On Day Two of NamesCon 2017, the Keynote Hall was treated to some tales of daring deals. With Always Be Closing!, a panel of top domain investors and brokers sat down with moderator Derek Newman to share case studies of recent domain sale negotiations. Despite the panel's aggressive title, the running theme was one of kindness.
The panel consisted of:
- Dave Evanson, (Senior Sales and Brokerage Consultant,Sedo)
- Richard Lau (Producer, NamesCon)
- Andrew Rosener (CEO, Media Options)
- Gregg McNair (Chairman, Premium Traffic Ltd.)
- Theo Develegas (GM, Acroplex LLC)
Discussing the nature of sales, McNair said, "It's a state of mind, it's a state of heart, it's who you are." He added, "It's not about skill. It's a lot about love. The more friends I make, the luckier I seem to get." McNair said he likes to make sure that there's something good in the deal for everyone involved.
He described his first ICANN conference as "confronting". McNair bought a portfolio for $10 million in February 2005, and made many times that much from it, and said that it came down to interpersonal relationships.
His most difficult negotiation? "Convincing my wife to marry me."
Evanson said, "I think it's very important to understand the person who's buying and the person who's selling." That means paying attention to personality, cultural background, and negotiation style: "I try to work with each person the way each person works with me."
Evanson said that he tries to paint a picture for a potential buyer of how a competitor could use a domain name he's trying to sell.
Putting yourself in the other person's shoes is important, he said. When bridging a cultural divide in international sales, Evanson said he tries to understand how negotiating works for the people he's dealing with: the dynamic of an offer is really different in China, for example, than it would be in Turkey.
Rosener said, "I come from a sales background, selling dead fish! I was a fishmonger!" His top tip is to find the ideal end-user for a domain name. He bought ch.com for around $250,000, sure of its eventual value. "Not all two-letter dot coms are created equal," he emphasized. "You gotta identify the opportunity." There were several high-market-cap end users who could use ch.com. He lobbied handbag company Carolina Herrera to buy the name, but they didn't—or didn't cop to—seeing the value for their brand in the domain. Meanwhile, Rosener was contacted "out of the blue" by a Chinese company offering around $900,000. When the Carolina Herrera folks were told that the name was sold, they didn't believe him, thinking it was just another negotiating tactic. Nope, ch.com really did get sold out from under them.
To identify potential buyers, Rosener uses tools like CrunchBase and Google, and from there it's easy to figure out who to contact regarding a domain name they need: "You want to talk to the guy with the budget."
(You get told no a lot, said Rosener. In fact, you get told to go f*ck yourself. One day the opportunity to buy f*ckyourself.com, and of course he had to pounce. The preferred email address, obviously, is go@f*ckyourself, though he later added that please@f*ckyourself would also work.)
Person to Person
Lau agreed with McNair that sales is an attitude: "It's beyond just numbers. It's an attitude you adopt in life." He compared it to his son's poetry assignment at school: it's not about memorization, but about selling the audience on an emotion.
Lau said that his a-ha moment was realizing that his key to business success would be about inserting himself in a friendly way into the businesses was always being asked to help with: "That's what I was known for." In helping people sell their domain portfolios, he started asking for a piece of the action. "If they had said 'No', would I have still made the phone call and [sent the] email? Most likely."
Lau recounted a moment when he was negotiating to buy a domain from a man in Scotland until the potential seller went silent. So Richard called every name in the small Scottish town the guy lived in, until he found the right house. That was only the beginning, and Richard ended up doing an in-person cash deal at an internet cafe: it was like something out of a movie.
Develegas said he has done lots of small-dollar acquisitions and converted them in to four- and five-figure sales. "Find them where people think they're worthless," advised Develegas. "I used to be a domain-flipper. If I could make twenty bucks out of a deal, I'd do that."
Now, though, he approaches things differently. He told the audience not to be afraid to ask for a domain's full value; provided you've done the research to justify your asking price. Also, he added, be sure to research your buyers. "Maintain that portfolio for the long term. Five, six, sometimes ten years," he said.
NamesCon is full of stories, big and small, of success and failure. Make sure to talk to strangers while you're exploring the conference: this is how we learn, and how an industry grows.