domaining business reviews 2012
absurd domaining cpm
Over the short time I’ve been in the domaining business, I’ve experimented with both reserve and no-reserve auctions. If I balance the pro’s and con’s I am strongly in favour of no-reserve auctions, especially for domains where it is likely multiple parties will be interested in the domain. The upside of a no-reserve auction here outbalances the risk for me (of the domain selling for less than I’d like). For example, just a few minutes ago we had two no-reserve auctions ending on Sedo. We ended selling 949.com for $13,560 and 313.com for $25,000. My original expectation was aroud $30k for both, so the upside (even less Sedo’s commission) worked out well for us. I think the fact that it was a no-reserve auction brought a lot of this upside. Few months ago, the no-reserve format worked out very well for us with the our auction of 64.com, which went all the way to $90k. So I continue to strongly support the no-reserve format because I also want to see more liquidity.
About two months ago we picked up a nice little generic domain domain – leyton.com – on the drop for $1k. Our plan was to do a little development and we didn’t even bother parking it. Few days later we got an offer from a company which had Leyton in it’s name offering us 10k euro for it. We rejected the offer and made a higher counter-offer. The company’s response was to file an UDRP against us. Our lawyer on this, Stevan Liebermann, advised us that it is very likely we will lose the UDRP, so we were ready to take it to court if we lose. Fortunately Stevan wrote an amazing response to the UDRP and against all odds we won it. The story even had a happy end for us – we ended selling the domain for $50k to the company.
This is just a little story to illustrate how important it is to protect your property. It also is a big favour to the domaining community. Since the IP lobby is so strong, we as whole have to try to counterbalance it as much as we can.
I really like destroying commonly held perceptions. So here’s another shot: The future of domaining doesn’t lie in domaining per se, but in finance. Finance is where the new domain fortunes will be made. Knowing the domain game won’t be enough to make you rich anymore.
Let’s look at the development of domaining from a slightly historical perspective. The first guys in the biz (such as Scott Day) saw the value of domains as brands, gateways to the internet, that should be valuable one day. That was their edge. Then guys like Frank Schilling and Kevin Ham came in that understood the value of type-in traffic and built their empires around that (banking on the assymetry of information – most people didn’t understand it). That was their edge. Then came the big tasters. Their edge (already understanding type-in traffic) was in technology, acquiring tasting data and seeing the opportunity that many did not see. From this “historical” point of view we can basically break this down into three evolutionary steps, let’s call it generations – that made a killing in the domain business.
So what is the fourth generation, the next evolutionary step? I believe it is going to be about combining domaining and modern day finance. That’s where the fourth generation domain fortunes will be created.
And that’s exactly where I think my edge is (not that I would want to put myself in the vanguard of this next generation ). You see, when I came into the domain business a little over two years ago, I saw it through a different lens than most people in the business. I simply saw domains as any other asset that creates a cashflow stream (predominantly from PPC). So there was a huge arbitrage opportunity.
This lied and still lies on the ability to raise debt for cheaper than the yield that a domain generates. Say you would buy a great generic for 10 years revenue for $1 million. The cashflow stream is hence $100k per year. Now if you have the ability to raise that amount in debt say at 6% p.a., servicing the debt is going to cost you $60k per year. So you get to pocket the difference (+you have the added benefit of the capital appreciation of the domains). Then you just need to find a way to scale this to make a lot of money. Obviously raising the debt against domains is very difficult so you really have to get creative.
Bringing in aspects of financial engineering is where the new fortunes in domaining are going to be created. However with the introduction of leverage, some fortunes may be also lost (that is the downside). So if you want to make a lot of money in domaining, stop reasearching just domains and look into how private equity works.
Lookig forward to hear your thoughts in the discussion.
One thing that has been puzzling me for some time is the lack of institutional money in any structured way in the domain business. More institutional money is clearly a prerequisite for higher domain valuations.
When you look at it today there is only a little bit. Marchex/Fabulous/Tucows are publicly traded. Oversee, Demand Media, Skenzo, Name Media have all taken aboard funding, very decent amounts. Then we also had iReit, which sort of flopped. Various domaining companies managed to take on some debt such as Reinvent. Domain Capital at least brings a little leverage effect into the business (they have $30 million loaned out). But that’s pretty much it.
But why don’t we have more hedge fund-esque operations that would take on investor’s money, maybe even tie in a little leverage to increase ROE and start buying up portfolios? The only exceptions I sort of know of are DomainIvest.LU (they have raised their first 10 million Euro fund, which is now invested I hear), mad.biz runs some kind of private partnerships, where they bring in limited partners. I do a little bit of that as well. Maybe InternetRealEstate does some of that as well.
So what are the main reasons behind this lack of structured institutional capital?
One factor is that the first round of institutional capital that poured in sort of got burnt. This was before Google/Yahoo started heavily cutting payouts via various quality related claims, before the downturn hit etc. To really illustrate this: If you bought a portfolio in 2007, today it would be probably making 60-80% less on PPC than it did at the time of purchase.
Second is transparency. Michael Gilmour sums it up pretty well in his article here, so no need to elaborate further.
Another issue may be size. When you really think about it, the domain industry is pretty small. My estimate is that Google/Yahoo combined probably pay out about $40 million a month to the domain channel now. That’s already not much, again taking the more macro perspective (compare it to say the size of the bond market). Worse, the market is highly fragmented. There is not probably a domain portfolio owner that would own 10% of this market. Probably Oversee, Reinvent etc may be close to the 10%, but more likely in the 5-7% range, when it comes to their owned and operated portfolios. The domain biz may simply be too small to get on the radar of the big various funds.
And lastly, there is the issue of risk. There is the monetization risk (that ppc will further decline or a big upstream ad provider leaving the space and not syndicating its feeds to the domain channel), maybe a degree of type-in traffic fading away (more long term) and then there is the legal risk. I hope eventually somebody smart will find a way how to securitize the cashflow from domains and create domain derivatives that could for example separate the the yield of a portfolio and its risk. The same way that for example in the bond market you have credit default swaps (through which you can basically separate the yield of a bond from the risk of non-repayment). Doing this would be a huge boost for the business and would really help institutional money to flow in in masses.
So will be see an influx of institutional money coming into domains in the next 3 years?
I really think so. PPC is certainly not going to fall as much as it did in the last 2 years – I actually think it may be relatively stable and new monetization techniques (refer to previous post) may actually even bring a little bit of upside. I also think there is going to be a new breed of domainers-turned-domain fund managers that will start bringing in the institutional money – because the industry is so complex it’s rather difficult for an outsider to do that. And lastly, with us getting out the recession I think investors will have a higher appetite in risk again and start exploring more alternative investments again.
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to my new blog about domaining and other related industries. In many ways this is a coming out for me (I have quite a few gay employees, so I often find myself using their terminology). Since I started in domaining in mid 2007 (started with cctlds, bought my first .com portfolio in December 2007) I have kept a pretty low profile, so most of you probably have not ever heard of me. In the course of the last 2 and a little years I have built one of the top 10 largest domain portfolios in the world. When I was starting, people would tell me that all the good domains have been long gone. Fortunately I didn’t listen…
Anyway, when I look back I’ve had a pretty phenomenal run in last two years since I finished University. Although I’m still just 24, my businenesses now span across domains, lead generation, affiliate marketing, domain monetization, a car insurance broker, search, arbitrage, facebook apps & games, mobile marketing and even a liposuction clinic altogether employing more than 70 people fulltime.
So why have I started blogging. Well there are multiple reasons. One is that the domaining community is simply great and I think it’s time to give back a little. When I was starting I was pretty much addicted to Frank Schilling’s blog (I finally got to meet the guy last month!), it was probably the most valuable resource for me and I would try to reverse engineer many things that Frank would talk about. Now it’s time for me to share some of my tips & tricks! Second reason, connected to the first one slightly, is that there really aren’t many decent domain blogs out there. Pretty much the only ones I find worthwhile of reading are TheDomains.com, DNW.com, DomainNameNews.com and DNJournal.com for the features and sales charts.. All others just seem to have a lack of insight, are limited to publishing recent sales and worst of all, don’t get the game and some are complete attention whores. So I plan on to bring a new interesting resource via my blog, Facing The Absurd. And thirdly, since I am starting quite a few new ventures, I need new channels of promotion, and a blog is a perfect way how to push the message.
I’ll be posting mostly about domains, monetization, acquistion strategies, financing etc. But I will also touch other related businesses such as lead gen, affiliate stuff, online marketing because in many ways these industries will come much closer to domaining in the future.
And lastly I might as well elaborate a little on why this blog is called Facing The Absurd. It’s a reference to my highschool love of absurdist/existentialist thought coming from authors like Camus, Sartre, Dostoevskij, Kafka etc. In many ways I view my life through the absurdist lens and my life is really about facing the absurd state and finding a meaning in a meaningless world.
So, happy reading, I’m off to write a few first meaningful posts…