Frager Factor

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Barefoot Domainer: Itchy Feet, Restless Mind = ClickFund

In its most recent quarter, The ClickFund paid out over 11% on investment. "We've had a very successful first year. Our plans are to have a second launch to attract more funds."


Domain Names Make The Living That Allows Robert Epstone To Make A Difference

So many of the successful domainers we've talked about defy any kind of pigeonholing or stereotyping. But there are some recurring themes - these men and women set their own goals, their own personal standards, even invent their own rules. And they're driven, with their vision and energy, to make the most of any opportunity.

We recently connected with a man who raises the "uniqueness" bar so high we're verging on altitude sickness. UK born and bred Robert Epstone seems to view the world around him as something that demands reinvention. To be more sustainable, giving, just, and prosperous. Much of his life reads like a manual for positive disruption in pursuit of that ideal. And he's had the tenacity and brass to make an impressive go of it.

Consider: At one time he was manager of the British rock group T Rex – The Band. He worked on a film for the BBC about deforestation, and another exposing the drug barons in Peru being injured in a terrorist attack, killing three of his team by the Luminoso (Shining Path). Driving a convoy in Kosovo to deliver aid funded by the fashion world in the UK, he barely escaped being blown up in another terrorist attack. In more peaceful circumstances, he facilitated a deal with fellow-renegade Richard Branson to open up Virgin Megastores in Japan. He's traveled much of Asia and Africa tirelessly raising money for research and facilities for teenagers with cancer in UK. Now living with his wife in Bali, Epstone recently created some 20 wells providing a sustainable water supply for 2,000 villagers on the nearby island of Sumba and for this work has been honored as Rotary Club of Bali Seminyak's Rotarian of the Year during his first year of joining the club.

Did he ever have a day job? Yes -producing high quality suits for UK's Marks & Spencer- in Shanghai, where old friend and fellow Buddhist Martin Kellerman inspired him to give it up and invest in domain names. Kellerman himself was making more money from domain names than from his job as a software executive.

Turning 60 and eager for fresh challenges, Epstone got hooked on the notion and never let go. "I went to Bali for a wedding, loved it, and decided to offload my company in Shanghai and move to the island and buy a beach house - my retirement dream." Scooping up domain names was just the seed of a new career: it would soon expand into two enterprises - the Click Fund, and Traffic Asset Management (TAM), an Internet Property Asset Management Company. "Talking with the man who sold me my beach house, I discovered he was the CFO of an Asia-based multinational financial corporation ... when he looked at the model of my new business, he said, 'if this is what I think it is, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.'” He jumped on board, and is now one of the Fund's three partners, providing capital and leads for more investors.

Epstone's visit to DomainFest in Los Angeles hooked him up with the folks at Epik. "I was very impressed. The people I met were incredibly open, loved to chat - very refreshing over other businesses. It was natural to start doing business with them."

How much business? The ClickFund currently has 500 sites with Epik - 300 indexed and 200 under development - with more on the way. "We launched the Click Fund in April 2010," Epstone says, "to capitalize on opportunities in domain names as online real estate. We've invested in a diversified range of internet property-related assets. As part of our deal with Epik, they'll develop a suite of domains in a vertical and high income producing category. Being based in Asia, we are increasingly aware that Asian investors are seeking alternative asset classes as a hedge against risk, e.g. correlation risk and counterparty risk. We believe domain assets are de-coupled from traditional investment classes and can perform well throughout the volatile economic cycles as a serious alternative asset class."

The ClickFund's start into domaining was in the retail space through Epik new 3.0 portals including discountatvtires.com, plussizeslacks.com and bandedcollarshirts.com. Today, the categories of domains that Epik has been developing for ClickFund expansion are in Travel --hotels, flights and car rentals.

Rob Monster, Chairman of Epik notes, "ClickFund is in the right place at the right time with the right team. Domain names are is on track to emerge as a respected asset class with institutional following. Alternative investments like timber rights and student housing took years to mature as institutional-grade investment themes. Likewise, domains are in need of professional management who can productize ways to invest in the growth of the Internet. Development-grade domains and income-producing websites are among the most capital efficient ways to have exposure to ongoing growth of the Internet and ClickFund is a leading player in the emerging sector."

The ClickFund manages investors' assets, but Epik does almost all the other work. "As an Asset Management Company, our expectation is for Epik to maximize the returns for us. The people at Epik also drop catch, create websites and monetize them for us -- for instance, they have big plans to monetize different niches, like certain travel sites, where we are Epik’s exclusive partner. They have plans to introduce Masterbucks for their product portals - a way to incentivize visitors to create unique content and make it easier for them to buy products from the sites. Plus, they manage all the traffic building activities."

But Epstone's respect for Epik goes far beyond their management skills. "They're a business run by quality people with fantastic potential! They share our enthusiasm for the opportunities in Asia, and also they're actively engaging institutional investors with the professional approach that professional investors expect to see. Epik is unique in being able to power the entire value chain of domains: Acquire, Build, Manage, Divest."

The ClickFund is an ideal fit with Epstone's lifestyle and location. "The key drivers of the growth of internet property assets continue to be very attractive. The domain industry is evolving into a more mature marketplace, offering Internet operators and investors more and more significant opportunities. Domains are global assets -- and a logical fit with export-oriented enterprise, as is widespread in Asia. Since domains are becoming more and more respected and accepted as an asset class, new investors should seriously consider using professional asset managers to gain exposure to domains, to diversify their investment and lower their risk."

Is it working? In its most recent quarter, The ClickFund paid out over 11% on investment. "We've had a very successful first year. Our plans are to have a second launch to attract more funds."

The Soul of the Sole Men

Robert Epstone is on two missions: to promote the benefits of domains as an alternative asset class, and to free up more of his time so he can pursue his passion. Simply enough, it's all about helping others.

He's the founder of Sole Men Foundation (www.solemen.org) in Bali, a group currently walking 535 kilometers, barefoot, around the entire island to support poor and homeless children in Indonesia and to "gain the attention of the world for solidarity to millions of Indonesian children who are living in segregated islands, in Sumba, Sumbawa, Flores, Papua and also in corners of Java, and who cannot buy shoes." And other, longer, barefoot walks are planned for other parts of Indonesia. The funds raised will also go toward better schools, an ambulance for a birthing clinic, and much more.

For the Barefoot Entrepreneur of Bali, people in need make up the largest domain in his portfolio.


Editor’s note: Over the course of this interview, the mission had begun, and Robert sent a clip from The Bali Today Show. We were inspired to donate and would love it if you could join us.



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About The Author: Owen Frager is an Internet marketing expert ready to help take your company to the next level.

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