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May 22, 2003
King Leads Revolution to Make Acquiring Deleted Domains a Snap 

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher

Who ever heard of a King leading a Revolution? They know all about it in Portland, Oregon where co-founders Raymond King and Ron Wiener set up shop at SnapNames.com in June 2000. The company quickly gained fame by making it possible for the average Joe to join the chase for expiring domain names. 

The idea for the business was hatched a year earlier when King developed a script to try to catch a dropping domain he wanted for his own use. He got the name and that exercise piqued King’s interest in expiring domains. It stirred up visions of a new company to serve what was then an almost unknown market – people who wanted "used" domain names. For many entrepreneurs, visions like that never become a reality, but King was not your average daydreamer.

Raymond King
Co-Founder & CEO SnapNames.com

In 1984, when he was a freshman at M.I.T., King developed the first PC-based multi-user financial management system for architects and engineers.  He set up a company to market his creation and called it Semaphore. You may have heard the name. In 1997 Semaphore was one of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in America. By 2000 CEO King had 4 offices, 110 employees, and 2,000 clients around the world. After 16 years at the helm he decided to sell his brainchild to his premier competitor Deltek, Inc.

That might have been a good time to sit back and reflect on what he had accomplished, but like so many tech industry whiz kids, the lure of new worlds to conquer was just too much to keep King on the sidelines. His foray into the world of deleting domains flipped the mental light switch on again and he was off to climb a new mountain.

An all-star technology team was assembled and work began in Portland that summer just three years ago. Wiener wound up leaving in May of last year, explaining that his true love was building companies, not managing them. King seems to be equally at home doing both and SnapNames appears to be thriving under his leadership. The company is the acknowledged leader in catching expired domains and the gap between them and the nearest runner-up, Dotster’s Namewinner division, is a big one.

Initially SnapNames put more emphasis on protecting domain names that major corporations already had than acquiring names for individuals. Clients like American Express, AT&T and Coca-Cola, would buy SnapBack (tm) back-orders on their domains to guard against accidental deletion. Corporations often own hundreds of domains and if someone forgets to pay a renewal fee, an important asset could be lost. SnapNames offered cheap insurance.

However, King and company soon learned that there was an even bigger market among individual buyers who wanted deleted names. The industry did not have (and still does not have) a simple, easily understood system for redistributing “used” domain names. SnapNames set about bringing such a system to ordinary end users by applying their technology at the registrar and registry levels. They work with more than a dozen registrars to chase names ordered by SnapNames customers and that combined firepower has allowed them to achieve a success rate no one else has  been able to match.

Not that others aren’t trying and sometimes with notable success. Namewinner recently revamped their system and customers report an improved success rate (though exact figures for domains caught by the various competitors are not available). There are also strong independents like DropCatcher.com, DropWizard.com and Namefox.com who have had a hot hand at one time or another. There are also big private players like BuyDomains and Ultimate Search who frequently grab marquee names for themselves (they do not catch domains for the general public).

That kind of competition keeps everyone on their toes. SnapNames VP Mason Cole told Domain Name Journal “SnapNames tries at every turn to be as effective as possible for our customers, and that means we continually try to improve our technology and methods. We have  a very, very good set of dedicated engineers who work extremely hard to get results for our customers”.

Cole also believes the company’s emphasis on simplicity has paid big dividends. “We offer our service to all Internet end-users, regardless of their degree of sophistication.  Easy navigation is the nucleus of the Internet and our mission is to help everyone who needs a good name get that name.”

In the SnapBack system, all buyers at the SnapNames.com site pay the same price, $69 to order an expiring name. Buyers must pay up front. Most of the competing services use an auction format in which the highest bidder gets the names those companies succeed in grabbing. You only pay if you get the name, but for better names winners often pay a hefty price. For example, Namewinner recently collected $27,502 for landing Motherboard.com.

Of course, buyers often have no choice but to go to an auction service because savvy investors usually grab SnapBack positions on the best names months before they reach the deletion stage.

If  SnapNames fails to get a name, the buyer can move their SnapBack to a different domain. These exchanges can be made an unlimited numbers of times until the Snap expires one year after being issued. The company has also been expanding its market reach by letting affiliates sell discounted versions of the SnapBack product. These allow only three exchanges in the one year period but can be found for $40-$45 at sites like Snaps.com, DomainSnaps.com and NameAlerts.com.

Cole says the company is working on additional variations of the SnapBack product. “We do plan to add other TLDs, new pricing structures and even greater efficacy in securing names”, he said.

Of course the specter of Verisign’s Waiting List Service (WLS) looms over the entire expiring domains industry. That is a topic that is so fiercely debated that it will need to be the subject of a separate article.

In any case, SnapNames believes it has positioned itself to succeed in any future scenario. “Our proprietary technology has been licensed by Verisign as part of the WLS system, so we'll help to power that system if and when it is released", Cole said. He added "Post-WLS, we would continue to offer back-ordering for ORG names, and would also work to partner with other providers to let end-users backorder names in other TLDs.”

 

If you would like to comment on Ron Jackson’s article, write editor@dnjournal.com.  

To see last month's Cover Story click on headline below:

Elequa Unmasked: Unveiling the World's Most Prolific "Domain Artist"

 

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