How I Got Started In The Domain Business

When people find out that I’m involved in the domain business and am the CEO of Domainate.com, the question I’ll get asked first is, “How much is my domain worth?” The second most common question I get is, “How did you get started in the domain business?” In fact, when I’m asked to speak about domains, I’ll usually be asked to start off my answering that question.

Over the 15 years I’ve been involved in the domain industry, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know several thousand of part-time and full-time domainers. (The term “domainer” is used broadly to designate those who invest in domains.) Everyone has a unique story – just as unique as the path they have chosen to take in the domain business.

I consider my own story to be that of an ‘accidental domainer.’ I’ll explain why…

I identify myself first and foremost as an entrepreneur and probably always will.  By the mid-90’s, I’d already been online for a decade and had been doing business online for 5 or 6 years. I started to “collect” domain names for ideas I had for websites and various projects. At this time, there was no secondary market for domains – at least an apparent one anyway.

Towards the end of the 90’s, I received a phone call from a man who was involved with a start-up which had just received funding. I had registered a number of variations of one of my company names. It just so happened that they had named their start-up one of the names I had registered. The man asked me if I was interested in selling the domain. I forget how much he had offered but it was something like $400-500. At the time, it was $140 for 2 years registration fee for domains. In all, it didn’t make sense for me to sell. I said, “No, thanks,” and that seemed to be the end of that.

A couple of weeks later, he called back and substantially increased the offer. But it still wasn’t enough. I had a specific idea in mind on how I wanted to use the domain. Again, I declined the offer.

I think it took another three increases in offers – where the amount finally became significant enough (more than what many people make in a year) for me to say yes.

Needless to say, as a savvy businesswoman, this got me interested in domains as a potential business of it’s own. It wasn’t clear where things were headed with domains as far as a secondary market went.  But I started to accumulate some domains I felt had value.

Maybe a year or two into it, I discovered two places – GreatDomains.com and Afternic.com. Both had a chat room. One came before the other, but I can’t remember which was which. It was predominantly men who were involved in the industry.  The timing here was important: domains came down in price dramatically as competition opened up. Prior to this, Network Solutions had the monopoly on .com registrations. When they lost the monopoly and other registrars were allowed to enter the game, suddenly prices went down to $15 and even less for registrations.

By hanging around the chat rooms, I learned a lot about the technical issues. About how to better research domains. When domains that were not renewed would become available. Just loads of stuff. It was interesting to be a fly on a wall back then.

I rapidly ramped up my own portfolio and I think by the end of 2001, I had over 5000 domain names. I had a lot of contacts with ad agencies and that provided ready contacts for selling domains to.

In retrospect, I made one huge mistake back then: I was focused on domains that I felt could sell for a lower price because I could turn them over more quickly rather than focusing on premiums. If I could turn back time, I’d definitely have followed a different strategy.

Although domains continued to be a sideline for me (albeit a very profitable one), my operations were requiring a lot more work. I had people who helped in research and then eventually I started selling the research results to others in the industry. At one time, I had a half a dozen different research reports on domains being published at the same time – all at varying price points and all typically sold out. For most of the time, none of these were promoted via web sites of any kind. They grew through word-of-mouth referrals.

By 2007-2009, I stopped publishing all of these. The secondary market for domains had substantially grown. There were a lot more tools available for people to research on their own. There were a lot of competitors who entered the marketplace offering similar research to what I was offering. It just didn’t make sense to continue.

In mid-2007, I started working with Steve Jones (co-founder at Domainate.com) and a handful of others on a project called “Domain Bootcamp.” We had planned on offering both in-person and online training for those wanting to learn more about the domain business. Unfortunately, for various reasons, we never got things off the ground as a standalone program but it did lead me to start working with Steve on domain acquisitions and sales.

Steve and I have entirely different backgrounds in domains. Domains are his passion and what he does. We make a good balance in terms of selecting domains and decision making on the business side. A partnership works well when you provide checks for one another.

We decided to set up an entirely separate company for joint operations and settled on the name Domainate after a few other short-term ideas that we just didn’t “feel.” (I’ll blog another time about the history of this specific choice since I think it’s worth sharing.)

Through the same company we have offered end-user branding and rebranding, wholesale sales, domain training and consulting services. In early 2011, we spun off the wholesale and training division into Doma.in.

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6 Comments on “How I Got Started In The Domain Business”

  1. Sharon I really enjoyed this post! It’s great to get more insight in your journeys as to how you developed to be in the place where you are now. Well done!

    • Sharon Hayes says:

      Mirjam, thanks! Also, you were my first commenter – yay! 🙂 I find people’s stories/backgrounds to always be fascinating. Many entrepreneurs find success in doing things they never really planned on doing. Ironically, my largest revenue business falls into this category – a service I offer because I had clients asking where they could get it done. Then it took on a life of it’s own.

  2. autismfamily says:

    Interesting history, enjoyed reading it. I almost bought a domain since I have been using ‘autismfamily’ for 11 yrs online, but decided against it at the last minute.

    • Sharon Hayes says:

      Bonnie, thanks! As for registering a single domain, the one thing you want to consider is what you will do with the domain afterward. 🙂

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  4. Sharon Hayes says:

    Reblogged this on Sharon Hayes Dot Com and commented:

    When people find out that I’m involved in the domain business and am the CEO of Domainate.com, the question I’ll get asked first is, “How much is my domain worth?” The second most common question I get is, “How did you get started in the domain business?” In fact, when I’m asked to speak about domains, I’ll usually be asked to start off my answering that question.


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