09/04/2014 05:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is It Time for Me to Sell

Remember 1997? It was the height of the dot-com bubble. And everyone was registering domain names with unrealistic hopes and dreams of developing profitable, pure-play internet businesses.

I, too, drank the Kool-Aid and registered, and many others. No business plan. No strategy. Just $8.95/domain name and unrealistic, stupid thinking. was to be a parody. While I loved Successories' beautifully framed photography with inspirational messages like "Achieve", "Teamwork" and "Excellence", I believed the business world could also benefit from a little reality, too. Purely for lighthearted fun, would feature images, video and contributed stories of actual business and personal bloopers and fails.

It seems everyone I know registered a domain or two (or hundreds), hanging onto them in hope of creating a new business or benefitting from an increase in value to a future buyer... someday. But fourteen years and about $130 dollars of annual renewal fees later, I'm thinking it's time to sell.

Maybe you may have your own inventory of mothballed internet domain names. So, what to do?

The internet domain market

First, some research. Over the last decade millions of businesses and other online ventures (about 110 million registered .com domains and counting) have resulted in a dwindling supply of .com names. In response, the Internet's governing body ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) decided to create a new Top Level Domain Program (TLD).

For an analogy, think of dwindling phone numbers resulting in new area codes and dwindling 800 numbers resulting in more toll-free options. And for the uninitiated, TLD is the string of letters after the dot - .com, .gov, .edu and .net are the most familiar; by far .com is the most popular.

To learn more about these new domain name possibilities (and some insights on what to do with, I went to a domain name expert - Monte Cahn.

Like many experts, Monte is a pioneer. Among his credits:

  • WhoIs record privacy, which protects domain name owners from spam and unwanted solicitation by hiding their identity.
  • The monetization and development of domain markets - selling, auctioning, escrowing and appraisal of domains. In 2004, Monte (as CEO and founder of Moniker, an ICANN-accredited domain name registrar) introduced the first live Sotheby's-style auction for premium domains.

Monte told me, "We've always associated domain names to virtual real estate and putting a stake in the ground to claim your property, and then being able to monetize it, either by reselling it or turning it into a real business. And so, that's how we became famous in the industry."

More on Monte and his latest domain name venture in a minute. For now, let's go back to Top Level Domains and the new generic TLD program. I don't know how many applications were submitted, but I do know that some that were accepted have started coming on line this past year, offering a number of diverse new options to the domain-registering public.

  • Some are related to topics of interest, such as .diet, .beer, .hiphop.
  • Some are for industries and professions like .realtor, .lawyer, and .finance.
  • Some are for large companies as businesses from Accenture to Zappos have submitted applications to register a TLD for their trademarked names.

For big brands, having their own TLD is going to allow them to promote specific products or categories and reach target markets more easily and creatively. For example, Nike could use to target runners and promote running shoes and to showcase teams that use Nike gear.

Shifting to the Right of the Dot

Monte is excited about this new potential, having founded his next domain business named Right of the Dot™. The premise of Right of the Dot is summarized in the business name and this succinct statement on the company's website:

The domain industry is on the verge of shifting its attention from the "left side of the dot" to the right side.

Domain name options have been constrained by the dot. You could be as creative as you wanted on the left side (with the exception of certain characters and symbols like $), but you had to settle for a limited number of options on the right side, and the de facto choice (except for non-profits, schools and government) became .com.

That could change. More than 1000 new names or "strings" could become available in the next few years. According to Monte, "A lot of very industry-specific, social-specific, business-specific and geographic-specific TLDs are coming into the market in a big way. So my new business is concentrating on what's "right of the dot" because that's going to have more meaning. For example, the .travel registry has restricted the usage of that TLD to those with UIN numbers or travel agents. An address like .realestate might be open only to people whose license is up-to-date."

As for how this will shake out, only time will tell. TLDs other than .com have been available in-market for some time now - for example, .biz for businesses and .mobi for sites optimized for mobile devices - and most have failed to garner acceptance, let alone popularity. Meanwhile, as standard-bearers, the foundational TLDs of .com and .org will probably hold and may even increase in value.

Yet a new generation of internet users could have no proclivity for .com, just as they don't care whether the toll free number is 800 or 866. As dedicated mobile phone users, toll-free is a foreign concept to them anyway.

What I decide to do with boils down to whether or not I believe it will hold its value in the wake of the onslaught of new TLDs and my desire to finally launch it as a new business.

What are you going to do with your domain inventory?


Photo credit: Venture Marketing

John Fox is the Founder and President of Venture Marketing. He writes about issues especially important to B2B businesses leaders.

© 2014 John Fox. All Rights Reserved.