Back in 2016 we started a series here that looked at the best and worst about companies in the domain industry. Over the last 30 months a lot has changed at many companies so we are revisiting the good, the bad and the ugly.
Each post will deal with just one company, readers are encouraged to share their positive and negative experiences. Suggestions for improvement are also encouraged.
One of the goals of the column is that company representatives will see how their customers think of them. This can lead to a conversation on fixing problems.
What is not allowed:
- Personal attacks on individuals at the chosen company
- Promoting a competitor
- Posting domains for sale
The company in the spotlight today is BrandBucket.
The company in the spotlight today is BrandBucket
Bruce Tedeschi says
The BAD: No visibility to efforts made to market your domain name. Also, they have never reached out to me as a seller. I mean never ever. You pay for the privilege to list your name but you cannot see how many people have seen the name, who is marketing it etc.
Bruce Tedeschi says
APRIL 21, 2017 AT 4:22 PM
Months ago they were more accepting of names. Now the accepted rate is almost non-existent. I have had 50 names with them for one year and not one sale yet. They won’t disclose stats on your names or share what sold and for how much. Be better if they did this.
BrandBucket has brought real innovation into the space.
They commission structure is not competitive for higher end and premium names.
Real innovation? Is that a joke, they brought no innovation. They were able to get people with hand regged pronounceable names to give them exclusivity, pay 30% commission and pay $100 to $500 for lousy logos.
They changed the game from “Pull Marketing” of your domains, that all other marketplaces do.
Sedo, Afternic, Unirg.
To “Push Marketing”, by staging and showcasing curated domains!
That’s a specific innovation I’m referring to.
If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend Bob Hawkes’ NameTalent article BrandBucket: A Look At The Numbers https://nametalent.com/2019/02/brandbucket-a-look-at-the-numbers/
The figure that stuck out to me was…
“In 2018 the top ten sellers at their site sold an average of 50 names!”
Assuming that number is correct, I couldn’t help but wonder (considering the lack of transparency) if there were any kind of bias built into the platform that benefited certain sellers over others. If that were the case than the thousands of type-ins redirecting to BrandBucket (you’re required to point your nameservers to BrandBucket when you list a name) would amount to free advertising for those sellers.
Richard Hearne says
Context: I left BB during 2017. I had been one of their top sellers, and I think at the time I left I had >1,000 listed/accepted names. I was a member for 2 or 3 years up to that point, and I had made some good sales (I *think* i may have been in their top 5 sellers at one point – I cant remember sadly, and I don’t want to be accused of distorting the truth).
I left BB as I wasn’t happy with my sales rate, and I had long thought there was a general lack of transparency in how they operated. Prior to leaving I researched how their domain search worked, and found that names from the top 2-3 accounts were almost always presented in high positions. What I concluded at that time was that listing age was a factor in their search algo, so, after relevance factors were applied, listing age would be used to some extent to rank the resulting names. Of course the oldest listed names there belong to the first accounts on their platform, who also happen to be owners/managers. Just to be clear – I’m not suggesting that any underhand intentions, but it did at the time seem to reflect how results were presented. I suspect the age factor was added to help older listings since older sellers weren’t happy when inventory increased towards 10K level. Any boost it gave to proprietary accounts on their system was a probably a (not unwelcome) side-effect, but one which I believe they were all too happy to retain. Note: that this was back in late -2016 and early 2017 when Margot was the owner of search and claimed to be the only person who fully understood how their algo worked. I do not know how this works now.
Something else worth mentioning is their corporate governance – Michael was given the role of managing director, but he was powerless to manage anything beyond what names were listed and their prices. I suspect his role was as much to shield Margot (who in all fairness, does not like the limelight), but there are many unanswered questions about his ouster from that role. I personally think It reflected quite badly on whatever governance structures they do have in place.
The perception that conflicts of interest could exist due to proprietary accounts has also always simmered just beneath the surface at BB, and I long thought they would be best off divesting their own accounts to avoid any thoughts of impropriety. I voiced this at one time directly to them, and said I thought that this could even stifle any attempt to exit in a trade sale. IMO any trade buyer would see the top sales accounts (at the time) were owned by insiders, and see this as a risk rather than a strength. They did not concur with this view. I heard from multiple sources that an exit was being discussed with potential trade buyers in 2017. Since then I rarely keep up with what happens there.
On the plus side – I think they do need to be commended for creating a niche vertical that did not exist before. I think they also made a very wise choice not to invite offers for names, and they did (do?) a great job of getting list prices for many names sold. Transparent list prices for every domain offered was also clever, and something not often provided in the domain aftermarket. Overall I do admire what they achieved, despite any misgivings I have.
Last thought – while I grudgingly admire their practice of retaining listings for names removed by owners, I think it’s rather unethical to make use of names no longer listed with them.
Thank you, Richard, for a detailed evaluation.
I considered listing names there a few times and spoke with the staff at BB. Concluded it wasn’t the best fit for me. But could work for others.
Many of their top sellers have left BB since last few months. Michael Krell, JimJammy, Embrand to name a few. I wonder why. Was it sales rate? was it too much commission?
Robert McLean says
BrandBucket doesn’t want your names!
They are concerned only with flogging the names held by the owners!
Rules here, about disclosing domain names, prevent me from listing names that were
rejected by BrandBucket.
Suffice is to say it/they, are insular, protectionist and typical of the entire domain name business.
Crooked, corrupt, incestuous!
I have just left them after almost a decade there. While I am grateful for the sales I have had, now I want to try to list my names at multiple sales channels.
It will always be impossible to know if the names sold because of BrandBucket’s marketing and sales effort, or if they would have sold anyway…
After they lowered their commission for higher priced names, that was no longer a big issue for me. But it was time to move on and try something new.
As to BrandBucket giving special privileges to certain people, I have no idea if that is true or not, but I certainly haven’t received any, even though BrandBucket has made six figures in commission from me.
I still feel BrandBucket is a great place for some investors, but there are so many competing services now, and acquiring Brandroot is not great for sellers in my opinion.
Paul McMenamy says
Many thanks to everybody above; these are very interesting and very useful insights.
I see in the comments above some bitter domainers who haven’t gotten the results they had hoped for with BrandBucket. These comments are not an objective or useful evaluation of the marketplace.
The reality is that, in spite of its flaws, BrandBucket remains the best brandable marketplace out there. However, if it doesn’t address it’s greatest flaws, it won’t retain its stature.
Market Leader: BrandBucket has a great deal of name recognition in the branding and domaining industry. It has many repeat clients and, as the first brandable marketplace, it has built up a great deal of trust and credibility over time that translates to regular sales. These sales continue to hum along, and in many respects (monthly sales data, the BrandRoot acquisition), BrandBucket seems stronger than ever.
Service: The service at BrandBucket is very good. If there’s an issue with a logo, a description, or a listing, or a need to transfer a listing, the service team (led by Julia and Roxana) answers questions promptly and politely.
Logos: The logo design has improved significantly, and the company recently did away with its $100+ logo design commissions.
Submission Cost: The upfront cost to list is currently $1 per name (the dollar fee is to submit, which doesn’t guarantee acceptance), and that includes a logo design, keywords, description, and support. Pretty good deal.
Slack: Another great feature for sellers is the Slack community, a friendly community of domainers from whom you can learn a great deal. Slack also gives you the opportunity to barter listed names and to interact with BB staff, including the owner, Margot. You can leave feedback on Slack. While BrandBucket don’t always act on submitted ideas, they do listen and take sellers’ ideas to heart.
Name Pricing: BrandBucket has been revising its pricing structure based on thorough domain research. No other marketplace takes the care in the submission review or pricing process that BrandBucket does. This research ensures sellers get the best possible price for their listings. At the same time, the regulated pricing keeps things reasonable for buyers.
Seller Interface: BrandBucket’s seller interface is dated and clunky. While overall BB remains the market leader, its seller interface comes in dead last in terms of aesthetics and ease of use. SquadHelp and Brandpa have really upped the game in this area. I imagine this flaw will be addressed soon.
Marketing: Another concern is BrandBucket’s lack of transparency in marketing efforts. Data suggests they have been getting crushed by SquadHelp in site visits, which suggests that if they don’t change their ways and up their marketing, they will not remain competitive.
Name Searches: The name search is static. If you search for a keyword like “tech”, you’ll see the same names in the same order every time. This means that only a few names are above-the-fold in searches, and that those few names that get the prime position are vastly more likely to sell than the thousands of names below the fold. A huge advantage for those with prime placement, a huge disadvantage for everyone else. Much better would be dynamic search results, which cycle through relevant names and give the inventory more circulation and liquidity.
Inventory Size: BrandBucket is a brand machine, grabbing up strings of characters owned by others and turning them into pricey brand names. This privatization machine seems infinite in its hunger. If it could, BrandBucket would likely list every brandable name out there. This high-volume listing strategy is obviously good for the company: they assume no financial risk or burden in listing a name (the sellers pay to sustain the marketplace), and they reap the rewards when any name sells.
However, high-volume inventory only works to a point. With the BrandRoot acquisition, BrandBucket’s inventory is fast approaching 80,000, and it will continue to balloon from there. With such a massive inventory, individual sellers’ chances of selling anything goes way down. Sell-through-rates will eventually plummet, and eventually BrandBucket will have a serious problem on its hands as sellers look elsewhere to move their inventory.
Name My Company: BrandBucket has a feature called “Name My Company” that allows buyers to request listed names directly from the seller community. Like the seller interface, this feature is antiquated. It’s extremely difficult to use and rarely translates to actual sales. Most buyers seem to use it for brainstorming more than anything, while sellers overcrowd buyer requests with tone-deaf submissions. With its sleek and efficient naming contests, SquadHelp puts BrandBucket to shame in this area.
Submission Review Times: On submitting a name to BrandBucket, the seller gets a friendly message “We’ll do our best to review your name within 72 hours.” Lately, submission review times have been consistently over 3 ½ weeks, reaching as high as 29 days. This is a disgrace. It’s shameless disrespect to sellers, who lose a great deal of time, effort, and money in the delays. More frustrating, BrandBucket is generally silent about the delays and commonly refuses to acknowledge and address the problem publicly. Of all BrandBucket’s flaws, this is what most frustrates me and drives me from the company.
In spite of the flaws, BrandBucket remains the best brandable marketplace out there. This is not, however, because it offers the best marketing, best interface, or the best service. It’s currently coasting on reputation and a titanic inventory. If it doesn’t address its flaws, it will be overtaken by competitors.