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Domain Names for Sale - Afternic

2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas Review 

By Ron Jackson 

The 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas conference that  ran at the Hard Rock Hotel January 21-23 marked a turning point in the popular series that began with the first large scale domain conference in October 2004. That was the first time that conference co-founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu were not at the helm of a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in America. 

Under a new partnership agreement, Schwartz and Neu turned the operation of five of this year's six T.R.A.F.F.I.C. shows to Rick Latona - starting with the Las Vegas event. Schwartz and Neu will not stage another show until they run an October 2010 conference on Miami's South Beach

(Left to right): Rick Schwartz, Rick Latona & Howard Neu 
announced a new T.R.A.F.F.I.C. partnership in June 2009.

Latona and his team got ample preparation for his new role as a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. partner by staging the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. ccTLDs conference that was held in Amsterdam under a one-time licensing arrangement last June. That show went very well and the Latona team's U.S. debut in Las Vegas was also a solid crowd pleaser despite a technical snafu that interrupted the live domain auction - a mishap we will talk more about later in this review.  

 

Rick Latona
Welcoming attendees to 
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010

Latona introduced several changes with the show, the most readily apparent being the new show venue at the Hard Rock Hotel. All of the previous T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences in Las Vegas had been held at the plush Venetian Hotel. I found the Hard Rock to be a very good conference venue. The meeting rooms were much closer to the guest rooms, eliminating the hiking marathons that came with the otherwise comfortable surroundings at the massive Venetian complex. In another pleasant surprise, the cost of guest rooms at the Hard Rock, initially set at $179 a night, were repeatedly lowered as the show drew closer and finally wound up costing just $69 a night - the best hotel bargain in domain conference history. 

There were also changes in the usual T.R.A.F.F.I.C. format - the most obvious being the absence of the traditional opening night cocktail party. Instead, as is the case with many other conferences, the event immediately got down to business on opening day, Thursday, Jan. 21 when, after a lavish brunch, Latona opened the show at 11:45am with welcoming comments.  

The opening day crowd listening to Rick Latona's welcoming comments.

After Latona's brief comments, the first business seminar, a panel discussion about the booming ccTLD market got underway. I sat on the panel along with Lori Anne Wardi (.CO Registry), Daniel Eisenhut (InternetX Registry) and Dan Warner (DomainAdvertising.com). I noted during this session that the total dollar volume of ccTLD sales reported to us in 2009 soared 28% above the total for 2008. This happened even though total sales reported for the entire domain aftermarket slid 12.5% over the same 12 months (a more detailed breakdown of these stats is available in our January newsletter - a free publication that is emailed monthly to opt-in subscribers). 

Rick Schwartz welcomes Dan Warner 
back to the domain business with a kiss. 

A lot of people were particularly happy to see Dan Warner back on stage. The former COO at Dark Blue Sea, the parent company of Fabulous.com, has been a respected industry thought leader for years. He has been on a sabbatical since leaving Dark Blue Sea last summer after eight years on the upper management team at the Brisbane, Australia based company. His hiatus came to an end in November when Directi named Warner CEO of their new DomainAdvertising.com unit. 

During the ccTLD panel discussion, Warner told the audience that while Google and Yahoo dominate the domain monetization business in the U.S. there are better ways to monetize in many non U.S. markets where the two search engine giants have considerably less clout. Warner said DomainAdvertising.com is incorporating  other monetization methods in addition to PPC, including CPA, CPM and other methods aimed at uncovering "every drop of hidden revenue."

Prior to this conference, Rick Latona conducted a survey asking those planning to attend to name the key reason they attend shows. By an overwhelming margin the answer was "networking". Latona decided if that is what people want, he would give it to them in spades and he did with not one, but two back-to-back 90-minute networking sessions that filled the balance of the opening day schedule.

The show's new moderator, Rick Silver of N49 Interactive, conducted the twin sessions with a different format used for each one.  In the first session, the podium and microphone were opened to anyone in the audience who wanted to take the stage for 60 seconds to introduce themselves and tell others about their business. Silver had no shortage of takers as a steady stream of attendees seized the opportunity. 

Moderator Rick Silver (left) looks on as Neustar's Ken Hansen introduces himself to the 
audience during an "open mike" networking session Thursday afternoon (Jan. 21).

For the second networking session, attendees moved to an adjacent room where they sat face to face with other show goers in a circular formation with those sitting in the outer ring rotating over one seat every two minutes, a system that allowing participants to meet dozens of people in the  course of the event. 

Above: Scene from the 2nd networking session on opening day at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas.

Below: Louise Munck (Parklings.com) makes a new contact during this session.

With the first day's business done, it was time for the first major social event of the show, a special Opening Night Party sponsored by  Latonas.comthat was held in the Hard Rock Hotel's Wasted Space Night Club

Above: Part of the wall-to-wall crowd at the Opening Night Party at the Hard Rock Hotel

Below: Jodi Chamberlain (Latonas.com) introduces domainer/drummer David Castello 
(CCIN.com) who provided the highlight of the night - a tour de force drum solo.

Knowing that people visiting Las Vegas like to stay out late and sleep in even later, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. organizers wisely waited until 12 Noon to start the day two business schedule on Friday, Jan. 22. (those who got out of bed a little earlier were rewarded with a terrific brunch sponsored by Rowbothan & Company). 

The opening session Friday was a discussion of ICANN's plans to start rolling out an unlimited number of new gTLDs later this year. ICANN had a representative on the three-person panel - their Senior Director for IDNs, Tina Dam. Those in the domain community who don't think the plan is a good idea were represented by PPX International's Gregg McNair while CentralNIC's Joe Alagna took the pro side, pointing out new opportunities that he believes new gTLDs will open up for domain investors and registry operators. 

Above: New gTLD panelists (left to right): Gregg McNair, Tina Dam and Joe Alagna

Below: Ms. Dam tells attendees that the decision to release new gTLDs 
was made in response to requests from the Internet communty.

Alagna said that the decision to roll out new gTLDs has already been made so domain investors should make the best of it by looking into how they can benefit from the introduction of new extensions. Though he is firmly opposed to the plan, McNair said he also believes they are coming but he said they will be a mistake. "In business we usually learn for our mistakes, but ICANN hasn't learned anything from their past TLD mistakes," McNair said, a reference to the fact that previous new gTLDs, some close to a decade old now, are still struggling to gain widespread acceptance.

Next up was a discussion of some of the worst UDRP cases sent to arbitration panels in recent months featuring attorney Zak Muscovitch, Andrew Allemann (DomainNameWire.com), Michael Berkens (TheDomains.com), attorney Howard Neu and attorney Eli Pearlman.  Each reviewed a case they thought was the most baseless brought against a domain owner and the audience then picked the worst of the worst - one involving LomaLinda.net and LomaLinda.org that was nominated by Muscovitch. You can learn more about some of these unconscionable cases here: UDRPWallofShame.com.

With fellow panelists Howard Neu and Eli Pearlman looking on, Zak Muscovitch (standing)
 tells the audience why a LomaLinda.net/.org UDRP case was the worst one filed in 2009.

The uDRP panel was followed by a keynote speech from highly regarded peak performance coach   Joseph McClendon III whose resume includes serving as the Senior Head Trainer and Instructor at Robbins Research's Mastery University that has been attended by business entrepreneurs and CEOs from 46 nations. McClendon said the crux of everything is fear management. He preached that "it is the interruption of fear and the rehearsal of courage that makes forward motion automatic."

Keynote speaker Joseph McClendon III had people jumping up and down. 

His was certainly a considerable departure from past T.R.A.F.F.I.C. keynotes. McClendon had the audience doing a fear management exercise that involved repeatedly jumping up and down from their chairs and screaming at the top of their lungs! Sorry I don't have a photo of that - I was too busy jumping up and down myself.

After the keynote it was time for the Latonas.com Live Domain Auction. Regrettably this highly anticipated event suffered the one major mishap of show week in Las Vegas. Despite rigorous pre-conference testing, Latonas' new internet auction platform began experiencing serious issues that forced the company to postpone the sale soon after it started. It was rescheduled for 10am Saturday morning. No one felt worse about this than Rick Latona and his team and many understanding attendees tried to lift their spirits with words of encouragement. It is one of those things that could happen to anyone and all that can be done is to make the best of a bad situation, which is exactly what they did.

The auction delay certainly did not dampen spirits at Friday night's official T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party held at the Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas's fabulous new $11 billion City Center development that had just opened in December. 

Part of the crowd at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party Friday night (Jan. 22) at the Gold Lounge

Representing Sedo.com well - Kamila Sekiewicz and Kathy Nielsen

(Left to right): Jazmin Carrillo (Parked.com), Kelly Urquhart (WhyPark.com), 
Ammar Kubba (Thought Convergence, Inc.) and Michael Robertson (Fabulous.com)

The final day at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010 had not been scheduled to start until 12 Noon Saturday, Jan. 23 - but that live domain auction that had been interrupted Friday was re-slotted for 10am Saturday so things go off to an earlier start.  

The live auction that was suspended Friday was completed Saturday morning (Jan. 23).

Once it was finally completed, the auction produced a total of just over $456,000 in sales with a South African ccTLD, Fly.co.za, emerging as the top individual sale at $65,000. Other notable sales included GoFish.com ($50,000), DietFood.com ($49,000), CatFood.com ($41,000), MotorcycleHelmets.com ($35,000) and MenSuits.com ($30,000)

An accompanying extended online auction continued for one week and wound up generating another $379,200 in sales, bringing the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010 auction total to over $835,000. The biggest sale of the event came in the extended auction where LongIsland.com went for $370,000

The auction was done, but there were still three more events on the closing day schedule, beginning with a noon panel discussion on how to best optimize your domain portfolio in a PPC environment.

Domain Optimization panelists: Seated (left to right) Donny Simonton (Parked.com), 
Dan Warner (DomainAdvertising.com), Richard Lau (DomainManager.com) 
and standing at the podium, Jon Waterman (Domain Gateway.com).  

The panelists discussed the importance of selecting the right keywords for your PPC landing pages and the relative pros and cons of 2-click, 1-click and even zero-click landing pages. The latter involves sending people who land on your domain directly to a relevant advertiser rather than presenting them with a page on links (Waterman's DomainGateway.com utilizes this model which has also worked for companies like Sendori.com).

Next up was a session devoted to Playing the Drop Market. The featured panelists (left to right in the photo below) were Rob Monster (Epik.com), Steve Brown (NameJet.com) and Kellie Peterson (Name.com).

Monster said that the emergence of automated and semi-automated development platforms (such as his Epik.com) has made picking up expiring domains more interesting that ever. He said that even non-traffic domains that have good keywords can produce revenue when content is added though such platforms. Monster said he views each drop catch as the raw land for a future business.

T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010 closed with one its new main events - Test Track (an event modeled after the hit ABC-TV series Shark Tank)  that gave operators of seven online businesses who are seeking investment capital a chance to pitch their proposals to a panel of investors.

The Test Track Investors Panel (left to right): Jon Waterman
Gregg McNair
, Tony Morgan and Rick Latona.

John Deneen (BuyersGuide.com)
 impressed the panel of investors 
during T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track.

While none of the business owners wound up securing an investment on the spot, the panel agreed that BuyersGuide.com owner John Deneen made the best presentation. Deneen was also seeking the most money - $2 million in exchange for 40% of his company. Waterman was impressed enough to ask for a post-conference meeting with Deneen to learn more about his company and see if there is a way for him to make an investment that will work for both sides.  

The panel also heard pitches from Matt Field (TenYards.com), Louise Timmons (AlgebraAid.com - site is currently undeveloped), Jiaqiang Chen (China Geo Network), Lee Raney and Tom McCracken (Level Ten Interactive), Michael Markovitch (Domain Price Index) and R.J. Berg (StreetGames.com). 

During the session Latona announced that he had aleady invested $500,000 in Berg's company which stages fantasy stock market tournaments. The panelists liked the StreetGames.com site but some were concerned that the concept could run into legal issues in some states that could create unforeseen problems.

Test Track, an idea that Howard Neu came up with and introduced at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. New York conference last fall, has been a welcome addition to the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. schedule. With the increased interest in domain development it is very instructive to see what others are doing with their sites and how good investors think those ideas are or in what ways they think they can be improved. 

In addition to the scheduled sessions like Test Track, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. attendees also have a chance to learn about important new industry developments in private one on one meetings. I had one with an executive team from NameMedia who showed me a presentation detailing some exciting changes they have made in the company's SmartName.com monetization program. The system can now automatically generate slick looking websites that utilize a vareity of monetization methods - not just PPC. I was impressive enough that I am going to try some of my own names on the platform and I intend to write more about it in the near future.

NameMedia team members (L to R) Bob Mountain, Ted Olson, David Hauser and Jason 
Miner
impressed a lot of people with a demonstration of a new system at SmartName.com.

Another thing I liked about T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas was seeing so many new faces in the crowd. It is great to see young people joining the business and coming up with innovative ideas of their own. One of them was Morgan Linton of Los Angeles who spent most of the week recording video interviews for a new internet TV site he plans to roll out soon at Domainvestors.tv.

Morgan Linton (left) interviewing Rick Silver - one of dozens of interviews 
Linton has produced for his upcoming domain TV site.  

As always there was a lot to like about this conference and though the show ended Saturday evening those positive vibes continued throughout the weekend. I stayed over in Las Vegas  for a couple of extra days before flying on to Los Angeles Monday for the DOMAINfest Global conference that ran in Santa Monica Jan. 26-28 (we expect to publish our review of that show by Monday night, Feb. 8) and that gave me a chance to spend time with some industry leaders that I didn't get a chance to talk a lot with during the busy conference week.

Las Vegas may be known for its shows and casinos but some of the city's best attractions are completely free. Saturday night the Neu family, Howard, Barbara and Ray, introduced me to the spectacular fountain show that erupts in front of the Bellagio every 15 minutes. I don't know how I missed this before - it is a true must do - in fact it is featured on Ray's VegasMustDo.com website.

Above: Barbara and Howard Neu sitting in the Paris Las Vegas hotel's open air cafe 
with the Bellagio Hotel fountains starting their show across the street behind them. 

Below: The perfectly synchronized Bellagio fountains erupt and sway in time to the 
music of classic songs with the jets of water often soaring higher than the Bellagio itself.

On Sunday night Michael and Judi Berkens invited Howard, Barbara, Ray and I to help them celebrate Judi's birthday at the Switch Restaurant in Steve Wynn's new Encore Hotel. Sharing that special occasion with Michael and Judi was a special treat as they are two of the nicest people in the business. Michael, as most of you know, writes one of the industry's best blogs at TheDomains.com. He won the 2009 Domainer of the Year Award in October and was also profiled in DN Journal's July 2009 Cover Story

Judi's actual birthday was a few days later but she explained to me that she celebrates her birthday the entire month of January! This energetic woman knows how to enjoy life and you cannot spend any time around her without having her enthusiasm rub off on you. No wonder Michael always seems to have a smile on his face.

 

Judi and Michael Berkens celebrating Judi's birthday during a Sunday
night dinner at the Wynn Encore Hotel's Switch Restaurant 

Monday morning (Jan. 25) it was time to pack up and move on to the next stop on the show circuit. Yes, there are a lot of conferences on the annual industry calendar, but over the years I've found that the time spent at these events networking, meeting new people and learning about the latest industry innovations is the most rewarding and productive time I spend all year. Whatever industry sector you operate in, I don't believe there is a a better way to jump start your business than to get out there and meet the other players in your industry face to face. T.R.A.F.F.I.C. has provided that opportunity for over five years now and time after time the pioneering conference continues to pay solid dividends to its attendees. 

*****


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