About Kate

 

I’m a scrappy, southern marketer loving the west coast and all things related to branding, marketing, startups, mobile, and technology. Art, music, and pop culture fuel me. I love Twitter, finding viral videos first, dresses, and design thinking. See what inspires mehere and please reach out and say “hi!”

Anything written in this blog is strictly my opinion and not the opinion of my employer.

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Thursday
Jan272011

Tasting and Front Running on my domain & a letter from "Will Malone"

property lines

I am fired up, and I am hoping you can help me shed some light on a particular topic in the domain space. This continues my conversations on exploitation and the boundaries of profiting from someone else's ideas. And it is a barrier to entry that is affecting us all, small businesses and tech startups alike, and I think that this challenge is only going to get more powerful.

My first lesson in domain purchasing came in 2003 when I purchased TheSecretIngredients.com for my first tech startup. I would have loved the more attractive SecretIngredients.com, but the domain squatter sitting on the domain wanted many thousands for the name. I did not have the budget for that, and I could understand why he was holding out for that price tag. The name has potential to attract a large corporate buyer.  

Running a customer service email account on a domain consisting of the word "Secret" did not prove to be effective. I learned early on that spam filters were gobbling up emails to my customers. Customer service was key to my business model, and so I established HeirloomCookbook.com and routed mail through the new domain for communication. It worked well.

After closing Secret Ingredients, I let HeirloomCookbook.com expire. And that was stupid. Domain companies jump on expired domains (especially those that have received publicity), throw up some ads, and start making money immediately. And that's exactly what happened minutes after the name expired. 

Flash forward to 2009. Secret Ingredients is closed, and I have to figure out what to do with myself. I play with several business concepts and start buying some domains. It was much more difficult to come up with brandable business names that had .com availability, and it pushed my ability to get creative with naming. In my play with the dating scene, I registered GetYourChick.com and GetYourChuck.com. Not perfect names but they were definitely brandable and complimentary for sister sites. 

My system for purchasing domains has always been the same. I go to NetworkSolutions to check availability, think about it for an hour or day, and then go to one of my preferred registrars and get the domains. I have never had a problem with this system until last week.

I have mentioned that I am preparing the launch of the "underground" business that I have been operating for about a year and a half. Brand is hugely important to me, and so domains and naming have been very well thought out. In choosing a business name, I decided to register two domains- one is the business name and the other has a different purpose. I checked Network Solutions for availability and immediately bought the business name as .com. I decided to wait a day or two to purchase the second domain.

BAD IDEA. I went to register the domain two days later, and it was gone. I panicked, talked to my team, and we decided "screw it" the .us and .net are more important to us, and we can deal with the .com later.

REALLY BAD IDEA. I did not know better.

In a meeting with my advisor Michael two days later, I admitted that I felt like I had been watched. That someone saw my domain search and bought it before I could get to it. Michael nodded his head and confirmed that these lists are sold.  I went back to the office and started researching. I learned about domain front running and that domains can be purchased before you hit the Checkout button.

From Wikipedia: "Domain name front running is the practice whereby a domain name registrar uses insider information to register domains for the purpose of re-selling them or earning revenue via ads placed on the domain's landing page. By registering the domains, the registrar locks out other potential registrars from selling the domain to a customer."

And that night I got an email from Will Malone of Better Domains Bureau. I have copy and pasted the email below - removing only the domain and links to information about it:

Hi, I'm Will Malone with Better Domains Bureau.
xxxxx.com
 will be available for purchase soon. Since you possess xxxxx.us, I think you may be interested in xxxxx.com.
There is only a one time fee for the domain with a year of registration on us. You also can forward 
xxxxx.com to xxxxx.us at no cost.After purchasing xxxxx.com you will never be charged again by Better Domains Bureau.

If you do have an interest in purchasing 
xxxxx.com, please visit: [removed]
Once 
xxxxxx.com is ready for purchase, one of my account representatives will contact you.

Thank you and have a great day.
Better Domains Bureau
1128 Royal Palm Beach Blvd, Suite 243, Royal Palm Beach, Florida 33411
954-518-4349 (Please use code: [removed] when calling our customer support) 
Skype: globaldomainsellers
betterdomainsbureau.com 

---------------

You scumbags!

Please learn from this story and do not check the availability of a domain until you are ready to purchase it. And click the Checkout button as fast as you can.

I understand that this is a free market, and that there are many incentives for registrars and ad vendors (especially Google) and that large profits are to be made from domain squatting. But I do not think that what happened in this scenario is right, and I want everyone to be well-informed. And I am disappointed in the well reputed Network Solutions. I understand that they have tried to institute ways to prevent front running; yet, they have not informed us well enough and therefore it is not working.

I am not an expert on this, so if you are, please leave a comment and explain what is happening. If you have experiences, share them please.

And read Nathan Parcells recent blog post, "How Domain Hoarding is Killing Innovation," on Seattle 2.0. Thank you for a great post, Nathan.

Photo by The Pack

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References (1)

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Reader Comments (10)

That's terrible. Did you know that you can reverse lookup to see who bought the domain name too? So you can see if this Will guy is an actual person - or someone else squatting on the name. Unless he bought the privacy - which he probably didn't.

I usually use GoDaddy to lookup domains (and so far I haven't had that happen) 60+ names later :S

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArianna O'Dell

Kate, read your article and I had to purchase a domain from a domain squatter. I paid $1500 for it, which I thought was a bargain. However, I can certainly appreciate your thoughts. I have recently let some domains go through the expiration process, I hope I don't regret it. Wonderful article, keep up the great work.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Walling

Hi Kate,

I had this happen many years ago ON NETWORK SOLUTIONS-when domains were costing far more to register and I was as pissed as you were. Yes, the people doing this are scumbags and yes this should be illegal. Something has to be done. It's like they are peering into your private secure connection and then stealing from you. I will say this. I now do all my domain work through Go Daddy. I make my notes ahead of time, have my strategy worked out on what I want to buy and what I want to add to it. Then, I buy it immediately if it's available. But I've never had this happen before with Go Daddy. Good Luck with your new venture and I hope this nasty lesson helps others avoid getting ripped off!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Jewett

@arianna "Will" works for the Better Domain Bureau and apparently they have a relationship with Network Solutions. I will definitely not use Network Solutions ever again, but in my research I read that GoDaddy was involved in some domain tasting although I'm not sure that is still true. Thanks so much for reading and for your feedback.

@Susie Let me know what happens with those expired domains. I'm curious! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience.

@Tim Although I am sad to hear that it happened to you on Network Solutions too, I am glad to hear from someone else that they had this experience with the same vendor. I hope this gets some media attention soon, as it is hurting entrepreneurs. That's two votes for GoDaddy, so maybe I will work with them in the future. Thank you for commenting!

January 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterKate

Hi Kate,

I'm not sure that Network Solutions would do something this scummy. I can think of a couple other possible explanations, so I wrote a short blog on the topic that can be read here: http://www.domainsherpa.com/network-solutions-accused-of-domain-name-front-running-again/

The domain name industry is -- beyond a doubt -- not transparent, fragmented and, in some places, sleazy. That's why I started DomainSherpa, so that normal people like you and I can figure out this really complex beast called "the domain name industry." Anyway, I hope my thoughts are useful in some small way.

If there's anything I can do to help, I'd be more than happy to do so. Since I'm "the press" and not a domainer, I might be able to get the domain name for you, or negotiate a decent price, or something. I'd be happy to try if you would like, since you're a fellow STSer and Seattle entrepreneur.

Best regards,
Mike
Domainsherpa.com

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cyger

This is rather late, but Network Solutions did put in measures to inform the public when this controversy first happened years ago. They eventually stopped.

And as you said, be ready to register the domain on the spot. Besides, why expect an available domain name to remain that way by the time you finally get around to it?

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Zan

I've experienced this in the past, but I have a strange habit of looking up random domains... Buying cute ones is addictive! A tip I've picked up that I hope might help: I use http://domai.nr to look up domains en masse, and it searches across many registrars. It even gives creative alternative suggestions! With this I've been able to quickly hunt down a domain name, and find it at the best price, especially the exotic domains like .pe and .fm. I currently use domainmonster.com as my registrar and I love their customer service, speed and prices.

Good luck in the future!

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

This is sad indeed. From my experience, I would say..
- Do NOT trust Network Solutions ever again.
- Believe it or not, domain name front running DOES happen. Especially with the brilliant domain names.
- Here's what I do..
1) Note down all the domain names that I think i want to check availability and keep notes of them on a piece of paper or cell phone notes
2) Use http://instantdomainsearch.com only to find out the domain availability
3) Go to preferred domain registrar, create account and sign in first and then.. search domain, add to cart, pay and register.

This might sound too much or stupid but this method never failed me till date :)

In short, if you are sure that you want to register a particular domain, do NOT search for its availability unless you are ready to purchase it instantly.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR.Bhavesh

Hi Kate,

I did a little research and posted this article tonight:
http://www.domainsherpa.com/prevent-domain-name-front-running/

The Hacker News crowd has posted some really interesting comments:
http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2405375

In any case, the article shows a couple of ways to query domain name availability with less risk. I hope it's helpful.

Best,
Mike

April 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cyger

Greetings all,

Couldn't help but notice the similarities with my story. Past few days, I've received these "blackmail/cybersquatting" emails in reference to a domain name that I registered for one of my clients.

Click the following links below; I assure you these are not spam links. I received an email from these f****rs this morning and since I'm a tech aficionado, I did a little research, could've done more, but the point is I found a little bit of information that you might want to utilize. Apparently this ghetto company, Better Domains Bureau (like they really sound official, what a joke) is tied into Flex Media Domains. Both have the same carbon copied website and both spam the s*** out of customers. They are also tied into GlobalDomainSellers.com; they're all pretty much the same company owned by the same loser owner(s).

BetterDomainsBureau.com BBB Link:
http://centralflorida.bbb.org/business-search/name/better+domains+bureau/

FlexMediaDomains.com BBB Link:
http://www.bbb.org/south-east-florida/business-reviews/marketing-consulting-services/flex-media-in-hollywood-fl-90004349/complaints#breakdown

I hate these cybersquatters more than anyone, I've been in the tech field for over 25 years and they don't realize how EASY it is to backtrack these losers and extract THEIR information and return the actions.

===========================================
BetterDomainsBureau.com Information:
Better Domains Bureau
Will Malone
1128 Royal Palm Beach Blvd, Suite 243
Royal Palm Beach, Florida 33411
UNITED STATES
Phone: +1.888-875-8578
Email: domainsales@betterdomainsbureau.com
===========================================
FlexMediaDomains.com Information:
Registrant Contact:
Flex Media Inc
Jonathan Waltz
7777 Davie Road Ext, Ste 106b
Hollywood, Florida 33024
UNITED STATES
Phone: +1.888-368-2945
Email: sales@flexmediadomains.com
===========================================

Granted, they may have different contact information and some of the information above may be a front, but they're one in the same, I guarantee it.

Have fun with the information. I already have.

Keep fighting righteous actions with justified actions! F*** these losers, give them back a taste of their own medicine. I'm inclined to register a name close to theirs, maybe one consonant off, and ask them if they would like to buy it.

Have a great day everyone, and remember, don't take s*** from anyone, least of all yourself.

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterI-Hate-Cyberthieves

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