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The Warmuz Way:  How Trellian Has Triumphed for 20 Years Despite the Tragic Loss of a Founder 

By Ron Jackson

This story is dedicated to the memory of Trellian Founder and CEO Ren Warmuz.  Ren left us much too soon when his long, hard fought battle with cancer ended in October 2013. Ren was just 45 years old. While he is no longer physically here, Ren's spirit lives on and the company he and his brother David Warmuz founded 20 years ago continues to thrive. This is their story.

Australia's Trellian Limited, parent company of the popular domain portfolio management service Above.com, is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. That is an extraordinary accomplishment in an industry where so many once highly profitable companies have run aground amid constantly changing tides. In such a stormy environment, how did

Best Man Ren Warmuz (left) with his brother and business partner David Warmuz on David's wedding day.

the Trellian founders, brothers Ren and David Warmuz, successfully navigate the choppy waters that took so many others down?

The Warmuz brothers, Ren & David, 
were a great team from the start.

Some of that ability to adapt and prosper could stem from the fact that drastic change is  something the Warmuz brothers learned to deal with when they were kids. David took us back to where their story began. "I was born in the Czech Republic back when it was called Czechoslovakia, in a town called Ostrava.  At the  age of 9, I vividly remember escaping with my family across the border and living in a garage for a few months until we were granted refugee status and allowed to emigrate to Australia."

"My parents were very courageous individuals.  They left a very good life in Czechoslovakia and sacrificed everything to move to Australia in order to ensure a better life for their kids.  When we came to Australia, all we  

had was a set of summer clothes, so the initial years were difficult.  But my parents were extremely hard working individuals and did a great job providing for their family.  Ren and I learned a lot from them about working hard to overcome challenges," David said. 

"Before high school even started, Ren had developed a passion for computer programming and gaming.  He went on to get a college degree in Computer Science and became amazingly skilled at coming up with innovative ideas and then writing the code needed to bring those ideas to life," David recalled. "For me, my passion was always for numbers, math, and accounting.  I remember at the age of 16 working for a stock brokering firm.  It was just an awesome experience seeing so much money being traded. It left a lasting impression and a strong desire to get into business at this level. So I went on to get a Bachelorís degree in 1993 in Business Accounting, Management, Marketing and Law." 

Though he had his degree in hand David experienced a problem that still vexes many college graduates today. "I spent a few months traveling through Europe and then returned to Melbourne to face the reality of finding a job. I must confess that I was a bit disappointed at how difficult it was to find a job worthy of my college business degree.  To earn my keep while looking for that worthy job, I had to work as a construction laborer for my dad. Working as a laborer and experiencing the challenge of finding a good job in business taught me a valuable lesson.  You need to start somewhere Ė you start at the bottom and you work your way up.  And regardless of what you do, you have to work hard if you want to get somewhere," David added.   

"I ended up working for a telecommunications company for a few years before starting Trellian.  It gave me a feel for what a corporate business environment was like. I learned a lot there, 

especially about management styles and how red tape stops progress.  I was like a sponge absorbing what everyone did and how.  This experience definitely helped when Ren and I started hiring employees and shaping Trellianís culture, values and business processes." 

"Trellian was established in 1997 and Iím proud to say that we are celebrating our 20 year anniversary this year! The company was based on an idea Ren had to help him find files on the internet.  He was trying to find a specific file and every time he went somewhere to get it, he discovered it was either moved or deleted.  So he wrote a meta-search application that helped him find the exact, current location of the files he was looking for," David recalled.

"When Ren realized this application could be helpful to others, he packaged it, created a website, and within the first day had a sale.  That program became known as Search Wolf.  It had a great slogan: ďDonít search the net, hunt it.Ē    

"Ren soon started developing a whole range of different search applications to include in Search Wolf, from image search, music search to MP3 search.   Search Wolf was a great product.  So we were anxious to broaden awareness and sales.  But back in those early days before Google, if you wanted to broaden awareness for your website, you had to manually submit your URL to thousands of small search engines around the world.  This could take months.  So Ren wrote a program that automated this process, completing submissions to all those search engines in a matter of minutes. It was brilliant!" David declared. 

"Once again, we quickly realized that a tool developed for our own purposes had commercial potential.  So we named it Submit Wolf, got it packaged, and then released it for sale on our website alongside Search Wolf.  Submit Wolf was a huge success.  Within weeks we had to hire someone to handle technical support and another person just to manually process credit card transactions." 

Ren and David Warmuz introduce trade show attendees to the Submit Wolf 
search engine submission software that was one of Trellian's biggest hits.

"Iíve lost count as to how many industry awards Submit Wolf received over the years.  Probably a couple of hundred. At that time, it was groundbreaking new technology that helped millions of businesses worldwide promote their websites via search engines in multiple languages. We had organizations of all sizes using it, from startups to universities to government agencies to Fortune 500 corporations such as Microsoft and Sony," David said.

"Now here is something interesting that soon started happening.  Thanks to so many websites being added to all the search engines, website owners soon realized that they needed to start competing for page one ranking for their keywords in order to improve the chances of getting found and getting clicks.  We spotted this trend early on and developed our SEO Toolkit software to meet the growing need to be at the top of the search results page.  It was another big success for us.  In fact, over the years many SEO company founders have approached me with stories about how they were able to build multi-million dollar businesses using our SEO Toolkit.   It is always rewarding to hear those stories. "

"Keyword Discovery was a natural extension of our SEO product line. It also represented an important shift for us from developing boxed software products to developing web-based applications. You can think of Keyword Discovery as basically a huge database of search term statistics gathered from over 200  

search engines worldwide.  It includes search term frequency, PPC bid values, seasonality factors, misspellings, destination URLs based on user clicks, and lots of specialized tools.  It is designed around knowing what your potential customers are searching for and making sure you have those keywords integrated into your website content for SEO purposes and into your paid search campaigns for improved results," David explained, adding, "Domain investors have also used Keyword Discovery to help them make decisions on which keyword-based domains to register, renew and drop-catch. "

At the same time the Warmuz Brothers were developing and selling their groundbreaking software and tools, they were also buying domain names of their own.  "We started acquiring domains when we first launched Trellian back in 1997," David noted. "Over the next several years, as our portfolio became rather large, we noticed how difficult it was becoming to find the best parking service for each domain.  It took a lot of work to continuously be changing DNS and comparing reports in order to keep up with which parking service was currently the best at monetizing international traffic, which was the best with US traffic, which was the best with US traffic in a specific vertical such as finance, and so on."

"It was a complex and time-consuming exercise.  So we created a program that automated the whole process.  It used algorithms to test each domainís traffic with the different parking companies, analyzed the results, and distributed each domainís traffic to the current payout winner.  For our own portfolio, we had a good 50% increase in revenue, which was a huge boost."

"Then at a tradeshow in early 2008, we showed this program to some domainer friends.  They loved it and convinced us to convert it into an online platform for everyone to use free of charge.  This is how Above.com got started.  Since its launch in 2008, Above has optimized the payouts on over 20 million domains, generating over $500 million in revenue. We are proud of the fact that so many domainers have trusted Above over the years to find the highest paying monetization channel for each of their domains. We now call this original core technology our AutoPilot platform."

The year after Above.com was launched Trellian's Ren Warmuz and Nancy Bianchi at a public exhibit for the platform at the 2009 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Conference in New York City where Above.com won the "Best New Monetization Service" Award.

"Many people donít realize that when we launched Above.com in 2008, it included our own direct advertiser channel called Maximizer. From the beginning, Maximizer has delivered premium payouts by working exclusively with premium advertisers from company owned Trellian Direct Search Network,Ē David said. ďWithin the advertising industry, Trellianís long-term reputation for quality domain traffic has generated strong demand that continues to grow and it is this demand that helps Maximizer produce unmatched payouts for domainers.Ē

Beyond the services they created and building their own domain portfolio Trellian found yet another way to fuel continued growth. "Over the years we have made some acquisitions that fit nicely with existing businesses or goals," David said. "For example, we acquired Girl.com.au and Femail.com.au because they were two of the largest online Australian womenís magazines with a lot of quality traffic that had great upside revenue-generating potential."    

"We also acquired some SEO related niche sites, including AddMe.com and URLTrends.com. In the domain investing space, we acquired DomainState.com, a leading news and forum site that provides helpful user generated content, free tools, and domain industry related data. And recently we acquired three new Australian registrars plus Australian drop-catching services Drop.com.au, Fabulous.com.au, and DomainShield.com.au. These acquisitions are in line with our plans to expand Aboveís Registrar into offering .com.au registrations and boosting its drop-catching capabilities into other TLDs and ccTLDs," David said.

David & Ren ready to hit the slopes.

David only wishes Ren was still here to share his excitement about these new acquisitions. "I have so many fond memories of time spent with Ren," David said. "I remember doing a fair bit of skiing together from an early age.  We both loved the snow.  I also remember Ren introducing me to Dungeons and Dragons type books.  The first book was called Magician and since reading that book Iíve been hooked on the genre ever since.  Over the years we went through hundreds and hundreds of those books, which not surprisingly lead us into online gaming.  We were both big gamers growing up.  But since there was only one computer in the house as kids, we had to take turns.  I remember so many times looking over Renís shoulder while he was playing a game like World of Warcraft and commenting on his game play.  I suppose I was a back-seat-driver," David smiled, "but it was all in good fun.  And he would do the same to me.  Itís always good to reminisce."   

"Our business partnership worked extremely well because we had very different talents.  We were two sides of the same coin. Ren was a creative and programming genius who was at his best when focused on ideas and product development.  Whereas I was the business operations, sales, accounting and management side of the coin. Together, our different talents helped us accomplish a lot.  We were an amazing team. "

Trellian Founder & CEO Ren Warmuz 
speaking at the 2007 T.R.A.F.F.I.C Conference in New York City.

"The two years following his passing were quite difficult for me," David continued. "It helped to have great people and great support around me, especially my wife and family. It also helped to have some great staff who stepped up and took on new challenges and responsibilities in order to keep the business moving forward. Ren and I treated our team like family.  I think this made a big difference when it came time for people to make the sacrifices needed to help out," David said. 

(L to R): Ren Warmuz, Trellian EVP Nancy Bianchi and 
David Warmuz 
at the 2012 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in 
Fort Lauderdale. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Neu) 

Since Ren's passing in 2013 the Trellian/Above team has continued to roll out new services and make strategic acquisitions at a furious pace. Some of those have built on Above.com's original core component (finding the highest paying monetization channel for each domain visitor, now known as AutoPilot) to create an innovative suite of services assembled in a single dashboard known as Portfolio Manager.

"Over the years, we added three additional core components so that domain investors would have instant access to all the data, technology and services needed to make decisions and manage every phase of domain investing," David said. "Think of it as a complete domain portfolio management solution.  Buying, selling, monetizing, registering and renewing. All driven by Aboveís core strengths in technology and data analytics. The three core components added over time included a Registrar, Marketplace, and recently, a Domain Brokerage service."   

David added, "An example of a great new feature in Portfolio Manager is its Consolidator Tool. It takes all the work out of tracking expiry dates by fetching and displaying expiry date, DNS setting, and registrar

name for every domain in your portfolio from across all your registrars. It lets you quickly and easily make performance based renewal decisions."    

"For most domain investors today, selling domains is the most important source of revenue so Above.com has given that platform component a great deal of thought and attention," David noted.  "Our Marketplace offers an industry low commission rate and free escrow.  Not to mention some unique features to facilitate domain buying and selling. With even more great features soon to be released, all designed to help domain owners sell their domains. Our Brokerage service is also becoming very popular, with millions of dollars in transactions completed. If you need help selling your domains we can definitely offer a unique solution."

They obviously have a lot going on already but if the Trellian team has learned one thing it is that you don't grow and survive standing still. While they keep a close eye on advancing their current operations, they keep another on future opportunities. "With respect to something completely new, we are planning to develop a few of our premium generic domain names into actual online business units," David said.  "I canít tell you which domains yet. But stay tuned for details!"

Given all of this and David's penchant for hard work, you might think that "free time" is non existent but he somehow finds it here and there. "I wish there was a little bit more of the free time," David admits, "but when it's there, I love to spend that with the family.  The kids are very active in very different sports, so being a part of that and attending all of their sporting activities, I enjoy doing that. I also enjoy reading various books and having fun with a bit of gaming, if there is time. Helping out at local sport and charity clubs is also an enjoyable pastime for me.  In fact, on Thursday nights I help the local lifesaving club by working behind the bar.  So if youíre in the area, come down for a drink on me," David closed with a smile. 

David Warmuz
Trellian/Above.com CEO

*****


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