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.
March 11th, 2010
I see a lot of domainers diversify into real estate when they start making money. They view it as something similar to domains. The truth is that they would have been much better off if they would have kept re-investing in domains or other businesses.
My perception is that real estate investments are a sinful waste of money, money that maybe yields 5% per year. For us domain investors that is a petty return. If I would have a choice, I would prefer to have money in the bank than in real estate. Because it’s liquid and available for opportunistic deal making and this liquidity outweighs the forgone yield for me.
The main arguement made by domainers is that real estate is a very secure investment. Every domainer has paranoias that his domains might be taken away but he knows that nobody is going to take his house away. Hence they sacrifice yield in favour of security.
The big secret is that you do not have to sacrifice yield in exchange for security. The answer is diversification. If you have a diversified portfolio of high yielding investments (like domains) or businesses (obviously running the risk that some of these may default/go bancrupt) you will still be better off in the long run than if you plow money into real estate.
I like to illustrate things with analogies, so here’s one from the bond market. In the long run, a well diversified portfolio of junk bonds will perform better than a portfolio of tripleA rated bonds. Some of the junk bonds will obviously default, but the higher yield of the others will more than compensate for this in comparison to the AAA’s.
March 4th, 2010
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.
March 1st, 2010
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.
February 27th, 2010
A lot of people involved in buying and selling names got burnt by buying domains in 2007-08 peak valuations that still to this day cannot be liquidated for the price they were bought for. The interesting thing to me is that most people have a preference to sit on the paper loss until it eventually turns around (they hope) and they will be able to sell without making a loss. I.e selling for under the buying price is taboo for them. I think this is an error that is actually producing more losses for them.
I’ll support my thinking with an example. Say you bought a domain for $100k in 2008. In today’s market the maximum you can get for it is $80k, so you decide to wait. In 2012 you will get to sell the domain for $120k and make 20% on your investment over a course of 4 years. That is a pretty bad ROI. Instead, if you were willing to take a loss and sell the domain in 2009 for $80k, you would initially incur a 20% loss but you could put that $80k you got to work. Say buying and selling more domains, investing in a portfolio etc. From 2009 to 2012 a skilled domain flipper could probably turn that $80k easily into $300k in three years time. So if you would have taked the liquidity route, you could have got a much better ROI on your $100k investment. Pause for thought.