klasmen Czech Republic
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!
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.
DOMAINSPONSOR® EXPANDS DOMAINFEST® TO EUROPE --Early October event in Prague will focus on networking, building European business interest in online real estate-- LOS ANGELES, Calif. and FRANKFURT, Germany. DomainSponsor®, the domain monetization business unit of Oversee.net® and organizer of the DOMAINfest® series of conferences, said today that it will expand the highly regarded franchise into Europe with a conference in Prague, Czech Republic. The two-day event will be held Wednesday and Thursday, October 6 and 7, 2010 at the landmark Hotel Intercontinental located in the heart of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Building on the success of last month’s event in Santa Monica, California, the October meeting will continue DOMAINfest’s focus on increasing the value of Internet real estate and will offer a rich setting for extensive networking involving topics relevant not only to domain investors from Europe, but also from around the world. Subject-matter experts will be invited to facilitate the networking sessions on Wednesday, October 6th. The first day will also include a Moniker® Premium Domain Name Auction powered by SnapNames LiveTM technology. Day 2 will be focused on social activities in and around Prague designed to provide the kind of shared experiences that can contribute to the building of long-term relationships between DOMAINfest Europe attendees. 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As with all DOMAINfest events, we will be offering affordable registration rates to encourage maximum participation from a wide range of talented professionals from both inside and outside our industry.” In January, 2010, DomainSponsor hosted a highly successful DOMAINfest Global® conference in Santa Monica, California that attracted more than 600 professionals from a variety of internet-related industries. The conference included a variety of sessions over a three day period, including a keynote fireside chat with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. This recent DOMAINfest conference also featured a first-ever PITCHfest contest, structured networking sessions, and moderated general sessions with experts from the world of investment, advertising, and marketing. Videos of each session, including the keynote fireside chat, can be viewed at http://www.domainfest.com. In November 2009, DomainSponsor announced the establishment of its European head office in Frankfurt, Germany with Joerg Schnermann as General Manager. Moniker® Auction Moniker will host a live premium domain name auction on Wednesday, October 6 followed by an extended online-only auction from October 7 to October 14. Specific start and end times for each auction event will be announced June 1, 2010. The live auction offers real-time online viewing and bidding from anywhere in the world via a free software download. Details on how to bid in-person or remotely in any Moniker live auction can be found at http://domainauctions.moniker.com . Registration and Sponsorship Opportunities Registration for DOMAINfest Europe will be open June 1, 2010. The early bird registration rate will be US$395 until July 1st. A discounted rate of US$495 will then be available until September 1st, at which point the price increases to US$595. Companies interested in sponsorship opportunities can contact firstname.lastname@example.org . About DOMAINfest® Founded and hosted by DomainSponsor®, the domain monetization division of Oversee.net, the DOMAINfest® conference brings domain industry and Internet professionals together to learn, network, and do business. Attendees include online advertising experts, domain publishers, domain monetization experts, SEO and SEM specialists, website developers, online marketers, ad or affiliate network suppliers, search advertising providers, venture capitalists, bankers and trademark/legal advisors. Visit http://www.domainfest.com for more information. About Oversee.net Oversee.net® is the leader in Internet real estate, specializing in monetizing, registering, selling and developing domain names. The company provides an array of managed services to domain investors, corporations, and individuals across more than ten million web sites. 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My lead generation business happens to be the fastest growing department in the company, with 350% year over year growth. Over the course of a year, the lead generation business grew from 1 person to 9 employees and by the end of the year I would like to have at least 20 in lead gen. So far we are only active in the Czech Republic where we are getting the proof of concept right before we expand abroad in the next few months.
At this point we are very close to doing $100k in revenue (we should pass that level next month) a month from lead gen with a 35% gross margin. It still contributes very little profit in comparison to my domain portfolio, but it is a huge growth business that in 2 years time could be a substantial contributor to our EBITDA. Our revenue target for 2010 is $1.8 million, which should be very attainable.
In the past year we’ve done a lot of tweaking of the model, implementing new marketing channels etc and I am pretty sure we’re getting the model right now. I’d like to share our model with with you guys. Maybe it could bring some inspiration to you or you could in exchange share some of your ideas how we can further improve.
90% of our lead generation business is finance – personal loans, payday loans, mortgages, credit cards, car insurance, life insurance etc. We are trying to expand the model into other areas now such as telco and utilities, but that’s still going to take time.
We work with clients only directly. Our selling point is pretty much this – Let us handle your performance marketing, instead of clicks we will provide you with more targeted leads (where you can exactly measure the performance) and we can generate volume. And lastly, we put our money where our mouth is – we invest in all the media buying on our own account and hope we will make the money back on leads. Compare this to various SEO/SEM consultants that offer ambiguous advice.
Once we have secured the client we build a professional landing page (we now have a lot of experience with this) that will convert well. Then the integral part is the marketing mix. The marketing is really just a form of arbitrage where you want the money that you spend on advertising to make you more on leads. This involves a lot of testing, measuring conversions etc. Currently our marketing mix that we find to work looks like this:
- Killer domain – we own some of the best generics in the finance sector in the .cz namespace such as the equivalent of “loans.cz” – pujcky.cz (example of our lead gen site).
- PPC – we buy quite a lot of clicks via Seznam.cz (largest Czech portal) and Google and arbitrage that against the leads
- SEO – we work hard to get organic rankings and happen to be pretty good at that
- Affiliates – we created our own affiliate network which now has more than 360 affiliates and is on of the top5 affiliate networks in .cz
- Display advertisig – since we need to create volume, we are also a pretty big spender on display advertising. Downside is that leads from display convert worse for advertisers than say, from ppc. But you need it for the volume.
- Email – we still haven’t realized the full potential of email marketing, although we have collected an opt-in database of over 110,000 email addresses. Still a lot of potential there.
- Mobile marketing – since we usually have the mobile numbers of people, we are starting to experiment with this as well. So far we mainly use mobile marketing as a way to improve to quality of leads for our clients – for example by certifying that the customers mobile phone number is real. We could use mobile marketing more aggressively though.
So this is pretty much how our model works and I am sure we are getting it pretty right.
So how do we plan to grow our lead generation business this year? Mainly through 3 opportunities:
- Focus on more sectors – As I said, we want to diversify more into telco, utilities, travel etc.
- Take a jump up the value chain – We want to be able to offer clients not just a lead, but also the closing of the sale and hence take a bigger cut of the action. We are starting to build our own callcenter for this.
- Expand abroad – This is probably where the biggest potential is. Our marketing mix may be a little bit different though. I see a lot of potential in especially arbitraging my domain traffic to leads. I currently get about 700k uniques a day so that’s a decent supply of traffic.
Rumour has it that there might be another DomainFest this year in Prague, Czech Republic. Prague happens to be my hometown so it will be very nice potentially welcoming the domainer community in Prague! I’ve had quite a few people from the domain biz over last year, they can all give you a pretty good reference about it.
I’ve been strongly lobbying for a conference in Prague with both Oversee.net and also Rick Latona, who now runs the TRAFFIC franchise, for some time. It seems I have finally been heard out with Oversee making this big push into Europe this year (they already had a private event last year in Munich, which was really nice). If it’s going to happen, it will likely be early October. Let’s wait if it gets confirmed.
In my traditional fashion, I’ll probably run a private party at my new fabulous penthouse with a roof top terrace (jacuzzi baby!) with a view of the Prague castle where I will be inviting good friends. So prepare for a pretty decadent night.
DomainFest in Prague would be a pretty nice boost for the Czech domainer community, which is very numerous. With a few friends we run these one-day domainer conferences that always attract more than 100 attendees. Although DomainFest may be a bit too pricey for them, I hope to secure some kind of discount for locals with Oversee so it’s more accessible for them.