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The path of the domain – Interview with Pinkard Alan “Pinky” Brand

Sometimes on your journey you encounter a wise man who’s been through it all. This is my interview with him.

Usually before publishing the interview I write a sort of an intro about that person, or segment of that industry. But Pinkard’s answers are so interesting that I don’t want to take away your time in getting to that part! So without further ado, I present you one of the pioneers in the domain name industry in one of the best interviews on WhoAPI blog: Pinkard Brand.

Goran: Would you mind introducing yourself to the readers of WhoAPI blog? I am really curious to see how a veteran with such broad experience introduces himself to readers that are interested in domain investing, brand protection, and improving the Web as we know it.

PINKY: Well first off thanks very much for the opportunity! I’ve been lucky to be involved in the domain name industry for almost 20 years, since 1996. I’ve been involved at so many levels, as an entrepreneur, reseller, corporate registrar, retail registrar, registry, gTLDs, ccTLDs, new gTLDs, and domain investor. The more I think about it the more I say I’m in the business of connecting ideas and people with appropriate resources and developing them into recurring revenue streams, while flying around the planet in a perpetually jet-lagged state!

Seriously, if you have more interest in my background I’ve got the requisite About Pinky page here that you can read at your leisure. I don’t update my personal site as much as I’d like, but if you read it you’ll get a good idea of my background.

At present I’m proud to be devoting almost all of my time working with TLD Registry, operator of the .在线 (Dot Chinese Online) and .中文网 (Dot Chinese Website) internationalized top-level domain name extensions (IDNs). I have quite a bit of experience operating and executing in China, so I’m having a blast leveraging deep relationships with local registrars, government officials, and top domain investors there. This is a giant opportunity too promising to pass up!

Goran: How would you describe the difference between an “IDN” world and regular “DN” world? Is there an entirely different universe that many are missing out and don’t understand? Or is it a small pond that you decided you wanted to dominate? One does feel a certain level of limitation (“just the Chinese”), how would you describe the size of that market?

Pinky: Imagine if the Chinese had invented the protocols for Internet web address navigation. We’d all be typing Chinese into our browsers!  But no, ASCII has dominated and imagine how it must be like if you only speak Chinese and are dealing with that—on your mobile phone—and when everything else you do on the Web or your computer is in your own language!

Keep in mind that China’s 618 million Internet users are comprised of 28% rural users (177 million) with 81% of those users (500 million) going online via smartphones and tablets. And still, Internet penetration has reached only 46% of China’s 1.3 billion. Also only 10 million of those 1.3 billion speak English! That’s less than 1%!

So we see opportunity in an area that not many, at least in the west, are willing to tackle. China is hard, and so have IDNs been to date. If it was easy a lot more would be trying!

Until recently, not much attention and focus was being placed on IDNs by the community. But that has changed. ICANN prioritized the delegation of IDN new gTLDs ahead of the ASCIIs. There were over 80 applications alone for Chinese IDNs, so we’re not alone in our initiative to the market, but less competition than in the ASCII segment.

Also the Chinese Ministry of Information and Technology (MIIT) has new regulations calling for all 700,000 Chinese government websites to transition to Chinese URLs. There is now plenty of industry activity and support surrounding Universal Acceptance issues with the new gTLDs and IDNs so that they will work seamlessly for users.

It’s our opinion that the Chinese-speaking community is ready to use the ‘net in their own language, and we feel that our Dot Chinese Online and Dot Chinese Website IDNs are amongst the very few generic Chinese TLDs which are fully linguistically correct, culturally relevant, and designed to return hits to Chinese search engine results pages.

Goran: How did you end up in the domain industry in the first place? I read on your LinkedIn profile that you were something of a Television News Photographer for 6 years?

PINKY:  I got involved in the domain name business in 1996, after a late night conversation with my former business partner, Marc Ostrofsky. He’s a great guy, and we were discussing this “WHOIS thing” from Network Solutions at the time. We were looking at WHOIS at like 2 a.m. Marc and I were always discussing all kinds of crazy business ideas, as we were both heavily involved in the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association. Marc and I were amazed at how many global brands didn’t “own” their own name! At that time there were very few .com names registered, let alone ccTLDs. We immediately saw a business opportunity. Internet Domain Names, Inc. was formed shortly thereafter. The rest is history.

And yes I was a television news photographer for many years in Austin, way back in the 80s! Photography and video are very near and dear to me. In fact my college degree is in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas. I still have a great passion for both.

Goran: Oh yes, Marc Ostrofsky, I remember that you once mentioned to me that you worked with him! He is undoubtedly one of the pioneers when it comes to the domain name industry, and you certainly fit that category as well! What was it like being a part of the industry that was just starting, to being one of the most important industries on the Web?!

PINKY:   Marc is a very talented and passionate guy, not to mention a serial entrepreneur. He was and remains full of ideas, with an uncanny ability to see opportunities that others don’t. He and I took risks, as many did back then, diving into unknown territory. Some thought the Internet and domain names were a fad. Of course we didn’t see it that way. Marc’s enthusiasm was infectious. I decided to get involved.

At first it was very stressful, as I had little extra funds, had a family to feed and school, and not to mention little extra time vs. my other business activities. At the time Network Solutions was a monopoly, it was the registry and sole registrar for .com. We knew we couldn’t beat them, but we were charging $99 per registration as a .com “reseller” of sorts, so that helped to pay some bills, but just barely. What did catch our attention in a very big way were the ccTLDs. There were very few folks paying attention to them. So we decided to focus on ccTLDs. We spent the better part of a year trying to figure out how to search for and register names in 200+ ccTLDs, and develop messaging and sales strategies towards the big brands. That was no easy task back then, as Google did not exist!  We literally were calling around to various “NICs” and contemplating flying to visit the registries of top ccTLDs just to compile a database of requirements and policies.

We managed to get it done. Our database was actually a gigantic Excel (or Multiplan at that time!) spreadsheet. I knew we had something when on Christmas Eve in 1997 I got a phone call from a top IP attorney at America Online wanting to protect their name in all the ccTLDs. At that point we knew our messaging stating “You may have registered your brand in .com, but what about .co.uk, .cn, .de, etc? You are not protected!” was resonating.

One day Marc and I were talking to each other and thinking “We’ll never beat these guys at Netsol (editor: Network Solutions). We need to talk about joining up with them.”  So we literally called them on the phone and they said something like “Holy moly we are talking about how to get into the ccTLD business right now! Can you fly up to tomorrow and let’s talk?” So we did. We were the first company they purchased after they went public.

From then on I’ve never looked back, other than thinking we should have held out for more! Seriously though, one lesson I’ve learned is never be too greedy. It’s easy for that happen in this business. It was a very exciting time indeed. I could write a screenplay about all the ups and downs. But mostly up—and that’s why I’m still involved in the industry!

Goran: Wow, what a trip down the memory lane! As pioneers you definitely got some arrows in the backs! I can only imagine the fear and risk you took buying and selling domains for $99 a pop, having faith it will workout in the future. I wish I could formulate a question here… Do you mind chiming in?

PINKY: In 1997 we introduced domain names and the concept of brand protection on the Internet (at first in the form of registering names in all unrestricted gTLD and ccTLDs) to the International Trademark Association (INTA), begging to be allowed to exhibit at their annual conference. We had to explain to them how domains worked and how their members’ identity was at risk! We only managed to exhibit after a lot of lobbying and luck. Our first customer was an Italian lawyer who tried to pay us $600 cash on the spot in our exhibit booth for 6 .com names! We hadn’t even thought that anyone would want to pay us in person.

We did not have much fear, or fear of failing. With that said, no one wants to run out of capital so we were giving it our best effort, executing like our “hair was on fire” (time is of the essence) and that was all that mattered.

I must admit at first I did have the fear that some IP attorney would tell us that we didn’t know what we were talking about (that somehow we had missed something very critical or “legal”) but I soon learned that was groundless as they lined up to ask questions.

Sure there were days where I wondered what the heck I was doing and could get distracted. Focus is so important when starting and building up any venture. That was the biggest battle I faced—just focusing. That’s why my consulting company is called FocusNua, which means “new focus” in Irish.

Goran: How would you compare the latest avalanche of new gTLDs compared to introducing .mobi, where you involved and definitely played a key role?

PINKY:  At .mobi it was one investor group/registry promoting an alternative and solution to the problems surrounding the impending growth of the mobile Web. There was little competition to speak of, at least in terms of gTLDs. We were fighting a PR battle and overall mind-share awareness battle, but it was just us (.mobi) doing all that, on a global scale. Dot mobi sold one million+ names and further developed a mobile SaaS solution and device recognition platform that remain going concerns to this very day. Not easy.

With new gTLDs for the first time we are seeing involvement from venture capitalists, private investors, well-known companies, governments, and of course veterans from our own industry. There is a lot more cash involved, a heck of lot more noise, and it will eventually cause a disruption of sorts. I see the state of new gTLDs today the same as I saw the potential for ccTLDs back in the 90’s when 200+ of them existed and no one had any idea that they existed. Stay the course.

Goran: What’s your take on the new gTLDs? Do you think we may see more of examples like Google taking a stand with abc.xyz? Or is that just a PR stunt by one of the large gTLD owners? After all Larry Page said and I quote him, “We are not intending for this to be a big consumer brand with related products”.

PINKY: I think most of my previous comments apply here. Yes there will be more beyond Google’s recent announcement. Whether or not abc.xyz was some sort of PR stunt, or whatever Larry Page said, does not matter at a high level. I think it only matters (in terms of possibly being a stunt) to those of us in the industry watching with popcorn in our hands.

What really matters from any PR is awareness and adoption of the new gTLDs by the public, big brands, and startups. A rising tide lifts all boats. I think too many people think that things must happen very quickly with the new gTLDs, otherwise it’s a big failure of sorts. Those who are impatient or greedy may not be happy with progress. My thought is to stay the course, be true to your passion, and the rest will fall in line. If the new gTLDs capture 15 to 20% of market share in the next few years it will be a huge accomplishment. It can happen.

Goran: Exactly. After all, the new gTLDs weren’t created to solve the problem that will come in the next 2-3 years. It’s a long-term solution that many people fail to see, as they keep looking at it through the “short term” glasses. Having that in mind, there’s a saying that companies selling picks and shovels to gold diggers get the most money. Can you imagine the 25-year-old Pinky Brand, and telling him where to go, to make his first million? Where are the picks and shovels of this day and age? In other words, who do you think will be responsible for, to use your words, “raising that tide”?

Pinky:  With so many new TLD naming options available, and more capital backing promotion and use of such, there will be a rising tide. As an industry, we have to make consumers aware that new products (the new domain extensions) are on the shelf and a great deal! They will buy if the product works and provides them with clear benefits. We also have to work together to filter out bad actors and others that create negative perceptions by their actions and words. Failure to do so could keep that tide from rising as fast as it should.

 

Written by Goran Duskic

I am the founder and CEO at WhoAPI. Entrepreneur for more than a decade in the hosting and domain industry. Sold my previous company. 500 Startups and StartLabs alumni. Author of a white paper "Domain Disclosure: Dirty Dozen" and eBook "26 Fundraising Questions for Startups".

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