, my business crumbled, too. “Now what?, I thought long and hard. But no clear answers emerged. Instead, a million ideas for businesses I could start, products or services I could sell, websites I could create and more flooded my brain. For each idea I had, I bought the related Web address. Before I knew it, I owned more than a hundred domain names," Wardi said.

"One day, someone called me and wanted to buy one of my domains. That day changed my life, because I learned that domain names are like digital real estate and can potentially be extremely valuable. What a concept!," Wardi marveled.

"My domain addiction only grew from there. Hundreds of domains turned into thousands. When I realized I was spending far more time on domain names than I was on my consulting practice, I decided to turn it into a full time business in 2004.  That’s when I launched Dream Big Media with a good friend of mine. We called it Dream Big Media because we were both extremely inspired by all the promise and potential of the Internet – and how with enough grit and determination, any seed of an idea could be brought to life in a big way online."

"During the Dream Big Media days, it’s fair to say I was a full-fledged domain junky," Wardi said. "I was working around the clock to learn how to find high value domain names, how to sell and trade domain names, develop websites, blog, use Google Adwords and Adsense, write Web copy and more. There were definitely highs and lows. Since domain investing is something of a junky sport, you spend a lot of time feeling “high.”  Most domain investors have probably experienced the euphoria that comes along with nabbing a great domain name that you just know in your heart is valuable – one that everyone else seems to have missed."

"I can think of countless occasions when I would find myself on a domain buying bender, feeling pretty high at 2 or 3 am, when the rest of the world was sleeping, and I had some “light bulb” moment about a new trend or opportunity where I was sure I could corner the domain market.  The lows generally came the next morning.  I would call it a “domain hangover.”  That’s when you wake up and get the confirmation email from GoDaddy (or your registrar of choice) reminding you that the night before you purchased 100+ domain names – and you think – “oh boy, what did I do this time!?” Wardi smiled ruefully.

"Generally, the biggest highs would come when we would sell a domain name for a great profit.  Our best was selling a name that we bought for $1,200 for $84,000 a few months later.  You can see how that kind of result can become addictive!  Unfortunately, that was a one-time deal – and none of our future sales ever came close."

"The lows came at renewal time each year.  When you have thousands of domain names to manage, it can become a pretty expensive endeavor. In those days, my spending typically outpaced my earnings by a pretty good margin. It was pretty depressing, actually. My friends and family were really worried that my career still hadn’t gotten back “on track.” When I would excitedly brag about my latest domain name

Lori Anne Wardi - the domain investor -
at the 2007 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East 
conference  in Hollywood, Florida.

(Photo by Barbara Neu)

conquests and Internet marketing exploits, they could only roll their eyes and admonish me to “get a job,” Wardi remembered.

"My poor parents were so worried. My dad gave me pep talks about how my old law firm would surely love to hire me back. And my mom, urged me regularly to get a job with the government, “because they have such good benefits.” I would often joke with her that perhaps the DMV or the Post Office could use someone with my skill set."

"While my income during much of my 30s was wildly inconsistent, I somehow knew I was on the right path. A path to where, I still didn’t know. All I knew was that I loved what I was doing, I loved what I was learning and I loved all the ideas, opportunities and possibilities I was exploring every day. I was happy and confident that one day it would all make sense.  And then one day it finally did."

Juan Diego Calle
CEO, .CO Internet S.A.S.
(Original administrator of the .CO Registry)

"I met Juan Diego Calle in 2007-2008. We hit it off right away. He had this big idea about turning Colombia’s .CO domain extension into the world’s next great Web address – the first true rival to the .com dynasty," Lori Anne recalled. "Given all my years in the domain space, I knew better than anyone the frustration people felt with the lack of good domains. I also knew how exciting it was to find the perfect domain name for your business, brand or blog. The project captured my imagination like nothing ever had before."

"Although I’d never held a marketing job in my life, and had no idea how to run a Domain Registry - I convinced him that I could get the job done - even though secretly I was not so sure!," Lori Anne laughed. "Not to sound hokey, but I think it was a role I was born to do."

"Launching and building .CO was truly a blessing. I loved what I was doing and gave it every thing I had.  My heart, my soul – my every waking hour.  But the amazing thing was – I was not alone.  Every member of our phenomenal team had the same level of absolute love and dedication. We launched the .CO domain to the world in 2010. Since then, people in more than 200 countries have registered millions of 

.CO domain names – including some of the world’s biggest brands and most innovative startups."

"We had a big vision for .CO – we wanted to change the fabric of the Internet; to turn the letters to the right of the dot from just being a commodity - into being a community – and to create the world’s first TLD “brand.”  We wanted to become the domain of choice for the world’s movers, shakers, dreamers, innovators and entrepreneurs. By and large, we did what we set out to do.  Today .CO remains one of the top domain extensions in the world – used by some of the coolest companies on the planet," Wardi said.

"As for how we did it – I am certain that the secret sauce was the magic of the team.  It all started at the top, with the leadership of Juan Diego Calle, who is someone I respect beyond measure. Wise beyond his years, he was an exceptional and inspirational leader with a knack for putting the right people in the right roles – and trusting his team to get the job done without micro-managing the details.  Nicolai Bezsonoff, Eduardo Santoyo, Crystal Peterson, Jose Rasco, Linda Koritkoski – and many others – each were mission critical to the success of .CO."

"What I was most grateful for was that, for the first time in my life, I was able to fully tap into the power of my ADD brain. Thanks, in part, to some of my crazy ideas, impulsiveness, and willingness to take risks – .CO was able to strike big deals with companies like Twitter, Overstock, Google, Amazon, and 500 Startups; to create dozens of strategic partnerships with tech companies, incubators, accelerators and startup communities; and to create a thriving community of .CO-ers around the globe who love and identify with the .CO brand." Wardi said.

"I truly believe that ADD is what allowed me to think differently and approach domain marketing differently than it had been done in the past.  And that has taught me that sometimes, the things you think are your greatest deficits in 

Lori Anne Wardi during .CO's big ramp up.

life, might just turn out to be your greatest gifts. I truly believe that any success I have had is distinctly because of my ADD diagnosis, not in spite of it.  For that reason, I’m always preaching to people who have kids with ADD to treat it as a blessing – instead of a curse.  For me, it certainly has been."

Today .CO is widely regarded as the textbook example of how to launch and gain recognition for a new TLD and several new TLDs like .CLUB seem to have been following the .CO playbook and making inroads with the same techniques. That begs the question, "If it worked so well for .CO why don't they all do it?

".CO had the benefit of a head start of a couple of years on all the new gTLDs," Wardi noted. "During that time we spent tens of millions of dollars on marketing and building the .CO brand – as well as working with our registrar partners to gain the attention of consumers.  We even invested in three Super Bowl ads in tandem with Go Daddy.  With upward of 1,000 new TLDs to compete with, getting the mind share of consumers is definitely more difficult today."

"This said, I do think some TLDs are finding ways to cut through the clutter in a meaningful way.  .CLUB is the perfect example. The .CLUB team is absolutely, positively passionate about their mission – and as a result, they are always out in the field connecting directly with consumers.  Their passion is palpable and their enthusiasm completely contagious. And 

consumers can see that.  All the other registries don’t follow suit because that kind of passion and purpose is simply not easy to replicate.  It’s especially difficult for registries with large portfolios of TLDs.  The good news is that there is plenty of room for a lot of different business models to succeed in today’s marketplace," Wardi said.

When Neustar acquired the .CO Registry in 2014 they wanted Wardi as well as the extension and in her new role as a VP there she is still immersed in domains. "Neustar has been at the forefront of shaping the Internet’s infrastructure for nearly two decades, and I am so proud to be a part of this company.' Wardi said. "Neustar has never been one to toot its own horn, so forgive me for shamelessly bragging about the fact that we are now the world’s largest registry services provider.  We lead the industry in launching, managing and growing Internet name spaces for over 250 of the world’s biggest brands (like .Barclays, .Chase, .IBM, etc.), some of the most innovative entrepreneurs (like .CLUB, Famous Four Media, etc.), and most esteemed world governments (like .US, .AU, .NYC and others)."

"I have been fortunate to serve as the General Manager for the .NYC registry. Working directly with the De Blasio Administration, we launched the .NYC TLD in October of 2014.  We are really proud that .NYC has become the world’s largest city TLD - beating out cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Las Vegas and Tokyo for the distinction.  We are also really excited to see that the .NYC domain has been widely adopted, and continues to gain momentum with small businesses, startups and solopreneurs throughout all five boroughs of New York City," the native New Yorker noted. 

"With the launch of .NYC, our team was able to apply many of the lessons we learned from the .CO launch – everything from how to hone in on our target market, to what events to sponsor, to what kinds of partnerships to pursue.  We were able to execute on our plans far more quickly and with a much greater sense of confidence – simply because we had learned from the lessons of the past."

"As a proud New Yorker myself, helping to launch and grow the .NYC domain has been a particularly rewarding experience," Wardi said. "I love seeing my hometown leading the way in digital innovation.  The .NYC name space is really starting to pop, with more high profile sites launching every day, like Digital.nyc, We.nyc, TTP.nyc, Silicon.nyc and Link.nyc. You can learn more about the .NYC TLD at OwnIt.nyc."

Lori Anne added. "I think the local geo namespaces are just getting started, and in the next round of TLDs this is a category ripe for massive growth.  I suspect that eventually, every major city in the world will want to launch and develop their own city’s TLD."

Wardi is also bullish on .brands (new domain extensions that represent some of the world's best known companies). Many in the new gTLD space think .brands will play a critical role in the public recognizing and accepting new domain extensions of all kinds. "The world’s leading brands are beginning to leverage their .brand TLDs in a way that, over time, will dramatically shift the future of digital marketing – and business – as we know it," Wardi opined.

"In the past twelve months plus, we’ve seen major brands go live with .brand websites in some way, shape or form, including Google, Dell, Chanel, Microsoft, BMW, Audi, Barclays, Cisco, Orange, Bloomberg, Fox, Shell, Deloitte, Canon, BNP Paribas and Saxo, to name just a few. Google launched a new blog called “The Keyword” at www.blog.google, consolidating news and updates from 19 different corporate and product blogs. It also launched its own retail domain presence at www.domains.google.

Companies like Canon (www.global.canon), Barclays Bank (www.home.barclays) and BNP Paribas (www.mabanque.bnpparibas) have fully transitioned their entire corporate web presence to their respective .brand TLDs and major brands like BMW (www.next100.bmw), Philips (www.sonicare.philips), and Shell (www.buzz.shell) have all launched innovative campaigns on their .brand domains," Wardi noted.

"People often ask why these brands would bother establishing a new web presence on their .brand TLDs when they already have a perfectly presence established on their existing .com (or other legacy) domain.  There are actually many reasons for the shift," Wardi said. "Big brands are operating in the most complex and disruptive market in history. Confronted with continual waves of innovation and competition, and fragmented marketing channels dominated by Google and Facebook, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for brands to stay connected to their customers. .Brand TLDs give brands an unprecedented level of control, flexibility, and security for their digital presence – shifting the balance of power away from distribution platforms and back into the hands of the brands themselves."

"Owning your brand on both sides of the dot provides infinite possibilities for creativity and innovation.   It tells customers and prospects that your content is legitimate – if it ends in your .brand, they know they can trust it. And because you control the entire domain ecosystem, .brand TLDs give provide access to new data sources that allow brands to take personalization and localization to new levels - more deeply connecting and engaging with consumers than ever before."

"At Neustar, we believe deeply in the .brand movement, and have already started leveraging our own .neustar branded TLD.  For instance, if you’re interested in learning more about career opportunities at Neustar, you can do that now

at www.Careers.neustar, and to learn more about our Registry Services, you can visit www.Registry.neustar.  We’ve got big plans for our .neustar TLD, so stay tuned over the months ahead as we continue to deploy our plans," Wardi advised, adding, "Anyone who wants to follow along as the .brand revolution continues to take shape can visit our new website at www.MakeWay.world - where we chronicle all the latest news, developments and insights on all things .brand."

As bullish as Lori Anne is on .brands and geo TLDs, she knows not all TLDs will find an audience. "I find it impossible to lump together all new gTLDs and say whether they will or won’t be a success as a group," Wardi said. "It’s similar to asking what the prospects for “tech startups” or “small businesses” will be going forward."

"The answer in each of these cases is that some new gTLDs, some startups, and some small businesses will succeed wildly, some will just scrape by, and some will fail miserably.  In each case the answer will depend on core business principles, like the vision of leadership; the viability of the strategy; the team’s ability to execute; the level of marketing investment - and the true value that the TLD provides to consumers."

As is the case in any business, there will 
be winners and losers in the new gTLD space.

(Image from Bigstock)

"The Internet is and will continue to grow every year.  As more people come online in every corner of the world, the need for digital branding options will only continue to grow.  The new gTLDs that provide consumers with meaningful, memorable branding options at the right time, at the right price and through the right channels, will succeed.  Many, like .CLUB and .NYC, have proven that already."

While Lori Anne's "domain addiction" obviously remains unabated she does have some healthy "outside" interests like traveling and exploring new places. "I am particularly enamored with all things Italy," She said. "Also, my fiancé is the publisher of The Cuba Journal (www.cubajournal.co - .CO, of course!), so he also has me inspired by all things Cuba. I recently had the opportunity to visit Havana, and I’m enthusiastically planning my next trip back!"

Smooth sailing - Lori Anne Wardi and her fiancé  

In closing, Lori Anne added, "I’m also enjoying getting to know my new home city of Miami – and taking advantage of the sun, sailing, food and other amazing things this beautiful city has to offer.  I particularly love hosting our friends and family who visit from out of town – and have recently fallen in love with cooking – so now I can even feed them when they come!," Lori Anne smiled - no doubt thinking about a potentially unregistered cooking-related domain as she said goodbye!  


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