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July 15, 2003
DOMAIN INDUSTRY GHOSTBUSTER: WHY ROGER COLLINS BROUGHT AFTERNIC BACK FROM THE AFTERLIFE 

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher

The Internet landscape is littered with body parts from bubble-era companies that were blown apart when the .com balloon finally burst. The carnage was so gruesome that future netizens may well sit around campfires scaring their children with horror stories about eToys, Pets.com and others that had a stake driven through their hearts. If those spinning the tales are domainers, they may conjure up the ghosts of Great Domains and Afternic as well.   

 


Logo for the
 New Afternic 

After all, what could be more frightening than recounting how Register.com laid out 48 million dollars in cash and stock to buy Afternic.com in September of 2000 then, just 24 months later, shuttered the doors after watching in shock as their investment dissolved into dust. 

At the time Register CEO Richard Forman said, “After two years and a lot of hard work, we've determined the (domain re-selling) segment does not have sufficient opportunity to continue devoting resources toward it.”  The company’s straightforward statement must have masked a pain that few people (with the obvious exception of John Wayne Bobbitt) could possibly understand.

So Afternic was dead and buried…or so everyone thought. Last fall a businessman from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a computer whiz named Roger Collins, salvaged the last remnant of the original business when he bought the Afternic.com name from Register. Contract terms prevent him from revealing the purchase price but it is safe to say that it was pocket change compared to what Register originally spent. 

Though the price was right you might think that after all of the trouble resurrecting the dead caused Dr. Frankenstein no one would touch this corpse. I mean you could excuse Collins if he never read Mary Shelley’s novel, but surely he had seen at least one of the movie versions! Didn’t he know that with a reputation for bad customer service and assorted other ills, this creature had the commercial equivalent of the Frankenstein monster’s bad brain? 

Yes, Collins knew all of that. But he also saw something in the tarnished Afternic name that was of such value to him that it overshadowed everything else. That was traffic - the Internet’s universally recognized currency. 

Collins thought that trying to attract the kind of traffic that came with the well-known Afternic name would be a lot tougher than rebuilding the brand’s image. Collins needed that traffic for a domain resale business he had started last summer called NameBuySell.com

“Afternic was and is the #1 site in its market based on traffic. We looked at the poor reputation in a much more optimistic way.  We thought, “If the site is that popular with a poor reputation, how popular would it be with an excellent reputation?,” Collins went on to say, “I have no regrets.  It was the deal of a lifetime for a business our size” 

The traffic Collins expected did in fact arrive with the name change from NameBuySell.com to Afternic.com. But what possessed him to think he could succeed in making money from a venue reselling domains when a corporate giant like Register could not?  To understand that you need to know more about Collins, a guy who has never been one to think small. 

Collins grew up in Central Florida, one of five children, including the oldest, brother Michael, who is now his partner at Afternic. While his mother watched over the brood as a busy homemaker, his dad worked as a public accountant. Roger found that he had a knack for crunching numbers too. While still in junior high school he started learning to program a Commodore 64. One of the first things he wrote was a checkbook management program that stored data on a cassette tape. 

Looking back on that today and seeing how Intuit (makers of the wildly popular Quicken personal financial management software) took that ball and ran with it, Roger ponders other areas he dabbled in that wound up producing wealth and fame for others. 

“Soon after that I started selling Internet access to my friends, using a server in my spare bedroom”, Collins recalled. “That was before AOL. I learned it was one thing to see an opportunity and a very different thing to make money from it.” 

Determined to master both of those skills, Collins finished high school and headed for the University of  Florida to begin a formal computer education. He got his B.S. in Computer Engineering then dove into the workplace to gain some real world experience. 

His first job took him to Columbia, South Carolina where he developed System V Unix on NCR Tower platforms. He went on to do software development work for IBM in Kingston, New York and Bristol Technology in Connecticut among others. 13 years ago he moved back home to Florida with plans to go out on his own. 

“I spent time in big companies and time in startups. I have an addiction for entrepreneurship, but I saw firsthand that being successful at it is a lot more difficult than it looks”, Collins said. He decided he needed to arm himself with even more knowledge so, while continuing to work, he completed a Masters Degree in Computer Engineering and earned an MBA.  Now he felt he was ready for the job at hand. 

The idea for Collins’ first major company, ProProject.com, was hatched in 1990. At the time he was developing software for Motorola as a contractor.  He noticed that every week, every contractor would fill out a timesheet, sign it, then have a meeting with the manager to get it approved, then make a copy and then FAX that to the payroll office. “I couldn’t stand to watch this slow process, much less participate in it, without doing something about it”, Collins said. 

He began developing web applications for businesses that would dramatically improve their operational efficiency. “Our product, ProProject ASP, is a system that lets consulting organizations track time, expenses, and billing on the Internet. It is a huge timesaver,” Collins said.  But exactly how did he expand his base from ProProject to include ownership of Afternic’s 48-million dollar brand name? Simple really. It was an accident. 

Collins had never been anywhere near the domain industry until just over a year ago.  “My brother Michael and I got into domain names as an investment for the first time with the .US land rush in April 2002”, Collins recalled. “We acquired more domains than we intended to because we underestimated the success rate of our pre-registrations.  I purchased about 400 and Michael purchased over 1,000!”  Collins thought that owning some premium domains would be pretty much a one-time event for both him and his brother but life has a way of taking you on some strange twists and turns along the way. 

With 1400 new domain names between them, Michael decided he had better look into how these things could be sold. He tried to convince Roger that he should create another web application for buying and selling domain names.

They had already started a second internet business with ChangeNotes.com (a handy free service that alerts you when content on your favorite sites has changed), so Roger didn’t see how they could begin a third venture while still trying to get the first two up to speed. Being the oldest brother has its advantages however and Michael won out. NameBuySell.com went online in June 2002 and quickly became the most popular of their three sites. 

Last fall one of their members sent them an email about Register’s plans to close Afternic. Roger thought he might be able to get Register to refer their former members to him at NameBuySell.com, but when he called the conversations went off in a completely different direction. After months of negotiations and three trips to New York a deal was finally struck and Collins took possession of the Afternic.com name on December 27th. Just days later, 2003 arrived and the new Afternic.com was online replacing NameBuySell.com. 

Because of the publicity surrounding the enormous price Register paid for Afternic, Collins understands the morbid curiosity in just how little the company wound up taking for their once prized possession. “We love seeing the words Afternic and $48 million in the same sentence, but things were very different then.  I think that might have been the last deal of the Internet Bubble,” Collins said. 

Collins added that his purchase price really wouldn’t be that hard to figure out. “Afternic’s financial performance is to some degree a matter of public record for anyone willing to do the math.  One tradition we have kept from the old Afternic is making all the sales public. You can use that information to ballpark our monthly revenue.  Then you can guess what businesses were willing to offer for that revenue. No one was willing to offer $48 million, that’s for sure!” 

Collins has nothing but kind words for Register.com (though they no doubt would have preferred an extra $40-45 million instead).  “We met some nice people during that negotiation. Afternic was too small a business for a company their size. I believe it was a true win-win deal.  It was the right thing for them to sell, and it was the right thing for us to buy”, Collins said. 

But back to the original key question we posed. What possessed him to think he can succeed where Register did not?  Well for starters, Collins plans to change not only Afternic, but also the entire way domains are sold in the aftermarket. Today’s major domain registrars play a key role in his new vision. 

“We plan to restructure Afternic from an independent exchange into an exchange-broker network, with the current domain registrars being the brokers,” he said. Collins is busy setting up deals with individual registrars who, for a commission, will offer the aftermarket names listed on Afternic alongside their new domain name registration services. That could make them a one-stop shop for customers who will be able to look through both new and used domain names at their site. Signing up key registrars (ironically like Register.com) could make or break the new Afternic.   

Collins explains that buyers have found it very easy to find a registrar when they want to register a new domain name. However for names that have already been registered and are for sale, consumers don't know where to look. By putting Afternic's listings where most of the market is already looking for domain names - at the registrar sites, he thinks the current market can be multiplied dramatically.

“We are targeting the top 25 registrars. One registrar is going live any day now and we are in positive discussions with many more. We’ll be attending the ICANN meeting this month and making more specific announcements then”, Collins said. (Editor's Note: Since publication of this story, Afternic has announced DomainPeople.com and DomainDiscover.com as the first two registrars to partner with them).  

To make it happen, Collins has brought Denney Cole on board as Vice President for Business Development. Cole, who is a seasoned business developer in the registrar industry (and a former Director of Business Development at Snapnames.com) , will be in charge of recruiting registrars to open up this new channel for aftermarket domains. 

Michael Collins, a former professional photographer with business management experience, serves as the company’s VP for Marketing. He is currently based in Orlando, while Roger remains in South Florida. They talk on the phone every day but agree that they will have to work in a common location if the business continues to grow as planned.   

Right now Collins says everything is on track. “Membership is growing steadily, about 10-20 new members join every day.  The inventory is also growing daily. We have about 260,000 actively listed domains, up from 20,000 when we acquired Afternic.  However, all of this is just the “before” picture as far as we are concerned because our primary focus is restructuring the domain aftermarket to make it much bigger than it is today”.

If the workload gets too heavy for Roger, Michael and Denney, Roger has an ace in the hole he can play in his wife Kristine. Like Roger, she is an experienced software developer (they met when both were working for IBM in New York). Kristine is taking the summer off to care for their three children, ages 2, 4 and 7, but plans to return part-time in the fall. 

With a team like that and a pattern of steady growth behind him, Collins doesn’t see any need to whistle past the graveyard as far as Afternic is concerned. There are still several chapters to be written, but this is one ghost story that may just have a happy ending.
 



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

If you missed our previous Cover Story Click Below: 

My First Year in the Domain Business: A Rookie's Diary

All other previous cover stories are available in our Archive

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