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.Women Wanted: Our Role Models Rock But the Business Needs More Recruits 

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher



The domain industry is getting shortchanged. Though women represent half of the world’s population relatively few have found their way into this business. As in all other areas of society, we think this field would be far richer if we had more females bringing their unique perspective to the table. We thought one way to encourage that would be to show women who might be interested in this field role models who are already succeeding in all areas of the domain business.



   

To do that we talked to women who have made their mark in three distinctly different areas; one in traffic monetization (Donna Mahony), another in domain development (Marcia Lynn Walker) and a third as a high level executive in one of the industry’s largest corporations (Michelle Miller). These women came from considerably different backgrounds but they have all arrived at the same destination – the top of the mountain.

 

Donna Mahony was born in Boston and spent most of her life in Massachusetts before success with domains allowed her to trade in fast paced city life for the Arizona spread she now shares with husband Jim (everyone just calls him Mahony), 30 chickens, 4 cats, 2 goats, a dog, a cockatoo and and a cockatiel.  "I come from an Irish/Greek heritage where hard work was the only way to succeed and the work and business ethics I learned early in life have helped me to remain focused and put in the long hard hours it took to get me to this point in  business,” Mahony told us. 

Donna & Jim Mahony

Mahony has had a computer since the mid 90’s but it was little more than a toy to her until she was hurt in a car accident in 1997. She was told she would probably never be able to work again, but she would not accept that diagnosis and thanks to her computer she didn’t have to. “I had often wondered why people ran things like bingo games on the internet so I did a little research and found out...money! My research was all done on the internet since I didn't even know a person who had a computer, let alone any internet skills!"

She began her search for information at Yahoo. “I searched "How do I get a web site" and found Web Pages for Dummies. My portfolio in the early years was built by struggling to find $14 I could take from the budget without it hurting! The first domain I ever registered was WinFreeCash.net.” She eventually progressed to the point where she was able to contact the owner of the .com version of that domain with a purchase offer. “I offered him $5,000 for it. He declined and I eventually picked it up when it dropped!” Mahony recalled.

“My first site was just a banner farm, all centered down the middle of the page because that was all I knew how to do. Well, my first generated income was a click for 4 cents and my first check was for $4.67. I knew right away that if I could make 4 cents then I could make 4 dollars and if I could make 4 dollars I could make $40!! One day I somehow stumbled into the Great Domains chat room and suddenly I wasn't alone any more," Mahony said. "I learned about buying and selling domains and that was my focus for the first couple of years as that gave me the income to reinvest in my business as I learned the wide range of income producing possibilities available to us in this industry. To this day may of the folks I met in the public forums and chat rooms remain my good friends!"

Before settling on her pay per click business model, Mahony tried her hand at domain development but soon tired of the headaches. “I was constantly in a battle with sponsors over payment issues and such. Each month I was waiting and hoping the check would arrive. Sponsors went out of business and left us unpaid, they disallowed traffic and sales on a whim and skimmed sales for themselves," Mahony said. "Now I send most of my traffic to Domain Sponsor and sleep well knowing I will get paid promptly and fairly. I see traffic as the fuel of the internet and thus feel there will always be a future in selling traffic. I try to keep my portfolio diverse and could supply traffic to almost any industry.”

Mahony added “I prefer the PPC part of the business for one reason. No matter what you sell, how super your site is or how necessary or popular your product is...it's nothing without traffic. We all know that and when the word gets to the mainstream industries, I feel that we will all benefit.”

Mahony believes that whatever model you follow there’s a lot to like about the domain business. She told us, “I love that I can work from home and make my own hours. My business can be as diverse or as targeted as I choose to make it. All the information I need is right here on the internet and if I cannot find it there are forums where some kind soul will help me out. Like most devoted domainers, my life is spent here in front of the computer. I am addicted!! I have had many folks tell me that I need to get out more and not limit my life to the computer. Well, I don't see it as limiting me in any way. How many folks can say that they chatted with friends in Hong Kong, Australia, and the UK all in one day? The entire world is at my finger tips!”

A lot of people in the business recognize Mahony from her Tips From WinFreeCash threads at DNForum.com. She has always been willing to lend a helping hand to newcomers. “I don't actually share many "secrets" but I do try to provide some guidance. The more educated our small group becomes, the more legitimate the industry becomes and we all benefit. The biggest "secret" to my own success is very simple. Reputation. Keep it clean and work hard...the rest will follow.”

Mahony also says women interested in this business won’t have to worry about the glass ceiling they’ve heard about in other industries.  “Back in the '70s I was a foreman on the shipping docks of a large company. I am no stranger to trying to make it in a man's world. In this business it doesn't seem to matter whether you are male or female and it isn't until well into a business relationship that they even realize I am female. I met some folks in L.A. a couple of years ago that I had interacted with in the forums and even done some business with for a few years. They were shocked to find I was a woman. Part of the charm of this business is that it is a great equalizer. We are not male or female, black or white, fat or thin...we are all black letters on a white page.”

Marcia Lynn Walker is one of Mahony’s biggest fans. “I’ve known Donna for about five years and I just love her," Walker said. "She's one of the most giving and sharing individuals I've ever met; an intelligent woman with a huge heart.” Though Walker admires and emulates Mahony’s personal attributes, she has followed a different path to success in the domain business. You would have a hard time find a busier domain developer than Walker, the CEO of Myrtle Beach Inc. Her company operates a multitude of websites related to travel, tourism and local attractions.

Marcia & Warren Walker
Myrtle Beach Inc.

Marcia (pronounced mar-SEE-ah) told us, “I was born into a family with entrepreneurial blood, so I've known since childhood that I'd never hold a real job for any length of time, unless it involved sharing ownership in a company or helping out friends, family, or a charitable cause. I don't understand the mentality of working towards a stranger's monetary goals!”

Many women may overlook this industry because it is lumped in with high tech and computers which have historically been of more interest to men. However, Walker is an exception to the rule. “I've always been fascinated by computers. While attending college in southern California (majoring in Philosophy and Accounting of all things), I realized I wanted to run a business specializing in computers. Unlike today, in the early 80s there were pretty much only three paths to take if you wanted to run your own computer business; sales, hardware, or software,” Walker said. She experimented with all three before finally setting the course she remains on today.

“To see if I'd like repairing, servicing or customizing hardware, I purchased 
a Heathkit (Zenith) Z-100 and built a computer," Walker said. "I soldered all the capacitors, LEDs, and chips in place on the motherboard, installed the yoke 
on the cathode ray tube (I got shocked terribly once!), learned how to 
operate an amp meter and other testing equipment and assembled everything 
myself. It was an important project for me that took eight months to finish. 
I laughed at myself when I found out later that there were guys very skilled 
at this type of thing, who could assemble the Heathkit computer in about 25 
hours! Still, I was extremely pleased with the results of the test, since at 
the end I had a working computer for thousands of dollars less than the 
factory-assembled model, but I also realized that I didn't have the talent or 
desire to ever specialize in computer hardware service!” Walker said.

“At the same time, I was writing code for expense tracking and for simple 
computer games similar to Pong and BreakOut. I wasn't happy with paper 
expense tracking and canned budget books of the time, so I also wrote code 
to organize my expenses and finances. This, I found, I thoroughly enjoyed 
and found very useful. Writing code was easy and fun for me, so I thought contract software design would be the best business outlet for my interests and talents,” Walker said.

That prompted Walker to switch her major to computer programming before finally leaving college when her business became too profitable to spend her time on coursework. However, there was still one more turn ahead. “As the computer industry became more widespread and diversified, I realized my niche was in combining computers and marketing.” Walker said. That revelation came when a top advertising agency in southern California contracted me to write custom tracking software for multiple projects. Although at the time I was writing programming code, this frequent interaction with some of the most creative minds in the advertising industry fueled my desire to combine the efficiency of computers with effective marketing from that point in my life forward. So I slowly transitioned from computer programming to computer-designed print advertising,” Walker recalled.

In the mid-80’s Walker, along with a brother and sister, decided to move from southern California to join their parents in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area. A brief, unsuccessful marriage there produced her son, Deven, and left Walker a single parent for many years. It was a rough stretch but she kept honing her skills during that time, eventually deciding to focus on the Myrtle Beach tourism market. “I produced full-color ads for the annual Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce Stay-n-Play magazine, brochures for vacation rental companies, advertisements for newspapers and magazines, and hotel guest directories along the Grand Strand,” Walker said. With her computer background she quickly recognized the power of the Internet to provide a more cost-effective means to distribute massive amounts of information and regularly update the full-color advertisements necessary for continued growth in a tourism market.

In 1999 she began registering domain names and designing websites for her company and others. Walker told us, “Unaware of natural type-in value at the time, my first domain, NorthMyrtleBeach.net, was specifically registered and developed as a portal to promote the north end of the Myrtle Beach area where I live. Although early on I registered some dashed and non-dot-coms to experiment with keyword relevancy, I slowly began registering regional keyword-rich natural type-in names as well. Shortly thereafter, I stopped taking on clients and, utilizing the combination of natural traffic from my type-in domains and traffic from placement in search results, devoted all of my time to developing my portfolio of sites.”

1999 was also a turning point for Walker for another reason. “Although it would be some time before we married, that’s when I met my husband, Warren. He was the network engineer running the servers for one of my clients. I was impressed with him immediately as being a brilliant programmer, technical wizard and all-around nice guy.” Walker said. 

Everything was finally coming together. “With the benefit of multiple web sites in niche tourist markets, I was able to test various types of web sites and information delivery systems until settling on the specific combination with the greatest conversion rate and highest return on investment (ROI) for tourism markets,” Walker said. “One of the major surprises from these tests was that most surfers looking to book vacations online are not looking for 100-page portals with every conceivable bit of information about the city they're planning to visit. People looking at those types of sites are still in the "information gathering" stage, not at the purchase stage.”

“I found that the most effective sites for people wanting to make travel reservations were much smaller, where the major focus was to save the traveler money while providing secure and instant booking online," Walker said. "These types of sites make sense in today's world where, unlike web developers, most people don't spend the majority of their time online. Most people go online to read their email and find quick answers. This testing and the results are what led me to produce multiple, one-to-four page sites in destination-specific tourist markets, like one of our Orlando sites, DisneyOrlandoHotels.com. I concentrated on airports as well, and have airport web sites all over the world, from Myrtle Beach (MyrtleBeachAirport.com) to Maldives (MaldivesAirport.com). She and Warren are currently concentrating on a more wide-ranging project at Stockbin.com, designed for live booking of hotel rooms nationwide.

Walker thinks the domain world should be near the top of a woman’s potential career choices. “The best way I can describe why I enjoy this business is that it is the coming together of education, talent, experience and desire. There is a deep level of satisfaction when combining the acquisition of domains with the marketing, creativity, and technical challenges involved with the development of multiple websites that provide information people are searching for. Sharing the challenges of this business with my husband and family, and being at the forefront of this new industry with my esteemed colleagues is more enriching and rewarding than I could ever convey in words," Walker said.

So why haven’t more women followed the same path? “Since I find every aspect of this business fascinating, I'll have to guess that the technical aspects of managing a large portfolio of domains and websites would not be very exciting for most women," Walker said. "Also, in order to make the best choices in this business, there are long hours of isolation in front of a computer screen to do the required research. For those of us that develop our portfolios, there are even longer hours in front of a computer, as well as a good deal of expense for dedicated servers and contract labor." In Walker's mind the pluses far outweigh the negatives though. “In this business, I've never felt as though I'm treated differently because I'm a woman. I have deep respect and admiration, as well as a binding camaraderie with my friends and colleagues on the cutting edge of Internet innovation. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by men and women with integrity, drive and vision and I could never say enough to express my gratitude and love.”

Walker was a featured panelist during seminars at the Traffic 2004 domain trade show in Delray Beach, Florida. Many prefer not to share what they have learned for fear of creating competitors, but that is not part of Walker's makeup. “For me, sharing is an integral part of being a good person, a good wife, a good mother, and a good friend. I believe that there is no greater good than helping others. I have such gratitude for those who helped me when I needed it as a struggling single parent trying to build my business. As far as fearing competitors, there are always going to be competitors and I actually embrace competition because it never fails to increase my creativity and drive for further innovation,” Walker said.

When asked for her advice to other women wanting to get into this business Walker said “this is still a very new industry and there are many opportunities to succeed in niche markets. My advice would be to consider your talents and interests and brainstorm until you find something very unique in a niche market. This unique period of time where the Internet is still in its infancy won't last forever. But right now the possibilities and opportunities are endless for those wanting to build solid businesses online.”

Michelle Miller, the current Chief Operating Officer at industry giant BuyDomains.com, is a another woman who seized one of those “endless opportunities”. While Walker went East and Mahony went West, Miller went vertical, climbing all the way to top of the corporate ladder.

Miller was a born competitor and cites two factors that made her the person she is today – her parents and basketball. “My dad, John Miller, Director of the Army Research Labs, is intelligent, a leader and a role model - one of the smartest, focused, and most respected people I know. My mom, Nancy Miller, raised 4 kids, grew up and worked in the family restaurant business and bar none is the most hardworking, independent, strong woman I know,” Miller said.

Michelle Miller
Chief Operating Officer
BuyDomains.com

I’m sure Miller got the attention of all of you guys when she mentioned basketball. She was an exceptional college player, lettering at the University of Maryland where she earned bachelor’s degrees in finance & marketing. Miller told us, “I have been playing since I was 7 years old. Basketball has taught me the importance of teamwork, discipline, respect, loyalty, practice, preparation, and best of all…how to compete and win!”

The only thing Miller likes as much as basketball and business is traveling. “Whenever I have the opportunity I’m on a plane. I’ve been to Italy, England, Russia, Finland, Nicaragua and Mexico. Spain, Greece and Egypt are next on my list.” After college, Miller lived in San Francisco for a couple of years then came back home to live in Washington, D.C. That turned out to be a very propitious move. While working for a small start-up web development firm in D.C. she went to Boston in April 2000 for a conference. One of the people she met there was a BuyDomains shareholder. He suggested she might want to help get Mike Mann’s newest company off the ground.

“Two months later I came on board focusing on building an affiliate program and marketing specifically for the registration business," Miller recalled. "Soon after I started focusing more on the premium/secondary domain market and began looking at ways to improve the sales process.” She hired a sales team, worked with business partners and developed other new revenue generators. In 2004, she was appointed COO and was an integral part of the launch of Seeq (BuyDomains’ paid advertising network of 36 portals). Miller now runs day-to-day operations at BuyDomains where she keeps an eye on nearly every aspect of the business.

Miller’s success has come as no surprise to the man who hired her. Michael Mann told us “Michelle started off as somewhat of a novice in the business world since she was fresh out of school, but she had a winning attitude...and she was willing to take on what promised to be a very difficult and exhaustive job. When we interviewed her she was informed we play to win in our current and past businesses and would never let up the pace. She is very competitive and assertive in her own right as an athlete, so she was a natural fit for our hard driving small team.”

Mann added “she has gained business skills very rapidly and is particularly astute at handling the hucksters we run across in the Internet world. She learned early on not to take any crap and that people may try to take advantage of her in business dealings, so get all details clear and in writing. I feel sorry for anyone that tries to pull anything on her nowadays because she'll let them have it (just like she was taught). In fact she may have been taught too well because she even lets me have it!”

Mann credited Miller personally for having a considerable role in BuyDomains and Seeq.com's extraordinary growth and their success in rolling out innovative new services. Just since August 2003 when we ran a cover story on Mann, the BuyDomains portfolio has doubled to 425,000 domains. During that time they’ve rolled out a free personalized web-based email service at SeeqMail.com, a browser Toolbar with a built-in pop-up blocker at SeeqBar.com, a dialup internet service at DialupAccess.com, a free blogging service at Blogs.net and completed a site redesign at the their home base, BuyDomains.com. “We’ve maintained our success and leadership position because we are able to adapt quickly,” Miller said. “We are always prepared for any situation because we have a diversified business model and strong foundation."

Another thing you may have noticed at BuyDomains in the past year is rising domain prices. Miller said “prices have been rising due to the increasing demand and increased customer awareness and overall understanding of domain names. In addition the names that generate traffic have grown in lock step with rising PPC bids. Our sales team is able to focus on negotiating and closing more sales instead of educating potential customers on the appraisal and value of domains, which has allowed us to focus on the serious buyers who are looking to spend more.”

Obviously gender has been no barrier to Miller in the domain world. “I really don’t pay much attention to or worry about gender differences. In fact, I’m used to being the only girl on the basketball court. All the men in the industry have acted very professionally towards me.” Miller said if other women interested in the domain business look beyond the surface they too can find a world of opportunity. “Technology historically does not appeal to women and this is definitely a technology driven industry. I think many women tend to steer away from the domain industry because they only see the technical aspects. They don’t realize the other opportunities in branding, advertising, marketing, sales and other areas.” So ladies, the door is wide open and you are more than welcome here. Come on in, the water’s fine!

 

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Editor’s Note: For those who would like to comment on this story, we invite you to make use of our Letters to the Editor feature (write to editor@dnjournal.com).



If you missed our previous Cover Story click on the headline below: 

2004: It Was a Very Good Year - But Now What? Industry Experts Say The Best Is Yet to Come!

All other previous Cover Stories are available in our Archive

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Domain Name Journal
A Division of
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