Monday, November 19, 2007

Acquiring a Domain Name

This post is a bit long... sorry 'bout that.

You thought that coming up with the name for the company was the hardest part? Now try finding the domain name to go with it. That's why so many software companies use unique names - or at least unique spellings for those names (Flickr, Google, Napster, Orbitz for example).

Our first shot at a company name was Yoo. It was a play on "You" because our idea is to develop a much more distinctive representation of the user, online. We are keeping the idea low key for now, but it will make more sense as we release details of our technology.

The Yoo domain was taken by a large international design firm. Really large. There was no way we were getting that domain name. So after getting all excited for figuring out a unique name, it was back to the drawing board. We came up with a new name, one that we ended up liking a lot more anyway. It was Vyoo. More like "Virtual You" or "View". By the way, it's pronounce "view" - yes, we've heard it pronounced quite a few different ways already. Vai-yoo is my favorite.

The website didn't go anywhere, but it was owned by another party (you can look this up on Whois). I decided to email the owner and try to negotiate a sale. He didn't respond to my initial email, so it was time to do some research. I wanted to find out what the website had been and to try to get a valuation for the website.

There is a great online service called The Wayback Machine. It's basically an archive of the internet. It keeps historical references to pages. Wonder what Google looked like back in '98 (here)? Not much different from today.

I used the Wayback Machine to get an idea of who owned the site and what it had been used for. Not much, I found out. It forwarded to a porn site some years ago. Which was not a good sign. I figured I was dealing with a somewhat sketchy dude.

My next move was to determine the likely value of the website since I had never heard back from the owner. To do this, you can use a domain appraisal service. The most well known is Sedo, who also does domain brokerage. I engaged with them for their domain brokerage service which included a domain appraisal. They, in turn, began to negotiate with the domain owner. Although the appraisal was fair, I was not impressed with how they got in touch with the owner. They simply looked up their contact info in the Whois database and tried to contact the owner. The same thing I had tried. I was hoping they had relationships with registrars and hosting services so they would have additional avenues for contact. When I found out that this was all they did, I called off the negotiation and decided to do it myself.

I sent another email to the owner, this time giving him a background of who I was and what my intention with the website was. I also sent it from my school email address - to add some credibility to my request. I had received a tip to personalize yourself to the owner. You never know who or why people are hanging on to websites (personal reasons, professional reasons, or anything else). He wrote back. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a mutual negotiation. He said he wouldn't accept anything under $3,000. And that was his final offer. He said he was in no rush to sell the domain either. I'm not going to lie, we were sort of desperate. We didn't have much room for negotiating and we feared that he would raise the price if we didn't lock it down now. Unfortunately, we would have preferred to spend the money elsewhere.

I remained in contact over the following weeks, wondering if we should counter. I was nervous that he may never respond, since he was so difficult to track down in the first place. I did some research on who he was to try to understand a little more about him. He was a software engineer. Hmmm. So was I. We are stubborn people. I decided not to aggressively counter. I ended up paying him the 3 large and waited (which by the way, was the exact price Sedo had appraised the site for). And waited. A week later he accepted.

Relieved. Now we had to figure out how to transfer the domain. He was in AUS as well, so transferring the cash would be interesting too.

He turned out to be a great guy and very trusting. I forwarded him $500 through PayPal - because anything over $500 incurs fees. He transferred the domain. This required me to sign up for an account (I used and initiated the transfer. A week later, all was set (it takes usually 5 days for the xfer to go through). Now I have to go and mail the balance by check.

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