Frager Factor

Friday, December 03, 2010

Mike Mann: "We know where they're for sale and what their prices are, and we have our own algorithms to figure out if the price is fair."

Ps. Find Mike's Domains for sale at DomainMart.com

"There are always annoying lawyers and people all over the place, so one out of every couple thousand domains gets challenged. Almost every time it's a joke and a scam from my perspective, because in no case were any of those domains really somebody else's property. They were names that were just totally broad, generic names that somebody believed they had some God-given right to for some reason. Every once in awhile the UDRP panels, which are terribly incompetent overall, give away our domains but it's extraordinarily rare, one out of many thousand domains."


Philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Mike Mann founded BuyDomains.com, a very valuable domain company, as well as numerous other companies through his WashingtonVC Internet business incubator. Mike also founded and launched GrassRoots.org and The Make Change Trust. He also authored the popular EBook, "Make Millions and Make Change for Entrepreneurs and Non-Profits." Today he's working on Phone.com, a next gen telecommunications company based on the name he acquired in the aftermarket.

Read part 2 of Jeff Zbar's 3 part DomainSuccess.com interview where Mike discusses domaining, entrepreneurship, and how the two can benefit philanthropy.


Jeff:
Is that really important to have confidence in how to run a business?

Mike: Sure. That's one of the key points of my book. If anybody's interested they can email me and they can get a hard copy of my book. They can also request it through the website. If they don't want a hard copy they can download the PDF from the website. In any case, one of the main themes of the book is that in order to be successful you have to really believe in your plan and why you're here. Part of that is fundamental confidence that's of actually accomplishing a goal. For me, I don't know if it's a genetic aspect or something in my environment, but in any case, when I start a business, I always believe in it. I think about lots of businesses and business ideas. I create my short list and think of different ideas, brands, and brand names. When I make my decisions, I always believe and I think as a result I'm getting a disproportionate amount of success.

Jeff: As we look at how many companies that you run and how many operations that you have, how do you maintain and sustain focus in all this? A lot of us will have numerous domains we're trying to develop, we're trying to build out, we're trying to monetize, whatever the case may be. If we're selling widgets, we're trying to make sure that inventory stays, our relationships with vendors so the shipping stays on. How do you maintain and sustain focus?

Mike: I have a bit of ADD as you can see when you watch me click around here. I don't sustain focus so great, but what I do is I hire great people, great back office and smart, organized people with good systems and they help me maintain focus. My business partners, a lot of them are attorneys, CPAs, business managers, awesome techies, and sales and marketing executives. They run big portions of the corporation and they run all of it and for all the various tentacles of our corporation, and I kind of oversee it at a higher level. I try my best to oversee it at a higher level and give people more direction. So they kind of keep the focus and I jump around from thing to thing. It's very difficult and confusing, but I have grand ambition and I want to build a lot of really excellent companies.

Jeff: Do you spend any time worrying about what the competition is doing? Domaining is getting very competitive, and market forces are conspiring to make it even more challenging. How much time do you spend worrying about what they may be doing out there?

Mike: It's interesting. My main thing is managing WashingtonVC, which really isn't the traditional venture capital company. It's more of an Internet application, Internet site and Internet brand builder. We do invest in some third party application sites and businesses, but then we try to bring them in our family. We're really business and website operators and innovators. In my mind, there aren't a lot of people that are doing so broadly what we're doing. However when you get down to the nitty gritty, you'll find lots of cool search engine optimization companies, lots of cool domain companies, a couple of cool skateboard companies, a thousand little graphic design companies, and other companies that build cool search engine optimization software like [Software.com. Each of our unique business units has considerable competition that certainly concerns me at a broad level, but fortunately almost all of the companies have management. The management are experts within their own niche. The president of Skateboards.com is an expert in skateboarding, surfboarding, and snowboarding. That same idea extends to our other companies.

Jeff: A question from the audience. Do you use parking companies for the domains you haven't gotten around to developing? How do you handle that?

Mike: We're actually attempting to build our own landing page optimization platform so all of our domains land on top of our platform, and within that we'll have a variety of ideas on how to make profits, CPA activities and various related applications in there. Basically we're going to test lots of cool ideas on top of landing pages, try different marketing and advertising mechanisms, media mechanisms . We believe we will create the best landing page optimization software [inaudible 0:28:28] in the process. With that we will probably diversify [inaudible 0:28:33]. I'm going to cut off and dial back in. Apparently I'm not being heard that well.

Jeff: Okay. We're going to pause for a moment and see if Mike can dial back in and get a better sound. We apologize for this. We don't know what's going on with the system, but we're trying to work on it and this might be the best solution. Hold on for just one moment while Mike dials back in.

We're going to spend a few minutes now addressing some of the questions that you have out there. If you have any questions, feel free to post them to the questions area. We've been following your comments also about audio. We're going to work on that and hopefully this will remedy. We're going to get to some of your questions now as well, so please hold on.

Mike: Hello, I am unmated. Hello, can you hear me?

Jeff: I can hear you. Sounds much better. Okay, let's start from the top. Hi, my name is Jeff Zbar, and we're here with Mike Mann. Just kidding. I think we got most of it and if people have questions or if there's anything where you heard a little bit of what Mike was saying but couldn't some of it, if you want to ask questions we'll give a little bit more time to go through it.

Mike, another question that had come up. Have you had any problems with UDRP? I guess the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy?

Mike: Uniform Domain Resolution Policy, I guess. First of all, there are different companies. In the past, I owned a company that had a much bigger portfolio, hundreds of thousands of domains. We have an extremely small percentage of challenges because all of our names are generic, which you can tell clearly from the home page and from the pages. There are always annoying lawyers and people all over the place, so one out of every couple thousand domains gets challenged. Almost every time it's a joke and a scam from my perspective, because in no case were any of those domains really somebody else's property. They were names that were just totally broad, generic names that somebody believed they had some God-given right to for some reason. Every once in awhile the UDRP panels, which are terribly incompetent overall, give away our domains but it's extraordinarily rare, one out of many thousand domains.

Jeff: I think this might be something that might come up more down the road and might be an interesting point of view from you. What determines how you're going to defend such a claim aside from keeping teams of legal eagles on call and on retainer? In all seriousness, what determines how you're going to defend and where you draw the line in your own mind?

Mike: Three of my business partners are attorneys, and at the same time we outsource legal work for various purposes. We're very well insulated, and at the same time we don't do anything illegal so we shouldn't have to defend anything.

Jeff: A question about how you fulfill orders for skateboards, or do you forward sales to a skateboard company and then get a commission?

Mike: We have a fulfillment partner that has access to probably all the board models in the world, and then they just ship it out for us.

Jeff: Do you focus on .com, or have you ventured into .idn?

Mike: Very little international, but we do have a lot of .org, a very great .org collection, and we have a few cool .nets. But we're very heavily weighted toward .com. Again, you can see the sample list in front, I believe.

Jeff: How many are represented on this list? Is this list inclusive completely? If we counted 1 to 5,000, would we find them all there?

Mike: No, definitely not, but there's probably about half of them on there. They're pointed to different places and doing different things. Again, there will be a new website launched within a week or so wherein we will try to add all the assets.

Jeff: What application to you use to manage your names?

Mike: We've built very cool proprietary systems for everything in the domain space. We have very excellent backend integrated systems built on open-source software platforms.

Jeff: Show us some of the tools that you recommend that people use to develop their domains and run their businesses more efficiently and create a better and more professional company or business. I know you have even a page on one of your sites that has some of the links to some of the different applications that people can use in order to improve some of the suggestions you have for products out there.

Mike: As far as the way we manage our own domains, we built a proprietary domain purchasing technology that gives us insight into what's for sale where, when, etc. That includes our own kind of internal appraisal system which helps us analyze a lot of criteria electronically with the domain and gives us some indication of where it falls in the hierarchy of domain quality. Then we have proprietary domain selling technology which does something very similar, and then our website itself as I mentioned earlier. Even though this is not the finished website, it is actually eCommerce enabled. Those are my three main tools. The question is, are there off-the-shelf things where people can use for purchasing their domains? Clearly for selling the domains they can use companies like BuyDomains.com, Sedo.com, Moniker, etc. They can do various forms of commerce off their website, and people can either manage their own websites through various interfaces or outsource it to a third party. That's kind of how we manage the domains. Other tools that I use just to get by on a day-to-day basis, building my business, etc. include things like SalesForce.com to do my contact management, which integrates and has links to lots of other third-party applications and other information stored in some of my other applications. I use Referral which is like a bookmark manager. I obviously live in Google all the time. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question very well.

Jeff: That's fine. One question that came up is if this represents about half and you have half again as many that aren't on this list on DomainMarket.com, it's still a heck of a domain list. After selling off BuyDomains, how did you accumulate a list like this again? Especially at a time when people would say it's too late to get started, and certainly too late to do it again. How did you come across and acquire or register this level and this thoroughness and this quality of a domain list?

Mike: I'm kind of notorious at this. This is only 5,000 names. I bought 500,000 when I was employed at BuyDomains.com. So it's relatively easy to buy 5,000, and I'm still buying probably a couple dozen a day at this point. I'm extremely selective as you can see here. We have the systems and the technologies. We know where they're for sale and what their prices are, and we have our own algorithms to figure out if the price is fair. If the price meets our pricing criteria, then we strike and we'll buy a bunch. Generally speaking, again, this is only 5,000 names out of 100 million in the world that are registered, so it's a relatively small percentage of what's going on out there. What we're trying to do is just pick the very best stuff, and we're very aggressive with the price we're willing to pay for them. At the same time, the price we're willing to pay for them just got slashed in half with the economy and our access to capital for that matter.

Jeff: Talk to me a little about the mental algorithm. You have an algorithm that can tell you how much they're worth, but what is the mental algorithm you go through that tells you this is actually a good name? Cost aside, price aside, whether you're looking to hand register something, how do you know something is going to have traction in the market today?

Mike: The software we have doesn't tell us the value of the name, but it just kind of ranks them relative to other names and it highlights certain aspects of them. For example, you see on my screen here I believe you see the G link right here right? That G link is a Google link for popularity. Any name here we put a little G link next to so essentially when we go here to the G small manufacturers this is something that anybody -- oops, looks like it's broken though. That's not good. Oh, there it goes. You can see here the popularity of the domain is just one of the features. Our software is going to analyze a broad array of the features of the domain and kind of score it in a variety of ways. Then they'll show it to me or somebody on my team and we'll evaluate it. Let's look on DomainMarket for example. SocialServices.org. What it boils down to is if somebody's not willing to pay $65,000, we'd rather keep the name or build a site with it or sell it in 5 or 10 years or whatever. We look at how great of a name it is, what it means to us, how valuable and meaningful it is to us, and then we decide what we'd be willing to part with it at. There's probably a little flexibility. We negotiate 10 or 15% from these list prices essentially. To be continued....

Please see MikeMann.com for links to all of his current and past activities, including downloading his free EBook, "Make Millions and Make Change."



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