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T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York 2009 Preview - This Year's Theme is "Survival"

By Ron Jackson 

The T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference returns to New York City for the third time this month with a show that will run at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott October 26-29. Conference co-founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu will be adding several fresh ingredients to the successful recipe they first introduced five years ago this month with their debut conference in Delray Beach, Florida.

To get the inside scoop on what is in store for this month's event in the Big Apple, we hooked up with Schwartz and Neu for the exclusive interview below:

DNJournal: Though this will be just the third T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in New York, the show already has quite a history in the Big Apple.  The first  T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York conference in 2007 set new industry standards with domainers taking center stage in the media capital of the world, Moniker posting a live domain auction record that still stands with sales hitting eight figures and overall optimism among domain investors reaching an all time high.  



Just one year later, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. returned to New York the very same week that the world economy went into the scariest meltdown since the Great Depression. By this time in  2008, PPC revenues had already been cut in half and they have gone further south since then. That has triggered a new wave of experimentation as domain owners try to find ways to restore their revenue streams. How have you tailored T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York 2009 to address the landscape we have today and what do you see as the pluses and minuses of the current environment?

Rick Schwartz

Rick Schwartz: Let’s start with the pluses and minuses of the current environment. Tough times determine when you get your report card and the grades you have achieved. Tough times test your skills. Some are positioned to take advantage of others. The strong will take over the weak. Nothing new. Already happening. The big difference is the size of these takeovers. So if you are in a strong financial and cash position you can take advantage of great opportunity created by those that are not in good shape. If you are not in good shape, you are at the mercy of those that are. 

2009 was the best deal making year I have seen in my lifetime. That’s a good thing. But what created that to happen was not a good thing. So with T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and any of our shows, it is important to look beyond the domain industry. We are investors first and foremost whether we realize it or not. Just so happens that at this moment in time, domains are what we invest the heaviest in. So I always believe in studying the consumer as he is the ultimate prize. They hold many of the answers. 

So while I think 2009 was a crisis unlike anything we have seen, it won’t really trickle down until 2010. So I think 2010 will have much more pain than 2009. Maybe a bit more scared in 2009 because we had to adjust to a new economy. Now the reality comes to be and a great divide will likely occur between folks that made it with their homes and balance sheets and savings intact and those that won’t make it and are likely to collapse. So I see a lot of things playing out in 2010 and what we do at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. is stay ahead of that curve. No value telling everyone we hit an iceberg after the fact. We have to foresee things that nobody sees and do it before anyone else. That’s what we do. That’s what this industry is. 

Howard Neu:   Domain investors are still looking for good domains at reasonable prices and we believe that both Moniker and Rick Latona Auctions will have plenty of those domains up for sale.  Additionally, we predicted last year that domainers would be looking beyond PPC, and that has become a reality.  While there are more and more domains being developed into web sites, creative businesses are bringing out new programs and platforms for income producing domains which will be showcased at T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

DNJournal:  Last year the theme for your show was “Beyond PPC”. I haven’t seen a theme for the upcoming conference posted online yet. Is that because you haven’t settled on a specific theme or are there too many forces at play to focus on any one area this year?

Rick Schwartz: I can name that tune in one note Ron: “Survival.”  As you can see last year when PPC was still flying pretty high, we saw what was coming and we knew it would take time to adjust. Look what happened since that show. I think it just proved what I said in the first question. We saw that iceberg from a long way off. Do the folks reading this believe it was a popular decision to do this when the bulk of 

Howard Neu

the sponsors are PPC companies? Do you think that would be a subject tackled at another show? Maybe now that the trail has been blazed and nobody can argue with the facts as they have occurred since then. It was imperative that domainers look beyond PPC last year. So was that the right call? I sure as hell think so when you look how it all unfolded. We saw it coming and alerted folks and I bet it helped folks get on the right side of the equation to survive. Not only survive, but then thrive. All this in the worst of times. Make hay when the sun shines and have plenty of hay when it doesn’t. That is what we do. 

So last year it was easy to identify a theme and that theme was timed perfectly. This year’s theme really is survival. It is how do you bridge the gap over troubled waters? How do you employ a long term strategy to what you hold and what you have learned? So the theme of the show is to STOP and take stock of where we are. The mistakes we made. The things we got right. The biggest mistake was when the $$$ were flying around like no tomorrow, that the industry never put together a war chest to protect themselves. Now the industry is too weak to do it. The dollars are no longer flying. That, my friends, was a missed opportunity and we will all pay dearly for it. We are now at the mercy of the big guns and hope they look at things the way we do. But make no mistake. No domainer truly has control of his destiny as things stand now. You may hate AT&T or Verizon or GE or a host of other companies, but those are the ONLY ones that can protect you. These type of companies will either protect you or defeat you or both. This is the way things play out and if you don’t get that part of the equation, you will as it happens.

DNJournal:  As always you are introducing some new wrinkles this year including the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track. Tell is about some of the new features and give us an overview of what you see as agenda highlights in general.  

Howard Neu's Tonight Show styled man-in-the-street interviews, introduced at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Silicon Valley 
last spring, will return at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York

Howard Neu:  T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track (our version of the popular ABC-TV show Shark Tank), is the most exciting concept to hit the domain world since we started live auctions four years ago.  We have a qualified panel of domain investors who will be grilling applicants to determine whether their programs and projects are worth investing their money.  On the other hand, we have applicants with exciting programs and projects that they would love to see get off the ground, if only the money was there to accomplish their dreams. The results promise to be fun and exciting for everyone. 

We also will bring back our version of The Tonight Show 

with our man-in-the-street interviews, which promise to be both hilarious and enlightening. We have a new version of Speed Networking that worked very well in Amsterdam.  This year there was tremendous interest in the annual T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Awards with voting in the various categories topping all previous years.  The Awards, for the first time, will be presented at our new Awards Brunch to be held on Wednesday, October 28th.

Rick Schwartz: Last year I rang the bell and stated that PPC was in trouble and domainers needed to start with other alternatives. Many believed I was exaggerating the issue. Now we can look back and see how things unfolded and see the almost unimaginable weakness in that sector. As domainers our biggest curse is lack of focus. It is time to start going through your domain inventory and decide the domains that are worth trying to develop a business around. It’s a bit ass backward. Normally you have an idea for a business and then get a domain to match. That is easier if you ask me. In our case we have the domain and have to figure out the business plan around that. 

When I watched the first five minutes of Shark Tank I was sold.   We have some very intelligent people in the domain business.  Really sharp folks.  But many of these folks are young and idealistic and sometimes that just does not fly in business. So this show smacks you upside the head and gives you a crash course in reality. No nonsense. No mincing words. No worrying about hurt feelings; real old school business being done by contemporary people. The T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track will take about three shows to evolve if what we have planned works out. But we are willing to take the risk to move us all up one peg. 

So that is just one area. Other T.R.A.F.F.I.C. shows have been much more defined because you could clearly see what was going to unfold. In times like this, that can’t be done in the same way. In a “business fog” you have to move slowly and deliberately. It is also a great opportunity to reach out to allied industries and see what common interests we have. So you will see different faces and different companies.

DNJournal:  While T.R.A.F.F.I.C. will expand from three annual conferences to six in 2010, the upcoming New York show still marks an end of an era in one respect. I understand that you and Howard have decided to turn over operations of all but one of next year’s shows to your new 

Rick Schwartz (at podium) and Howard Neu welcoming attendees to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York last year.

partner Rick Latona, with you and Howard running the remaining show that is to be held (at a date to be announced) in your home state of Florida. How did you arrive at that decision and how will it affect how you approach the last out-of-state show you will directly oversee later this month? Also, looking further out – how will it affect your roles with T.R.A.F.F.I.C. next year when you slow down your personal involvement?

Rick Schwartz: I was not looking for a job when we started T.R.A.F.F.I.C.. I was retired and enjoying life. T.R.A.F.F.I.C. is a LOT of work. Folks really can’t understand the amount of time we have invested in it. Folks don’t realize that we are lucky to break even. But that was never our focus. We just wanted a rising tide for all and that would be good for all. If it were up to me I would have stopped T.R.A.F.F.I.C. in 2007 after Steve Forbes and rode into the sunset. I knew the next few years would be difficult and we would be basically volunteering our time. I don’t like working for free and then taking a lot of complaints besides. But Howard and others convinced me otherwise and I committed for two more years. 

So when Rick Latona approached us with his idea to expand T.R.A.F.F.I.C. globally, it was worth sitting down and listening to his vision. Our visions have a lot in common, but also quite a bit not in common. That sounded like the right recipe at this stage to keep T.R.A.F.F.I.C. as the gold standard while expanding to every corner of the world. How will it work out? I think it will be a winner. But like everything else, we will see it all unfold before our eyes. So I plan to give support where I can, but it is also time for me to step back and start devoting more of my time to my own businesses and projects. The one show each year in Florida will remain the #1 event in the industry. We will be announcing in New York that next October 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. will be going to South Beach!!

Bottom line, we added a booster rocket to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. at a time everyone else is pulling back. We are about to venture to all points of the globe and that is a great thing for everyone reading this.

Howard Neu:  We are both returning from a site visit to the venue that will be hosting our 2010 show next October and we are really pumped by the venue that is the most exciting that we have had in our five years of presenting the very best networking and industry expo to domainers from around the world.  We are also thrilled to be working with the Rick Latona group who are putting together five outstanding shows throughout the four corners of the world to make T.R.A.F.F.I.C. the gold standard for the world’s domainers to network and make money no matter where they live.

DNJournal: New York will also be the swan song for multiple domain auctions at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. with RickLatona.com becoming the exclusive auction provider in 2010. Multiple auctions were one of the innovations T.R.A.F.F.I.C. introduced. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight how do you feel that experiment went with respect to its pros and cons?

Rick Schwartz: The auctions were Howard’s idea and Moniker implemented it at a perfect time. It literally changed the industry. It got to a point where Moniker was doing things in their contract that really created some issues and the boards were burning up for months if not a 

Auctioneer Wayne Wheat conducting 
Moniker's live domain auction at 
T.R.A.F.F.I.C New York 2008.

year or longer about it. Bottom line, I love Monte Cahn and the crew but it was really more important that the industry not be choked off. So after over a year of consideration, we opened it to everyone and had multiple auctions. Sometimes you can’t let a friendship stand in the way of the future and progress for an entire industry. These are not easy decisions. But “Easy” is not our focus. It gave folks a choice and it helped to alleviate a lot of things that were going on at the time. Today there are a number of choices and I think we helped to bring that out. Let the marketplace determine things.

DNJournal:  Last year at this time, due to the explosion of events on the conference calendar, we were talking about “show fatigue”.  Even though there were more shows than ever in the first half of this year, the second half has been an entirely different story with T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York standing alone as the only major global conference scheduled in the final six months of 2009. Has this situation produced an noticeable change from your perspective in terms of the level of interest and anticipation for this event?

Rick Schwartz: I think 2009 was definitely a year of fatigue with shows. But it is also clear that the Fall is the beginning of the business cycle. That is why our October show is so important. Like I always say, “Timing is everything.” I think there will be fewer big shows in the future and more smaller satellite events. I could sit here and critique all the shows in 2009. But we all saw the successes and failures. In 2010 folks are going to be much more choosy as to where they go. Either way, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. remains not only the leader, as we have set the tone and agenda for years, but will emerge more valuable as other shows focus more on their own sales and survival. 

Bottom line, we can discuss things that they never would. We have the freedom to call it like we see it. How do they effectively and honestly criticize Google or Yahoo? How can they possibly act as an “honest broker”? They dare not do what we can because they have too much at stake to speak out. So if Google collects .25 from the advertiser and we get .02, where is the breakdown on the other 23 cents??? We have to stop “Asking” for this information and start to DEMAND it. But better yet, domainers should do everything in their power to make sure they are not dependant on either of these companies or anyone else to make a living in the future. Do you really believe any one at any other show would say something like that??

Maybe folks forgot why T.R.A.F.F.I.C. came about in the first place. It was born out of anger and frustration because folks like Google and Yahoo really did not understand the 

differences in types of T.R.A.F.F.I.C. at that point in time. They do now. So we have never been afraid to take the bull by the horns and in New York that BULL is going to do some pretty straight talking and let the chips fall where they may! Domainers should no longer accept being treated and looked at as TOE JAM! When is it time to take your destiny back in your own hands? Isn’t watching payouts drop as they have a good motivator?? 

So here is the bottom line. If you like to be passive and not make waves ….. DON’T COME TO T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

If you are happy with your current situation and earnings …… DON’T COME TO T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

If you don’t care that the bulk of YOUR earnings are landing in pockets of others …….. DON’T COME TO T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

If you are too scared to confront Google and Yahoo ……. DON’T COME TO T.R.A.F.F.I.C.

I can give you many reasons not to COME TO T.R.A.F.F.IC. It does not scare me to do that because we are not here to make friends. We are here to do business. Make business. Transform business.

 I will give you one GREAT reason to come to T.R.A.F.F.I.C…… Take back your own destiny! 

Howard Neu:  Absolutely.   Rick and I have been thrilled with the enthusiasm of everyone in the industry who will be coming to New York.  Last year, the food, the ambience, the networking, the food, the parties, the food, the presentations, the Keynote Speaker Barbara Corcoran and the food, were so well-received that everyone is looking forward to going back to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott for more of the same.

DNJournal:  Anything else you would like to add about T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York 2009 before we let you get back to your last minute preparations for the event?  

Rick Schwartz: For many, the best days of domaining are now behind them. For some, the best days still lay ahead. The decisions you make in 2009 and 2010 will determine which category you fall into. We are in the midst of a record breaking year for domain sales. I have been saying this for months; a fact that has just yet to unfold. Unfortunately, it is a record that will be made on the weakness of the industry and not the strength of the industry. Big overheads are driving these sales. Getting one’s fiscal house in order is driving this record. 

There is a time to go to a show primarily for the parties and a time to go to the shows primarily for business. New York MEANS business. The networking in New York will be as important as ever. And one last tidbit. This is the biggest percentage of domainers over sponsors coming to our show ever. 60% domainers, 40% sponsors. So the “Chemistry” that is the invisible byproduct of T.R.A.F.F.I.C. will make this the most important show to this point. Isn’t it time to figure out how to take your own destiny back? 

Howard Neu:  We have opened the doors of T.R.A.F.F.I.C. to anyone in the domain business who wants to make money and have made this show the most affordable one ever.  For our FIFTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW, we are pulling out all the stops to provide the very best information, networking, parties and presentations to make it the MUST ATTEND event of the year.  T.R.A.F.F.I.C. has always been about making money for our attendees , because T.R.A.F.F.I.C. MEANS BUSINESS.


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