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March 25, 2014

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Country Code Alchemist: How .CA Devotee Rick Silver Is Turning  Canadian Websites Into Gold 

By Ron Jackson 

al·che·my (noun): A seemingly magical power or process of transforming base metals into gold.

It should come as no surprise that Canada's Rick Silver spent much of his boyhood as a  magician. As an adult, after spending the past decade buying and developing domain names, Silver now rules an online empire built on his nation's relatively unheralded country code extension - .ca - an extension that most others routinely overlooked. 

While there is no doubt that .coms still rule the Internet roost, ccTLDs have been coming on like gangbusters over the past couple of years, making Silver's bet on top tier generic .ca domains look smarter with each passing day. They have served as the foundation for his thriving website design and development company n49 Interactive (a  name based on the fact that Canada sits on the north side of the 49th parallel that forms much of the border between Canada and the U.S.).

While Silver has long been a familiar figure to 

Rick Silver
Founder, n49 Interactive

those in the Canadian domain community, his visibility within the industry went global last year in Amsterdam when he took on an additional role - moderator of the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences staged around the world by Rick Latona

As always, the best place to start any story is at the beginning. Silver was born in Toronto - the first member of his family born on Canadian soil. His parents, Bert and Selma Silver, were Holocaust survivors who met in Israel after World War II. "When he was 16 my dad left Austria on his own after Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night")," Silver said. "My grandfather had been taken away to a concentration camp but my dad voided capture that night by hiding under his bed when the Nazis entered his home. The next day he began an escape that was completed when he made his way to an illegal boat bound for Israel."

"When he arrived in Israel dad used his skills as a musician and entertainer to build a new life," Silver said. "He even played with some greats like Lena Horne and entertained troops during the Israeli independence war. My sister, Ruth (who is nine years older) was born in Israel and my dad, knowing the horrors of war first hand, decided to move his family to Canada.

Rick's Dad, Bert Silver (front and center) played saxophone, clarinet 
and accordion in many bands and orchestras during his days in Israel.

After Rick was born in Toronto it soon became apparent that he was a chip off the old block. "My father's knack for being the life of the party – the guy with the best best jokes, the first one to pick up an instrument, certainly rubbed of on me," Silver recalled.  

"When I was about 10 years old we took a a trip to Disney World and I stumbled upon a Magic Store that inspired me to learn more about magic. It actually ended up turning into my first business; The Magic Duo. Me and my neighbor Neal would perform magic shows for kids parties on weekends."

"It was a great way to make some extra money, but it also taught me about performing and speaking in front of a crowd. I loved entertaining and found a challenge in making our show great not just for the kids but also for the adults who thought they were getting just a run of the mill magic show," Silver said.

Above: The Magic Duo - Rick Silver and his neighbor Neal
Below: The young magician at work.
“I started doing magic shows for children at the
 age of 10. Working and having fun as an entertainer is in my genes!," Silver said. 

Silver expanded his budding entrepreneurial career in high school when he made breakfast magically appear at local homes. "I got together with another friend and created Bagel Brunch Deliveries," Silver said. "We delivered brunch right to your door on Sunday mornings -  Bagels, Cream Cheese, Egg Salad and more. It was the perfect High School business because it ran only on the weekends."

"At its height we serviced hundreds of families and had three people on the road delivering. Our home phone was the business line and our family kitchen became a production line for packing and chopping 20 dozen eggs every Saturday," Silver said.

"It certainly taught me a great deal about business and customer service. There were a couple of times when we just couldn’t keep up. My dad remembers getting a call from an customer hungrily waiting for his delivery and demanding to speak to the President of the company. My dad of course had to admit that the President was out delivering the bagels!," Silver laughed.

A flyer for Silver's Bagel Brunch Deliveries 
business that fed hundreds of families 
throughout Toronto on weekends.

"Another problem was that my partner in Bagel Brunch Deliveries had an out of town girlfriend and that meant I was the one left chopping the eggs and packaging the cream cheese lox while he was out visiting his hot girlfriend," Silver said. However in this case, Rick would end up having the last laugh. "Years later that girl would become my wife," Silver smiled.

In addition to magic and business, Silver was fascinated by gadgets during his early years. His dad had opened a jewellery store (in the U.S. we spell it jewelry) on Yonge Street in Toronto and Rick loved to go there and master the gadget watches that came in. His time there would prove to be time well spent later in life. "Working in my dad's store, learning about sales, customer service and business in general certainly helped me in my own business career," Silver agreed.

MRI image of the brain

"My interest in technology and gadgets and the fact that my father had to cut short his engineering studies during the war led me to entering Electrical Engineering at the University of Windsor in Ontario," Silver said. "It was during my third year of Engineering, and getting quite bored studying the flow of electrons in transistors, that I discovered MRI images. I was intrigued by this new technology that allowed doctors to peer inside the body like never before. I switched my major to life sciences and today hold degrees in both Science and Business."

"It was also during University that I re-met the girl that would become my wife and the mother of my children, Debbie. As I mentioned earlier, she happened to be the former girlfriend of my bagel business 

partner. Debbie was going to attend law school and I was there to look after her. We married following our studies and she became a criminal prosecutor in the Toronto courts. We were married in 1989 and traveled throughout Europe for our honeymoon and for what would be the first of many family travels and excursions around the world," Silver said.

 Rick and Debbie Silver on their honeymoon (the first of many great European adventures).

Silver used his unique combination of business, biology and engineering training to start a career in the Medical Imaging Industry. "I started working as a marketing coordinator in 1990 at Picker International, a major manufacturer of MRI scanners and other medical devices. After various positions with the company in both Canada and the United States I wound up running the company's $80 Million Canadian division in 1999," Silver said. "Working for a large multinational organization was a very valuable experience and I was fortunate to have many great mentors that showed me the ropes."


At Picker International Silver (left) was in charge of the company's trade shows.  To attract
people to their booth he hired an actor to play Professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the man 
who discovered x-rays in 1895. People lined up to have their picture taken with "Roentgen."

As the new millenium approached Silver began dabbling in domain names. "Having been a very early user of the internet, I had given some thought to domains early on," Silver said. "But like many others I registered just a couple of names. I bought names for concepts, businesses and sites that I thought I might want to develop. I bought eJewellery.com since I knew something about Jewellery from my father. I also bought HomesAndCars.com realizing that searching for those big ticket items was far easier online. One day I received a call from a guy representing an insurance agent that specialized in Homes and Cars. He offered $5,000 for the name. Turning $35 into $5,000 seemed like a good thing but still I went about my job and my life." 

"By this time we were living in Cleveland where the company, now re-branded Marconi Medical Systems, was headquartered," Silver continued. "Debbie had put here law career on hold to allow me to accelerate my career path. We also had our second child, Hailey, in Cleveland and she is proud to hold both U.S. and Canadians citizenships."

Everything was going well for the Silver family, but as is so often the case, life was about to throw him a curve ball. "In late 1999 there was a management shuffle at the company and I realized that my time there was coming to an end. In January of 2000 I was terminated," Silver said. "It’s never fun getting fired and I didn’t know it at the time but had that not happened I never would have discovered the opportunity that lied ahead."

Working for a multinational corporation gave Silver a 
chance to travel the world. Above he and Debbie get 
ready to  speed their way through Japan on the bullet 
train. Soon after Rick left the corporate world but his 
new domain career would put him back on a fast track.

"It was the height of the Internet boom and Business.com had just sold for $7.5 million. That piqued my interest and when I started looking around I was shocked to discover that many great .CA domain names were not yet registered. The main reason was that at the time, unless a business had a national presence, it was required to register a provincial level domain such as yourcompany.on.ca for a business located in Ontario," Silver recalled.

"I remember chatting with others who had acquired .ca domains. Canadian Jason Chapnik was among the first to register premium generic .ca domains and when I asked him what he was doing he directed me to www.tv.  Jason was the guy who founded the .TV Corporation. Peter Maxymych had also acquired some great .ca domains before I got in the game and Peter later sold just a portion of his .ca portfolio to the Yellow Pages Group of Canada for $2.5 million. That remains the largest recorded transaction of .ca domains and a great example of a major media company locking up premium generic domain names," Silver noted.

Frank Schilling (above) compared .CA notes 
with Silver early in their domain careers.

"I also recall chatting with Frank Schilling late in 2000 after we both had purchased many domains at the time that .ca was deregulated. We talked about the .ca vs .com space and about our respective strategies. I remember Frank saying “your kids will thank you”. He knew then that while .ca was a good investment, it would take years before ccTLDs would chip away at the .com market," Silver added.

"Realizing that people would start using the internet over print directories to find local products and services, I spent weeks researching and purchasing English and French domains covering the main headings for local search. During that early stage I successfully acquired many domains like Limos.ca, Plumbing.ca, Photoraphers.ca, Schools.ca, etc.

"Armed with a strong portfolio of generic .ca domains, I gathered a talented team of designers, developers and marketers to help build a powerful local business advertising platform – n49 Interactive was born," Silver said.

The graphic above shows just a sampling of the hundreds of top tier .CA domains owned by n49

"One of our first projects was devoted to a cause that hit home for my family. We were shocked to discover that the city of Toronto was planning on tearing down 200 playgrounds across the city, including in my neighbourhood, with no plan for replacement," Silver said. "We quickly set up a website, www.TorontoPlaygrounds.com, to generate awareness and raise money for the construction of new playgrounds. The site played an important role in raising millions of dollars required to rebuild the playgrounds."

"TorontoPlaygounds.com gained a lot of media attention, created community awareness and helped to build support. This experience was formative in the future strategy of n49 – a platform designed for local communities, contributed to by users and powered by great domains," Silver said.

 Silver's TorontoPlaygrounds.com website drew a lot of media attention to his cause.

The next year, Silver's company really started hitting in all cylinders. "In 2001 we launched GoPro.ca, a Home Improvement resource, allowing Canadians to quickly find qualified professionals in their area. Leveraging domains like Roofing.ca, Kitchens.ca and Renovations.ca the GoPro brand became a recognized leader in the Home Improvement directory advertising sector. During that time GoPro was a staple at many industry conferences where we would talk with local business owners and get to know their customers," Silver said.  

The n49 team (with Rick Silver at far right) lauches it’s first network,
 GoPro.ca, at the Home Builder Expo in Toronto.

"We followed up with other directories focused on local Canadian content including Celebrate.ca, our Wedding and Event Planning Directory and CarCare.ca, an automotive services network."

"Over this time we really got to understand local advertising on the internet," Silver said. "Small businesses were challenged with transitioning their marketing efforts to the internet and increasingly they would turn to us for help in establishing and managing their online strategy. We created a full service web design and online marketing company. This allowed our customers to have one point of contact for all of their web requirements including development and promotion. All the while our team grew in skill and numbers as we worked on ever increasingly complex projects. This allowed us to learn, have fun, test new technologies and optimize our processes as we prepared our largest undertaking ever," Silver said.

"In early 2008 we launched n49.ca, now a leading local search engine and advertising platform for small and medium sized businesses in Canada. The website integrates hundreds of domains like Dining.ca, Salons.ca, Spa.ca, Painters.ca, Autoglass.ca and more into an open directory that allows members to rate and review businesses, edit information and share their experiences in a safe and fun atmosphere," Silver said.  

The n49 team launches n49.ca at Search Engine Strategies
Shirts labeled membername.n49.ca were the hit of the show. 

"With over 500,000 unique visitors monthly from across Canada n49 is a leading driver of traffic and leads for our advertisers who can purchase enhanced positioning in the category and city of choice. Our listings also offer our clients a powerful link from the individual domain name that represents the category and can increase their own website ranking in search engines. We have certainly found that leveraging a good domain provides a differentiator compared with other online directories in local and often gives us instant credibility in a particular market," Silver noted.  

"Helping businesses navigate and manage their online reputations in a world flooded by social media has become one of n49’s strongest capabilities," Silver added. "Businesses who realize the power of reviews and social networking are able to take advantage of this new opportunity. N49 has expanded it’s product offering to include mobile websites and online video commercials."  

"However realizing that most companies still do not yet have a website at all, our new platform allows any business to create a free website in addition to their listing, even if they don’t own a domain name. Incorporating the generic .ca network into this strategy allows for the creation of sites like azevedo.kitchens.ca and executivetouch.painters.ca, providing a quick and easy online presence," Silver said.  

The n49 platform and API distributes content to their own sites and to independent publishers.

"We are now using platform and API to distribute local business listings and consumer reviews not only to our own network but to other publishers across the web. In addition to this, we are now inviting other .ca domain holders with generic domains that fit into our local search model to join our network. The more generic URLs that resolve to great content that fit a particular category the better. This benefits users, advertisers and domainers across Canada ," Silver said.  

With so much on his plate, you would think that adding moderating duties for the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference would be too much for Silver to take on - but he knew it would be something he would love doing and that has proven to be the case. 

"I remember first attending a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Las Vegas in 2007 at the height of the industry," Silver said. "Marchex and Internet REIT were active and Demand Media had 
just been founded. The conference was then, and continues to be, an invaluable venue to meet, network and learn from the best in the industry," Silver said. 

Two years later he would personally become an integral part of the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. team. "I gave a presentation on ccTLD domain development at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Amsterdam in June of 2009," Silver recalled.  "I attended along with my wife Debbie in part as a celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. Our honeymoon had actually started out in Amsterdam so we were pretty excited when the location and dates for that show were announced. I think Rick Latona liked the style of my presentation and respected my knowledge of the industry as well as what I had done with my portfolio. So Latona just called me one day and asked if I would moderate the show! It was a great honor and of course I agreed. I think the fact that my name was also “Rick” helped seal the deal!." Silver laughed.  

Rick & Debbie Silver celebrating their
 20th wedding anniversary June 4, 2009 
during the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Amsterdam conference.

"I love playing a role in putting together the conference panels and making the sessions engaging, entertaining and informative," Silver said.

Silver moderating a session at the 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Vancouver conference.

"Of course, I was really excited about the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Vancouver show (held in June 2010), as the promotion of .ca has meant a lot to me. CIRA and many other companies and domainers from across Canada were there but the greatest thrill for me was the fireside chat with John Demco the godfather of .ca. It was John who established the .ca ccTLD while working at the University of British Columbia. John ran the registry on a volunteer basis right up till the end of 2000 and it was great to hear his stories of the evolution of .ca," Silver said.

I asked Silver, who is a huge proponent of development, about the current industry trend toward mass development solutions. "It’s clear that the development and monetization of domain names and web properties in general is a rapidly changing game," Silver said. "The good news is that parking solutions are becoming more advanced, more targeted and tools for performance measurement are getting better. The real game changer though is all the tools, feeds, widgets and APIs that make development of web properties easier than ever. Even full online ecommerce stores can be set up in just a few clicks! I think more and more we will see many domainers turn into developers."  

Silver is also a big believer is working together to promote the industry and solve problems that affect domain investors. "In 2009 I helped found the Domain Owner’s Association of Canada (DOAC) along with a number of leading Canadian domainers," Silver said. "The association aims to promote the registration of .ca domain names as well as enhance their value. We recently met with CIRA in order to discuss the promotion and expansion of the .ca extension both domestically and globally."

In closing, Silver said  there were some special people he wanted to thank for making his successful journey possible. "I am very fortunate to have a great team at n49," Silver said. "They do all the magic. Hiring great people and building a strong team has been and will continue to be the key to our success. I am very fortunate to work in a vibrant and dynamic industry that sees new innovation every day."  

The n49 team with their mascot "Milli" sitting front and center on Rick Silver's lap.

"Most of all I am lucky to have a wonderful family with two great kids and also lucky to have my parents there with us to share in the joys of life," Silver concluded.  

The Silver Family: Rick, father Bert, mother Selma, son Corey, daughter Hailey and Debbie.


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