Eric Borgos, a domain investor and the owner of Impulse Communications, talks about building businesses on great names, the role of a domain name in branding a business today and what could happen if you become big and don’t have the .com for your name.
You have quite a few stories about building businesses on great names, but before we get into that, who is Eric Borgos? What should our audience know about you, besides your entrepreneurial spirit?
I am 52 years old and married with kids and dogs. I don’t drink, smoke, or like to party. I am an introvert but tend to do a lot of crazy business ventures online.
You have a number of websites, some seem like they’re made just for fun, others are for a business, what are you aiming to achieve with all of them?
My biggest site was Bored.com, which I started in 1997 and sold 10 years later for $4.5 million. In the mid-1990s I registered several thousand dot com domains, but back then there was no market for selling them, and there were few ad networks or affiliate programs I could use to make money from them. This was before Google and social media, and my friends and family were always asking me for good sites to go to, so I decided to make a shortlist of them on Bored.com. After a few years, it was getting 10,000 visitors a day, with no promotion, but also no income. By the early 2000s, it was getting 20,000 visitors a day and I was making $10,000/month from it using banner ads. At that point, I decided I should stop sending all this free traffic to other sites I linked to, and instead create my own content. So I created over 100 fun, silly, and weird subsites directly on Bored.com and linked to those instead. That grew the traffic to 2 million visitors a month and monthly profit to $35,000 (because I was getting so many more page views), and by 2007 I thought it might be a good time to look for a buyer. I had 2 different companies bidding against each other and eventually sold to the highest offer.
The goal of all my sites was to make money, but I tried to mainly focus on sites that were fun to create and run. After selling Bored.com, I did something similar with Dumb.com, and got it up to 10,000 visitors a day with no advertising and then sold it. I also created one of the first popular virtual pet sites (AdoptMe.com) and ran a successful online florist for 15 years (CheapFlowers.com). The key to almost every site I created was having a good domain name.
How do you manage your time with so many different brands in different industries?
I work 16+ hours a day 7 days a week. But, I have always worked from home, so that makes it much more enjoyable. And, with my iPhone, I can keep tabs on work when I am out of the house (running errands, eating, exercising, on a beach, etc.). I try to avoid meetings and phone calls, so everything is mainly by email, which I can deal with any time anywhere.
What is the criteria you use when selecting a domain to invest in?
I am old school so I only buy keyword .com domains. Mainly, I look for good deals. I try to buy for a price where I know if I can’t build a successful site on it, or can’t flip the name for a profit, I can always sell the domain and at least break even. That is what I did for domains such as Pastries.com (I paid $12,500), Weights.com (I paid $32,000), Adventure.com (I paid $200,000), Humidifiers.com (I paid $50,000), AdvertisingAgency.com (I paid $33,000), and Physical.com (I paid $42,500). With Adventure.com for example, my hope was to build a big site on it, but that did not go well so I sold it 6 months later for a small profit. On average I only broke even on those other domains, but I was fine with that, as I at least got to try various ways to make money from them.
What is the role of a domain name in branding a business today?
I think due to mobile devices, many younger people don’t even pay attention to what domain a site uses. So it is very easy to start a site with a $10 hand registered domain and do well with it. But it is exactly for that reason (any 10-year-old kid can make a decent-looking site in under an hour) that having a great domain is important, to make it sound legitimate. It gives you instant credibility and trust. And it makes it much easier for people to find you, and much more memorable if you are doing advertising. If you become big and don’t have the .com for your name, you will always regret it.
If you become big and don’t have the .com for your name, you will always regret it.
Out of all your businesses, which one is your favourite?
Bored.com was the most fun because it made me feel young, dealing with jokes, videos, pranks, and all sorts of wild stuff many serious adults would think is stupid. So many kids want to be YouTubers and social media influencers for their careers, it is not a “real job”, that is how I felt.
Over 20 years later, after working on many sites that were not as interesting, and got very little traffic, I started BoredHumans.com, which is basically a modern, AI-related version of Bored.com. I felt the same old fun and excitement working on it. It only gets 1000 visitors a day, which means it makes almost no money, but at least I am happy with it.
Has the pandemic affected your businesses in any way? What has changed since?
I hate phone calls and in-person meetings, so everybody being much more informal works out well for me. But, I used to feel special when I told people I worked from home. Many times they would envy my situation, and more importantly, I would be so happy not having to go to an office each day like they were. But now working from home is no big deal, so it has taken some of the fun out of it.
You recently got a category-defining domain name – Yachts.com. On your blog, you mentioned you don’t actually have an exact idea how to develop the business but by investing in such a premium name you are making a commitment to yourself in a way, to take it seriously. Do you feel this can be good advice to entrepreneurs when they hesitate whether to invest in their business?
The way I do things is not normal, and probably not a good style for most people. But for the past 7-8 years I have been working on one small project after another, and none of it had the potential to make any significant money. I needed something bigger to work on, so I spent a week or two looking at domains for sale that I could build a large business on. Some, like Drains.com (price = $30,000) would be an amazing deal for a company already in the industry, but I am not sure it would be enough for me to get into an industry which I knew nothing about and yet have an advantage just from the name.
But yachts are a business where an image means everything, so having the category-defining domain could give a huge advantage. I paid $350,000 for Yachts.com, which is not a bargain price, but yacht brokers/builders often make that in one sale. There was one problem though, I knew nothing about boats. I knew though that owning it would open a lot of doors for me to partner with other companies. And that if I did build a business on it, it had the potential to be worth millions of dollars. So even though it sounded like an insane business decision, I looked at it like I would try it for the next year, and then if I fail, I can always sell it for somewhere close to what I paid. Plus, I also feel there is potential to flip it for a big profit to a big yacht company. So far I already have had 3 offers for more than I paid, even though many people told me buying it the way I did was one of the stupidest business decisions they have ever heard about.
What stage are you at with Yachts.com development and what is next?
Owning a killer domain like this made it easy for me to get my foot in the door to do partnerships with yacht companies. I started by offering boat charters (fancy rentals, like on the reality show Below Deck), where I refer potential customers to a service that does this and they give me half of their commission. I am now also set up to do something similar with 4 boat brokerages, to refer yacht buyers and sellers to them.
But I want to do something bigger to live up to the full potential of the Yachts.com domain. I might create a Yachts.com boat brokerage, as nowadays boat brokers can easily work from home, so it would be simple and relatively inexpensive for me to have multiple locations nationwide. It would all be about branding, to take advantage of the great name. And only clients of Yachts.com could have their boats listed on Yachts.com.
All that is still a little too non-virtual for me though, so as an alternative I am working on both of these plans:
1. Offering a “broker assisted” for sale by owner (FSBO) type listing where, for a much lower commission, I handle everything but the local part (taking the photos and doing the showings). I would list their boat on Yachts.com and the major boating marketplace sites, promote their boat on social media, deal with all the paperwork (legal/escrow/closing).
2. Offering peer-to-peer boat rentals, which is where owners rent out their boat for the day to strangers using an app/website, like how Airbnb and Uber work. There are already several companies doing this, but most people don’t know about it, so there is a huge untapped market. Using the Yachts.com name will make it sound much more trustworthy and exciting to customers.
What is one name that you don’t own but you wish you did?
Ever since I sold Bored.com and Dumb.com, I wished I had another catchy, cool domain name. I recently saw the domain Stupid.com is for sale, and that would be so easy for me to run, but I really wanted to try something different this time and with bigger potential. When I made a list of all the domains for sale that interested me, there were dozens I wanted to buy, but only one kept running around in the back of my mind: Yachts.com. Once I made a very low initial offer, I became obsessed with closing the deal, even though I had no plan at all for it. The domain was that good to me. So while other one-word domains such as Money.com, Jokes.com, and Houses.com would be a great fit for me to run, those would sell for $5+ million, so it was not realistic. Yachts.com was the only name that I really could see myself owning (even though I know nothing about boats and have never been on a yacht).
We hope the above information will help you in making informed decisions about your brand. If you want to say hi or have any questions about naming, branding, and domain names get in touch, we’re always happy to hear from you.