Today we are talking with Michael Sumner programmer extraordinaire at Namebio. In addition to his duties at Namebio, Michael works with Nat Cohen at Telepathy and manages his own domain portfolio.
Q1) What got you started in the domain industry?
I’ve been programming since my early teens, and I joined NamePros in 2007 hoping to connect with domain owners looking for development.
I thought it would be a good way to make money on the side, but quickly discovered that the development section wasn’t very active.
Disappointed; I wandered to other sections of the forum and was instantly hooked on the idea of buying and selling domains.
Fortunately I only bought a handful of mediocre domains during the few months I spent trying to learn the business. I managed to sell all of them for a tiny profit. After that I met Justin Allen and he gave me some great advice that allowed me to focus my strategy and stop floundering around.
For those who don’t know, this is the same guy who founded NameBio in 2006 which I would later end up running with Adam years after Justin sold it to him.
Finally having a game plan, I partnered up with a friend and we started flipping LLL.com and other short domains, which allowed me to meet some really great guys like Nat Cohen, Andrew Rosener, Andy Booth, Oliver Hoger, Glenn Smith, and many others.
At the time I was working in market research for Commercial Real Estate, but my real passion had turned to domains and it was all I could think about. So I did what any reasonable person would do and emailed Nat out of the blue asking if he would hire me ?
I had been in the industry less than a year, hadn’t finished my Computer Science degree yet, had no work experience in programming, and he wasn’t even hiring. So he did what any reasonable person would do and hired me anyway. I will be forever grateful for that, it was a turning point in my life that sent me down a long, happy road working from home, traveling with my wife, spending more time with my daughter, and making a comfortable living doing what I love.
Q2) What is your main day job?
I’ve been working full-time for Nat at Telepathy and State Ventures for more than eight years now. Mostly I do development for State Ventures, which owns and operates sites like OceanCity.com, Annapolis.com, seven US state .com domains, and hundreds of other Geo domains.
Occasionally I get to work for Telepathy by helping with acquisitions, sales, portfolio analysis, domain management, and things of that nature. Telepathy also allows me to work on some of the projects that Nat is most passionate about like InternetCommerce.org and RDNH.com.
Then of course I also run NameBio with Adam Strong, I’m still flipping domains, and I’ve had a series of (mostly) failed ventures over the years like MiniSites.com, PushToAuction.com, etc.
Q3) I remember one of your first projects while we were both mods at Namepros, PushToAuction.com for Sedo Auctions. What did that teach you about dealing with domain investors?
The thing it taught me most about domain investors was that everyone is struggling to find liquidity. It was actually a problem I was interested in solving for a while, my friend and I bought DNW.com to start a new marketplace. After creating more than 30 pages of plans for exciting features we gassed out and sold the domain off to Andrew Allemann.
Q4) You created The Domain Game App, how’s that going?
The feedback so far has been really positive; I’ve even had industry veterans email me saying they feel like they understand prices better for having played it, something I didn’t expect. It’s rewarding seeing newcomers growing their skill level as well.
We’re a few hours away from hitting a quarter of a million questions served and we have more than 400 players after about three months.
Some readers will remember that NameBio used to have a web-based game that was similar; I’ve wanted to bring it back for a long time and also got the itch to learn iOS development. So I ran with it, figuring that even if I was the only one who ever played it the experience would be worth it. I’m thrilled to know others are enjoying it too!
Q5) Which marketplaces are more of a challenge to get accurate sales data for Namebio?
They all have challenges unfortunately; this industry isn’t very transparent. Sometimes high bidders don’t pay and the domain sells to the runner up at a lower price, and we have no way to know. Sometimes the domain is re-auctioned after non-payment, and in this case we usually catch it and remove the original record. Sometimes auctions are cancelled and the sale never completes.
We do our best to scrub the data and follow up, but WHOIS privacy and similar issues often hinder us. For the most part the data is clean, but that 3-5% still bothers me, and I would always suggest doing your own due diligence to verify a sale before making an investment decision based off of it.
I would, however, like to thank Kevin Fink from Flippa who sends us reversals so we can clean up their data. No other venues do that, and it is refreshing that someone understands the importance of transparency and the role data plays in shaping the market.
Q6) Will you accept private sales data from an individual, and if so, what proof do they need to show you so you know that it’s legitimate?
Absolutely, we get a few reports a week of private sales and we’re happy to load them in. We require a screenshot from Escrow.com, Sedo, PayPal or similar and sometimes ask to see email exchanges or we contact the other party to the transaction.
Unfortunately these are all things that can be easily faked. However, in more than a year and a half of working on NameBio I’ve only had one person send me a fake sale and we caught it. Escrow.com used to verify sales for us when we had consent and all of the details like the transaction number, price, and closing date, but they don’t any more now that they’re under new management.
Q7) What’s next for Namebio?
The Domain Game will be coming to a new platform 🙂
Other than that, I don’t really want to make any promises because the amount of time I can spend on the site is pretty limited. We’d like to have paid memberships with more (or full) access to the data, exports, bulk searches, watch lists with email notifications, and other power-user features but I have no timeline on that.
More realistically I’d like to allow people to search by language, easily search categories like Geo+Keyword, add more data points like age/search volume/CPC, and dig into the data more to write some interesting articles.
Thank you for your time Michael