Affiliate Summit Vegas

January 15th, 2011

Affiliate Summit ended tuesday in Vegas and we were obviously there with Elephant Traffic. Since a lot of our advertisers our affiliate marketers that arbitrage domain traffic to CPA, AS is a really good avenue for us to acquire new advertisers. Our cost to take part with 5 people including booth, flight, accomodation, parties with clients was about $40k. However we usually make this money back in 3 months time from new advertisers, so it’s definitely worth it. We also take part in the Ad:Tech and LeadsCon conferences, which bring us a similar return.

Our booth was sort of stylized to Prague since we were offering a draw for a vacation worth $5k there. This is how it looked (Jeremy Lopez, GM of ET in the photo):

Otherwise Vegas was pretty fun as usual, although didn’t do as much partying as when I was there last year. Surprisingly even managed to win some money and finally learned the basics of craps, courtesy of our head salesman Yancy. Looking forward to DomainFest in LA now…


Hello Real Estate!

January 4th, 2011

Unbelievable, I did my first real estate deal today. I have generally always avoided this asset class as the ROI didn’t meet my criteria – buying a house at a 5% rental yield is and was a waste of money for me. That’s why I never bothered even to buy my own apartment to live in since renting made sense to me. But I finally found a way how to improve ROI significantly with blending in some development as well.

I bought an unused attic in an apartment building today, where me and my building partners will develop two pretty exclusive apartments with roof top terraces. I acquired two garages in the building as part of the deal as well. I paid around $260k to acquire the property. Redevelopment will take about 9 months and will cost around another $320k. So total cost around $580k. Then I plan roughly another 6-12 months for the apartments to sell for around $1.3 million. This kind of ROI suddenly makes sense to me, so I might do some more of this stuff in thefuture…


CCTLD aftermarket sales surprisingly strong

January 4th, 2011

I harvest domains predominantly for their PPC revenue. Recently I’ve noticed an interesting thing with the CCTLD portfolios I create by new registrations – suddenly sales are bringing in a “noticeable” part of the portfolio’s revenue. When it comes to the cctld portfolios, this sales element is about 15% of the revenue (the remaining 85% coming from PPC). With my .com portfolios this is probably only about 3%. Interesting, can’t really find a reason to why.

Otherwise when it comes to ccltds I’ve been much more active with them recently. Since I’ve sort of overharvested the .com universe and ROI has been worsening there, I’ve been looking for other TLDs where ROI is better. So last year I did a lot in .nl, .se., .de, .co.uk, .it, .be, .com.mx, .ca, .com.br, .pl etc. Recently I’ve gone so exotic as to play around with .jp or .co.nz. Now I have around 50k CCTLDs but I think I’ve depleted them quite a bit as well :)


New Year’s tip: a drop monetization solution

January 1st, 2011

Happy New Year’s everyone! Hope 2011 will be a great year for you!

Anyway, just wanted to share an idea I have had for some time now. Never really got a chance to do it myself initially, then I decided that the business opportunity isn’t that huge and I have to focus on bigger niches. It’s basically an aftermarket play exploiting the drop game, a domain flea market if you will.

The idea is simple – all of us domainers drop domains sometimes, we choose to let them expire. The idea is that somebody would build a service where you could push these domains, say 2 weeks before they expire, and offer them for $10 a piece + renewal fee. If two or more people would be interested in the same domain, a standard namejet style auction would follow. The service operator and the domainer would then split the proceeds 50/50.

The service would just need to create accounts at all the main registrars where domainers would push the domains and do some simple programming of the marketplace, not much work imho.

This idea is based on a simple premise: some people can find gems (in their perception) in your garbage.

I personally drop a couple hundred thousand domains a year. The thing is that my only criteria for renewal is if the domains make reg fee. If they don’t, I simply let the domain drop and there are definitely gems in these drops that other people can discover but I don’t have time for.

I hope I created a new buzzword “drop monetization”:). Hope somebody picks this idea up. Good luck with it!


Update

December 11th, 2010

Sorry for not posting much lately. First two weeks of November I was too busy. Second two weeks I was depressed (manio-depression sucks). Last week I am hyper though again so back in work mode. Just wanted to give a little update on things I am working on and how things are going.

- Elephant Traffic – since I last posted about ET has grown tremendously, we are currently monetizing about 550k uniques a day, which is a very decent chunk of traffic. Our advertiser base is growing on a daily basis and on some domains we are peforming 10x better than parking. If you have high volume domains doing over 1k uniques a day, contact us, we can beet your current monetization by a big margin. We’ve also expanded the team and planning version 2.0 hopefully next week.

- Elephant Orchestra lead generation – Still growing very nicely, we are now doing $200k in revenue a month, however we do have some issues with profitability, so we need to work hard on our margins, 30% is not enough. We need to get it up to 40% next year and double revenue, then it will be a pretty nice business. We’ve added a lot of bluechip clients in the last two months such as the Czech Rep’s biggest bank etc, expanded into new verticals such as utilities and travel etc.

- Otherwise we continue to be chased by venture capital, we just had a meeting with a fund with over $11 billion under management, they seem to be pretty interested. Otherwise word is on the street that we are planning an IPO in Poland, funny we had Nasdaq OMX contact us as a result and pitching their exchange to us as a better option

- When it comes to my own domain portfolio, I’ve been selling off a little. I sold about 20k domains in the last two weeks alone. I don’t usually sell much, but this is probably the best time of the year to do so since ppc is high. Plan is to use the cash to deleverage a little, maybe build a little warchest for some nice acquisitions.

- I”m thinking of buying one multimillion domain at the moment, so I’ve been putting together the cash, arranging a little investor syndicate and raising some debt for it. We’ll see how it goes. Plan is, believe it or not, develop! :)

- Otherwise Rick Latona has a new venture called WatchBrokers.com, so I put some money into that along with my friend Ammar. Looks very promising. Basically it’s a cash4gold concept, but for luxury watches. And I also think Rick can pull it off.

- I’m also bankrolling a new start up that is playing around with some semantics, we want to build out a new news aggregation service that will have some advanced features such as sentiment, emerging story spotting, some hyperlocal features etc. More news soon.

- Otherwise my friend Ondrej Bartos finally launched his venture fund Credo Ventures, so I put in a million euros into that. Plan is to finance promissing Czech and regional IT/biotech companies. Somehow makes me feel a little bit good as well as it’s nice to plow some money back and help start-ups.

- Otherwise my facebook game development venture Viral Maniacs that I bankrolled didn’t go so well, so we had to lay off the whole gaming division, we will just be focusing on apps now. One big one coming hopefully still this year, gut feeling that it might be a killer. All is not yet lost hopefully.

- What has been absolutely hot hot hot is our online insurance broker ePojisteni.cz. We are now the biggest in the Czech Rep, doing about 4,500 car insurance contracts a month. Our staff has grown to 50 people there and is actually starting to be a bottleneck since we need more skilled phone brokers. Early next year we’ll launch a new site with more products and also run a big media campaign for around $1 mil. That should boost our dominance further.

- Otherwise I had to scratch plans for the wood pellet factory in Eastern Slovakia. Corruption there is terrible and I refused to give bribes. Nothing was simply possible there with stuffing somebodies pockets, so in the end we didn’t get the contract for wood etc.

- My lipousuction chain Slim & Go is a little shit now, a) it’s a bad season now and b) competition has gone up like crazy and everybody is discounting like hell. We opened a new one in Brno though and will open in Ceske Budejovice in january.

- What’s been really fun lately is this movie we are making together with a friend. We have a pretty decent budget for a Czech film, hired the mexican cameraman who did Amorres Perros, so shots look really good. I’ll hopefully have a little teaser in a few weeks, so will post it here.

- Also have plans to open a new small club in Prague, little bit of a freak show. I’m talking midgets, women in latex, men in wehrmacht uniforms, cyberpunk music etc. Will be fun hopefully. Still early stage idea at this point only.

- Otherwise the European Poker Tour is coming to Prague next week, so will be probably playing the main event or at least the heads up event. Have had a pretty sick run in poker in the last two weeks, up more than $40k, mostly in heads up cash games.

- As for my travel plans, I’ll probably show up at Affiliate Summit in Vegas and DomainFest in LA, so if you’re coming, let me know.

P.S. Keep it real!


Chased by venture capital

October 29th, 2010

I don’t know what’s going on but in the last two weeks we have been approached by 3 different midsize VC/private equity firms enquiring about investment possibilities in EO. Obviously we aren’t on the radar of the big names such as Sequoia Capital or KPCB, but it still is encouraging in a way. The dilemma we have is quite funny – we really don’t know what we would use the cash for. I don’t really believe in “strategic looking” acquisitions (think Oversee buying Moniker and SnapNames) since I think they rarely create value, only opportunistic small bolt on acquisitions. Also a partial exit for our investors or me isn’t that interesting, since we really don’t need the cash either (would result in another dillema – where to put the money). So I really wonder how this will play out. In a way it is good that you really don’t need the cash, since you can really be picky and only accept a really good valuation. It also might be good to wait another year or so because I believe things will heat up again and there will be more institutional money swirling around.


Chutzpah?

October 22nd, 2010

This article has been pulled since Howard did the right thing and deleted his original blogpost. Tip of the day – why don’t the TRAFFIC and Oversee folks exchange tickets to their shows, so both parties could attend for free? Would be an elagant way how to end this terrible beef.


Key Systems buying Namedrive!

October 5th, 2010

Earlier this year I wrote a post about the likely consolidation in the parking business and that Namedrive was very likely to play a role in it. Seems like I have been right and Namedrive is being bought by Key Systems. Should be made public very soon… Otherwise the parties in Prague are starting to get really tough here at DomainFest :)


Open House at Elephant Orchestra

October 3rd, 2010

DomainFest is starting next week and I am eager to welcome you guys in Prague! For those of you who are still in town on Friday, we are having an open house at Elephant Orchestra, giving tours of our offices. It’s sort of our coming out since we’ve built EO into one of the biggest domain companies with 45+ employees sort of in “stealth mode”. We’d love to see all of you from 12.00 to 14.00 at our offices, which are located at Mezibranska 4, right next to the National Museum, where one of the dinner parties take place. If you want to come, please shoot Mateusz an email at drela(at)elephant-orchestra.com.


The frustrations and challenges of running a business from a small country

September 26th, 2010

I happen to live and run my businesses from a country that most Americans can’t point out on a map or still call Czechoslovakia (which is totally understandable, I couldn’t name the 50 US States either). Although I am obviously a big Czech patriot, I would still like to ventilate my frustrations of operating a business from a country that has a population of 10 million. It makes competing on a global scale much more difficult and me and my team have to go the extra yard to be better.

The most frustrating thing is the size of the market – 10 million people with a GDP per capita of $24k at PPP. Compare that to the U.S. with 300 million people / $46k and you find out that the US is roughly a 60x bigger market than the Czech Rep when it comes to buying power. Because of all the language barriers and unique aspects of every European country, it is very difficult to scale a project/service once you reach a certain level. Being part of the EU has certainly helped, but the EU is certainly not a federation of states like the US. Just to illustrate this frustration with an example – take our lead generation department within Elephant Orchestra. Lead Generation is in many ways a local service – you have to be close to your customers (lead buyers) and you have to understand the local market for acquiring traffic. What is currently frustrating us here is that we are hitting  a major constraint in the amount of traffic we can profitably buy and convert. If we want to grow, we have to expand into other lead gen niches (like health, education) or expand abroad. But expanding abroad is very difficult since you have to build up your knowledge and a team from zero and that costs money. Whereas if we would have a US presence, it would be much more easy to scale our model and maintain margins.

Then there are several frustrations of running a global business from here, again to illustrate, I will use the example of Elephant Traffic. First of all, if we want to sell in the US, we have to understand the language. The HR pool of native speakers is really tied to the expat community. Or we have to “import” the people. Second is the travel barrier, if we want to meet our clients, we have to be constantly travelling, which increases costs.  Then there is the time difference, hence our sales people and account managers have to work the US time zone, which means coming to work at 3 p.m. and finishing at 12 p.m. Again that limits the HR pool, a lot of people don’t want to work those hours. Then there is the issue of knowledge exchange – there are virtually no people that would be in a similar business as us, so you can’t refine your ideas, network etc. Then there is the mindset. Czechs typically have a pretty provincial way of thinking (recommend reading the book Good Soldier Svejk to understand). It is difficult to transplant “global thinking” into them.

Obviously there are certainn advantages of operating from the CZ such as well educated cheaper labour, maybe a more favourable tax climate, it’s easier to become a market leader here etc. But really the dissadvantages are still much bigger. Hence I think it is inevitable for us to open a US presence next year. That will allow us to both exploit some of the favourable aspects of the CZ but also make it easier for us to compete with the global players. Take the best of both.