When Tim & I launched Whttl, the “kayak.com for on demand startups”, we were very fortunate that the domain was available, and only cost a few bucks to register. However, this seems to be rare. It has become commonplace for startups to shell out $100,000 for a quality domain.
Even since the early days of the internet, .com domains were considered highly valuable and most one-word domains have been claimed since the mid 1990’s. By the early 2000’s, nearly every one-word domain .com was scooped up, in addition to nearly every permutation of five or less letters. (i.e. xola.com)
So, the resale market began. In 1999, business.com sold for a whopping $7.5 million in stock. Sex.com sold for between $12-$14 million in 2006, fund.com for $9.99 million in 2008, and insure.com for $16 million in 2009. Remember, these are not the companies selling for this amount, but rather, the domain alone.
So, what is a startup in its infancy to do, when securing a domain name is so pricey and cash is so limited?
Well, of course, you can make up your own word, hopefully keep it under eight letters, and have some sort of sound resonation to it. But as most branding experts would agree, the trouble with making up a new word is that you are fighting an uphill battle to build a brand around a word that didn’t exist before.
Enter the practice of domain hacking, the art of using an unconventional domain name that creatively utilizes both the top level and second level domain names to create a title. The term domain hack was coined by Matthew Doucette in 2004. Here are some of the best examples of domain hacks:
foundat.io/n (even uses a subpage)
del.icio.us (uses third level domain, too)
See 100 domain name hacks here.
There are other ways to obtain a suitable domain name, too. Clever spellings of a word, or the use of uncommon top level domains (TLDs) are becoming more common.
kareer.me (uses alternative TDL, too)
Whttl.com (as is “whittle”)
lyft.me (also creative spelling of “lift”)
o.co (overstock.com uses this as their shortcut domain)
import.io (.io is becoming particularly popular.)
Got a clever domain name we should know about? Share it here.
GoDaddy launched a marketing campaign last year to promote the purchase of .co domains. They seem to be pushing the concept of alternative TLDs pretty hard, as they stand to earn a lot of revenue if millions of alternative domain names are registered through them.
Prices of objects are completely correlated with supply and demand. Analogous to real estate, there are a finite amount of domain names available (for now, see below), which creates a price floor, and in some cases ludicrously high values. Sticking with the real estate analogy, stinkystickfish.net is a mobile home in Sedona, AZ, and insure.com is a 25,000 square foot beachside mansion in Malibu.
I’ve seen a pattern of startups that begin with a clever domain name, and as they raise funds and gain traction, they purchase a more traditional name:
bit.ly → bitly.com
shyp.co → shyp.com
instagr.am → instagram.com
del.icio.us → delicious.com
lyft.me → lyft.com
So what does the future have in store? In 2013, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) announced that 100 new TLDs would be created. Moreover, they announced that custom TLDs would be available (so, instead of yoursite.com, you could have bob.yoursite). So far, 2,000 organizations have applied for 1,400 custom TLDs. It isn’t cheap, with an upfront cost of $185,000 and $25,000 / year to maintain. But hey, that’s a whole lot cheaper than $16 million.
If you found value in this, it would be tremendous if you scrolled down a little further and hit the “Recommend” button.
Greg Muender is the founder of Whttl, described as the “Kayak.com for startups.” Use it to connect to new on demand services that roll out to your ZIP code. Drop Greg a line via gregwhttl/dot/com. For further reading, check out the Official Whttl Blog.