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March 2005
High Impact Sites: Inside Adam Dicker’s Domain Empire 

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher



At this time two years ago, the name Adam Dicker didn’t ring a bell for most people in the domain business. When you mention the 39-year-old Canadian today, just about everyone knows who you are talking about. Even in an industry that moves at the speed of light, it is amazing how quickly hard working newcomers can make their mark.

    



Adam Dicker, CEO
High Impact Sites, Inc.

Dicker is the man behind High Impact Sites, Inc., a company that owns thousands of high-profile domains and operates a number of active websites including DNForum.com, the thriving online community visited daily by hundreds of domain fanatics. 

 

Casual surfers who know nothing about this industry still come into regular contact with Dicker’s company when they type in generic names and land on the highly profitable PPC (pay per click) pages he operates. He attracts them with a wide variety of topics through domains like Penpals.com, Planets.com, Witchcraft.com, FirePrevention.com, SM.com and Download.net to name just a few.

In this business, domains like that always make one wonder who a guy is, where he came from and how he got his hands on those names! Dicker was born in Toronto on Sept. 13, 1965 and has spent his entire life in the bustling Canadian metropolis. His dad has been successful dealing in Toronto real estate for the past 50 years and now helps Adam with his virtual real estate business on a daily basis.  

They make a great team, as do Adam and his wife Wendy who met in 1993 when they bumped into each other at a local restaurant. That union has produced four children each spaced just two years apart; Jordan 9, Corey 7, Julie 5 and Amanda 3. Dicker told us, "My wife is great because she puts up with me and at the end of the day it’s her and those kids that I am working for!”   

Dicker got serious about a business career in 1990 when he opened his own computer company. He gave it the old college try but it was tough sledding, especially when computer hardware became a commodity product with profit margins barely reaching 10%. Fortunately the Internet started entering public consciousness at just the right time for Dicker. He discovered that providing internet service was a much more lucrative field so he set up his own ISP. That clicked and everything was hunky dory until technology, as it always does, threw him another curve. People wanted faster access and dialup operators like Dicker soon found themselves staring down the barrel of a broadband gun wielded by the local cable company. Dicker decided it was time again to move on. 

Though he had bought his first domain in 1996, he didn’t get serious about them until someone gave him a tip that would put him on the fast track. “I never really knew the potential of the industry until I tried to buy some high end names and was referred to DNForum.com so I could learn about the industry,” Dicker recalls. “At first I was a newbie like most that start in this business but I quickly learned how to turn this into a profitable business, mostly with the help of the members at the forum.”

 

That learning process turned out to be the thing Dicker liked better than anything else about the domain business. “I’ve always loved learning something new every day. That is why I got into computers in the first place,” Dicker said. “My mind has to stay active all the time and there is no better feeling than the feeling of accomplishment when you learn something new that you can apply to a business you love and still earn a living. The domain industry is just that.  Each day I try to teach myself something new and that is the biggest appeal to me about this industry.”

 

Dicker proved to a be a quick learner and a tireless worker. He plowed domain profits back into his business and in just a few short years High Impact Sites has become a force in the industry. “We have over 25 designers, developers and programmers spread out all around the world and my staff and I communicate with all of them daily to assign work and get updates on current tasks,” Dicker said.

 

A lot of his support team works on continually improving his most visible property, DNForum.com. The forum was actually started by a Virginia teenager named Dan Gessler just three years ago. A few months after launching it, Gessler sold the forum for a few thousand dollars (a lot of money to a high school kid) to Texan Greg Ricks. Ricks made some dramatic changes, the most lasting being the successful introduction of paid memberships. While some balked at the new fees, most stayed and the revenue base boosted the forum’s value significantly.

 

Dicker was one of those who thought forum benefits were well worth paying for. In fact, he decided he would like to shell out more money than anyone else and buy the place! Dicker said, “once I saw the forum I fell in love with the knowledge I could pick up there. I called Greg Ricks and made him an offer for the forum. He thought I was just pulling his leg and told me where I could go!”  Dicker is not one to take “no” for an answer though. “After I got persistent, he began to believe me and the transaction was completed in the spring of 2003." Though the final price was not announced, Ricks is believed to have received 10-15 times more than he paid for the forum less than a year earlier.

Though Ricks was a controversial figure, especially after he started charging for membership, a lot of people still liked the way he ran the forum. When Dicker took over he quickly saw that he was not going to be welcomed with open arms. “The toughest challenge was changing the existing mindset and that was to NOT share info with people about drops or the industry for fear they may get names before you," Dicker said. “I took a lot of heat from members that did not want information posted. I always felt a forum was to share information and learn from each other so I ignored the hatred against me for posting and kept posting info so everyone could learn and benefit from what I was learning at the time.” 

In time, Dicker started winning people over with popular moves like eliminating membership renewal fees. Now you pay once to join (at any of several levels) and never pay again unless you want to upgrade to a higher level. Ironically the stance that originally brought him so much criticism is the same one that is now bringing him the most praise. Dicker has gained a reputation as a guy who is always willing to share his knowledge and ideas for wringing more revenue from domain investments.

Dicker told us, “my long term plans for the site are to keep developing new tools and new features to better prepare people to constantly increase their revenue through domains. We must stay focused on the business side of domains where people can interact in a professional forum where all of its members can share information and learn and all be profitable. There are many new features being added to the forum in the next few months including the fact that I am in the middle of completing a deal to purchase an existing ICANN accredited registrar.”

 

Dicker plans to use that registrar to provide forum members with especially attractive rates for new domains. His drive to continually improve his product has allowed DNForum to continue to thrive despite new domain forums springing up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. There are at least a dozen in operation now. Before the recent deluge of newcomers, DomainState.com (operated by three former DNForum moderators from the Gessler era) and NamePros.com had already established themselves as contenders in the space. One reason those two have succeeded is that they brought something new to the table to establish their own identity rather than just copy the DNForum formula. That has produced a healthy situation where just about everyone can find a community they are comfortable in and can look forward to continual improvement dictated by the friendly competition among the sites.   

While Dicker continues to build at DNForum he is moving away from his original plan to  develop most of his domain names. “Early on I spent time trying to develop hundreds of sites before I realized it was a waste of time. Now I would say 90% of my sites are PPC. I found out the hard way that you can make more on PPC than a developed site with no overhead and no staff and no expenses,” Dicker said. “If I have a great product with a target market, it will do well as a website, but will it make more as a website than a PPC site?  Probably not. I have taken one of my best domains, Penpals.com, and tried 6 different designs and products for it and in the end PPC made me a lot more every time.” 

Dicker said the same rule will usually hold true even at the most basic level. “The key to remember on a $7 domain is that if it makes more than 2 cents a day it is profitable at the end of the year. What I really like to do is forget about my PPC sites and start over as if I have no income. Nothing drives a person more than knowing every day they need to start from scratch and find another great domain or source of income. I am driven by success not by money. If I was driven by money alone, I would work 1-2 hours a day instead of the 8-10 I work now,” Dicker said. 

Dicker relies on services provided by Google to monetize both his developed sites and PPC pages. “Google Adsense is my primary source of revenue on developed sites, unless the site has a product that can do better,” Dicker said. “On my PPC landing pages I only use Google for domains (his portfolio produces so much traffic he was able to cut an independent PPC deal with Google). I have dealt with them for years and I have been offered double the revenue if I switch to other companies, but I have no plans on leaving a company that has been great to me.” 

Many believe that the constant flow of new internet users will insure steadily rising PPC rates as advertisers compete to reach that growing audience. Dicker also sees blue skies ahead for the domain business. “I am optimistic about the business because I feel we haven’t even come close to hitting 10% of what this industry is capable of. The best way to illustrate this is that my Dad is 77 years old and less than 10% of people his age are PC literate. I am 39 years old and less than 50% of my age group is PC literate. My kids are now 9, 7, 5 and 3 respectively. Within 5-10 years when they get to the Internet, their generation will be more like 90% literate and that makes for a whole lot of potential revenue that hasn’t been touched yet. That’s why I am very excited about the future of this industry!” 

One of the few roadblocks Dicker sees is the increasing difficulty and cost involved in getting high quality domains“The only way anyone can grab new domains now is by either buying them directly from end user owners or by understanding that they will need to lay out a lot of money to be able to compete with so many big players now in the auctions of the drops. That said, if you have money to spend you can still get in.” 

Of course a lot of people who aren’t blessed with big bank accounts still dream of making it in the domain business. Dicker does see one avenue that could work for them. “The only way for the young guy or gal that starts now is to specialize and grab drops in industries where people are not known for being too Internet savvy and will be likely to let a great name drop by accident. I have picked up many of these and turned huge profits by this strategy. Some great industries to concentrate on are hotels, motels, travel, hospitals and insurance. They are all highly profitable areas that let drops go by accident,” Dicker said. 

Others see potential opportunity in new extensions like .info, .biz and .us or in established country codes like .de (Germany), .co.uk (United Kingdom) or even .ca (from Dicker’s homeland – Canada). “I have never been a great believer in country code domains,” Dicker said. “I own mostly .com’s  (99%). Even so, I do buy some country code TLD’s (MD.ca and PW.ca for example) and I do hope they become as profitable for everyone as the .com’s have been.”

 

In the end Dicker believes people should follow their own instincts. While there are many pioneers in the industry that he could have emulated he decided it was best to follow his own heart. “I tend to do things my own way,” Dicker said. ”Although feedback and discussion with other veterans are great, they don’t influence me too much.”  That’s one attribute Dicker shares with many of those who came before him. After all, no one ever became a leader by following the crowd.


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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: 

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

All other previous Cover Stories are available in our Archive

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Domain Name Journal
A Division of
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