I was excited to attend the TED conference in Vancouver and speak to many people I’d only read about: Larry Page, Seth Godin, and Al Gore. But I was especially keen on speaking with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web.
I expressed my gratitude and respect for all that he has done by creating the greatest media platform in history, uniting all manners of people. I first heard of the Internet in the early 1990s from an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne. He told me of this wondrous new medium which would host all media digitally: text, newspapers, radio, and movies. It would bring about a new wave of innovation, greater than the steam engine or electricity. I was fascinated and knew that, one day, the Internet would be a big part of my life.
You Are Stifling Innovation!
Then Sir Tim asked me what I did. I told him that I was a medical doctor but that in 1999, during the dot-com boom, I decided to start an internet business. I wanted to make some money so I would be able to spend as much time as I needed with my patients.
I told him how I discovered domain names that were not renewed became available for registration for $10. By June 2000, the Internet boom had become the dot-com crash. Amazon stock that had once been $106 had fallen to $6 per share. People had given up on the Internet as a fad and let their domain name registrations lapse.
Sir Tim intently listened, and then looked me in the eyes, and said, “By holding these great domain names, you are stifling innovation!” That made my heart recoil. Here was the inventor of the Internet telling me that I was stifling innovation on the web.
I didn’t know what to say. I was hugely disappointed by his remark and I took what he said to heart. Was I really stifling innovation? Could certain great ideas been stillborn because they didn’t launch with a great domain? If they had launched with a great name like Amazon.com, could they have been the next big thing? If instead of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos had launched with abracadarabooks.net, would it have failed? If Digg.com had launched with Dig.com would it have been more successful and not failed prematurely?
A New Idea: Domain Leasing
Fast forward to 2015. I was visiting a friend in Newport Beach. There I discovered a beautiful gated community and read about the Irvine family and how it had owned vast amounts of land in LA—the city of Irvine. Though they had sold, they tried to preserve as much of it as possible to build community. Right then, I had a vision of how to help the owners of great domain names build a community for the long term. What if we built a platform that made great domain names available to great teams with great ideas? That would enhance innovation rather than stifle it. It just felt right in my heart.
But rather than a sales platform, I envisioned a domain leasing platform that was right and innovative for the Internet. Domain names are the modern-day digital equivalent of real estate. If commercial real estate was leased, they were primarily leased to reduce risk, preserve cash flows versus buying real estate, even if financed with a mortgage, which you need established credit. It allowed one to scale as franchises, like McDonalds and Starbucks. Primarily geared to startup retail businesses, who if successful, could replicate more retail locations. However, with a lease, you had to commit a certain number of years and if you failed, you would have to sublease the space. Businesses had no problem leasing once that became part of their mindset and business model.
Focusing on Startups
With domain names, because it is also your brand, I knew leases would have some resistance, just like airBnB had with the concept of sleeping in someone else’s home. But we saw airBnB scale as it removed the risks of security and safety. So a new model of leasing by being able to cancel anytime. Why? Because we know that 95% of startups will fail. Startups are hard. But for the 5% that are successful, you can lease as long as you want.
My friend is a partner at one of the top VC firms and she said she would invest in a startup even if they leased their domain name. One of our leases is influencer.com which just received funding. I believe this lease model will work because of the ethos of the sharing economy and the realization that you don’t need to own software, cars, or real estate and that you can share and pay for what you need, just like AWS for servers. Why can’t that be for domain names?
But great domains are worth millions of dollars. While some startups, started by successful serial entrepreneurs, like Bill Gross of Idealab, who I also spoke to at length at Ted, could afford to acquire multi-million dollar domain names, most startups can’t. And we’d like to cater to those startups that have the bootstrap entrepreneurial spirit. So most startups will not have the initial capital. So we needed a lease model that offered great domains but would allow cash-strapped startups to afford to lease them, so they start with a great brand out of the gate.
Finding the Right Price
Then we thought about the freemium model. We thought, ‘Eureka!’ Just offer the first initial three months for $100 and they’ll all get leased. If they were all priced at $1 per month, they would certainly all get leased. If they were all priced at $1 million per month, likely none of them would get leased. So what was the right model? $100 per month for an initial time frame based on the venture financing model seemed like a good idea.
We are talking about great domain names like beat.com, chorus.com, how.com and thousands more of great quality.
A World of Possibilities
Can you imagine getting billboard space in Times Square for $100 per month? Or when you launch your Superbowl commercial, what would you want your brand to be? Tesla had Teslamotors.com and eventually acquired Tesla.com for $11 million. If you had the chance to brand initially with your dream domain, how much more will it help you succeed?
We just think of a great brand and domain in the same light as having a great software engineer to build your product. A great brand that is short and memorable is so much better than a long brand and obscure domain name. It’s your brand. Your name. It’ll be in the media, on your marketing materials and what people refer to you as. It’s one of the most important aspects of your DNA as your DNA expresses itself to be who you become as a business and as a brand.
So we created Venture.com as a domain lease platform to build a community of startups who are out to impact the world. And next time I speak to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I want to tell him how we enabled innovation on the Internet and supported entrepreneurs. Why? Because at heart, we are all entrepreneurs who want to create something that helps other people unlock the heart of human potential.
Venture forth with courage and belief in yourself and in your idea.