Four years ago almost to the day, I interviewed Michael Sumner, the man who runs what I believe is the most vital industry resource in the domain name industry.
I checked in with Michael this weekend for a new set of questions about his approach to domaining and Namebio.
1) Namebio has come a long way since you first took over, how much time each day does it take to maintain such a vital industry resource?
Michael) A typical day would be editing our two daily blog posts, manually adding sales reports, responding to emails, checking social media and NamePros, manning the live chat, and bookkeeping. Those responsibilities only take up two or three hours a day.
Then I’ll occasionally have a busy day if a scraper breaks or we’re being attacked.
When I’m adding new features like our improved comps engine, paid memberships, the API, etc. I’ll work 16 hour days, seven days a week, for weeks in a row. Balance is not my strong suit.
2) I first interviewed you in July of 2016, has being exposed to all this data changed your personal domain investing approach?
Michael) I haven’t personally been investing much in domains for the past couple of years.
I’ve mainly been focusing on NameBio, managing a few large portfolios, and building in-house automation tools for others.
The portfolio management conflicts me out of investing on my own for the most part, and I’d rather play with other peoples’ money at a much larger scale than I can afford.
3) Are there any new features or games planned for down the road, like the Domain Game App?
Michael) My wish list is getting shorter and shorter as the years pass and things get done.
Right now my main focus is on putting the finishing touches on our comps engine, there are still a few areas where it needs improvement.
When that is done I’ll probably circle back to our AI appraiser. I’ve been working on that since before GoValue existed, but once GoDaddy launched it I put ours on the back burner.
I’m not sure that will ever become a reality, or if it will be significantly better than what they’ve done, but I still want to give it a shot. The first version seemed really promising before I tabled it.
Other than that, it’s pretty high up on my radar to be able to automatically classify domains into wholesale, retail, and SEO buckets.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but I think it will help users understand the data better and perform more accurate appraisals in less time. And I’d like to add some more data points like creation date, other TLDs registered, and so on.
No more games or anything like that. It was a fun project that has generated a lot of valuable human-appraisal data, and helped thousands of players hone their gut instincts.
I’m happy to see people are still playing it even though we haven’t promoted it in years. When you last interviewed me we were pushing up on 250k questions played and now we’re about to hit 2 million.
If anyone has any ideas for new tools or features I’d love to hear them!
4) You started offering paid subscriptions a while back, in my opinion worth the money, how has the response been?
Michael) It’s been better than I expected, but not as good as I hoped for, if that makes any sense. The main motivator for creating the memberships was that we were getting a lot of power-user feature requests, but there was no way we could offer them for free to anonymous users because they would get abused.
I never really expected anyone but heavy users to sign up, since most people can make do with the free version. Around 1/3 of the heaviest users have subscribed, and hundreds of more casual users have joined as well.
Thankfully we’ve also been fortunate to get a fair bit of Enterprise support from brokerages. For example all GoDaddy, Afternic, and Uniregistry brokers have memberships, as do quite a few of the boutiques.
Several marketplaces that curate inventory have memberships as well, like DNWE and BrandBucket, to help them make approval decisions. Some of the registries have been using the extra data they get with membership to price their premiums.
5) I love the fact you now produce results from every corner of the net, all the new upstart services seem to get their sales reported now. Was that a difficult process and is there anybody left to incorporate?
Michael) I wish I could take credit for that, but the new startups paid for inclusion. Basically the idea was that it would probably take a year or more before they were producing enough $100+ sales to be worth the dev cost to scrape them, so they paid to jump to the top of the queue. For them it makes sense because it is a one-time fee to get a lifetime of publicity. Kind of like paying to be on Domaining.com; the ROI on that is insane.
I would like to see DaaZ in the daily report, especially now that India is our second highest source of traffic after the US, with third place far behind. India is the new China when it comes to domains, I expect in a couple of years they’ll be our top source of traffic. Actually, as I write this I’ve convinced myself to bump DaaZ to the top of the development queue, so expect that soon 🙂
All that said we already have a tremendous amount of wholesale data flowing in every day. What I would really like is for retail venues to step up and start reporting more sales, or for more people to manually report to us if the marketplaces won’t. I think the industry will mature a lot faster with more retail data being public.
6) Do you have a problem with a lot of rogue sites out there trying to scrape all your data?
Michael) Not so much anymore, over the years I’ve built some pretty advanced systems to prevent abuse. I know it’s getting tough because people are now joining as members when they want to abuse the site. That does bypass some security features, but they still end up getting banned anyway and losing their money.
7) As someone who sees all the sales data, what would you say to a new domain investor who just had $2,000 to get started on their domain investment journey?
Michael) I think I would go with “Run!” But if I were in a more constructive mood I would say to spend $399 on DNAcademy, and then bury yourself in studying that course for the next few months, reading sales reports religiously, playing our mobile game, watching DomainSherpa, hanging out on NamePros, making some friends and maybe even finding a mentor, etc. before spending another dime.
I really hate to think about how many newbies have sent me lists of hundreds or even thousands of domains, asking me for my opinion, and the lists are absolute garbage.
I mean not a single one worth the reg fee. So bad that you would have a better portfolio if you threw darts at the Deleted Domains list on ExpiredDomains.net and bought what you hit.
Without some guidance they’ll blow through that $2k and have literally nothing to show for it. Maybe they’ll have learned what not to do, but that’s probably optimistic.
You can’t even win a halfway decent expired auction for that $399 tuition, and you’ll learn a heck of a lot more from that course than buying a single, mediocre expired domain.
Then once you know which way is up, you’re going to have to do some extreme bargain hunting with a bankroll that small. That means forget the expired auctions.
You’re going to have to go where fewer people are willing to go, like the closeouts bin, small expired marketplaces like NameSilo or Dynadot, or even hand registering names. But please, before you buy something, search Google, CrunchBase, OpenCorporates, LinkedIn, etc. and make sure there are plenty of buyers to reach out to with that exact name.
Because you’re going to have to do outbound sales, you won’t be able to buy enough names to get more than one passive sale a year and the renewals will eat that up.
I think the better approach is to reach out to registrants and try to buy domains that aren’t actively for sale. This is the best way to get a screaming deal.
Just brainstorm names while you’re watching TV, or my favorite approach, look through our daily sales charts and try to come up with better versions of what already sold. For example today you see Sniffers.com, so check what is going on with Sniffer.com or even Sniff.com.
You see EcoTourist.com, check what EcoTourism.com is up to. Of course only do this for names where the weaker version is still good; a better version of crap is still crap.
It makes it a lot easier to come up with ideas, and then you also know you have a close comp handy should you find a good target. If nothing is being done with the domain, and it isn’t parked, reach out and make an inquiry.
This is getting harder because of GDPR, but DomainIQ WHOIS history can help with that.
If you’re not able to strike a deal because the price is out of your budget, you can always offer to broker the name.
Of course you’ll need a professional looking website to pull that off. But then you have the chance to make money off the domain without risking anything.
If they refuse, but you still think the price is reasonable, reach out to some big domainers and offer to tell them about the lead for a finder’s fee.
Many industry heavyweights are more than willing to kick you 10% if you bring them a good deal and you saved them the trouble of hunting it down. But be very, very selective when doing this; if you waste their time with garbage they’ll start ignoring you.
Look at their portfolio and make sure it is the type of name they are interested in.
It’s a tremendous amount of work with a low success rate, but when you win you usually win big, and without risking much. If you got into domains because you thought it would be easy money, then take my initial advice and run.
The people who are successful in this game are out-working everyone else, it’s not because they’re lucky or rich (although that helps!).
Whatever you do, don’t be a front-runner and go around trying to outbound names that you don’t actually own, even if they are expired auctions. This is a small industry and if you want any kind of longevity in it then act with integrity.