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The State of the Industry 2020: 22 Domain Pros Dissect 2019 & Predict What's Coming in the New Year & Decade Ahead

By Ron Jackson

Welcome to our 16th annual State of the Industry Cover Story! Every January since 2005 we have called on leading experts from all major sectors of the domain industry to find out what they regarded to be the most important developments in our business (or their sector in it) over the past year and what they are predicting for the new year ahead. Since we are also starting a new decade, we are also including some commentary on the longer range prospects for our industry at large.

We called on successful domain investors, developers and brokers and corporate leaders from a variety of categories

Image from Bigstock

including registrar and registry operators, aftermarket sales platforms and conglomerates that offer all of those services and more. We also called on a multi-talented domain attorney who also serves as General Counsel for the Internet Commerce Association (the non-profit organization dedicated to protecting domain registrant's rights. 

We were delighted to be able to assemble an outstanding panel of 22 professional domain men and women who know this business inside out. To keep things fresh we mix up our line up every year. This year, 16 of the 22 panelists are different from last year, which is a testament to the wealth of talent we have in this industry.  

So, let's get started with an introduction to the experts who have graciously taken time out of their busy schedules to share their insight with you this year: 

 

Our 2020 Panel of Experts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Row 1: (left to right): Michael Castello (Castello Cities Internet Network), Rick Schwartz, Ilze Kaulins-Plaskacz (ExcellentDomains.ca), Fred Mercaldo (Geocentric Media).

Row 2: Frederick Schiwek (Zonat S.A.), James Booth (Phenom.com), Joe Uddeme (NameExperts.com), Kate Buckley (Buckley Media).

Row 3:  Ryan McKegney (DomainAgents.com), Tess Diaz (MediaOptions), Bill Sweetman (Name Ninja), George Hong (Guta.com). 

Row 4: Paul Nicks (GoDaddy), Michael Robrock (Sedo), David Warmuz (Trellian/Above.com), Marco Hoffman (InterNetX).

Row 5: Sandeep Ramchandani (Radix), Scott Pruitt (Web.com Group/NameJet), Jothan Frakes (Plisk.com), Zak Muscovitch (Internet Commerce Association & The Muscovitch Law Firm), 

Row 6: Jeff Gabriel (Saw.com), Amanda Waltz (Saw.com) - video interview

Domain Investors

We have again grouped our experts into categories (though many cross boundaries between one or more). On this page, those are Domain Investors & Developers and Domain Brokers. On Page 2 we have Corporate Leaders, plus a couple of special sections - attorney Zak Muscovitch on Domain Law and the Internet Commerce Association, plus a video interview with Jeff Gabriel & Amanda Waltz commenting on the long term forecast for domain names. Having set the stage, it's time to start the show!

Domain Investors & Developers

Michael Castello
CEO, Castello Cities Internet Network (CCIN)

In addition to being a pioneering and highly successful and visionary domain investor (with sales including Whisky.com at $3.1 million), Michael Castello has developed multiple successful websites, including PalmSprings.com, Nashville.com and DayCare.com to name just a few. Michael and his brother David were profiled in our December 2006 Cover Story. Since we are heading into not just a new year but also a new decade, I have been working on a feature story with Michael that will be published in February, that will cover a subject he has been talking about for years - the long term health of the industry and what he sees as dire threats to it. This is an excerpt from that upcoming story that both touches on where we are as we start a new year but the need for changes in 2020 and well beyond.

Michael Castello
CEO, Castello Cities Internet Network

While I feel I am a positive, optimistic person, I don’t really have a lot of positive things to say about the situation this industry is in -- much less any other striving industry that is struggling against repressive institutions and corporations that are now almost trillion dollar mega-titans of capitalism.

I’m not blaming those of us that make up the majority of this industry. It’s not our fault. I am laying the blame on those that believe their sacrosanct position of authority is above reproach. Simply put, most are gaming the system -- those who leverage their positions to form an alliance or cabal outside of their consecrated roles to ensure their survival at the expense of others and our industry.

How did these entities get to the point where there were no repercussions? I see those that are in positions of power leave their posts to gain lucrative positions with companies that they were trusted to protect us from. That is gaming the system. Profit in pursuit of happiness is a cornerstone of this country, but to sell or sacrifice an entrusted position for 

personal profit leaves us morally bankrupt and weakens the bonds that hold us together. Distrust ensues and attacks abound.

The sale of .org last year, one of the legacy extensions, to a private equity firm is a good example. Many non-profit organizations built their charities over many years to engender trust within the .org sphere. How can ICANN, a “non-profit organization”, allow the .org universe to fall under private control with no true security for its protection into the future? What made the legacy extensions were the people. Now, these people have no rights to their virtual futures. This is akin to allowing the House of Representatives to fall under the control of a company like Amazon. What is next -- .net to Apple, .com to Google? Once that happens, our hope of individual freedoms in the virtual world will be all but gone.

The core of ICANN’s legitimacy and purpose lies in the legacy extensions of .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, .gov, and the country ccTLDs that helped people create the original web. That should be its bedrock, its foundation. The growth of ICANN came by the commercialization of its new extensions which helped it expand, make money and become a top-down commercial entity. But that conflicts with its original mandate to protect its most basic users as a non-profit, bottom-up, consensus-driven multi-stakeholder governed organization. Now, it is neither governed nor non-profit, which begs the question-- does the Internet again require the America government as oversight until a new universal Bill of Rights is created by the international community which encompassing the realities of virtual tangible and intangibles? The powerful have become too powerful, the multitudes are suffering.

I believe that most see, as I do, the great potential of the web. Our ability to grow as an industry will not get any better if these companies continue to control the flow of internet traffic. A great domain name with the distributional power of the internet should be a no-brainer for success. What these monopolies have done over the last 10 years is mask the internet, and thus make us a third-party to it. Domain names counter that logic and allow the freedom to connect peer-to-peer with direct navigation.

There is a lot to be done to the current status of these trillion-dollar companies before we have a chance to create our own virtual universe to prosper within. In the meantime, we must wait this period out and focus our efforts on the health and love of the domain industry, with hope that our leadership will push an effort to establish an Internet Bill of Rights that all countries can unite around. This will benefit all people with a balanced, equitable stake in the internet in which we thrive.


Rick Schwartz

DomainKing.com

If there is anyone in the domain investment world that doesn't need an introduction it is Rick Schwartz, AKA The Domain King (but for newcomers, we will give him one anyway)! Rick has made millions of dollars since he started investing in domains in 1990s and also had a 10-year run promoting the popular T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences around the world from 2004-2014 with his then partner Howard Neu. He then entered what he called "semi-retirement" and did take some time to enjoy the fruits his labor but in recent years he had been getting ever more active with his writing and even a return to the conference game last summer with an exclusive event in Asheville, North Carolina. Schwartz is well-known for calling things as he sees them and letting the chips fall where they may. That has earned him devoted followers and critics alike, but no one can argue with his track record as an investor. 2020 is a synonym for seeing clearly, making it a good time to re-visit Rick and find out what he is seeing now.

Rick Schwartz
DomainKing.com

2020 is going to be just a fabulous year! It's already off to a fast start. Companies are flushed with cash and they need to make that money work for them. It comes down to two words -  re-branding and upgrading.  

Businesses that have gotten domains that may have not been prime to begin with want prime domains now to help them grow and be taken more seriously. It's a fact that shows itself nearly daily now.  Businesses that made the mistake of using non .com domains have realized their mistake and want to upgrade to a dotcom domain because of their own self-interest and survival. Confusion is a real issue. Looking silly to your peers is a real issue. Looking weak to your customers is a real issue. It may not be an issue for a guy trying to sell a domain but it sure as hell is an issue for anyone that has their business growth stunted because of leaks that might be invisible at the onset but are there day after day after day!  

They don’t care what domainers think, they only care about what they think and their bottom

line and in that regard, they only have one choice and they all know it now. It’s mandatory if they want to grow and become part of the largest franchise ever known to mankind. The dotcom franchise. If you add up all the net worth of every company on earth using the dotcom brand, the number is unfathomable. Think about that. There has never been a brand used by so many and so widespread in the history of the world.  

As we go into the seventh year of the new GTLDs they are meaningless. They haven’t been adopted by almost anybody. Circulation is poor. So many registrations are questionable or penny promotional. The majority are parked and not in use. nor will they ever be. The top 25 new GTLDs account for 25 million registrations according to ntldstats.com while the other 500-1000 extensions split up a mere 6 million. Circulation is poor. Very poor. The poor rollout, the poor marketing, poor circulation, and rolling out hundreds of extensions at one time was a death wish. A demolition derby and just look at all the carcasses laying around.   

The registry themselves smothered their own product by holding back anything they deemed to have any value whatsoever. They wanted the same result as the .com but they certainly didn’t use the same playbook. There was no such thing as premium domains with Network Solutions. The market was made NATURALLY not ARTIFICIALLY!   

Country code extensions with dual purposes have outperformed all the new GTLDs put together. Even .mobi had more resales than .xyz according to thedomains.com via namebio.com. In 2019,  .mobi had in excess of 2 times the number of reported sales as that "High Flying" .xyz!  

.Org has legs. Even .net domains seem to be in better shape than any of the new extensions. I wrote about these extensions gathering strength more than 6 years ago on RicksBlog.com. That THEY would be the real beneficiary of the misguided new GTLD program when they had a boardroom discussion and examined ALL of their options. That hundreds would die on the vine. Each blog post time stamped. It was easy to see the hundreds of pitfalls that so many want to remain blind to. It's all there. Numbers don't lie, people lie!  

Rick Schwartz speaking at the 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Miami

To me 2020 is a year of total clarity. Total clarity to end-users. Not sure about domain investors blinded by their own need and not that of the market. Get on board or get run over.  2020 is a year of clarity! How could it be anything else?  

I was around waiting for the domain market to breech the $100,000 level. Then the $500,000 level. Then breaking the 7 figure barrier. In 2019 the largest registrar in the world, Godaddy,  brokered a memorable 8 figure sale in Voice.com  

8-figure sales will be as uncommon as 7-figure sales WERE at one time. But now that barrier has been broken wide open and so we should expect to see more as time goes on. We already know there have been a number of unreported 8-figure sales over the years. But a public sale like this is much more meaningful and beneficial for all.  

It's like anything else, dabble with anything you like, but there is only one blue-chip extension. Only one gold standard. Your portfolio should at least be weighted down with 75%+++ .com domains and then knock your socks off if you want, just don't expect much for that other ??%.  

Happy, Healthy and prosperous New Year to all!

Ilze Kaulins-Plaskacz
Founder, ExcellentDomains.ca

Ilze Kaulins-Plaskacz, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, is a veteran domain investor who has success with both .com and .ca domains (.ca is the ccTLD for Canada). She also has one of the most interesting life stories in the industry, one that we told in a 2015 DN Journal Cover Story. Ilze knows from experience that new trends in business and society can trigger great opportunities for domain investors who spot those trends early and secure domains that will be in demand when those trends trigger explosive economic growth.

Ilze Kaulins-Plaskacz
Founder, ExcellentDomains.ca

When Ron asked me to comment about the most significant trend  in my category, which is Domain Investment, Cannabis quickly came to mind.  If anyone does not know yet, recreational Cannabis is totally legal across all of Canada and gaining acceptance legally all around the world.  I have 5 newsletters in my inbox daily to keep me up to speed on this lucrative industry.

My first experience with Cannabis as an investment opportunity came from someone we all know and respect - Karen Bernstein.  Karen, who was, and still is, a regular legal expert and speaker on domain panels all over the world, was on the leading edge of the Cannabis phenomena as early as 2013.  She procured an introduction for me to the very selective Arcview Group, an Angel investor community for which I am forever grateful.

After attending my first ArcView conference in 2017, which coincided with the MJ Biz Conference in Las Vegas, I realized then that I was already late to the Cannabis domain registration party.   Investment opportunities were plentiful to get on the ground floor of a

start-up, but all the valuable generic, one word  Cannabis .coms were registered (even the bad ones). Enterprising domain investors had the foresight to register one word, generic Cannabis domains even before medicinal marijuana was accepted. After sitting on these domains for years the fruits of their labor are finally coming to bear, as recreational legalization is picking up steam, and fast!    

We all know of the famous Kush.com sale by Sedo Senior Broker, Dave Evanson, reported in November of 2018 for a tidy $500,000 USD. Then, only 4 months later,  The CBDoil.com sale for $500,000 in March 2019.  According to Elliot Silver of DomainInvesting.com, over 400 CBD related domain sales were publicly reported between 2014 - 2019 based on stats from NameBio.com. I am sure that figure is increasing as legalization is occurring rapidly and companies are looking for branding. As a Canadian, specializing in the .CA country code, I have already reaped the benefits of several profitable domain sales that are a direct result of this legalization.

I think we all know that this is a domain investment opportunity, but is registering a Cannabis domain using one of the many available new extensions smart?  I think not! Just like the cryptocurrency boom, domain investors have put their creativity to work to snatch up every imaginable domain they can think of. I decided to check out the secondary market to see who was buying what and I was not surprised to see ridiculous registrations using new extensions. There are literally thousands of domains registered on websites (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty) offering marijuana related domains with extensions like .condos and .bike and .repair.  The “makes no sense” TLD list goes on and on.  

Ilze Kaulins-Plaskacz (at right) with friends Jodi Chamberlain and 
Karen Bernstein
(center) at the 2017 NameSummit conference in New York City.

I never thought the thousands of new extensions would be a good investment and I still don’t. My business plan is simple. Save your money.  Purchase a solid .com, make sure the “whois” or contact info is public, and be patient.  If your domain is a good one, you will get contacted.

Oh, and I have some advice to all website owners selling domains - put YOUR NAME on your website.  The internet already has a sketchy reputation, so would you buy a $50,000 domain from a website that has an “about us” page, that has no real person listed?  I found at least two websites selling Cannabis domains that wanted more information from a potential buyer than they were willing to give regarding their identity.   Seriously?! 


Fred Mercaldo

Founder & CEO, GeoCentricMedia.com 

Fred Mercaldo, a founder of Scottsdale.com, is one of the pioneers of developing geodomain assets into profitable businesses. His company is currently marketing the best big city .com geodomain portfolio ever assembled, including LosAngeles.com, SanFrancisco.com, Philadelphia.com and 20 more great city domains.

Fred Mercaldo
Founder & CEO
Geocentric Media, Inc.

In my category, the pure City geo domain business, some very significant developments occurred, and will continue to occur in 2020 and beyond. We are experiencing the major change in how the public consumes their news, events and just about everything…no longer will daily print newspapers be relevant. Earlier in 2019, something significant happened with the Boston Globe. Their digital subscribers outnumbered their print subscribers: 112,241 to 98,978. Trust me, this number will continue to grow in favor of digital. Only 3 other publications can boast similar results: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post; no other US newspapers have more digital subscribers at this point. 

Because of technology, we live in a society of all forms of information being available in real time. Newspapers deliver “news” on a 24 hour delay. 2020 and beyond will finally see the commitment of major media and daily print to abandon their daily print, and fully commit to all of the opportunities digital delivery of their content offers. They have no choice. They will

figure out the monetization opportunities that digital offers, which is significantly higher than what traditional print offers.

The big winners of the digital transformation of news delivery will be the pure City .com domain brands. As major media and daily print turn to digital as the way their content will be viewed and consumed by the public, you will see traditional major media, and some well-funded “new” digital media companies flock to acquire the best digital assets; and these are the pure City brands for each City. While it has been a slow transition, the time has come. Additionally, in this era of “fake news”, the organizations with the most reliable and trusted authority brand names will have the opportunity to dominate their digital markets for decades to come. The pure City .com brands are the obvious choices, and you will see some major announcements and developments in this sector in 2020.

Frederick Schiwek
CEO, Zonat S.A. 

To get an industry view from a European perspective we contacted industry veteran Frederick Schiwek, the CEO at Luxembourg- based Zonat.net, an international domain registration, hosting and Internet services company dedicated to the creation, evolution and growth of small businesses and enterprises around the globe. When we first met Frederick over a decade ago he was focused on domain investing but, like many others, saw the wisdom in getting involved in developing online businesses on relevant domain names.

Frederick Schiwek
CEO, Zonat S.A.

As I moved a bit away from regular domain investing and developed some premium domains in the hosting vertical for example,  yourwebsite.com and webhosting.club, my focus switched. Of course NamesCon Europe and Namescon Global are still two of the most important events, but so is Cloudfest, the giant annual hosting event in Rust, Germany. One of the latest important events is the switch of control in .org, and I wonder if this is becoming a trend if non for profit organizations are giving up and transferring control of TLDs to pure investors.

Overall we have been seeing a consolidation for some time on the Registry level, so I would say the diversity is at risk. What happens if registries take more control of ccTLDs? I wonder if this the right way.

Now, it's a New Year, new Game, new Luck. We will focus in 2020 on  strengthening our position in the website builder and hosting market. We will develop more of our Premium Hosting Domains to extend our network of Hosting Brands. 2020 will be an important year for us as we will acquire more WebHosting companies to grow faster.

Domain Brokers

James Booth
Founder & CEO, Phenom.com

James Booth is a wildly successful young domain broker who recently rebranded from BQDN.com (Best Quality Domain Names) to Phenom.com. James, who has put many six-figure sales on the DNJournal charts in recent years, will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming NamesCon Global conference in Austin, Texas

James Booth
Founder & CEO, Phenom.com

The most significant thing for myself was seeing the markets change during 2019. The .io and .co market has really picked up both wholesale and retail as a secondary option to .com and also short .coms are stronger than ever, such as short powerful English words like Let.com and Woke.com. I have also seen the markets with short brandables do well for names like FPay.com, BetX.com, GBet.com. These short brandables are gaining a lot of attention right now. I feel the market is still very strong on a retail level but it is getting quieter on a wholesale basis. 

Looking ahead, I honestly believe 2020 will be the biggest year to come for me. I think domains on an end user basis are hotter than ever and getting much more scarce so companies will do what they can to acquire their EMD (exact match domain) or domains to protect their brands. I see the .io market especially doing well going forward. If you are an end user you can likely pick up a one-word .io for under $100k right now which I think will change shortly as more get taken and the prices will soon reach 6 figures on those. My focus for 2020 will be similar, Short English .com names, short brandable names like BetX.com, short powerful one-word .io names and of course LLL.coms. 

Joe Uddeme
Principal, NameExperts.com

After five years as the Director of Business Development for DomainHoldings, Joe Uddeme left in 201to start his own shop at NameExperts.com and he has a very successful run since then with a number of high profile charted sales. 

Joe Uddeme
Principal, NameExperts.com

As a broker I think two things stick out from 2019. 1. GDPR/ privacy, It has become increasingly more difficult to locate the rightful owner of certain domain assets. As a result there has been an uptick in buyside requests. Clients are having a hard time deciphering proper ownership via traditional Whois search tools. Experienced brokers can add exceptional value to clients searching for domain name inventory for sale. 2. Mergers and Consolidation are also a major trend in the aftermarket domain space. Clients are merging or being acquired and domain name inventory becomes unused and held for long-term equity, or a potential business plan down the road. 

2020 should be a fantastic year for aftermarket domain names. I expect continued growth in .COM and a gradual decline of GTLD registrations. Clients will continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. Short, brandable and pronounceable words, ending in .COM is where the market will continue to flow. I also think it will be a good year for .CO with continued growth for 2020 and beyond. There is always the challenge of a economic market correction, but for now things continue to blossom in the domain name aftermarket. 

Kate Buckley 
Founder & Principal, Buckley Media

Seeing domain name sales brokered by Kate Buckley high up on the DNJournal.com charts has become commonplace in recent years as Kate continues to consistently ring up six-figure or higher sales.  Kate has a fascinating life story as well, one that we told in a 2018 DN Journal Cover Story.

Kate Buckley
Founder, Buckley Media

For me, the biggest event of 2019 in our industry was the pending sale of the dot-org registry (PIR) to a private equity firm (Ethos Capital). If you haven’t been following along, here’s an excellent recap. The backlash was voluminous and vociferous, attracting coverage even from the redoubtable New York Times.  

And now .COM is also up for price hikes. The Department of Commerce has extended Verisign's contract to run the registry until 2024, lifting a price freeze imposed by the Obama Administration. That means that, starting December 2020, Verisign will be able to increase the price of .COMs by 7% each year. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to join the Internet Commerce Association—the ICA is a staunch advocate working to protect the ownership rights of domain owners. This is an important non-profit trade association that every serious domain investor and operator should join.

The spectacular sale of Voice.com for $30 million cash to Blockchain-based social media platform Block.one also made quite a splash, as did the accompanying mainstream press, 

including this quote by Michael J. Saylor (CEO of the selling entity, MicroStrategy): "Ultra-premium Domain Names like these can help a company achieve instant brand recognition, ignite a business, and massively accelerate value creation.” MicroStrategy also partially ascribed the record-setting price to billions of search results for the term “voice.” Isn’t that interesting?   

Speaking of interesting, I was fascinated by Aron Meystedt’s foray into fractional domain ownership this past year with NNR.com. (Meystedt sold 300 shares in the domain for $100 each, valuing it at $30,000). I think that’s smart and timely, and—with proper strictures and structures in place—could be an incredibly important path-to-ownership for (to purloin a phrase) .COM “Dreamers” (domainers who would like to own premium domains but can’t afford them). 

Lastly, I saw increased end-user interest in turnkey digital solutions, e.g. a dotcom that comes with other notable TLD extensions, and/or trademark, and/or exact-match social handles. It’s a valuable strategic opportunity for well-funded startups, and I’m seeing a lot of interest in our assets under brokerage that provide these one-stop solutions, as well as requests for these sorts of assets with our buyer-brokerage services.

Kate Buckley speaking at the 2019 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas.

In 2020, we’ll continue to see growth in the top 2% of names (ultra-premium .COMs), with end user sales of one-word, English Dictionary .coms increasing dramatically in both sales numbers and volume. I also think we’ll see nice growth with solid two-word .COM, as many companies can’t afford a short .COM and are leery of many, if not all, of the new gTLDs as long-term platforms for their brands. On the other hand, I expect continued depression in the bottom end of the market. In a word: Polarization. Great names will be even in more demand, lower-quality domain names will continue to lose momentum.  

All signs point to continued consolidation in the space as well as more private equity deals. And, I hope, significant collaboration and innovation within the industry. Whether that’s in cooperative efforts between companies—including brokerages!—or continued development of the fractional ownership model and other options, this is an industry ripe for disruption.  

Lastly, a strong opportunity I see for domain investors is the uncertain economic forecast. There are storm clouds on the horizon; when the dam breaks, many investors will need to liquidate their holdings at prices much lower than previously offered. A wise move would be to have cash on hand for that time. As my father is fond of saying, “Keep your powder dry.”

Ryan McKegney 
CEO, DomainAgents.com

DomainAgents.com has been making waves ever since the company was founded by brothers Ryan and Phil McKegney in 2012. The last three years in a row DomainAgents won awards presented by Escrow.com as one of the top ten brokerages in total sales volume worldwide on the Escrow.com platform.

Ryan McKegney
CEO, DomainAgents.com

We often act as a buyer broker and it's hard to quantify, but it felt as though during this past year we didn't have to explain why a premium domain would be valuable to a startup or company rebranding. We may have reached a tipping point and the number of large sales this year lends weight to that theory. Education is always an ongoing endeavor, but I think more and more companies are realizing that they need to own their brand. Having a big following on social media is great, but the rules there are always changing. Owning your .com gives you a home that you control.

The domain industry is fairly mature now. A few years ago, it seemed new TLDs may shake things up, but that didn't happen, at least not in the aftermarket. A mature industry is ripe for rollups and private equity, as we've seen with .org and GoDaddy over the past number of years. I expect that will continue. Registrars and registries provide predictable income and that's attractive in this low interest rate environment.

Where we may still see a shake up is in larger macro issues in the broader culture and

economy. The US election looms large with some candidates talking about breaking up the tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Privacy and data security are also huge issues that have to be addressed. Given the controversy around .org and countries setting up their 'own' Internet, I wouldn't be surprised if ICANN found itself in the spotlight during the election.

While these broader issues don't usually directly address domain names, we saw recently with GDPR how policy decisions outside our industry can have unintended or unexpected consequences. Overall, I'm bullish about domain prices, but there are a lot of storm clouds that I'll be watching.

Tess Diaz 
Business Development Coordinator, MediaOptions.com

MediaOptions.com CEO Andrew Rosener obviously made moved when he got former GoDaddy Executive Accounts Director Tess Diaz to join his team as Business Development Coordinator. In addition to her contributions to the brokerage business, Tess has played a key role on the company's video interview website DomainSherpa.com.

Tess Diaz
Business Development Coordinator
Media Options

WITH MY DOMAIN SHERPA HAT, I SEE:

Communication and relationships are vital and rare in this all digital industry, and 2019's focus and growth in this area will pay off in 2020 and beyond.

- Behind the scenes at DomainSherpa, I see panelists and experts jumping at the opportunity to connect with other panelists, chatting beyond the professional filming section, and sometimes meeting for the first time. A new generation of true domain experts is arising, too!

- Rick Schwartz initiated the Asheville meetup with considerable positive feedback, inviting not only domainers but their families. DNJournal already highlighted the first business partnership resulting from the conference!

- Famously private first-rate domainer Alan Dunn built up his new Domain Stories podcast (announced Jan 2020), addressing the growing hunger for veteran perspectives.

- NamesCon put tremendous effort into creating networking and relationship-building opportunities at the Vegas & Portugal shows,

shows, with their efforts extending even to transitioning to Austin for future conferences. In particular, the number of corporate brand managers in attendance continues to rise.

WITH MY MEDIA OPTIONS HAT, I SEE:

The world, outside of domains, is changing: consumers buy differently, consumers view buying differently, and everyone wants more streamlined payment options.

The overall trend towards fractional ownership (cars, planes, bicycles, etc) continues to not just skyrocket, but to become an integral part of consumers' perspectives. A key component to expanding user adoption with domain names is to minimize the organizational change needed for acquisition, particularly the payment process. With increased offerings via instant escrow, leases, payment plans, etc, this flexibility nurtures what Drew Rosener famously calls, "growing the pie for everyone." Jeff Sass and Names.CLUB were particularly forward-thinking in the payment processing arena, and the entire industry is watching with baited breath to see the longer term outcome.

FOR THE DOMAIN INDUSTRY OVERALL:

At DomainSherpa, stories educate. At MediaOptions, stories sell. To me, the Voice.com story summarizes everything happening in the domain industry:

When Voice.com was acquired by a crypto company for a venture targeting social media influencers, the $30 million all cash acquisition via GoDaddy became the titan among giants for 2019 in this industry. What I saw underlined in this transaction mirrored what I heard from our many panelists on DomainSherpa:

- GoDaddy's dominance in many facets of the industry

- The vital importance of relationships in this digital industry (This was a repeat client for GoDaddy.)

- Crypto companies/investors understanding & investing in premium domain names

- Social media influencers as coveted currency

- Brands' ongoing and increasing adoption of premium domain names

- Premium domain name price increases due to increasing scarcity and increased demand

- The slow but growing transparency, seen by publicizing a significant domain sale instead of burying it in SEC filings

However, I believe it's a significant part of the story that later in the year, the new Voice.com owner was fined $24 million by the SEC - not for anything to do with Voice.com itself, but because of how they managed their Initial Coin Offering. This speaks to an unfortunate but nagging trend of 2019:

- It's still the cowboys and visionaries who understand best how a domain name adds value. Others do understand, but it's still the thought leaders and dreamers who grasp the fullness of the opportunity that domain names present.

At the 2019 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas, Tess Diaz accepting the Escrow.com Masters of Domains Award from Escrow.com GM Jackson Elsegood. Tess accepted on behalf of MediaOptions CEO Andrew Rosener who was named the #1 seller worldwide on the Escrow.com platform. At the time the awards were being presented Andrew was on another NamesCon stage taking part in a panel discussion. 

Looking ahead, the ultimate need for every domain investor, company, educator, broker, etc is essentially this, in my opinion:

The foundation for one quality universal appraisal process for premium domains will likely start taking form in 2020. Not the end result, of course, but the serious conversations, relationship growth, and reporting, data retention, collection and analytics necessary. 2020 is the year where thought leaders will be making commitments to this key issue.

On a similar note, for the domain market as a market itself, Giuseppe Graziano and Ivan Rasskazov's "State of the Industry" Liquid Domain Market quarterly report is the longest-running. We're nearing the amount of years needed to truly build year over year pictures of the market. In 2019, Escrow.com inaugurated a quarterly Domain Investment Index as well. When we have 5 and 10 years of these types of reports, and hopefully more, we'll be able to move forward even more as a market, but in 2020 the collective data will indeed help the foundations begin!

Once an appraisal protocol is built, the industry will explode. It will take time - years - but once it is out and universally adapted, ancillary industries and products will explode, as well as domain values (see: supply/demand) and sales themselves. Here's to 2020: prosperity, growth, and connection!

Bill Sweetman 
President & Lead Ninja, NameNinja.com

Bill Sweetman has been an internet professional for well over 20 years with experience in just about all aspects of the industry. He brokered one of 2019's biggest domain sales - Carrot.com at $565,000. Bill's skill set has made Name Ninja one of the top domain brokerages/consultancies in the business.

Bill Sweetman
President & Lead Ninja
Name Ninja

From my little corner of the world as a domain buyer broker, the most significant trend I noticed in 2019 was an increased enthusiasm and financial appetite on behalf of end-user buyers for one-word .com domain names. It almost felt like some of these end-user buyers had some sort of 'Eureka' moment during the year where they realized that these types of domains are indeed in limited supply and if they don't grab 'their' domain now that someone else would beat them to it.

 Related to this, I certainly saw quite a few cases in 2019 where potential buyers of a domain name sat on the fence too long and someone else came along and bought the domain, much to the horror of the procrastinating party. I always warn buyer clients that they should never assume they are the only potential buyer of a domain name, and last year this proved to be very true. 

As for the domain industry in general, the most noteworthy development last year was the controversial surprise announcement of the sale of the .org registry and the ensuing heated conversation this sparked in all corners of the globe. It's rare to see the mainstream media and so many different communities discussing our

arcane industry with such passion, and it's truly unfortunate that the optics of that deal have cast our entire industry in a negative light.

The now-not-so-new gTLDs have preoccupied a lot of people in the industry over the last five years and may have caused us to take our eyes off the ball in terms of what's really important in today's domain market. Our industry and many of its systems and processes are relatively archaic and ripe for disruption, take WHOIS for example, so I am cautiously optimistic that in 2020 we will see some exciting new products, services, and tools (from existing and new players) that leverage blockchain, A.I., open source, or other emerging technologies to shake things up a bit. We may be in for a wild ride this year, so fasten your seat belts, open your minds, and be ready to try new things.

George Hong 
Founder & CEO, Guta.com

George Hong, a native of China who lives in the U.S and maintains offices in both countries, is intimately familiar with key buyers and investors on both sides of the Pacific. When Chinese buyers became a major force in the domain aftermarket - especially at the high end of it - a few years ago, George's brokerage company, Guta.com, was experienced tremendous growth that catapulted the firm into the top tier of brokerage services.

George Hong
Founder & CEO
Guta.com

As reported in the Guta Premium Domain Sales Observation Report Year 2019 edition, the total sales count of one-word English .com domains increased by 87% from 2018 to 2019. The number of end-user sales of one-word English .com domains, increased by 71.6% from 2018 to 2019, indicating the market demand for one-word English .com domains significantly increased. Among the end-user sales was a record-breaking $30 million domain sale of Voice.com. Whether it is a one-off deal or not, this historic sale will undoubtedly be talked about and referred to in years to come. The blockchain end-user buyer, Block One, reportedly to have paid a hefty price for B1.com too.   

In the Chinese market, we have also seen cases of blockchain end-users paying high prices for domain names, such as XMX.com and HuoHuo.com, transaction prices reported being around RMB 7 figures to 8 figures.  

Whether it’s a startup or an established company, a domain upgrade can mean a lot to a business. IFS, a company with a multi-billion-dollar market cap, upgraded its domain from IFSWorld.com to IFS.com several months ago. The CEO and

 CMO of IFS posted public messages describing many benefits of owning IFS.com.  

The Guta Premium Domain Sales Observation Report revealed that: comparing with the sales data of 2018, the trading volume of NN.com, NNN.com, NNNN.com, NL.com, and LN.com increased significantly in 2019.  

The total sales count of 2-letter .com (LL.com) domains was 24 in 2019. Guta brokered the sales of 9 or 37.5% of them.

Chinese buyers accounted for the vast majority of domain name purchases in LL.com, NL.com, LN.com, NN.com, NNN.com, and NNNN.com categories. 

George Hong (Guta.com) speaking at the 2018 Global Digital Summit in Xiamen, China.

Coming into 2020, we can expect the global market demand for one-word English .com domains continue to grow. Short numeric .com domains will remain popular among Chinese end-users and investors. 

Google announced earlier this week that: “Last year, our search results on mobile gained a new look. That’s now rolling out to desktop results this week, presenting site domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded “Ad” label for ads.” (https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1216782591463813126)  

Some Twitter users commented that in the new Google format, Ad looks more and more similar to organic results. I have no trouble differentiate ads from organic results. The format puts a site’s domain name front and center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from. I think the format change is a great one for Google, Google users, and domain investors. It will help site owners, brand owners, and marketing professionals understand the importance of premium domain names. 

Brand owners will find it critical to get their brand match domain names. Site owners and marketing professionals will find that other than improving their site content, SEO techniques, and marketing skills, they should improve their domain names as well. If Google sticks with this new format, the demand for premium domain names will be stronger than ever before.  

There are a lot of uncertain political and economic factors worldwide. An economic environment that continues to deteriorate, increasingly strained trade tensions between China and the US, ongoing war tensions in the Middle East, etc. We are concerned about the world situation; If an economic collapse occurs, that is terrible news for everyone. However, if people are just uncertain about the future, the uncertainty might stimulate domain trading activities.  

Some domain owners, who are concerned about the economic/political conditions, might want to sell domains to get some cash handy to prepare for the uncertain future. Some domain buyers, who worry about potential inflation and don’t feel comfortable letting their money devalue in their bank accounts, might choose to use the cash to buy portable assets, such as premium domain names.  

I predict that the domain market in 2020 will be more active than in 2019. The trading volume of most of the domain categories tracked in Guta Premium Domain Sales Observation Report will go higher in 2020.

Continue to Page 2  for Corporate Leaders: Paul Nicks (GoDaddy), Michael Robrock (Sedo), David Warmuz (Trellian/Above), Marco Hoffman (InterNetX), Sandeep Ramchandani (Radix), Scott Pruitt (Web Group/NameJet) and Jothan Frakes (Plisk.com).  Plus Zak Muscovitch (ICA General Counsel & Principal at The Muscovitch Law Firm) and a video interview with Saw.com Founders Jeff Gabriel & Amanda Waltz.

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