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Can Domains Win a War With Covid-19? A Dozen Leading Brokers Weigh in On Business Conditions Now and What Happens Next

By Ron Jackson

The global Covid-19 pandemic upended almost every kind of business around the world in the opening quarter of 2020. Still some winners emerged from the carnage, with many of those owing their good fortune to strong online operations that helped insulate them from the still unfolding catastrophe in the real world.

Several domain registrars reported a surge in new domain registrations as countless entrepreneurs and suddenly unemployed workers sought to carve out a safer place for 

Image from Bigstock

themselves and their businesses on the Internet. However, we haven't had as much insight into how things are going in the domain aftermarket where higher priced premium domains are found. While we publish hundreds of aftermarket sales in our weekly domain sales report, those represent only a small fraction of overall sales as most go unreported, especially the largest ones that are commonly subject to non-disclosure agreements. 

 

Image from Bigstock

Fortunately, there is one group that has a clearer view of overall aftermarket activity - top tier domain brokers who close so many big sales under terms that are never publicly disclosed. Since the aftermarket is where buyers find the great names, we expected the brokers to see a lot of new inquiries - but at the same time, in a plunging economy a lot of buyers may no longer have access to the cash they need to get the kind of domain they want. So, to find out which of those strong crosswinds are winning out (or if they've created a stalemate), we connected with a dozen veteran domain brokers with records of success, to find out how the pandemic is affecting their business - negatively or positively - and how they think the aftermarket will fare as we continue through what has become a perilous year for so many here in 2020.

 

We would recommend reading the article straight through but if you would like to immediately jump to the commentary

from a specific broker, clicking their name in the links below will take you directly to them. We very much appreciate that Andrew Rosener (MediaOptions.com), Dave Evanson (Sedo.com), Kate Buckley (Buckley Media), Alan Dunn (NameCorp), George Hong (Guta.com), Morgan Linton (MorganLinton.com), Bill Sweetman (Name Ninja), Giuseppe Graziano (GGRG.com), Joe Uddeme (NameExperts.com), Ryan McKegney (DomainAgents.com), Reza Sardeha (DAN.com) and Hall of Famer Monte Cahn (RightOfTheDot.com) all took time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts with us and DNJournal readers.

 

The first sign we saw that the aftermarket might fare better than many expected came in a May 8 tweet I saw posted by Andrew Rosener at MediaOptions.com who wrote, "OK, so I know I've been all 'bah humbug' about the market, but we just closed our best week of the year in sales, and NOT because of a single outlier, although there was one, there were a number of very solid sales that CLOSED. Domain names may have reached a tipping point." Since Andrew's post piqued our interest in taking a deep dive into this topic we called on him to kick off what I think you will find to be some very interesting and illuminating commentary on the current state of the domain aftermarket.

 

Andrew Rosener
Founder, MediaOptions.com

At the beginning of this year, Escrow.com presented Andrew Rosener with their annual award given to the #1 broker in the world in terms of total domains sales transacted on their platform. Year in and year out Andrew has proved himself to be one of the very best in the business. This is what he had to say:

I believe the best way to look at this crisis is with a zoomed out lens.  If we zoom out beyond the domain market to a macro perspective, I would argue that very little has changed systemically as a result of the virus, we have simply expedited or exacerbated already growing trends towards digitalization and an increased dependence on government and central bank intervention to bridge that transition from a physical world to a digital world.   The relationship of these two seemingly un-related circumstances, digitalization & socialism, is actually quite direct.  It’s a ying and yang situation. As the World becomes ever more digitalized, many of the jobs that were previously thought to be required are in reality no longer needed.  Many skills are no longer valuable.  Priorities and values change in the marketplace and that is reflected in the jobs and economy as value shifts away from one and towards the other. 

All that displacement and dislocation is creating a ton of “slack” in the economy and financial systems. The government is trying to “pick up the slack” by providing some form of UBI (universal basic income) and all sorts of alphabet soup of fiscal and monetary intervention “programs”.  Those folks who come to depend on the government will broadly speaking fall into two camps:  one is the folks who simply throw in the towel and are happy to continue to collect government support and welfare;  the other are folks who believe in the American Dream and will roll up their sleeves and reinvent themselves to better serve (I use that word specifically) the digital economy.

Andrew Rosener
CEO, MediaOptions.com

People do not want to be placated.  Deep down, Americans in particular, just want to be given the opportunity to “make it.”   They want a fair playing field where they can put in an honest day's work and earn a living to provide for them and their families.  Right now and likely for the foreseeable future, the only playing field that is open for business and offers that kind of “American Dream” opportunity is the digital economy.   Enter domain names.    

It is my belief that domain names represent the underlying asset of the digital economy.  It is my hypothesis, and my underlying investment thesis that in any asset class, that the underlying asset of any industry or economy will, over its expected utility life or real lifetime, trend towards and ultimately achieves at maturity the value of the commerce and value built on top of that asset.  In the case of the land that makes up the Island of Manhattan, we are only a couple of percentage points away from the land value being equal to the real estate value (the bricks on top of the land) and equal to the commerce conducted annually on the island of Manhattan.  Thus, one could say that the Manhattan real estate market is very near peak maturity.   In the case of the internet and digital economy, the underlying asset, if one agrees that it is domain names, only represent a small fraction of 1% of the commerce conducted on top and quite shockingly, the entire .com domain root is only worth a small fraction of the market cap of the top 30 “pure-play” publicly traded internet companies (Google, Facebook, Alibaba, etc…).   With this in mind, I would say that we are in the very first innings of the internet and the early innings of the domain game.    

It is hard to find an economist or investor today who doesn’t have a thesis or prediction for “digital assets”.   If you haven’t heard, Digital Assets are all the rage!   But aren’t domain names one of the original digital assets?  Domain names offer greater utility than almost any other digital asset class I can think of, so where is the disconnect?   Value education and value transparency.  Oh yeah, and credit!!!  

What the World needs now is a new asset class to encumber with debt.  That’s how a system inherently built for growth at any cost works.  Domain names, if we can solve the “agreed upon objective value” problem, seem very well positioned for this role.  Just like in 1971 when we came off the gold standard and housing prices immediately decoupled from average American wage and have continued to rise ever since (due to more and more debt encumberance) , the World is now going to decouple from the “Physical” standard and the value of all things digital will continue its assent from here.  We are at an inflection point.  What I’m trying to demonstrate is that the Covid-19 virus and the subsequent crisis it has brought to light was not CREATED by the virus, it was only highlighted and expedited by it.    

Andrew Rosener speaking at the 2019 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas.

Which brings me to the question asked, how has the virus and crisis affected MediaOptions’ business? January 2020 was the best month in the history of the company.  In fact nearly tripling the next best month.  If you look at the recent Q1 report from Escrow.com, I can tell you that around 35% - 40% of all sales in Q1, conducted at Escrow.com, were from MediaOptions.  January was simply breath taking. February by contrast, was a fraction of the previous month and March is really where things ground to a halt.  In March, I believe our sales as a company were down by around 50% or possibly a bit more compared to the same month 2019.  Inquiries were actually up but closed transactions were way down.   Suddenly we were selling loads of $2,000 - $25,000 domains, mostly in the $3k - $5k range.  A market we have never really been much of a player in.  However, the top of the market (the top 2% of domains as we like to say), which is our

Andrew Rosener had to cancel his trip to NamesCon Global 
2020
in January but Tess Diaz (left) and Chris Zuiker were
in Austin to pick up the the Escrow.com Award that Andrew
 and MediaOptions won for transacting more domain business 
on the Escrow platform than anyone in the world in 2019.

bread and butter, basically collapsed.  We had in total five transactions which were agreed upon and in normal conditions would have closed, but were voided or cancelled for varying reasons but it all comes down to uncertainty.  One of those was a 7 figure transaction signed and in Escrow with a large public company, but they claimed “Force Majeure” and basically said “sue us”.  I bet they don’t exist 5 years from now…   Uncertainty is the greatest of all evil because it creates paralysis. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t because at least you can plan accordingly.  April saw a marked increase in transactions but the overall sales number from a total dollars standpoint was still quite suppressed compared to 2019, but there was a clear trend back towards momentum in the market.    

We are now in May (I write this on May 12th) and as many of your readers already know based on the engagement from my Twitter post, Media Options just closed its best single week of the year.  The first week of May saw us close three 7-figure transactions and a slew of 6 and 5-figure transactions.  Although the total dollars may be a bit less than the best week in January, the commissions earned and gross profit from domain sales was the greatest of 2020.   I will be the first to say that I did NOT expect this.  I have been very public about my bearish view on the market until recently, both on DomainSherpa as well as on my personal Twitter feed.  Keep in mind that I was one of, if not the first in the domain industry to recognize the threat posed by this virus and even cancelled my trip to NamesCon back on January 18th already,  where I was meant to speak on four panels.  Since that time, we have been taking aggressive action to tighten up the ship, cut costs, focus resources & ensure the sustainability and viability of our business.  Not the type of stuff that typically leads to outsized growth and returns!   However, the demand is there.  So I decided to investigate to better understand what is driving this demand and why have domain names seemingly remained “essential” status during a crisis where almost EVERYTHING  (except the S&P 500) is on the chopping block?  

It may be too early to tell, but I think it is a fair assumption to say that the smart money and the smart business managers (who are either already digital or had execution plans in place before the virus struck) are seeing what’s coming and realizing that in a world of increased censorship, zero or low volume foot traffic to physical retail, de-platforming, social unrest & awkwardness and broken supply chains that will be completely reshaped over the next decade, a powerful brand match .com domain name is the best chance any business has of carving out a piece of the digital economy and building a sustainable consumer base with commercial potential that is not inhibited by government forced closures or subject to changing social attitudes and local economic conditions.  Talent is global.  The internet is global.  Commerce is global.  Business inputs and resources are global.  Where they all meet is on a domain name.  Now more so than ever!   Trust me, remember, I’m the one that sold Zoom.com to Zoom.us so they could move away from their US Centric business and provide an attractive offering to a GLOBAL audience.  Just in time I might add…     

Winding the clock back 10 years - Andrew Rosener speaking 
at the 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Vancouver conference in Canada.

The domain name aftermarket has remained very strong throughout this crisis thus far.  There is a sense of poor liquidity if you are a seller, but that is likely because most domain sellers are trying to sell domains that have no liquid value; but as a buyer, it seems almost impossible to find good deals.  The best domain names left in the aftermarket are, generally speaking, now held by “strong hands”.   These folks, including ourselves, create a backstop on the market.  If we won’t let the names go at a discount, then it is clear that consensus remains that values will go up.  That the digital economy will continue to eat the physical.  Expired names are selling at all time highs, pricing out even aggressive buyers like myself.  This seems to be the new normal.  If you look back to my predictions even two and three years ago you’ll see that this trend was underway already.  The virus probably compacted 5 years of growth and market maturity into a few months.  The aftermarket margins will continue to be compressed as the domain market matures and the “profile” of a wholesale buyer / investor will contrast less and less with that of the end user.   If you think about the residential real estate market this is already the case.  The margin for a “flipper” in the housing market is razor thin these days.  What is needed to bridge the gap in domain names between where we are and where we are going as an asset class is just credit and price discovery.  This is coming in several forms, but that is a discussion for another day and article!  

While I remain extremely cautious about the months ahead and I would encourage everyone to bolster their cash positions, savings, rainy day funds and take extreme cost cutting measures both in their personal lives and businesses, I am cautiously optimistic about the road ahead for domain names, especially good and great .com domain names, perhaps .org too.  One thing I am certain of, is that the digital economy will continue to rely on domain names for the foreseeable future and the digital economy is the ONLY ECONOMY in the World that will demonstrate real growth in the coming few years.

Image from Bigstock

Value is like energy in that it you can not create more or destroy it to make less, it only shifts. Gross “value” in the World just shifts from asset class to asset class based mostly on exogenous circumstances like central bank interest rates, money supply, trade imbalances, innovation & priorities to name a few.  Those shifts in value have far less to do with the inherent value of the particular asset class than on the external factors I mentioned before.  Just look at the S&P 500 as mentioned earlier!  We have around 25% unemployment in the USA and yet the S&P 500 is just about kissing all time highs!  One might call this insane and they wouldn’t be wrong.   

But if you zoom out further you see that most things in the World today are no longer valued nominally, they are relative.  Relatively speaking, over the next 10 years it is very clear to me that the US will become even more dominant economically relative to the rest of the World, the $USD will become stronger and more desirable relative to the rest of the central bank currencies and US business, financial markets & innovation will far outpace relative to the rest of the World. Therefore, anyone who would share my view could express that financially by betting on US business and especially US tech, broadly represented by the S&P 500.  Far less to do with the nominal earnings of the companies contained in that index and far more related to central bank intervention (and expected future intervention), economic trends and geo-political circumstances.  Relatively speaking, one might say the S&P 500 looks cheap!  

To be clear, I fully expect a major correction from here and massive dislocation in financial markets over the coming 12 months.  But do not be surprised to see a complete decoupling, even further than we already have, of Main Street and Wall Street.  Even more so when it comes to the digital economy vs. the “main street” physical economy.   As further dislocation happens in the commercial real estate market in particular, I believe a lot of that value will shift into internet real estate and the companies built on top.   We have hit a tipping point and perhaps the first week of May was a signal or a sign of the growth in the domain market to come.  Or maybe these are just the death throws of a terminally ill global economy and financial system?  You decide…

 

 

Dave Evanson
Senior Broker, Sedo.com

 

For the past decade Sedo Senior Broker Dave Evanson has made so many appearances at the top of our weekly Top 20 Sales Chart that we long ago lost count. In the past 30 days alone he was back in the #1 spot twice with ElectricCar.com ($180,000) and Plains.com $115,000). Dave had this to say:

 

 

 

Dave Evanson
Senior Domain Broker, Sedo.com

The digital world is demonstrating strength during the global Covid-19 pandemic and resulting severe economic crisis.  Just about all things digital are seeing growth with the domain space benefiting as well.  At Sedo, two weeks ago was our second most successful sales week since 2018.  For the remainder of 2020 I see the domain aftermarket continuing to trend higher with more buyers making more offers and more sales deals getting done.  Prices will hold relatively steady.  Domain auctions will have good results.  Parking business will stay strong.

The world has been moving towards digital for years.  Covid-19 is proving to be a catalyst in that direction.  Consumers, who drive between 65-70% of the economy in the USA for instance, are changing the way they behave and buy.  To predict the types (i.e., industries, verticals, categories, etc.) of domains that will be in greater demand we need to try identifying and understanding these changing behaviors. Most people are staying at home and have more time to be online.  They are finding new ways to learn, work, connect with people, self-entertain, procure goods and services, and maintain or improve wellness. They are buying more online and less at retail locations.  They are spending more on takeout foods and on companies that deliver.  They spend more on groceries, home entertainment (i.e., social media, news, chats, online fitness, video and digital content, etc.), personal-care items and necessities for the home. 

At the time this article is published stay at home advisories and mandates are being relaxed.  Some people are beginning to go to back to work.  However, the assumption I am making, unfortunately, is that there will be another round or two of virus spread this year thus causing governments to again push stay at home orders.  This will in turn put continued pressure on the economy but the digital world and specifically domain aftermarket will stay relatively strong. 

 

Kate Buckley
Founder & CEO, Buckley Media

 

Like Dave Evanson, Kate Buckley is no stranger to the upper reaches of the domain sales charts, having closed many of the biggest sales we've seen in recent years, including Sleeping.com and Snoring.com - at more than $500,000 each, Inspection.com at $335,000 and Advance.com at $300,000 to name just a few. Kate also has a great personal life story that we recounted in a June 2018 Cover Story

 

While a number of prominent voices in the domain industry have been impersonating Chicken Little, I’ve taken a contrarian view. First, I believe that out of chaos comes opportunity. Also, coming from a family of serious real-estate investors, I know firsthand the staying power of prime real estate—including virtual prime real estate (i.e. premium .COMs). Especially at a time when the entire world is migrating all aspects of their lives online.  

Granted, when the news first hit and the market took a dive, I had multiple six-figure offers disappear overnight. But then, the market began to recover and the reality of “the new normal” set in. As more and more businesses were forced to move all consumer touch points online, having a strong and trustworthy domain name became more important than ever. Not only that, but startups are on the rise, all of which need a domain name—here in California, the Secretary of State is processing new corporations faster than pre-Covid-19.

I’m seeing a renewed—and impassioned—interest in short, descriptive .COMs, and our inbound inquiries at Defining.com have gone through the roof. When I explain that there’s no better virtual real estate than a strong .COM with high consumer resonance and trust (and what all that means strategically to the company in question), CXOs sit up and listen. Companies need the competitive advantage of a premium domain now more than ever. We are in talks with multiple end users right now discussing JVs, financed deals (payment plans) and cash deals—all in the six - seven figure range.

Kate Buckley
Founder & CEO
Buckley Media

We’re also seeing increased demand on the buy side, and have seen domain acquisition requests pick up substantially over the past month. In fact, I just successfully got one closing over at Escrow.com today.

While no one has a crystal ball—to quote John Kenneth Galbraith, “The function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable”—I think it’s fair to say that we’re seeing a massive shift to a new reality—one that requires companies to pivot and become digital businesses, and moreover, to own their interface and data. As with physical real estate, location is everything, and companies increasingly understand that it’s mission-critical to operate on the best digital address possible.  

Whether you’re a large bluechip company seeking new inroads to your customers or a D2C startup, a consumer-facing, descriptive .COM domain can make all the difference. Take the case of snacks.com:  

"Sometimes, an idea comes along that makes you think, how did this not exist before? That’s what we thought when we heard about snacks.com, Frito-Lay’s new snack-slinging site. As domain names go, snacks.com is an all-timer. Turns out, the company’s been sitting on it for 20+ years, and spun up the new site in 30 — The Hustle  

Moreover, Adweek pointed out that this allowed PepsiCo (parent company of Frito-Lay) to become the gatekeeper of their own brand—owning both the channel and the data:

"Monday's launch of two direct-to-consumer sites, PantryShop.com and Snacks.com, represented PepsiCo's [parent company of Frito-Lay] first move into the DTC space. But the tactic isn't just about revenue—it's also about gathering clear consumer data. '[I]f you own the interface, you own the customer,' said Wunderman Thompson Commerce's Hugh Fletcher. 'If you own the customer, you own the data, and if you own the data, you own the future.’  

“While PepsiCo has no shortage of consumer insights from market research firms and retail partners, PantryShop.com and Snacks.com will provide information that can’t be found elsewhere, and through a channel owned by PepsiCo.”  

This is the power of a short, one-word .COM that also happens to be category-defining—a smart investment for the modern age (stable and relatively liquid, with virtually no carrying costs, able to be deployed at any moment; an appreciating asset that lowers the cost of customer acquisition). Quality premium domains are lead generators, brand enhancers, and appreciating assets. All three lead to greater ROI and higher company valuations. It’s virtually impossible to find ALL three qualities in any other asset. While I cannot comment on the prospects of the domain market overall, I remain bullish on the future of premium domains.

 

Alan Dunn
Managing Director, NameCorp

 

In addition to being one of the most highly regarded brokers in the industry, Alan Dunn is one of the most highly regarded human beings - living proof that nice guys finish first - not last! Alan also has an amazing life story that we told in our February 2017 Cover Story.

 

 

Alan Dunn
Managing Director 
NameCorp

2020 has been like a science fiction movie so far. And like many movies, I think the new world is fairly predictable at this point. While the financial fallout and human toll has been devastating around the world, economies have to move forward. This next period will be rough for many but in order to survive, most all companies (and people) have to change. Not only economically but also culturally.

These change will not be easy for everyone. For some, this change will simply be an accelerated piece of an already planned puzzle. For others, it’s like learning how to swim. Remote learning, working from home, social distancing. Not to mention the lack of human interaction, loss of entertainment venues and more. Personal and Professional well-being of employees is now a mandatory responsibility for almost every employer.

With respect to domain names, I think this “new normal” is a critical call to get online for both company and personal survival.

My prediction is more demand will flow to super premium domain names and smaller buy it now priced inventory. However, secondary and defensive acquisitions will drastically reduce as companies look to conserve cash, and ultimately realize most of those are just playing whack-a-mole in a never ending journey anyway. 

Personally, I see COVID as the biggest reset in our lifetime both personally and professionally (Thank you James Booth for that perspective many months ago) and it’s one we must all adapt, and hopefully, find the positive in.

Domain names should survive even the worst of times, and for many of us, business should stay the course with its usual roller coaster moments. I think we are all lucky to be part of an industry which is already fully online. For that alone, we should all be thankful.

On a side note, between Michael Cyger’s happy hours, personal virtual Zoom birthday calls (public apology for missing V’s) and social media, I think we have also seen how great a community domaining really is. I’ve always said we are one big dysfunctional family but I think CVOID has made us a lot more like family and a little less dysfunctional. Only time will tell if that will last )

 

George Hong
Founder & CEO, Guta.com

 

George Hong is a native of China who who maintains homes and offices in both the U.S and his homeland. With his bilingual skills and close contacts with key buyers and investors on both sides of the Pacific,  George's company, Guta.com has become one of the world's busiest international domain brokerages.

 

Guta is focusing on premium domain brokerage business. Based on our own sales data and our latest quarterly Premium Domain Sales Observation Report, It is evident that the global Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the sales of a wide range of premium domain names tracked in the above report.
 
Take short numeric domains as an example:
We began 2020 with a few strong sales in early January. I thought we were on pace for a record-breaking year. The spread of coronavirus stopped the momentum in late January.
The demand from end-users for short numeric domains virtually disappeared in a short period. I expect the need to remain low throughout the first half of 2020. Things should improve after the main sports events come back later this year.

Businesses adapt to the pandemic by moving online. Overall there will be more businesses looking to register, buy, or upgrade domain names. Many businesses shift luxury spending to necessity spending to deal with cash crunch issues. I don't expect to see a lot of 7/8 figure sales for the remainder of 2020, and I anticipate that we will see a lot of new domain registrations and aftermarket transactions of relatively lower-priced domains.  I wouldn't rule out that a few companies, who understand the value and power of premium domain names, would spend seven figures or more on domain purchases. They would take advantage of the current market situation to buy domain names that are worth 5, 10, or even 100 times over the purchase cost to their business. For them, this kind of high price purchase is also essential for their business. 

George Hong
Founder & CEO
Guta.com


I am optimistic about the long-term future of premium domains but concerned about some challenges that might occur in the near-term. Yes, Online business will weather the storm much better than offline companies such as the beloved Cirque du Soleil, who lost 100 percent of their revenue. We will have our share of obstacles to overcome, though.
 
As said by Winston Churchill, never waste a good crisis. Some long time customers recently engaged us. They are making fair investor offers via us to buy selected high-quality domains. They are greedy when others are fearful. Over the past months, central banks around the world have started printing money on a large scale to deal with the pandemic. Over time, all paper currencies will lose value. Buying premium domain names would be a pretty decent choice for long-term investors who want to put extra money in relatively safe investments that hold their value.

 

 

Morgan Linton
Founder, MorganLinton.com

 

Over the past decade, multi-talented Morgan Linton made a name for himself as an domain investor, developer, blogger and co-founder of a thriving start-up in BoldMetrics.com. In his many travels around the globe has made countless new friends with his outgoing personality and positive outlook on both business and life.

 

Morgan Linton
Founder,
MorganLinton.com

I think that there are a number of different ways that COVID-19 has already impacted the domain name world, and other ways it likely will as the rest of the year unfolds. Given that most of my focus is on selling domains to startups and helping startups acquire domain names I see it from this perspective, which might be different from someone who focuses on Fortune 500 companies or on the flip side, traditional small businesses.   

While there were some early concerns that venture funding would decrease, it has remained steady as some sectors like Cloud, Social, and Delivery are thriving. When startups get fresh funding, they often look to upgrade their domain name, this has continued through the COVID-19 pandemic and I've actually seen it increase as startups rush to capture market share - they definitely know what a critical piece of the puzzle a domain name is. Additionally, entrepreneurs are thinking of new ideas and launching companies faster than ever before as they look to innovate and impact the world as it rapidly changes. For these companies, they are looking for their first domain and budgets are still very meaningful with many startups comfortable paying $15,000+ for their first domain.   

Another trend I've seen that's only accelerating now is strong interest in context-specific TLDs like .IO and .AI. Rewind five years ago and most startups were laser-focused on getting their .COM, now I'm seeing more and more, especially in the AI or dev-focused sectors prefer TLDs like .AI or .IO when they're getting started because it gives people an idea of what they're doing. For me this has meant being a part of smaller deals 

since non .COMs tend to sell in a lower price range, but at the same time I'm seeing a much higher volume of deals and inquiries in non .COMs so in many ways it's balancing out.   

As for what happens as we move into the second half of 2020, I think we'll continue to see strong interest from startups but, as I mentioned above, a bias towards domains in markets like Cloud and Social where companies are seeing growth. Additionally, everyone is more budget-conscious now than ever so I do think a focus on price points in the sub-$50k range will continue. Just to be clear, this doesn't mean startups aren't buying domains in the six-figure range, but I think the volume is now in the $10k - $40k range. From what I can tell, domain names are more relevant than ever before and it looks like they are an asset class that is weathering the storm better than most. Still, as we all know, things can change quickly so I'm keeping my eye on how things are changing and am ready to adapt as they do.

 

 

Bill Sweetman
President & Lead Ninja, Name Ninja

 

Bill Sweetman has been an internet professional for well over 20 years with experience in just about all aspects of the industry, including everything from handling high end sales to moderating most of the featured sessions at the annual NamesCon Global conference. Bill brokered one of 2019's biggest domain sales - Carrot.com at $565,000. 

 

When it comes to my domain buyer brokerage business, Name Ninja, I confess to being a bit of a prepper. I have been on high alert since February in terms of making sure my business was prepared to weather a potential downturn in business. To my pleasant surprise -- and knock on wood -- we haven't seen much evidence of a downturn in our business. In fact, we've had our second best year so far since I launched Name Ninja in 2013. Prior to mid-April, we did have a handful of clients pause or cancel some domain acquisition projects, but ever since then we've seen the momentum pick up, we are still busy, and we still have clients willing and able to pay five- and six-figures for top rung domain names. I'm not taking any of this good fortune for granted, and I remain on high alert. I am also very thankful that clients are still coming to Name Ninja for help acquiring domain names.

As for domain sales for the rest of 2020, I anticipate there will be an uptick in transaction volume but not necessarily the dollar amount. I see two competing forces at play here. On the one hand, I see some end-user domain owners (from startups to Fortune 500 companies hammered by COVID-19, for example) who are going out of business, sadly, and liquidating (or even just dropping) their valuable premium domain names. This is a great time to be buying expired domains, but the reason for that is heartbreaking. So in some cases it's a buyer's market for the first time in many years. On the other hand, I expect we will see significant pent-up demand by end-user buyers 

 

Bill Sweetman
President & Lead Ninja
Name Ninja

in Q3 and especially Q4; some of the companies who put their plans on hold in Q1 and Q2 may come roaring back into the market looking to resume the purchase of their dream domain, only to find that it's already been sold or there are now more buyers competing for the same domain. I've been encouraging my clients to move as fast as possible now to lock down purchase deals because I think it's going to be a very competitive market for ultra-premium domains (one-word .com domains) later this year and in 2021.

 

 

Giuseppe Graziano
CEO & Founder, LXME - Lisbon Media (GGRG.com)

 

Giuseppe Graziano has had a meteoric rise since bursting upon the domain scene in 2014. He is based in Lisbon, Portugal but, with the ability to speak five languages, stays busy serving clients worldwide. His company published a popular quarterly report on Liquid Domain Sales and he also recently started a new series of interviews with domain industry leaders that are published on the GGRG blog.

 

 

Giuseppe Graziano
CEO & Founder,
GGRG.com

Assuming that within the domain aftermarket there are 2 separate markets (investors and end users), and assuming that the investor's demand is a function of the income investors receive - with the major variable component of that revenue being, ceteris paribus, End Users sales - I see the following happening for the remainder of 2020:  

  • In the End User's market, established companies who have not done so already, are being forced to go online. If you are a major company and you are not under financial stress, this is the time to go ahead and finally upgrade your domain. Companies having unexpected surge in demand are more willing to spend on domains. Sectors that are benefiting the most are E-commerce, Online Gaming, Online Media, Health Care, Crypto, Online Education, etc. At the same time, many companies are killing most new projects due to market uncertainty and/or allocating only a small budget for the domain. These effects should balance themselves out.

  • In the Investor's market, as in any crisis, many investors will need to liquidate assets, both because they might be in need of cash or to take advantage of the buying opportunities in other markets. This naturally results in increased supply and downward pressure on prices. We are seeing this dynamic in place on LMX.com where traders are listing more domains for sale at reasonable prices. 

  • While I expect low value domains going down in value even further due to increased supply, the most valuable domains (2/3 letter .com, 2/3 number .com, One Word .com, etc) will see a return to "price polarization" where the wholesale prices will go down, while the end user's price points may be stable or even go up. For the buyers, these domains will be the most interesting opportunities.

 

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 had this to say:

Covid-19 brought an abrupt change to the domain name aftermarket. Most new domain name starts were placed into a holding pattern for many Companies, while some of the older, legacy deals were canceled altogether. The market has since stabilized with domain name starts tending to trend in the right direction. Aftermarket domains will continue to grow in the coming months, as new business transition online in the new-normal that we are facing as a society.

There are many categories that will grow immensely over the coming months including; Health, Food, Infrastructure (US), Bio Sciences, AI, and many other categories. The Travel and Airline space are going to be in trouble—for a long time. That will ultimately affect traditional real estate, restaurants, hospitality and Energy.

Looking forward, Business will continue to evolve and the market will also continue to evolve. Online presence will vastly scale across the globe as more people understand that a digital society will dominate the landscape—at least until we have a vaccine for global disbursement.

 

Joe Uddeme
Principal, NameExperts.com

 

 

Ryan McKegney
Co-Founder & CEO, DomainAgents.com

 

 

Ryan McKegney
Co-Founder & 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 had this observation:

It's very difficult to predict what will happen in the next few months and like most businesses, we've been taking it week-by-week.  We have seen a 20% increase in the number of inquiries we've received since the pandemic hit North America two months ago. There has been a rush to get businesses online and many people are being forced to look for new opportunities.  This has been good for domain sales and registrations. The pandemic has accelerated trends towards remote work and online business, but mass unemployment and economic disruption may create long lasting drag on domain prices.  Domains should weather the storm, but I'm still expecting a bumpy ride

 

 

Reza Sardeha
CEO, DAN.com

 

The innovative Amsterdam based Domain Automation Network, known to all as DAN.com, makes a change of control and ownership of digital brands easier, safer and instant. The use of blockchain technology automates processes required to provide trust-less domain ownership transfers. Domain automation also makes it possible to introduce new domain purchase and use models like renting domains, lease to own, fractional domain ownership and domain exchange in a scalable and frictionless way. Reza said this:

We're seeing that at the beginning of the pandemic, that the sales volume increased on the lower end of the market while we observed fewer outlier sales.   

In the past two months, we're observing that the total value spent on domains has increased again and is at the same level as before the pandemic. If we look at other industries that are intertwined with ours (the DIY website maker industry for example) we observe a huge increase in demand which we expect will impact the domain industry positively but somewhat delayed.   

Having said the above, many variables can still disrupt the positive outlook that we're observing at the moment. We simply do not know what the full impact of the pandemic on the 

 

Reza Sardeha
CEO, DAN.com

mid-long term will be for our industry. We, therefore, advise domain investors to keep a close eye on their cash-flow management and to create a conservative buffer for their operation. We also advise our sellers to continue investing in domains but with moderation as there are some uncertainties ahead which are unpredictable.

 

 

Monte Cahn
President & Co-Founder, RightOfTheDot.com

 

To wrap up this report we wanted a heavy hitter from the domain brokerage and sales side of the business who has been through every up and down this industry has seen over the past 25 years. Nobody fits that bill better that domain pioneer Monte Cahn who has been making six and seven sales since the 1990s as one of the original architects of the domain aftermarket itself. In any discussion involving premium domain sales,  Monte is undoubtedly the guy who deserves the last word. 

 

 

 

Monte Cahn
President & Co-Founder
RightOfTheDot.com

I have been through 2 major market downturns since starting in the domain industry in 1994/95. Although this episode is and will be much different than the 2000/01 (Dot-com bubble followed by 
9/11) and 2008/09 (United States Housing Bubble) market downturns, the one constant is that online digital / virtual real-estate assets / domain names and most web related properties will continue to carry sustainable value for the most part.  

For Reference and some background, there were only about 625-700 active websites in 1993/94, most of which were websites about the internet and resources for and about the World Wide Web.  I have been involved in more than $550 million in domain sales transactions of all types since 1996 through today while starting and running  companies such as HitDomains / DomainSystems, Moniker, SnapNames, DomainSponsor, and RightOfTheDot, so I have seen a lot over the past 25+ years in this industry.

In 1999, right after I brokered two record breaking domain names with the sale of Wallstreet.com for $1.1 million and then Autos.com to IdeaLabs / CarsDirect in December, 1999 for $2.2 million, we saw a huge upswing in domain related asset values followed by a huge negative hit starting in mid 2000. For those of you around at that time, those two sales helped legitimize the domain industry by testing the virtual asset value of something based on the future.  But when the Dot-Com Bubble crash hit in 2000/01, many questioned the internet as a viable and legitimate business going forward.  This was due to many of the web and internet based companies being overvalued on the stock market and others raising tons of investment and VC funding based on those overvalued companies.  

Ironically, company concepts that failed back then, are alive and thriving today.  Companies like Napster (free music and file sharing), Boo.com (branded fashion apparel), Pets.com (pet supplies), Kozmo.com (online store and delivery service), Flooz.com (a digital currency unique to internet merchants), WebVan.com (grocery and food delivery), Netscape (web browser, Internet service provider and web portal) TheGlobe.com (social networking), eToys.com, etc. came and went but ecommerce ad the web went on to win the war. Google just launched a year prior, Yahoo launched as a web service provider before becoming a search engine (BTW Archie was the first search engine established in 1990), hardly any web based advertising existed (AT&T ran the first banner Ad in 1994), internet speeds and access was phone line based,  low quality, slow speed, and interruptions were common every day reality.  We used CompuServe, Prodigy, AltaVista, GeoCities, and Ask Jeeves to navigate the Web.  Doing business online back then was challenging and more of a concept and a dream than a tested reality.  However, it was during those challenging times that the domain industry and domain sales kept me and my company in business.  Selling domain assets for those in need to those that wanted, were the key to surviving the downturn.  And even more,  that period re-tested the domain industry and our ability to make markets from domain names in good times and in bad.  Oh and BTW, there were now over 17 million websites in 2000!  

Boy how things have changed since then!  Online access and business in general became more reliable and prevalent.  Thanks to the adult industry, we were able to use credit cards online and create secured socket layered (SSL) connections, website development became a bit easier as more web hosting and design companies sprung up and connections went from the phone line to hardline, satellite and cable, usability and reliability were greatly improved. Then came online legitimization with companies like Yahoo and Google gaining popularity, AOL, Pandora, Ebay, Facebook, CarsDirect, CraigsList, Wikipedia, MySpace, and others. We were on a launch pad into the future which became the present reality of true online activity. This solidified the web, internet and use of domain names were here to stay.  So when the next recession / downturn hit in 2008 / 09 and there were already 238,027,855 websites.  The recession was unrelated to the overvaluation of companies but rather due to over subscribed mortgages, I knew we would rely on domain values and sales to get through this one as well.  Some of our biggest most successful brokerage sales and auctions (both live and online), occurred during the 2007-2010 period.    

Monte Cahn (right) and auctioneer Joel Langbaum running the live domain auction 
at the 2008 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Orlando conference in Florida.

I think a look back at the past is important because of what was different then to now. Most people were commuting to work everywhere.  Waiting in traffic, working in offices with others, traveling through domestic and international train stations and airports, live meetings, conferences, shows, etc.  The concept of working from home was a small fraction of commerce then but now look at where we are.  This pandemic has and will change the way we operate going forward for everyone.  Technology has enabled us to pave the way for the new normal and established a solid foundation to work from home, to do business of all types through virtual meeting, communication and touch points, even in industries where no one could predict, like health and medicine.  I truly believe that this pandemic will put the internet and the way we conduct our social and online business on a whole new and better foundation and exciting frontier going forward.  That is not to say that domain sales and prices will not be negatively affected for a period of 12-24 months, they will be.  This is due to pure economics and the financial health of the world economy.  However, again domains will hold sustainable and substantial values as more and more people, small, medium and even large businesses will be doing more business and interactions online than ever before.  

Even in these stressful times, I have sold more than $700,000 in domain names in the last 30 days and several million since the live and online auctions at NamesCon Global in January.  This will continue as companies look for new names, platforms and brands to launch the new wave of online commerce from.  So I am looking at the glass as half full rather than half empty as I always have and I believe that everyone in the industry needs to do the same.  Price flexibility / reductions and taking some money off the table should be the new norm rather than holding out for the top retail price, as you may be holding on too long and be stuck when it's too late. Plus, fluidity and liquidity are nothing but good in our Industry especially in times like these!  Fluidity and liquidity validates our market and industry even more than before and sets a new stronger foundation for the future challenges and opportunities ahead.

Oh BTW, Today there are about 2 billion websites with about 400 million of those as active sites!

Domain Investors

*****

 

 

 

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