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The State of the Industry 2021: Two Dozen Domain Experts Detail How Covid Changed the Business in 2020 and What to Expect Next

By Ron Jackson

Welcome to our 17th annual State of the Industry Cover Story! We have once again called on leading experts from all major sectors of the domain industry to get their take on how the industry fared over the past year - a year in which a once in a century pandemic touched almost every aspect of our lives. While the pandemic is still a long way from over, we've already learned that, for many, domains have been one of the business world's safest havens in the midst of the Covid-19 storm. 

We all hope new vaccines can bring a return to something close 

Image from Bigstock

to normalcy by the end 2021 but we also wonder if the pandemic has created a permanent change in how people view the importance of being able to do business in the virtual world? The answer to that question - also asked of our panel of experts - will have a huge impact on this industry's prospects in 2021 and beyond. 

 

To assemble our panel we called on successful domain investors, developers and brokers, as well corporate leaders from a variety of categories including registrar and registry operators, aftermarket sales platforms and conglomerates that offer all of those services and more. To assure fresh voices are always in the mix, we aim to have at least half of each year's panel comprised of members who were not featured the previous year, and were able to do that again this year.

 

A new wrinkle this year is a partnership with the NamesCon.Online conference to expand on the State of the Industry theme so that we can jointly help more participants in our dynamic business start the new year fully up to speed on what changed in 2020, where we are now and what the future looks like in this field. As part of that initiative, when NamesCon.Online 2021 runs January 27-29, I will host a live State of the Industry session each morning of the conference. On January 27 I will sit down with Corporate Leaders, on January 28 it will be Domain Brokers and on January 29 it will be 

Domain Investors and Developers (those are also the three categories we sort our panelists into for this annual article). The NamesCon programs will include many of the industry experts featured in this article, as well as some that will be exclusive to the conference sessions, so I hope you will take full advantage of both!

Since we value the contributions of every expert contributor equally, we rotate the order that each group appears in every year. Last year we led with the Domain Investors & Developers, followed by the Brokers, then the Corporate Leaders. So this year, the Domain Brokers move up a notch to kick things off, followed by the Corporate Leaders, with the final words going to the Domain Investors/Developers (the links in the preceding category names will take you directly to those groups). Many of our experts operate in more than one category. For those multi-talented individuals, we put them in the group that looks most relevant for them this year.

Now, let's get this party started with an introduction to the experts who have graciously taken time out of their busy schedules to share their insights with you. Please note: For quick access, we added a LINK to each expert's photo below. Just click a photo if you want go to directly to that person's commentary (with one exception - there is no link from my photo at the bottom right - I am just here to direct traffic)!  Personally, I like to read straight through from top to bottom so I can absorb all of the information from one complete group at a time, but however you want to navigate the course, I'm confident you will find it to be time well spent! 

Our 2021 Panel of Experts

(Left to right):

Row 1: Kate Buckley (Buckley Media), Andrew Rosener (MediaOptions.com), Ryan McKegney (DomainAgents.com), Jeff Gabriel (SAW.com).

Row 2: Amanda Waltz (SAW.com),  Mark Daniel (Domain Holdings), George Hong (Guta.com), Bill Sweetman (Name Ninja).

Row 3:  Monte Cahn (RightOfTheDot.com), Jen Sale (Evergreen.com), Michael Robrock (Sedo), David Warmuz (Trellian/Above.com). 

Row 4: Sandeep Ramchandani (Radix), Dr. Gregg McNair (Premium Traffic Ltd.),  Mariah Reilly (Donuts),  Andrew Miller (ATM Holdings, Inc.).

Row 5: Christa Taylor (DotTBA and MMX), Zak Muscovitch (Internet Commerce Association & The Muscovitch Law Firm), Michael Castello (Castello Cities Internet Network), Mike Mann (DomainMarket.com). 

Row 6: Braden Pollock (LegalBrandMarketing.com), Deepak Daftari (Tie Kolkata), Morgan Linton (Bold Metrics Inc. and MorganLinton.com), Ron Jackson (Editor and Publisher of DNJournal.com's annual State of the Industry Report).

Domain Investors

 

....and away we go!

 

Domain Brokers 

Kate Buckley 
Founder & Principal, Buckley Media

Seeing domain name sales brokered by Kate Buckley at the top of DNJournal.com charts has become a common occurrence over the as Kate continues to ring up sales of six figures and up (the most recent being Engage.com at over $800,000 last month).  Kate also has a fascinating life story, one that we detailed in a 2018 DN Journal Cover Story. Here is Kate's take on how Covid-19 affected the industry in ways some might never have expected. 

Kate Buckley
Founder & Principal
Buckley Media

As news of the pandemic swept the globe, I, like many in our industry, wondered how it would affect domain values and aftermarket sales (both volume and pricing). I reasoned it could go one of two ways: a severe pullback and contraction as marketing budgets shriveled or were put on ice—or conversely, a rapid acceleration in demand in alignment with the old saw: “Out of chaos, comes opportunity.”  

Happily, the latter proved true, and as businesses were forced to shift dramatically to online services in response to the global pandemic, having a strong and trustworthy domain name became more important than ever. After an initial contraction in startup activity (VC funding decreased by 20% in Q1), the second half of the year saw large increases, both in funding rounds and the establishment of new startups. This was particularly pronounced in the U.S., where an unexpectedly huge amount of new companies was created in the aftermath of the crisis (DCMN). Consequently, demand for consumer-facing premium .coms skyrocketed. At Buckley Media, we were inundated on both the buy and the sale side, and closed out one of our most successful years-to-date.  

On significant non-Covid domain industry trends, the march toward market consolidation continued (with 2021 promising more of the same). We also saw some interesting new products and platforms enter the domain inventory marketplace (such as DNWE)—which speaks to the ongoing maturation process of the still nascent domain name market.  

Ideas previously dismissed as outré are now being normalized: cannabis, fractional ownership, etc. The growing global understanding and adoption of Bitcoin, crypto, blockchain & distributed ledgers are changing not only actual technology, but more importantly for our domain world, they are underscoring the global recognition of the cost of not being agile—left flatfooted with a rapidly changing global economy and business ecosystem. In 2021 we’ll see this further compounded: with the astounding and massive SolarWinds hack only recently discovered, executives who have not invested in security choices along with IP and shoring up their brand will pay the price, along with their companies. All of which opens the door to continue to educate founders and the C-Suite on what premium domains bring to the table!  

Wholesale prices on aftermarket domains continued to rise as a result of demand—so much so that some wholesale prices even rose to lower-end retail level—as the available inventory of good domain names (particularly ultra-premium domains) continues to dwindle, and as more and more domain investors enter the market. After all, market uncertainty historically creates entrepreneurs and emboldens risk-taking.

Look ahead to the new year and beyond Kate said this:

Recession fears still linger, and companies continue to recognize and prioritize growing their status and competitiveness online. Most investors think the market is either fully or somewhat in a bubble. To drill down on this further: a well-known British investor, Jeremy Grantham, believes that the stock market is in a "fully-fledged epic bubble," driven by extreme overvaluations, explosive price increases, frenzied issuance, and "hysterically speculative investor behavior."   

On that note, there’s a well-noted fear of inflation on the horizon. Some LPs have commented that they see early stage startups as an inflation-protected sector in which to park their capital. If they’re correct, that means a lot of money flooding into startups over the next 12 months. And all of those startups will need domain names.  

Now, founders seem to grasp, more than in years past, the need to build their brand on the bedrock of a premium dotcom. Overall, I see greater awareness of domain names as digital assets aided by a field of factors including: last year’s massive digital global expansion (compressing years of growth into one) and greater adoption of blockchain technology. We can expect to see new wealth in unpredictable sectors, along with increasing vocabulary and acceptance for non-tangible assets like domain names.  

Kate Buckley speaking at the first NamesCon Online conference in September 2020,

As ever, we’ll continue to see growth in the top 2% of names (ultra-premium .COMs), with end user sales of one-word, English Dictionary .coms continuing their rise. Likewise, good two-word .COM will increase in both STR and price, due to the scarcity and price points of the former. On the other hand, we should see continued depression in the bottom end of the market: A polarization—mirroring the polarization of our economy, and the sectors that have both thrived in and been devastated by the pandemic.  

It’s worth watching certain verticals that experienced accelerated growth due to COVID. It's these that are bringing in funding (and thus acquiring domains!) as they compete to become leaders. Notable sectors to watch: eCommerce, Gaming, Digital Media, Healthcare, Crypto, EdTech, Food, and Biosciences, along with startup sectors within the categories of: Cloud, Social, and Delivery.  

A vital note on data collection, biohacking, and bio tracking (we’ve even normalized sharing our temperatures everywhere): with more data, plus the normalization of sharing more extensive data than ever before, AI has been empowered to impact innovation on a whole new level.  

This is a tremendous, world-altering shift, particularly unexpected after years of incrementally stringent privacy laws. What exactly does this new normal of super data access mean for business? Marco Casalaina, senior VP of product management at Salesforce remarked: “The pandemic introduced countless new digital touch points for B2C and B2B companies alike, which means there’s more data than ever before….IDC predicts that global spending on AI will double in the next four years, reaching $110 billion in 2024, as companies see an opportunity to boost innovation, improve customer service and automate routine tasks so their employees can focus on more strategic work.” And all of these new digital touch points translate into solid opportunities for the domain industry, as these new companies, products and services require solid consumer-facing domain names.  

Lastly, these same new touch points and insights mean better focusing and targeting, which result in more meaningful and useful companies/products/services. And that means more revenue, greater infusion of capital for startups, and every single one of those items means greater need for quality domains…and more money to spend on these mission-critical digital assets.  

A final note: the recent focus on a social media platform’s ability to suspend or ban accounts (both personal or corporate) has further amplified how owning one’s digital brand via a domain name is mission-critical to ensuring that one’s voice cannot be silenced. While it’s the platform’s first amendment right to ban any user in violation of their policies (after all, they are profit-seeking corporations who are well within their rights to enforce their terms of usage), it’s definitely opened eyes as to the consolidated power of social media platforms (some would say Tech Monopolies). And, if a company wishes to ensure they aren’t de-platformed in the new “public square,” they would do well to ensure they control their brand—and therefore, their access to their audience—via an exact match domain name.

Andrew Rosener 
CEO, MediaOptions.com

At the 2020 NamesCon Global Conference in Austin, Texas, MediaOptions.com Founder Andrew Rosener was named winner of Escrow.com's #1 broker in the world award, based on the total dollar value of domains sales transacted on their platform. Year in and year out Andrew has proved himself to be one of the very best in the business.

Andrew Rosener
CEO, MediaOptions.com

The reality for the MediaOptions business is that we have been a distributed team with no central office since inception in 2008! So Covid-19 really had no negative impact on our ability to work or our processes in any way. In fact, because we were ahead of the curve, I suppose it could be argued it provided us with a competitive advantage since we didn’t need to adapt at all. That was reflected in our market share of the domain brokerage market if the numbers from Escrow.com are to be used as a measuring stick.

From a business perspective solely, 2020 was the best year in our company’s history. Overall, what I would say about 2020 was that all of the trends and signals I’ve been picking up on and pondering for the last decade, finally popped their head into reality. 2020 will be seen as the tipping point where digital real estate began it’s absorption of the bricks and mortar commercial real estate market. When Marc Andreeseen said, “Software will eat the World.”, this is what he was talking about. EVERYTHING will be digitized, including you! Domain names are and will continue to be the bedrock foundation on which this new digital world is and will be built, likely for decades to come. 

2021 is going to be another great year for domain names! However, I do not believe that from an economic, social or even political stand point we will see much “relief” from the Covid blanket. I doubt that vaccines will achieve enough penetration or effectivity to be sufficient for returning the global economy and society to normal, particularly when you consider that this is a global economy today and global society and much of that globe won’t even see a vaccine in 2021. Perhaps towards the end of the year, but my estimate is Spring (Q2) 2022 for any semblance of normalcy.

That being said, the acceleration of the digital trend will continue at an even faster pace. Healthcare, education, communication, money & even travel will be further digitized. 10 years of adoption and adaptation will be compressed yet again into the next 24 months. Domain names and Bitcoin (perhaps other crypto) will be the biggest winners of that acceleration. 2021 will be the year in which these digital macro themes dove tail, exhibiting entirely new use cases of domain names and DNS, such as: identity, payments, wallets, single-sign-on, geo-targeting, geo-fencing, pseudonymous digital identity, social media, virtual societies (“metaverse”) & digital sovereignty. Combine that with cancel culture and censorship and you have a perfect storm for massive changes of hearts and minds in how the public and business leaders perceive and value domain names (and immutable digital currency). As we witness the greatest transfer of wealth in human history over the next decade, the beneficiaries will be the holders of the strongest, hardest & most recognized digital assets on Earth and the haters and doubters and those that hang on to the legacy economy and society will be the losers of that wealth.

A blast from the past - Andrew Rosener speaking at the 
2013 Domainfest Global Conference
in Santa Monica, California. 

2020 saw a slew of high tech IPO’s that will likely continue into 2021. The biggest winner there is the venture capital market. Despite what anyone may say, the biggest driver of the domain name market, or better domain name prices, is venture capital. As venture capital goes, so do domain names. There is a flood of liquidity in the VC market and more to come. They have a mandate to reinvest that capital and that means more and bigger funding rounds for startups. From what I can tell, $1 million is the new $100,000 and $1 Billion is the new $1 Million. That means more domain name sales and likely materially higher values as more demand chases less supply of premium domains. Lastly, .COM will accelerate fastest but as prices increase rapidly, lease options and lease to own models will become the norm as apposed to the outlier and large portfolio owners will begin treating their names more like venture capital than assets to be sold. At the fringe, those who are not smart enough to take advantage of these cash flow advantaged lease models for premium .com domains, will begin adoption of lesser domain extensions. I think .Horse will be the winner in the race for second place! 

Ryan McKegney 
CEO, DomainAgents.com

DomainAgents.com has been making waves ever since the company was founded by Ryan's brother, Phil McKegney and Adam Strong in 2012. The last three years in a row DomainAgents won awards presented by Escrow.com as one of the top ten brokerages in total sales volume worldwide on the Escrow.com platform.

Ryan McKegney
CEO, DomainAgents.com

The pandemic forced ten years of change into one. Out of necessity, businesses and services moved online and consumer habits have been permanently changed. That rush online was a boon to domain registrars and many domain investors.  We had our best year ever at DomainAgents.

The impact of the pandemic was not distributed evenly. While many businesses were hurt immensely, companies that did well, did very well. We continued to see a lot of industry consolidation and record low interest rates and high stock prices mean that will almost certainly continue.

The biggest challenge that we faced was the one that everyone faced: uncertainty. In the Spring, as a business had to suddenly prepare for the possibility of major economic disruption. Our employees already worked from home, but the pandemic placed an enormous amount of stress on everyone as we feared for our health and safety. We've worked hard to accommodate our employees as they've dealt with the lockdowns and stress.  Their resilience was a major contributor to the success we've had.
 

2020 definitely showed us the folly in making predictions. As I write this in early January, there is so much instability and so many unknowns in politics, vaccine distribution, crypto, to name just a few areas, that any predictions for the year could be proven wrong by next week.  I think many of the long term trends that the industry has seen have been accelerated by the pandemic.  More companies and services will push online, including traditionally offline services like health and fitness, and that should be good for domain prices. Cheap money and high stock prices will continue to fuel industry consolidation as well as interest in domains as alternative assets.

My advice for the year would be to stay nimble and open to opportunity. We're likely at least a year away from "normal" and what normal looks like will be different.  In the meantime, stay safe and keep your eyes open for new opportunities.

Jeff Gabriel
Co-Founder, SAW.com

Jeff Gabriel is a world-renowned expert in domain brokerage and building sales teams. Jeff and Amanda Waltz co-founded Saw.com, a top tier boutique brokerage that specializes in acquiring, selling, and appraising domains. Previously, Jeff was the Vice President of Sales at Uniregistry where he and his team quadrupled sales dollar volume. Prior to that Jeff was the President and Co-Founder of Igloo.com and was also a Domain Broker at Sedo. All told, Jeff has contributed to over $350 million dollars in completed transactions in this industry. 

Jeff Gabriel
Co-Founder, SAW.com

We officially launched Saw.com in December of 2019. Our goals are the same now as they were then:

1. To sell domain names to every possible type of business in the world at whatever stage they are their journey; and

2. Have fun doing it.

In Q1 of 2020, we exceeded our projections in every category. We were, what I like to say, "Rocking and Rolling." Then mid-March came and we hit a wall. Buyers who made offers were relieved to get countered so they were not committed to paying. At the same time, others in our future pipeline changed from showing buying signals to, "Call us in a couple of months." What was a vibrant little startup was becoming a victim of the virus. There were six of us; we made it a point to have regular conversations, not just about work, but about what we were all experiencing. We discussed how we were feeling and helping each other understand they were not in this alone.

Once we were finished asking ourselves where all the toilet paper went, we decided as a Domain 

Brokerage we weren't going to feel sorry for ourselves and that even though people were not buying, our customers’ domains would be at the front of the line when they did. It was like someone flipping a switch in mid-June. Buyers were back and we finished the month with just under 1M in sales. In July, we sold $2,000,000 in domains. In the remainder of the year, we fully exceeded all expectations, and December finished with almost $4,000,000 in domain sales. The virus had a short-term detrimental effect on our business, but it also has created a demand that I haven't seen since the Chinese domain market took off in 2015.  

When the virus broke out in March, I recall speaking to a client that works at a large company with a huge customer service team. That team had been providing service from different offices throughout the world. But within a matter of days, they migrated thousands of employees from those locations to their homes. Use your imagination. This was no easy feat! Companies that were lagging technology-wise or getting away with a weak online presence before COVID learned that they needed to become more competitive online or take drastic action to stay alive. That has caused us to see increased demand in the Domain Brokerage side of the business. On the Domain Blocking front, clients with established brands and those that are not household names as of yet are concerned about cybercrime and want to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect their business and their customers.  

Amanda Waltz
Co-Founder, SAW.com

Amanda Waltz, who co-founded domain brokerage and consulting firm SAW.com with Jeff Gabriel, is a dedicated and self-motivated business development professional with over 20 years of internet sales experience. Amanda is known for her outstanding skills in business development and communication, as well as her organizational, conceptualization, and time management skills.

Amanda Waltz
Co-Founder, SAW.com

The initial challenges we expected in the early days of the Covid19 global pandemic being recognized here in the US were turned into opportunities with the highest annual U.S. ecommerce growth in at least two decades by the end of 2020. Opportunities for internet and ecommerce businesses grew exponentially over the past ten months with ecommerce sales reaching a staggering $839.02B resulting in a rate of growth by over 40% from 2019. 

Our clients who recognized this opportunity and pivoted from physical to online real-estate were able to not only maintain but scale growth when times were difficult. As a result, our team has had the pleasure to work with some incredibly thoughtful founders who have achieved great success and in turn are giving back to their communities and customers impacted by Covid19. 

For our team; one of the biggest challenges is finding inventory for our clients.  I believe this trend will continue as the supply dissipates for 

quality one word .com domains. The prices for short, easy spelled, meaningfully positive, English language words continues to increase.  One positive trend we see daily is that savvy marketers finally understand the impact these valuable domain assets have on their business in the digital transformation 2020 has brought to our global community.  

 

Mark Daniel 
Managing Director, Domain Holdings Group

Mark Daniel is a Digital Real Estate expert who specializes in helping clients acquire and divest premium domain names and other online assets. He works with a plethora of individuals, startups and large brands alike and is widely known for his dedication to his clients and to the domain industry at large.

Mark Daniel
Managing Director
Domain Holdings Group

It might be an understatement to say it’s been an interesting 12 months as we deal with the changes affecting our normal course of business. When the virus first hit and lockdown began, many of us in the industry who broker domains had concerns that it would negatively affect the domain space. We have found that business has only increased as more companies shift their focus from “in person” to “online” and better understand the value of a domain asset. The online focus and consumer lifestyle changes during the pandemic created some new markets and many organizations had to adjust and continue to do so. There are a plethora of new startups and VC organizations coming to market. We have seen increased consolidation in the industry as several companies made large acquisitions in 2020. GDPR and new privacy laws continue to affect the industry. As domain name brokers, we have had to further sharpen our detective skills when trying to track down registrants. 

We have also worked with more new buyers and sellers from all over the world who have never completed a domain transaction before. We spend a lot of time educating our clients in our role as domain name matchmakers. The healthcare 

and finance spaces seemed to be the most active in 2020. Personally, I miss the face-to-face interactions we have at industry conferences but am hopeful that someday soon we will return to meeting in person. I look forward to seeing many of you at the virtual NamesCon later this month.

2021 should be a great year for the domain space and especially for aftermarket domain sales. Domain valuations will keep going up. I think many of the trends we saw in 2020 will continue this year. New digital technologies affect the way we go about our daily lives and simultaneously, the domain industry is also evolving and growing. Video services such as Zoom and Teams will remain vital for interacting with clients, employees and associates. More online industry events may occur this year as planning remains difficult due to the pandemic. 

Companies are starting to better understand cryptocurrency and how to incorporate it into the financial structure of their organization to ensure they are prepared for the digital future. We saw this happen with MicroStrategy and I think as the year goes on, we will see more and more companies getting involved. As public awareness of the crypto space evolves, we will see increased crypto-related domain name sales and more clients wanting to buy and sell using cryptocurrency. 

In 2020, about 98% of our transactions were with retail end-user buyers vs. wholesale buyers. As domain prices increase, that trend will likely continue. We will keep helping our clients make the best decisions on the right domain. Many clients are trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors by using short, memorable .com names. Premium domain name sales are increasing, and it is important for all of us to keep an eye on the changing global market conditions. Prices for super-premium category killer domains will continue to appreciate as we see more and more domains “off the market forever.” Here is to a healthy and happy 2021!

George Hong 
Founder & CEO, Guta.com

George Hong, a native of China who spent years living in the U.S and maintains offices in both countries, is intimately familiar with key buyers and investors on both sides of the Pacific. When Chinese buyers became a major force in the domain aftermarket - especially at the high end of it - a few years ago, George's brokerage company, Guta.com, was experienced tremendous growth that catapulted the firm into the top tier of brokerage services.

George Hong
Founder & CEO
Guta.com

In 2020, businesses adapted to the pandemic by moving online. However, online companies faced challenges too. An example: many Asia based gambling or sports betting websites were out of business. These websites typically prefer numeric domains; their struggle is one of the reasons that total short numeric domain sales fell to a historic low since 2018 (According to Guta's Premium Domain Sales Observation Report). 

Due to global trade wars and government monetary policy controls, in 2020, it was much more challenging than in prior years for the Chinese buyers to convert CNY to USD and wire the money overseas. Compared to prior years, the number of investor buyers who sought our help to buy domains decreased, while the number of end-user buyers, who sought our help, increased

We see more and more Chinese domain investors buying/selling premium one-word .com domains from/to overseas. The quantity of western individuals and end-users entrusting Guta to purchase domain names from China has been increasing.

The pandemic has accelerated many trends. Some of them, such as the work from home and shop from home trends, will not reverse in 2021. More companies will allow employees to work from home permanently. For many businesses, the quality of their domain names is more important than their office locations.  

Global central banks had “printed” extraordinary amounts of fiat money in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021. The Fed’s massive injection of fiat money will cause hyperinflation. Buying premium domain names is a smart way to protect against inflation. 

Bitcoin has been setting record highs in the first two weeks of 2021 after it blew past its previous high of $20,000 at the end of 2020. Bitcoin and Crypto Market will Boom in 2021. A robust cryptocurrency market means good things for the domain industry, as crypto companies and investors flush with extra cash as their cryptos rise are more likely to buy domain names. Furthermore, there are advantages of cryptocurrency payments over fiat money payments.

Guta has successfully brokered premium domain transactions paid via cryptocurrencies. I believe that increased cryptocurrency payment adoption among domain name buyers and sellers will lead to more domain name transactions. I expect domain sales in 2021 would be very active, and we will see a lot more high price domain sales reported than we did in 2020.

Bill Sweetman 
President & Lead Ninja, NameNinja.com

Bill Sweetman has been an internet professional for well over 20 years with experience in just about all aspects of the industry. With numerous six-figure sales under his belt, Bill's skill set has made Name Ninja one of the top domain brokerages/consultancies in the business. He is also a top tie conference moderator as you will see again at NamesCon.online January 27-29, 2021.

Bill Sweetman
President & Lead Ninja
Name Ninja

In February and March, due to the pandemic and general business mood at the time, Name Ninja proactively went into defensive mode and 'braced for impact'. I've managed several businesses successfully through global economic recessions in the past, so I knew the general playbook to use, although I was still on edge since this time things felt very different. We were fully expecting a downturn in our buyer brokerage business, especially after one mid-sized project was cancelled, so we took evasive action, watched our expenses and cash flow very closely, and secured additional business lines of credit so we could ride out the storm. We also tried to shower our loyal clients with lots of love and attention for sticking with us. 

Miraculously, that storm never came, and we saw a steady uptick in business from April onwards. We ended up having the second best year in the seven-year history of Name Ninja, and I partially credit that to the global awakening that companies the world over had that doing business means doing that business online via a Website using a great quality domain name

I also give major kudos to my amazing team of Ninja and freelance agents who were already used to

working remotely and really pitched in to help one another through a very challenging time. I know that many businesses suffered or collapsed last year, it was painful to see that devastation, so I feel very blessed to work in that rare business sector that actually saw business increase this past year. 2020 was a brutal year that really tested everyone's patience and strength and also forced us to focus on what's important in life. I feel very lucky to have survived the year, personally and professionally.

2021 is shaping up to be a huge year in the domain industry. The economy is going to improve, especially in some countries, and more and more businesses have realized the importance of using a great domain name. With innovative platforms like DAN.com and DNWE.com and others making bold moves in this space, 2021 is going to be an exciting year of change, disruption, and new opportunities the likes of which we haven't seen in over a decade. Here at Name Ninja, we're onboarding an additional Ninja to our team this month, and I'm no longer bracing for impact, I'm bracing for growth!

Monte Cahn 
Founder, President & Director, RightOfTheDot.com

Monte Cahn is a true domain industry pioneer who has handled some of the biggest domain sales on record while providing world class aftermarket services since entering the industry (before it was even an industry) back in 1994. Monte deserves a lot of the credit for paving the way countless other have followed over the past 25 years. 

Monte Cahn
Founder, President & Director
RightOfTheDot.com

The Covid / Corona Pandemic significantly affected the entire world and therefore I would say everyone was negatively affected in some way. Although only a few did not see or feel it in the domain industry, I would say the majority of the market was down by at least 30% in overall sales volume and possibly more in sale value averages due to the overall financial markets being down globally. People were holding onto their funds, some industries like entertainment, travel, restaurants took and are still taking huge negative hits so if you have domains in those industries, you saw a significant drop in traffic, revenue, and sales and resale values. 

On the other side, healthcare, telemedicine / covid, work at home, etc. related domains increased in value, however, sales volumes certainly were not increased that much due to the uncertainty in overall markets and the unpredictable events happening around us. 

To that end domain names proved once again to be a very valuable asset in bad times. Although values in many categories saw some lows, there was still some liquidity and many saw good chances to buy at good prices while others sold for profit and reallocated those funds for other purposes. It

reminded me of flashbacks of the 2000 and 2008 recessions where domain names were a quantifiable asset that could be turned into cash or a new venture. I / RightOfTheDot managed to sell several big 6 figure domains in March through August and a 7 figure name along with others before year end. Those names could have sold for more given the right environment and circumstances but everyone was happy on all sides.

The process of getting back to normal will take time in my opinion. My guess is that it will take 18 - 24 months for things to settle down and come back to somewhat normal especially with the political changes and turmoil in our government. In the mean time the stock market has been gaining strength as well as crypto currency markets. With that said, many are losing their jobs as business continue to close and we will likely have the highest unemployment rates and downward pressure on the overall economy in years. This is likely to affect most financial markets and will affect the domain industry.

In my opinion, it is more important than ever before to keep our industry fluid with legitimate sales and transactions. To have domain names highlighted and at the top of industries as live successful businesses will be critical. To that end and in full support of our industry, I / RightOfTheDot will hold yet another successful premium live and online auction in February with details to be announced soon! Domain sales are good for our business and this industry, in good times and in bad. It proves that domain names are real assets with residual value and those domains can continue to trade, become real companies and businesses and information sites, etc. In some cases, the sales prices may not be that in years past but having transaction liquidity and fluidity will be very important over the next 2 years. This will keep our industry strong and eventually thriving once again.

Jen Sale 
CEO, Evergreen.com

Veteran domain broker Jen Sale has been consistently producing results for buyers and sellers for nearly 20 years now. She has extraordinary expertise in confidentially buying, leasing and selling high-end domain names for start-ups, major brands, investors and public figures, worldwide. Jen has also founded tech startups Sparkly.com and Trash.com. 

Jen Sale
CEO, Evergreen.com

Throughout 2020, Evergreen.com experienced a surge in sale enquiries for one-word .COM domain names under brokerage.

Some of our prospective buyers included aspiring entrepreneurs seeking great domains for their new ventures, brick-and-mortar businesses going digital and established companies expanding virtually and upgrading their brands.

A number of leads were not familiar with the domain name aftermarket and valuations, so our team spent time with them, breaking it all down. As such, we have considerably expanded our buyer network for one-word .COM domains.

One-word .COM domains will continue to increase in value and demand, however the quality of leads may be questionable for some time - something we are personally working to remedy via our sale landers and marketplace.  

The future of professional travel looks grim in 

the midst of COVID-19, so video teleconferencing and virtual events are not going anywhere, anytime soon. We highly value and enjoy in-person meetings with colleagues, clients and friends, and can’t wait for a face-to-face reunion!

Next up....

Corporate Leaders

Michael Robrock
CEOSedo.com

After a successful 20-year career in online marketing, Michael Robrock took on a major role at Sedo in August 2019 as their new Chief Operating Officer. Barely a year later, on Sept. 1, 2020, Robrock was picked to lead the company as the industry giant's new CEO

Michael Robrock
CEO, Sedo.com

2020 was a year like no other that no one could have prepared for but in spite of all its challenges, Sedo had one of its best years performance-wise. Like many others in our industry, there was a small negative impact when the pandemic first began but we came back from this vigorously. We saw internet usage expand correlating with an increased demand for domains, our parking business grew expotentially and domain trading overall peaked well above our predications especially at the ultra-premium level. There was also a 20% uptick in our ccTLD sales category which may be due to businesses targeting specific markets internationally. 

For us personally, we take the safety and comfort level of our employees very seriously and in response to the global pandemic, Sedo immediately transitioned to working remotely from home. Our staff was well prepared for this shift as home office is already in practice within our corporate culture. But naturally we are looking forward to when we can safely be all together again in our offices. 

Overall, our challenges in the last year dealt mostly 

with adapting to the “new normal” but even under these unusual circumstances Sedo was still working towards improving and further developing our existing product lineup and services. Another challenge we’re addressing is being able to offer an even more efficient and streamlined selling process to our domain sellers. These are just a few goals we will continue to work on in the coming year to achieve some very positive results.

Everyone including all of us at Sedo are anxiously awaiting a broad and successful distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines resulting in more normalcy in their daily lives. With this we still see the need further increased for businesses to have effective online presences and be able to support their customer bases fully online which means more domain sales for marketplaces like ours.  With financial markets moving towards more balance, there will also be more investments in premium domains and increased activity from domain investors more willing to take risks in building up their domain portfolios. 

AI and technology are still going to be big areas of opportunity within the domain world. As will bitcoin and alternative currencies. Themes that have come from the pandemic like virtualization including online learning, remote working options and delivery services will continue to perform strongly among domain sales.  As people start to return to their normal ways of life and getting out more fashion, cosmetics and similar categories will have an increase in sales along with related domains.  Travel and leisure industries should also experience a positive spike after a huge hit to their business lines.  

The domain industry has undergone a lot of consolidation in recent years and with all the shifts of the past year, it’s only natural to foresee this continuing. But we believe overall the industry will become stronger and more resilient even with all of the changes we’ve faced in the last year. 

David Warmuz
Founder & CEO, Trellian.com and Above.com

Trellian.com Founder David Warmuz celebrated the company's 23nd anniversary in 2020. David, who serves as CEO of both Trellian its popular domain monetization, aftermarket and brokerage platform, Above.com, launched Trellian with his late brother Ren and their remarkable journey was detailed in a November 2017 DNJournal Cover Story

David Warmuz
Founder & CEO 
Trellian/ Above.com

As for 2020, what a year it was! 

I know that 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, with lots of changes required, not just at work, but also how we work, at home and with family. These changes forced us to adapt and we were fortunate enough to be in an industry that saw substantial increases in demand. We were also extremely blessed to have such an amazing team of over 60 that had to transition to working from home. The whole team grew closer and many work flow improvements were made that I know our business will benefit for many years to come.

As for the domain industry, domain monetization and domain name sales were a clear winner, in both volumes and $ values. More and more businesses realized the need to go online and the need for a good domain name, thus creating a demand that is still strong. This trend will continue in 2021, so definitely expect more sales and for more $.

The demand for quality traffic in many verticals had a huge spike in 2020, with some exceptions such as travel vertical that dropped to nil. Good news is that we are starting to see signs of recovery in 

the travel vertical as well, but 2021 will see a continued growth in demand for domain traffic by many advertisers. Domain traffic simply converts the best.

Many clients saw a greater need for a professional service to help them manage all parts of their portfolios: registrations, renewals, sales and monetization. Our focus for 2021 will be to continue to grow our Above Managed domain portfolio service that generated exceptional returns for our clients, capitalizing on our strong advertiser demand , that we fully anticipate to continue to growth.

As predicted, Bitcoins in December 2020 started their usual upward trend, but where it peaked even surprised me as one of the original miners and investors. I really liked this surprise!

2021 will see a number of bitcoin price corrections and multiple runs that I expect to surpass the current top price.

Really looking forward to 2021 and consolidating on the amazing growth and yes we are hiring!  

Sandeep Ramchandani
CEO,  Radix (part of the Directi Group) 

In 2018 Sandeep Ramchandani completed a 15-year rise through the ranks to become CEO at Radix Registry, a position he continues to thrive in at a company that operates nine new gTLDs and one re-purposed ccTLD as part of industry giant Directi Group. Radix now has millions of domains under management.

Sandeep Ramchandani
CEO, Radix Registry

Covid related challenges

When Covid hit, it filled our minds with a type of uncertainty we had not experienced before. We resisted the advice to lower our marketing investments, and to brace for an extremely challenging few years ahead as the global economy slips into recession. Every economic pundit was certain that Covid is the trigger which would end the economic boom that we had witnessed in the previous decade. Knowing that the growth in our business is correlated to the economic activity in general and birth-rate of new businesses more specifically, we did expect some short term detrimental impact which would last a couple of years at least.

I recollect a particular weekend in March when I received some enquiries from our founders regarding Covid’s impact on new sales. My response was "Nothing yet! As a matter of fact, we've just had our best weekend in 2020!" I expected that to be an aberration and that we would eventually start seeing a slow-down. I couldn’t be more wrong; as was evident in the months that followed.

Turned out that domain names, along with all sorts of digital products and services, would see a sharp boost followed by a sustainable acceleration in growth due to Covid. As cities started locking down, businesses of all types, and retail in particular, could no longer put 'building a website' on the backburner. Websites were suddenly elevated to becoming mission critical for every business, whether small or large, and across industries globally.

.store and .online for obvious reasons have seen the most uptake since March, but all other TLDs including .site, .fun and .tech have had one of their best years yet.

Major Non-Covid Event 

Registry Industry

One doesn't need to look back too far, or think too hard, to identify the Afilias sale to Donuts as the biggest event in Registry space last year. Afilias has been one of the most recognizable brands in our industry, and it played a big part in the development of the modern domains ecosystem. They also contributed to the ICANN community by setting new technical benchmarks, innovating in the DNS, and combating abuse. As someone who entered the industry at the time when .info was launched, for me, this marked the end of an era.

Domains Industry

The biggest, and easily the most shocking, event (or non-event) of the year was ICANN rejecting .org's sale to a private equity group, Ethos Capital. I was amongst those who assumed that ICANN's approval was a mere formality. ICANN's board must be given due credit for making the bold decision. There is a clear alignment between PIR's 'not for profit' status, and the purpose behind a vast majority of the .org registrants. Moving .org to a 'for-profit' private equity entity under the stated terms, and placing .org under a $360 million debt, would not be in any way serving the best interest of the 10 million+ .org user base. It enables ICANN to signal to the community at large that they are more than a 'rubber stamper', and that it can do what's necessary to uphold the interest of internet users at large.

Radix CEO Sandeep Ramchandani speaking at the 
2018 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas.

We see Covid as an accelerant. Large segments of customers sitting on the sidelines, not seeing it as necessary to set up a business website or adding e-commerce capabilities to their existing websites, now see their online presence as one of the ways to ensure survival in the post-Covid world.

Even after a majority of the world's population is vaccinated, and things start returning to normalcy, the way of doing business will be changed permanently. Having gone through a phase where digitization and virtuality was forced, those who operated in a 'high-touch', analog style, have tasted the gains in efficiency by adopting a virtual-first approach of doing business. And there's no going back!

Carvana, a platform where used-cars are purchased online, did $1.5 billion in revenue in Q3 2020 (up 43% yoy). How quickly has mankind gone from questioning the idea of buying everyday items on the Internet, to trusting a 100% online experience for buying a car? Cars are usually among the top three highest ticket purchases made by any household. Carvana buyers have no opportunity for a prior, real-life visual of the vehicle, leave aside taking it for a quick spin to see how it 'feels'.

If the ultimate, high touch, high ticket and high experience product can shift to online first, anything can, and over time, everything will.

Radix operates a bunch of great top level domains such as .online, .site, .fun, .tech, store amongst others. We feel extremely good about playing a more dominant role in powering the online addresses of the new generation entrepreneurs across industries.

Extremely excited over what's in (.)store in 2021. As more of the world moves (.)online and (.)websites gain more prominence, it's going to be a busy but (.)fun ride ;)

Dr. Gregg McNair
Founder and Chairman,  Premium Traffic Ltd.  

Dr. Gregg McNair is a veteran of our industry despite, as he would say, being somewhat late to the party! The background and commercial skills of ggg, along with his technical management team, quickly advanced PTL to a position of prominence and success which has been maintained for more than 15 years.

Gregg McNair
Founder & Chairman
Premium Traffic Ltd.

Whilst 2020 began with the normal flurry, and Namescon in Austin set the tone for a great year, we all know that the Pandemic quickly impacted the whole world, including our industry, mostly in negative ways at first. But as the world became more accustomed to the new normal, so our ever flexible industry morphed to embrace the before unknown intensity of online communication, business and shopping. 

The PTL monetisation platforms ended the year with amazing upward results, more than compensating for the devastation of a few specific verticals, such as travel and entertainment. 

The harvesting of new domains has become one of our major businesses these days with monthly revenues exceeding seven figures in December and on track for much more. The business model of accumulation and excellent monetisation has stood our group in good stead for continued expansion and servicing of new larger monetisation clients. 

One wonders where the consolidation of our space will end, however in such a comparatively small industry many of the combinations actually make sense overall. 

Philanthropy has always been an intrinsic cornerstone of the PTL Group. The year 2020 brought a whole new level of needs and opportunities to provide assistance to hundreds of families devastated by Covid and the subsequent lock-downs of already impoverished communities. 

All in all, a pretty terrible year for the world but not so bad for the domain industry.

Sharing the view that the 2021 recovery of world economies, post Covid, will take much longer than predicted, we remain confident that internet use, fueled somewhat by more permanent work from home adoption, will continue to grow.  

I believe that the Covid vaccination programs will experience slippage and setbacks, especially in poorer countries and the pandemic will continue to prevent the rapid return of many of the old freedoms we enjoyed. 

Consolidation will continue fueled by at least two factors. Economics will force some industry players to sell, especially those which have dependencies outside of domain sales or monetisation. Uncertainties and the reflection on life values, encouraged by the pandemic, will bring others to change focus and decide to liquidate even if valuations are less than previously envisaged. 

The impact of Verisign price increases will negatively impact the whole industry in 2021 and will test the resolve of that company, the only positive recipient, to retain any respect in the industry by deferring once again the .com price increases. Almost everyone knows that despite the injustice of the increases from any perspective, that ICANN failed to protect its constituents once again. 

Dr. Gregg McNair urging attendees at the 2016 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas to join and support the Internet Commerce Association - the non-profit organization dedicated to protecting domain owner's rights.

There are other potential injustices facing domain registrants in 2021. Our only collective voice, especially at ICANN, is the Internet Commerce Association (ICA). Join the ICA or increase your membership category to enable our registrant rights to be better protected from those seeking to dilute or destroy them. Contact Kamila on +1 646 894 4590 or kamila@internet commerce.org 

I'd like to acknowledge and thank those who have joined us in assisting the less fortunate in this world as they experience the further body blow from Covid. It's far from over for them and we are redoubling our efforts for 2021 in gratitude for the comparative  and unique prosperity our industry has, and continues to enjoy. Contact me for further details +1 512698 0407 or ggg@PTL.com"

Mariah Reilly
Senior Director, Channel Management,  Donuts Inc. 

Mariah Reilly is a talented domain industry veteran who has been serving in executive positions with top tier domain companies since entering the business back in 2007 with Demand Media. Successive stints with eNom and Rightside led to her current position with Donuts, the world's biggest operator of new TLDs with well over 200 extensions in their portfolio.

Mariah Reilly
Senior Director, Channel Management
Donuts Inc.

Everyone has been affected by the events of 2020 in different ways. I am incredibly proud of not just Donuts’ resilience and agility during the uncertainty of the past year, but of our industry as a whole. Kudos to all the people who quarantined and working remote still ensured that businesses were able to thrive and grow online!

At Donuts, we have a bird’s eye view of the industry and domain trends. We’ve observed the pandemics' effect on the world reflected in our data as almost every industry pivoted to virtual or alternative operations. Trends such as telehealth, virtual or hybrid education, delivery services, fitness, streaming and more were all reflected in TLD sale trends during 2020. TLDs such as .delivery, .live, .boutique and .education saw surges up to 300% YoY.

Seeing these trends in real time gave the Donuts team a renewed appreciation for the strength of the TLDs in our portfolio. It also influenced enhancements we made to Donuts products like RNS, to help users find the best available name for their digital identity. The data we are seeing also inspired a new publication from Donuts called the Domain Trend Reports... a fun report to share 

the domain trends we see with the rest of our industry. Despite the abnormal circumstances and adjustments that everyone on our team had to make, Donuts came out of 2020 stronger than ever.

Digital security was and is at the forefront of everyone’s mind! Not only did we get this feedback from consumer surveys we conducted in early 2020, we saw those concerns mount as the Internet experienced a surge in the number of malicious behaviour and cyber attacks during the height of Covid-19.  Protecting against phishing and other security vulnerabilities is an increasing priority for businesses of all sizes.  Providing a secure internet will continue to remain in the forefront of Donuts’ mission.  In 2020, we launched the TrueName brand, offering registrants the benefit of our robust security technology by blocking malicious homographic domain variants on every Donuts domain registered at no cost. Our commitment to security will continue as we integrate Afilias teams and technologies.  I predict that we will see more companies and individuals within the domain industry become more vocal and take action to provide a secure and safe place on the internet in 2021.

Andrew Miller
Founder & President, ATM Holdings, Inc.

When you talk about longevity in the domain world a lot of people have been around long enough now to be called veterans but there aren't too many real pioneers - people who who were successfully plying the trade in the 1990s - over 20 years ago now! Andrew Miller is one of the pioneers and he has the track record to prove it. 

Andrew Miller
Founder & President
ATM Holdings, Inc.

I have been investing in domains since 1998, when we acquired our first category domain, Beer*com, which we sold a few months later for an eye opening $7.2m at the time. From there, I went on to be a Founder, investor, partner, or advisor on so many "iconic" category domains, such as Diamond*com, Shop*com, Timeshares*com, Computer*com, Software.com, Chocolate.comTours.com, and of course my operating companies, CreditCards*com & InsuranceQuotes*com

While 2020 with Covid had such a widespread impact on how businesses both thrive and survive, it was also a transcendent year for a shift in category and exact match domain names. While from 1998-2019 we experienced the success of several generic domain name branded companies, as well as large dollar buy/sell transactions, 2020 was the year where it became evident that the decades of education of the importance and asset value of prime Internet addresses really bore fruit. Many of the most successful emerging PE and VC backed companies realized that their exact match category domain name was both a must have asset and a path of least resistance to widespread word of mouth growth, increased sales, and exponential enterprise value.

The next step is to see this trend expand to the corporate and investment fund management teams that still have not figured this out. It is a next level time for domains, with so much opportunity, provided we can keep the momentum to overcome some of the same challenges that have existed  since 1998. 2020 was the most important shift towards that of any year to date. 

2021 has to be a better year for our country and the global landscape. While Covid will not resolve itself for awhile, making 2021 as challenging at the outset as 2020 was, there is so much to look forward to and be optimistic about. The vaccine will begin to take hold, likely halfway through 2021. We have new leadership in the US that, regardless of one’s political affiliation, will bring more positivity, compassion, and collaboration to the globe, which is good for both humanity and business.  Many people, small businesses, companies, and industries will have been gravely hurt by the pandemic, and many others will have thrived because of the new normal. In either scenario, resiliency and adaptation will be a necessary trait. The year 2020 was transformative in how business in all categories will be conducted for decades to come, and in many ways accelerated changes and facilitated behaviors that were already underway. It will continue to be necessary to adapt quickly and embrace seismic shifts. Partial remote to fully remote work is here forever, cloud kitchens will be a mandatory skill set for those in food service, home fitness will grow, and a cashless society led by Bitcoin type crypto currencies will become mainstream.  

What does this mean for domain names? They will continue to be the “landing spot” and “doorway” to all of these shifts and great opportunities. “Location, location, location” will be more important than ever on the global Internet.  Secondary TLD’s will continue to bolster the asset value of .com and be a money maker for registrars and secondary marketplaces, yet a poor investment by those who buy them, as .com becomes as engrained in the mind of billions of consumers as the word that comes before it. The convergence of all devices  that was promised in the early 2000’s is finally real and it’s here, and domain names are the common link, a trend we will see continue from 2020 and be cemented in 2021.  

Christa Taylor
Founder, DotTBA & Chief Marketing Officer, MMX

Christa Taylor is another one of those rare executives who has now spent over 20 years in the domain business and unlike almost anyone else you will meet,  Christa started in this business at the top - as the CEO/CFO at Poker.com Inc. in 1999! In 2012, Christa, a master of analytics, founded DotTBA - a firm that provides financial, marketing and other services to new generic Top Level Domains and in 2019 she took on an additional role as CMO at MMX. You will also see a lot of Christa at NamesCon.Online where she will be one of the primary moderators.

Christa Taylor
Founder, DotTBA and CMO, MMX

From a data perspective, the wave of COVID related domain name registrations was both interesting and concerning.  In January there were around 1.3k names registered containing ‘covid’ or ‘corona’ to a peak of 64k in March to 6.9k in December for a yearly total of 205k.  Data was used to flag websites disseminating disinformation and unsafe products (fraudulent cures, uncertified personal protective equipment, fake test kits, spoof government financial aid sites along with the familiar cyberthreats) to help keep people safe. 

Also, a time where analytics became a part of everyone’s daily routine.  News outlets provided timely updates on infection rates using machine learning from data collected around the world on a daily basis (yes, daily!), a host of now mainstream terms, ‘flattening the curve’, ‘infection rate’, ‘next wave’ and the use of visual, interactive graphs and maps have become the norm.    

Both a challenge and an opportunity is the development of streamlined methods and 

policies that support registrars and registries in safeguarding users from disinformation that could affect the health and safety of users.  At the same time, non-EU governments will be wrangling on introducing new legislation on internet privacy, akin to GDPR, which could generate a multitude of new issues within the Internet community.

On the positive side, we’ll become accustomed to new visual charts on the volume of vaccinations and predictions on when herd immunity targets will be achieved and when we’ll be able to see our friends and colleagues in person instead of a video call.

Zak Muscovitch
General Counsel at Internet Commerce Association & Principal at The Muscovitch Law Firm

Veteran Toronto-based attorney Zak Muscovitch has long been acknowledged for his expertise in UDRP issues but he has also gained acclaim for the extraordinary work he has done as General Counsel for the Internet Commerce Association (the non-profit organization that protects to domain registrant rights). While Covid-19 overshadowed almost every aspect of business and personal life around the globe, Zak pointed out that some events of historic importance to domain registrants also went down in 2020.

Zak Muscovitch
ICA General Counsel & 
Principal at The Muscovitch Law Firm

In my capacity as General Counsel to the Internet Commerce Association (ICA), I would say that one of the most significant events from 2020 was the rejection of the attempted acquisition of the .Org registry by Ethos Capital for 1.3 Billion dollars. In 2019, ICANN removed all price caps on .org domain names despite massive public opposition. The historical price caps were a crucial safeguard against unjustified price increases on a captive market of .org registrants. By removing price caps, ICANN paved the way for the attempted purchase of the entire .Org registry by Ethos Capital, who obviously determined that unrestrained price increases on a captive market made the .Org registry an even more lucrative take-over target. Some people believed that the fact that the .Org registry was in the hands of a not for profit, Public Interest Registry, was a sufficient guard against unbridled price increases on registrants, so when the purported Ethos Capital acquisition was announced, many people immediately realized that .Org registrants were likely to be subjected to unrestrained price increases by the new for profit owner. 

The harm of the impending price increases were compounded by the fact that many .Org

registrants are non-profit organizations such that cost increases would come at the expense of the services that they are providing, who are long entrenched on .org domain names, have no suitable alternatives, and in any event migration to another TLD would be impractical for many and would cause confusion and make them more vulnerable to fraudulent impostors.

Since ICANN had already demonstrated disregard for the public interest in removing price caps in the first place, many were fearful that ICANN would do the same thing again, and permit Ethos to take over the .Org registry. One of those fearful parties was the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who on April 15, 2020, wrote to ICANN and urged ICANN to reject the transfer and let ICANN know that it would take “whatever action necessary” to protect registrants. This unprecedented intervention by a powerful governmental authority on ICANN’s normally independent decision-making demonstrated that ICANN was not trusted to make decisions in the public interest, having disregarded it in removing price caps in the first place, thereby setting the table for the purported acquisition. ICANN, under threat from the California Attorney General, was then compelled to reject the acquisition.

ICANN has a history of deferring to the large companies under its mandate and approving sweetheart deals that benefit those companies at the expense of the general public whose interests ICANN is supposed to represent.  It is unfortunate that it took outside action by the California AG's office to prevent this debacle.  We will only learn in the future whether the significance of ICANN's rejection of the sale of .org to Ethos Capital is that ICANN is unable to protect the interests of the general public on its own, or whether the significance is that this is a wake-up call alerting ICANN to its failure and that ICANN will now remember for whose interests it is supposed to be acting.  The significance of the event is also that ICANN was on notice that governmental authorities are prepared to intervene in the public interest when ICANN fails to do so.

ICA General Counsel Zak Muscovitch speaking at a meeting of Internet Commerce 
Association members at the 2020 NamesCon Global conference in Austin, Texas.

In terms of how Covid affected ICANN, well it cancelled all in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. Such meetings, which have historically been conducted in far-flung places 3-4 times a year have always been subject to criticism due to their expense and utility. So the cancelling due to Covid in some way, was arguably an improvement since it has been demonstrated that much of ICANN’s work can be effectively conducted online.  

2021 will see how the new Administration in Washington may affect .com pricing. Under the Trump Administration, ICANN and Verisign were permitted to raise prices on .com registrations despite no real justification for doing so. It is of course yet to be seen how new leadership at the NTIA, Department of Commerce, and Department of Justice views ICANN and its virtually perpetual no-bid contracts with registry service providers, but there is an expectation that improvements are possible.

On the UDRP front, 2021 will be the year that the UDRP is reviewed after 20+ years without any changes to it. ICANN will strike up a Working Group to review the UDRP so we can expect interested parties to advocate for changes to the UDRP which may negatively effect or improve the prospects for domain name registrants. I encourage all registrants who are concerned with or are affected by the UDRP, to contact me and get involved in the UDRP review.

Next up....

Domain Investors & Developers 

Michael Castello
CEO, Castello Cities Internet Network (CCIN)
Co-Founder, CastelloBrothers.com

In addition to being a pioneering and highly successful and visionary domain investor (with sales including Whisky.com at $3.1 million), Michael Castello and his brother David have developed multiple successful websites, including PalmSprings.com, Nashville.com and DayCare.com to name just a few. Michael and David were profiled in our December 2006 Cover Story

Michael Castello
CEO, Castello Cities Internet Network
Co-Founder, CastelloBrothers.com

The Queen's Gambit

What does a chess opening have to do with domain names? Everything.

I play a lot of chess. What we are now seeing with Big Tech is the Queen's Gambit -- a bold move to take control of the board. The monopolies and Big Tech companies are so emboldened with their consolidation of power, they believe they can now force people into compliance and under their dominion. Why not? No one is stopping them.

In the game of chess, the queen is the most powerful piece. The queen does not usually move out early. She waits until the mid-game, when the other pieces have established their positions. But with the Queen's Gambit, the queen takes the board much earlier. If left unchecked, the game can quickly come to a close.

Big Tech's success depends on whether its opponents do not see the attack or realize its intention.

In today's world, we needed what Big Tech offered -- but with that comes a much greater cost. The protocols and platforms they built upon were offered equally to all of us by the Internet's creators -- founders including Jon Postel,

Vint Cerf, and Tim Berners-Lee -- that created the bedrock it stands on. They asked for nothing in return. It was barren land, and all that was needed were people to breathe life into it, untethered and unencumbered.

In a free and open Internet, domain names are the greatest expression of freedom. It is a form of ownership offered to us with the most potential for our growth and success; the homestead of the virtual world. The creation of the DNS (Domain Name System) allowed people to immerse within, navigate, and make whole the Internet.

A domain name allows for anyone to create a Google, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. That may now all change if we allow those employing the Queen's Gambit to checkmate the rest of us. They are certainly positioned to do so; the perfect storm in a Machiavellian race for control.

For big tech and the monopolies to succeed, they need compliance and submission by those that they must control. In our compliance, we will have what I call "PaPow" -- Pain or Power. Compliance is the currency of the future. You are rewarded for your compliance with access and influence within their established hierarchies and walled gardens. These are false prophets of intellect.

These platforms have now coalesced to form an even greater power, one yet unmatched -- because we ourselves helped to empower them with our data. Government oversight refused to rein them on their anti-trust and unfair business practices. Politicians may not understand how the virtual world works -- or they may be negligent in their duty.

Michael Castello speaking at a 2015 meeting of professional 
domain investors and developers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

This could be a good juncture for the domain industry's growth. As I write this, big tech monopolies are flexing their muscle unchecked by restricting smaller businesses and opposing points of view. Out of these restrictions comes the ability to promote domain names and website addresses outside of these powerhouses of influence.

There are two paths forward. The correct one leads to an Internet that allows its people to express themselves openly and freely without a grand overseer. We must move to counter the Queen's Gambit.

Everything is in flux as we move into 2021.

Domain name sales have been much slower than in previous years, no doubt partly from the uncertainty that COVID-19 has inflicted on our society and the economy. However, that has not stopped many from buying and selling domain names. I have written many times over the years that a grand event would push the masses onto the internet. While everyone is combating the pandemic, many are forced to take their livelihoods to the web.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin could soon become tethered to the banking system, and subjected to regulations in kind. That's a major change in the story of crypto over the next decade, with potentially huge ramifications for crypto's value. If domain names do not abide by new standards of censorship, will domain names and their content be subjected to stringent regulation or even deplatforming?

Prepare for the segregation of people, segregation of ideas, and segregation of creativity.

I wrote several years ago that our population envisions two conflicting truths. That is ultimately the truest expression of free speech. Everyone has their convictions on what is right or wrong. Plausibility or deniability is all that is needed as a foundation. The support systems that validate those views make them viable.

In many ways, this is the future that will flourish in a free and open society. An open Internet allows for these systems to propagate freely. It is not the job of monopolies, governments, or extremists to encroach, control, or dissolve them. A free society supports many ecosystems of thinkers. It is not so much the segregation of people that is the problem, but the propagation of thought only among the like minded. Freedom allows for creativity. This plays very well for domain names and the network of individuals that make up this industry.

Michael Castello with wife Sheri and daughter Jessica 
at the 2014 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West conference in Las Vegas.

Cocooning should be promoted even if it goes against the values of opposing views. These systems will either carry forward or dissolve on their own. Compliance to these new thought systems is the currency of those who believe in its principles.

The question that remains: will these ideas be allowed to flourish? If Big Tech monopolies or governments impose strict standards to their compliance, then our domain names are worth much less. With over 300 million domain names, there can either be 300 million new creative ideas and businesses, or cookie-cutter platforms of redundancy and decadence. The few influencers left with the most power, will have all the leverage in a closed web society.

The end-game for the powerful is in your ultimate compliance to their influence. That influence is manifested by you when you use their services. In their overreach, they may not be able to sustain that influence without a completely controlled membership. If that clientele dwindles, they will collapse under the weight of the massive, costly infrastructure they maintain for their members.

The solution is to promote the development of your domain address. This plays well for our industry. We will now have millions looking for an outlet. Domain names are the beginning of that process. The names and extensions that you now own are the future currency of these thought platforms.

The dollar is simply a piece of paper. Its value is in what we believe is its greater purpose. This will be no different in the virtual world. You can promote your domain name and its content for others to envision its relevant value within your own sphere of influence.

The liberties that the US Constitution offers are nothing without the dedication of those in positions of power to enforce them. Ultimately, it is you that decides who has that power by the choices you make. Choose wisely.   


Mike Mann

CEO & Founder, DomainMarket.com

Mike Mann has been a fixture in the Internet and domain space since he founded an ISP in Washington, D.C. in 1994. He went on to co- found one the industry's most powerful aftermarket platforms, BuyDomains.com, a company the he sold for approximately $80 million. In 2007, Mann, who owns around 300,000 domains, founded a new marketplace at DomainMarket.com that he still operates today. The outspoken Mann also hosts a weekly live video stream featuring in-depth interviews that are posed to his YouTube channel.

Mike Mann
CEO & Founder
DomainMarket.com

In 2020, it was impossible to get financing or other assistance, or make enough sales, yet the bills and expenses and other needs did not lessen. A classic squeeze, due to grossly incompetent liberals in politics wasting everyone’s money and time (plus rioting, arsoning, and looting).

The main challenge is getting people to appraise domains, and respect that only premium .Com domains have sustainable long term value (other than rare exceptions traded by insiders). There is ostensibly a marketplace, but nobody knows the fair prices and values of the assets, so it’s very illiquid and hard to trade or trust, unlike any decent semi-liquid marketplace would provide (people can’t buy used jewelry or cars or homes without a professional appraisal). With appraisals all the domains that appraise at $0 will be removed from marketplaces, and the rest will convert more frequently at higher prices, then new improved markets will develop around that efficient profitable phenomenon.

Please see links at MikeMann.com, MakeChange.com, and see me on social media for more info.  

 

Braden Pollock
Founder, LegalBrandMarketing.com

Multi-talented Los Angeleno Braden Pollock, one of the industry most widely-known domain investor/developers, is primarily an Angel Investor who has invested in some two dozen technology start-ups. He has also purchased more than a dozen small companies that have been rolled up into existing companies that he owns and operates. Some of Braden's fame also comes from being a skilled moderator at conferences held throughout the world. He will be seen in that capacity again the the NamesCon.Online conference January 27-29, 2021.

Braden Pollock
Founder
LegalBrandMarketing.com

Last year consumer spending decreased since most people stayed home. This allowed for more disposable income for many Americans (average savings actually increased 173%). Combining the extra savings with idle time at home led many people to invest their money. To see these effects, one needs only look at the record highs of the stock market, the growth of investment apps like Robinhood and Rally Rd, the chart topping price of Bitcoin, the rise in value of collectibles, etc. And, of course, on this list is the wholesale domain market. I feel the biggest impact COVID had on domain investing was bringing new investors into the space. This caused a spike in wholesale auction prices. These higher wholesale prices will decrease margins in the short term as retail pricing hasn't yet caught up. I think payment plans could be one solution to the higher pricing. (More on that later.)

For me, personally, I closed all my offices (hence no daily commute) and I haven't done any major traveling which has provided more time to focus on my domain investing. What has always been a side-hustle for me has now become a primary focus. I bought far more domains in private transactions and invested more money in 2020 than any year in the past. I expect this trend to continue for me.

As many new investors will soon learn, buying 10 domains in the aftermarket won't yield a return in year-one. These investors will shake-out as renewals come due, especially after their poor sell-through-rate (STR). As life goes back to "normal", these new investors will have less time and many will be discouraged after not having enough (or any) sales. They will then liquidate their holdings to other investors. (Good timing for liquidation sites like DNWE and NameLiquidate). With fewer investors in the auctions, pricing will experience a correction

In general, ecommerce and digital marketing will continue to grow at a faster rate than in past years.  Companies will continue their focus on digital sales as a hedge against brick-and-mortar. This will continue to drive retail domain sales - and their value.

As DAN.com has proven, payment plans increase sales velocity. I believe we'll see GoDaddy and other major marketplaces roll out financing and leasing options. This allows for not only more sales but also at higher retail pricing. We'll also see fractional ownership become a legitimate investment model. What domain investor doesn't want to be a part of 6 and 7-figure deals? 

I'm bullish on domain investing this year and in the future. Values are only going up!

Deepak Daftari
President, TiE Kolkata

Deepak Daftari is one of India's most widely known domain investor/developers as well as being a busy broker and angel investor. Since 1999 he has also been running one of the oldest education portals in India at eSiksha.com, with a 1 Million plus user base. This month he also became President of Tie Kolkata, a highly respected organization devoted to fostering entrepreneurship in the Kolkata region.

Deepak Daftari
President
Tie Kolkata

Covid-19 has been the most significant event that has re-shaped the world and especially the Domaining Industry. IMO the Domaining Industry is on the verge of a massive breakout and it’s already happening as we are seeing the price domainers are paying to buy quality inventory and how the same has gone up by manifold in the last 12 months

Prior to Covid prices were rising but in a spaced manner but once the Covid induced lockdown took place, prices across the board for all kinds of quality inventory have just shot through the roof, both for domainers and end-users, for buyers as well as sellers.

The most significant change that I have observed in the domaining industry is the massive rise in prices of good One Word .com names. The rise has been simply phenomenal. Trying to buy a good quality .com names in the 5 figure range as just become the proverbial dream chasing.

The Second most important shift that I observed for the industry is the rise of pricing for alternate TLDs and ccTLDs like .CO / .IO / .AI names. Quality one word .co and .io name pricing has already been on the rise and now it’s progressing more rapidly

Third being the significant consolidation happening among Domain Industry specific companies and how it’s reshaping the industry as a whole.

The Fourth change I see in domaining in the last few years is the rise of HugeDomains, DropCatch & NameBright. Any domainer active in the domain drop business can relate to the massive rise of the company and how it has impacted and reshaped the domain drop business.

The fifth and final change, that I feel has a long term impact for domaining is the Online Transformation of Offline Domain Conferences like NamesCon from a Offline only conference to an Online Conference, thus making it accessible to a huge group of Domainers for whom it was not possible to attend before, given the cost of International Air Travel, Hotel and other expenses associated with physical travel. This has acted as the single biggest game changer for the Industry, enabling the new entrants to attend all the sessions and have access to the key players in the industry at next to nothing pricing. This would have been unthinkable for them pre-covid and has been a dream come true for them.  

Covid as a pandemic touched every sphere of human lives and majority of the population has either lost a loved one or have faced other hardships and the same applied to me too, but the emergence of Covid has also ushered in significant changes for the domain industry as a marketplace. With the emergence of more and more businesses going online, the demand for quality domain names has gone up manifold and those with access to sizeable funds have been paying more and more for quality one word .com names. 

On the personal front, my business tripled in revenues compared to last year BUT at the same time it has become extremely tough for me to replenish my inventory at pricing which I consider optimum to me.

In essence although I have sold more names but I am unable to replenish the inventory at the same selling speed. This has acted both as a boon and bane for my business

My observations for 2021 and once things are more stable after the roll-out of the vaccine are as follows:

·         Further consolidation of companies related to Domain Names and related services

·         Prices rising higher and higher for 1 word .com’s and LLL.com names

·         Prices rising significantly for quality 1 word .net and .org names

·         Price rise of second rung extensions like .CO / .IO / .AI

·         First 6 figure sale for a .IO name

·         Continued price rise for drop auctions

·         A mix of Offline / Online version of Domain Conferences like NamesCon

·         Gains from Crypto currency moving into Domains

·         Rise in UDRP’s

·         Increased cooperation between Parking Companies and standalone Domain Sales Platforms

 

Morgan Linton
Founder, MorganLinton.com 
Co-Founder, Bold Metrics Inc.

Morgan Linton is a veteran domain investor, broker and blogger who is also Co-founder of Bold Metrics Inc. - an innovative company that is using AI to help some of the world's largest brands unlock the power of body data. Morgan, who previously worked for Sonos, is also an Angel Investor in companies like GrideWise, Self Inc, MetaSaaS (acquired by Flexera), Sandbox Commerce, Sila Money, and Desktop.com. 

Morgan Linton
Founder, MorganLinton.com
Co-Founder, Bold Metrics Inc.

Overall I think one of the most interesting trends we saw in 2020 was the incredible growth of .COM alternatives like .IO and .AI. While there is no doubt that .COM is still king, it's very clear that startups are now very comfortable with other extensions that five years ago weren't even on their radar. Couple this with more and more multi-billion dollar companies running on these extensions and it's clear this trend will only accelerate in 2021. Last year we also saw all of the top Silicon Valley VC firms back companies branding on non .COMs so it's also very clear that investors no longer see .COM as a must-have to build a billion dollar business.

As for challenges related to COVID last year, I think many of us have seen net new business grow significantly, but where that business is coming from has shifted. It's clear that travel and hospitality invested a lot less in digital in 2020 while industries like SaaS and eComm doubled down on domain names like never before. 

While I wish I could say that we wiped the slate clean of 2020 on January 1st, we clearly didn't in the United States and I don't think we will until later this year or early next year. That being said, there are many other countries that have done a much better job dealing with COVID than the US. I know people in New Zealand, Singapore, etc.

that are living what we all used to call "normal life." At the same time, I see so many businesses see their customers shift online and domain names become even more important to them in 2020 and I think that will continue in 2021. 

All that being said, I think it's fantastic that the US has been able to develop vaccines so quickly and I hope they can fix some of the issues faced in distributing them to people. What this means for the domain industry IMO is a further acceleration of trends we saw in 2020 as US businesses will have to get used to the fact that many of their customers are staying online and not coming back to stores this year.   

*****

Once again, a sincere thank you to every domain industry leader who contributed to this year's State of the Industry report. Your willingness to share what you have learned from your years of experience has made ours a stronger industry, blessed with camaraderie and countless opportunities that are open to all who wish to pursue them, no matter who you are or where your are located around the globe.

 

 

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