The cab dips to a halt under Tropicana’s porte-cochere. I pass him a ten, “Keep the change.” I jump out, close the door, and slip through the sliding doors. Scrambling up the escalator. Zig-zagging between the twirling lights over flashing slots. Panting slightly, breathing in smoke. Up another escalator, cornering, passing the restaurants, down the corridor. Gleaming white stone and candy red carpets under foot.
Afilias lanyards hanging from necks. Fifty feet away, it’s George Verdugo. ”Hey George! Good to see you!” Handshake and a hug, and moving on. Standing at registration desk. Waiting… waiting… finally registered. Lanyard over my head, swag bag in hand. No time to look at swag. Where’s the topic table? (What even is a topic table?) Ah, I see. Tables ringed by spectators. Too crowded, too many voices, can’t even hear the topic speakers.
Pushing through people, back out to the startup lane. John Daly steps into the aisle and faces me. “Hey, good to finally meet you in person!” Not a short conversation, but always fun, never boring. Arriving at the Whoisology booth, “Hi Ryan, great service.” Moving on, I spot Michael Gilmour. Shaking hands, “My favorite Aussie… talk to you later.”
At the Etsy booth, it’s Michael Cyger… “Did you see the game, Chris?” “No, I only watched the first half. Then I gave up, and came down here.” ”Too bad… we won!” High fives and smiles. To the left, it’s Jeffrey Emerick and Vincent Uy! Two of my good buddies, and I didn’t even know they knew each other! Shaking hands, resuming the waterfall of words. “What? You’re forming a domain mastermind? That’s awesome! I was trying to do that. This is so much better.”
Nearly an hour later, off to catch a session. Walking fast, throat feeling dry & dusty. Grab a “.space” water bottle. Throat is quenching. I wonder if George has “visit.space” yet. It would be perfect for him. Seeing more friends, merging into more discussions. Oh no, missed the session. “Excuse me, where’s this panel being held? OK, thanks.” Wow, the Uniregistry Market Room is loaded! Waters, juices, Red Bulls, nut bars, granola bars, 5 Hour Energy shots(!). Thanks Frank.
Scanning the room, a few open seats in front. Squeeze past a domaining notable. Take a seat, pull out a notepad. Set up my little handy-cam. Checking messages, while moderator introduces… panelists are industry figures, taking turns dropping pearls of wisdom. Well, of course… that’s pretty obvious. But, here’s an insight I’ve never heard before. Amazing strategy, I gotta try that sometime.
NamesCon is like a whirlwind romance. It can be hard to keep your wits about you. You feel as if the world is moving faster. You struggle to balance being in the moment with not missing important things. I confess that I didn’t want to plan as tightly as years past. So, I pursued a more flexible agenda at this year’s event. Luckily it’s set up so you can do that. The multi-track event schedule always presents more options than people have time to consume. So, I wanted to focus on information a bit less and on networking a bit more, this year.
The conference is engineered to be exploited in different ways:
- Opportunities to promote your business or service
- Chances to make domain deals,
- Places and time for networking, and
- Lots of educational sessions to learn from, and “sharpen your saw.”
After startup lane, I spent a great deal of time meeting and talking with people. The first educational event I caught was “Secrets of a Multi-million Dollar Broker. Wade Smith was low key, revealing that he only works with inbound leads (must be nice). He smoothly navigated through many aspects of the grind of making huge commissions from domain sales. One takeaway was you should research your prospect and their business for 30 – 40 minutes before starting your first phone call with them. Another tip was that if can’t get a sale, get a deposit. That way the prospect has some commitment, that makes it easier to take the next step. There are many more, but I will end this with his heed to practice ”…relentless followup, nothing falls through the cracks.”
Next session was “Appraising a Domain Name,” which I have a few chops in. But, it is art more than science and one should always sharpen and refine their skills. The panel (Larry Fischer, Chris Leggat, Christian Voss) suggested knowing why you want to buy a name, before acting. They related that value is mercurial and could change from day to day, depending on who is looking at it today and who will look at it tomorrow. Finally, the advice to startups is to buy a domain that has a pre-set price tag. If the startup fails, as it is likely to do, the name could become its most valuable asset.
Sunday evening was a “brandable” domains “table topic” led by Angela St. Julien of “Brand.bar.” Everyone in attendance wrote down what they considered to be a “brandable” domain. Mine was “Zacee.com.” Then we went around the table, and in turn, each person shared with the group why they thought the name was “brandable.” And people either agreed, or shared the reason why they disagreed. It was a lively discussion and many (sometimes conflicting) definitions of a “brandable” surfaced. In the end, it’s up to the individual to decide. But, now we have more distinctions at our disposal, to decide with.
After the session wrapped up, I introduced myself to the busy guy sitting next to me. He distractedly told me that he’s a partner in a reputation defending business. Jumping at the opportunity, I asked him to help me value one of my favorite .co domains. He asked me what I’ve thought of selling it for. I said “Maybe around $2,000…” and he said ”Okay, that’s no problem.” I had a buyer before I realized what was happening. I wasn’t even trying to sell the name. But he has a use for it, and he acted on it. Now the name is getting a new home, where it will be useful. And I’ve paid for my trip and more, from it.
That night was the Rightside opening reception. DJ STATN spun electronic dance music, while many of us slaked ourselves from the open bars. I met industry pros from Austria, Australia, Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Hawaii, India, Italy, UK, and more.
Monday morning I got a late start and missed the morning keynotes. I headed for the session called “Black Belt Search-Fu.” One juicy nugget was that the new GTLD extensions help get higher AdWords ad quality scores. Research showed that they convert better with lower advertising costs. They (Michael Stricker, Sean Tyson, Bill Hartzer, Bill McClure) moved on to explain how you should use a VPN to test your search results in different regions. You should also use an anonymous proxy to bypass the customized search results. Your search engine is serving you SERP’s ranked with stuff it knows you like, including your own pages. Find the truth by filtering your identity while testing.
After lunch, I went to a panel called ”Brandable Names: What are They?” Sounds similar to the table topic of the day before. While less democratic, this panel of marketplace owners (Margot Bushnaq, Michael Navarini, Michael Rader) dished stats, insights, and advice about selling brandables, like:
- The average sale price on the platforms is $2,500,
- While prices have remained flat, the volume of sales is rising,
- The largest customer segment is middle aged males, shopping from work,
- B.I.N. prices make buyers feel safer and reduce hesitation, and
- It’s good to advertise on Facebook, pointing the name to it’s own sales page.
Keynotes were then given, but I only caught bits and pieces of what was said. Hopefully, you can find coverage elsewhere.
The majority of the afternoon, and into the evening, was occupied by the Right of the Dot auction. I would have like to buy cheaplaptops.com, auctions.com, web.hosting (the most premium of that extension), degrees.com, consignment.com, buy.cars, i.click, wedding.gift, pregnant.com, or healthyfood.com. However my wife made it conditional that I could only go to NamesCon if I didn’t buy any domains. ‘Nuff said… So 88.xyz went to a $70,000 final bid. A year ago, it would have been worth a fraction of that. Nachos.com sold for $33,000 and you can’t sell nachos online. What will the strategy be with that one? Penis.com went for $110,000 and I don’t know how they’ll make money with that one. On second thought, I don’t want to know…
The night brought us the Uniregistry Party at Hakkasan. I went for one reason: I wouldn’t be able to see the inside of Hakkasan any other way. (As evidence, the next day normal clubbers were lining up in the mid-morning to get in that night.) It was the best layout of any club I have visited, with stairs, tables, seating, and multi-level floors to facilitate chilling and socializing. The lights and effects were fantastic. The bass was heavy and the speakers were loud. You had to put your mouth to a person’s ear and shout into it to be heard. Open bar was only from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., prompting many to complain about the inflated drink prices: $12 for beer, and $20 for scotch. Not my cup of tea! At least I can say I’ve been there.
The highlights of Tuesday were sessions called: “Startup Success Stories” and “Startup Accelerators: Rocket Fuels or Toxic Tools?” In the latter, Morgan Linton told us about mentors, incubators, accelerator, investors, and such. He said you generally give away 20% of your company with each round of funding. He also taught us a clever way to find good talent for your startup. You search LinkedIn for people who are working at companies you consider to be ideal, at the moment. Call them and invite them to lunch. Ask for advice for your current project or phase. If they’re a good recruit for you, they will come up with the idea on their own. They basically recruit themselves, while giving you insight into their suitability.
Tuesday night was the best Waternight I have experienced. Jenga. Open bar all night. Good DJ’s and music. Outdoor patios for chilling and talking. After meeting Peter.cool, people kept trickling into our circle. Before I could wrap my mind around what was happening, we had a circle of domainers holding hands, swaying, singing, praying, and whatever else felt of the moment. It was crazy, fun, weird, exciting and most of .cool!
Wednesday morning, my cab Driver told me he used to own “WelcomeToLasVegas.com.” He didn’t know what to do with it and let it drop. Highlights of the day were “Domain Name Security” and “Futureproofing Your Domain Business.” The latter was about succession planning for your portfolio and business. Richard gave great advice about finding a trustworthy executor. Then have that person shadow you for a lengthy time to give them the overall vision, as well as the little nuts and bolts of running your business.
Another tip Richard gave was to sort of imagine you’re dead. Sit down and make a document, voice recording, or video explaining to your loved one(s) how to access, manage, protect, deploy, and dispose of your assets. He suggested making it several hours to make sure you cover every detail.
Tony Woodward spoke about Waterschool, telling the audience that just $33 can bring clean water to a family in Uganda, for life. Richard followed up, saying that individual pledges ranged from $1 to $10,000. And that total donations had reached $115,000 which nearly doubled the goal. NameCheap gave $30,000 of that. Another $35,000 was from raised pledges at the head shaving event.
On a (barely) related note, sponsors and exhibitors handed out the best swag ever, this year. Some highlights include: the Uniregistry 8gb key-shaped thumb-drive, Epik’s brushed stainless pen, the Dynadot art T-shirts, the sleek metal earbuds from SEMRush, the safety-orange beanie hat from Rebel.com, post-it style notepads from GoDaddy, and so many more. As always, Donuts had a table full of doughnut varieties to choose from every day. They overpowered my quest for health, and I indulged, only once this year.
Swag is fun and useful, of course. But, NamesCon is nothing, if it’s not about names. The names it calls to my mind are Richard, Jothan, George, Luke, Rob, Joe, and now Peter. But, the name that helped make this NamesCon a reality for me, is Angela St. Julien. That’s thanks to the essay contest she was running through the year. I entered in April and won in May. Surprisingly, my commitment to going had wavered at times, and I considered “saving money” by not going. But, having my ticket already in hand brought me back to the right path. Having won that ticket was the anchored me to the plan of going to Vegas.
There are some who doubt the value of the event. Is NamesCon an educational utopia or a promo platform? Is it networking Nirvana or a domain caste system? Is it altruistic or self-serving? One could argue that it’s all these things. It is, after all, composed of human beings and all they bring to the mix. But, by narrowing people’s focus down to a laser-thin cross section of all possible human endeavors, it becomes supremely fascinating and motivating. In the end, it becomes almost anything that a domain professional needs it to be. It calls together about 1,000 highly knowledgeable and accomplished people, into a context that excludes everything that is irrelevant to domaining. And includes more than you probably knew existed.
The first two years of NamesCon were epic. This 3rd year was as good as the last two put together. At least, it was for me. I will do all in my power to be there next year. I sincerely hope to see you there. I’ll show you around, buy you lunch, or make introductions. Just be there, if you can.