But when an employee took the initiative to call the Monster.com main switchboard to inquire about purchasing fastmail.com, the then-owner was more than happy to sell the unused domain name asset for a fair price.
In this interview, founder and director Rob Mueller recounts the impact of not owning fastmail.com for 15 years, how the negotiations started and progressed, how much they paid, and lessons learned for other startup entrepreneurs.
Mueller is a graduate of the University of Melbourne with a dual degree in computer science and electrical engineering.
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Today’s founder discusses his Internet business that launched in 1999 and has lasted the test of time using a country code top-level domain from the Federated States of Micronesia. Recently they purchased the .com of their domain name. We’ll find out why. Stay tuned.
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Michael Cyger: Hey everyone. My name is Michael Cyger, and I’m the Publisher of DomainSherpa.com – the website where you can learn how to become a successful domain name investor or entrepreneur directly from the experts.
Anyone that watches the DomainSherpa show knows that I publish on topics that are of interest to both domain name investors and startup entrepreneurs. Both groups of people want to learn how the domain industry works. So, when I hear about a company that launched pre-2000, I think: “Great. You can build a real business on a domain name other than .COM,” but recently that company purchased the .COM of their business name and I want to find out why, so I invited them on the show.
I would like to welcome Rob Mueller, one the founders and director of the online email service, FastMail, which used FastMail.fm as their primary domain name from 1999 until just recently in 2014. Welcome, Rob.
Rob Mueller: Hi.
Michael: It is great to have you. You are calling in today from which country?
Rob: Melbourne, Australia.
Michael: Excellent. Well, we have got a nice, strong connection, so it is great to have you here. It is hard to imagine, because your company has been around for such a long time, but for those in the audience that have not heard of the Fast Mail service, how do you explain it to them?
Rob: Well, the easiest thing to describe it is like a Hotmail or a Gmail, or something like that. We provide email services. You get an online mailbox. You can access it through the web or through an email software like Apple Mail, Thunderbird, and things like that. We target a kind of audience who is sick of free providers being inundated with adverts and things like that and want a professional service. So, it is a paid service only now. It is not that expensive, like the cheapest is ten dollars per year. The most expensive is a hundred and something per year.
And you can either be an individual or a family or a business, and you can mix and match your accounts a bit, and you have got sharing and access controls in the bigger levels. And in the individual levels, it is all about having control of your email and a great service that is focused on the customer rather than on the advertiser.
Michael: Awesome. And so, how did you originally choose the name, FastMail, back in 1999?
Rob: Well, along with the other Co-Founder, Jeremy, at the time, we were just looking for something. Jeremy really worked a lot on customer sites as a management consultant and was really tired of the slowness of Hotmail that he was using on customer sites a lot, and really wanted to focus on a professional service and kind of felt the name should really say what the product was on the box. So, he really just wanted it to be fast mail, but FastMail.com was taken even at that stage and he came up with what he thought was a kind of cute idea of taking those two main later of fast mail, so it was FastMail.fm. And it was like it sounds okay and like so many of these things, when you start really early on, you do not really think through the full consequences of a little decision like that.
So, you make that decision there on the day. It is available, you buy it, and you start going down that road, and that is where you end up going down. And so, for the next 15 years, it was FastMail.fm.
Michael: So, let me ask you about that. .FM is the country code for the Federated States of Micronesia.
Michael: So, you only selected it because the letters of fast mail matched .FM and you thought FastMail.fm is memorable.
Rob: That is right. That is basically the reason. It was easier to explain that you could say FastMail.fm as in FastMail when you are trying to explain to people on the phone. The number of times I had to say that since made me realize probably that is the problem.
Michael: How many times have you had to say FastMail.fm, not .COM?
Rob: A lot. The number of times it has been FastMail.fm.com. FastMail.com. Just trying to explain to people. It has gotten better. It used to be really bad I would say. Recently I think the proliferation of more TLDs is actually making it easier. People are more willing to listen and go: “Oh, it is just .FM, is it?” Yeah, just .FM. Okay. I think they have become much more in the public conscious. .COM is still clearly the thing that people think about and know of the most, but some of these other TLDs people are at least questioning now, “Oh, it is not .COM. That is okay. I can handle that something else than .COM exists even these days.”
Michael: Right. And most people have never heard of a country code top-level domain, like .FM, but if you ask them, “Have you ever used bit.ly or the Bitly shortening service,” they are like: “Oh, yeah.” They do not realize that .LY is the Libyan country code top-level domain.
Rob: No, most people do not even realize, I think, that those two-letter things actually represent a country, shore, in some cases a geographic region that should not exist even as a country code. Some of them are a bit odd that exist. But especially now with the new flood of TLDs, I think there is going to be, over the next couple of years, a really understanding that the thing on the end can be anything these days.
Michael: Yeah. And so, I went over to GoDaddy to figure out what the cost is of different domain names, like the .FM domain, and they price it about 90 dollars per year, whereas a .COM is about 12 dollars per year without a coupon or anything at GoDaddy. Is that roughly what you pay per year to renew the domain name?
Rob: I think that was right. It was not excessive or anything like that. Realistically, the actual price of renewals is negligible compared to so many other costs in a business, so choosing your domain on the renewal price is not something you should be doing.
Michael: And so, as a business owner, you really do not care what the price is as long as you are building a successful business.
Rob: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In the end, the main cost is buying the domain upfront if it has already been registered and someone else has it and you want to buy it off them. By far, renewal cost is insignificant in the long run compared to everything else. And it is all about building your brand as well. What name do you want out there in the marketplace? And I think Google has made it a bit easier in some respects because, by far, most people came to us just by searching for fast mail. And whether they just typed fast mail in their address bar, which in almost every browser these days just does a Google search for fast mail and pick the first result.
The biggest problem we actually had at one stage, for some reason Google in the UK, when you searched and you typed fast mail, it went to FastMail.co.uk first, which was one of our domains as well, which is fine. We owned that domain. The problem is that we auto fill your domain on your email address based on what domain you came in. So, if you are JoeBlogs@FastMail.fm and you typed in FastMail in the UK, it took you to FastMail.co.uk. If you typed in JoeBlogs, thinking it would auto fill at FastMail.fm, it filled the wrong domain and then it said your account does not exist.
And suddenly we were getting all these support requests. “What happened to my account?” So, you have to be a bit careful with that kind of thing if you are having multiple domains that people might be coming in from different directions when they search. So, probably yeah, there is a trade-off there I think.
Michael: So, I mentioned in the introduction that you and your co-founder, Jeremy Howard, launched your business in 1999. 15 years later, how many customers do you have today?
Rob: In the hundreds of thousands. We used to have in the millions, but we lost a lot of customers when we went from a free to a paid service. We decided to concentrate on the freemium model was not really working, we discovered. We did some good analysis and it turned out we always thought that a free account was kind of an unlimited trial basically that allowed people to then step up to the next level. We found that was not working for us, particularly for individual customers. They would stick pretty much to the trial account level and go to extreme lengths not to fill their mailbox to be forced to go the next level.
So, we decided that it was not actually really a free trial anymore. It was just offering free accounts. And since we were not doing any advertising, we did not really want to monetize that way. We decided that using paid accounts was the way we wanted to go. Offer a great service to customers rather than trying more and more ways to put ads around the place. That is not an area we wanted to go into really.
Michael: Right. I used to have this tutorial on DomainSherpa, where you could buy a domain name, point it at Google Apps for Business when they offered free services, and then get free email for you business or for your family, or something like that. Since they turned that off, they clearly realized that they do not want to be the free email for business service either, like yourselves.
Michael: But I know a lot of domain name investors have, say, hundreds of domain names. I know domain investors that have over a million domain names, and some of them may want to have five, ten, or 15 of them – their primary businesses, marketplaces – as active email addresses. Can they sign up for your service for a business account or a family account, and then connect multiple email accounts to that one account?
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. There is no problem with that. You can have a couple of hundred domains, which is really just the limit to stop excessive use, but one problem you have with an online business – I am sure anyone who has run one – is you have to be really careful of abuse basically. People will find the oddest thing that you never thought could be abused and find an odd way to abuse it. So, you have to put limits on a lot of things to just stop those corner cases you did not realize existed.
But we have many businesses with dozens or hundreds of domains, partly whether they are just different divisions or different organizations that are multiple companies that have merged together over time and are still using their different domains for different areas. So, there is no problem with that, and you can create accounts. You can create aliases that map from one domain to another. And one of the common things we see is some businesses will have a couple of domains, like they will have Blah.com, Blah.co.uk, Blah.some other country, and it is trivial with FastMail to just map those all on top of each other so that any email (Unclear 10:59.0) one domain works at all the other domains, which is quite a common thing people like doing.
Michael: Yeah, which is one of the things that you are doing, I believe. So, let’s get to the FastMail.com part of the interview. On October 23, 2014, you announced on your own blog that your company had purchased FastMail.com. When customers visit FastMail.fm, they are immediately redirected to FastMail.com, at least I was.
Michael: What was the business need? I know we talked about some of the troubling situations that happened, like reach me at Rob@FastMail.fm and they are like: “FastMail.com?” No, FastMail.fm. We talked about that, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs get, but what was the business need that justified the purchase of FastMail.com?
Rob: Well, I think for us it was a part of a slight rebranding going on for us, and partly also I think there is a sense still that .COM is a more serious domain I guess. In some respects you could say it like that. It is a bit psychological partly just to say that. Also, I guess in some respects these days, a short, sharp .COM domain is almost a luxury brand description, so it is actually signaling a bit to say that yeah, we are serious. We have invested some money and we think this is a business going forward, and we want a more (Unclear 12:33.6) quite serious domain, I guess.
Realistically, we talked about getting .COM for a long time, ever since we started basically. It had always been, oh, it would be nice to have .COM one day, one day, one day, and a few attempts had come up, where we had gone: “Oh.” I remember once I ran across a blog of a guy who worked it. I knew that FastMail.com was owned by Fast Web Services at the time and I ran across a blog of a guy who worked there, and so I contacted him and said, “Hey, I see you are not using the domain for anything. Is there any chance you could help me get a hold of it,” and he talked to his boss and his boss, but that never went anywhere.
And I admit I did not pursue it very hard at the time, which I think is probably why it never happened. I think one of the things that can make things happen is just trying harder basically, and so this time it was actually one of our employees was really keen and he said, “I think .COM would be great for the business. I think it would be really good,” and I kind of said, “Well, if you think it is, just go for it. See what you can do.” And so, we found that FastMail.com, Fast Web Services had been bought by Monster, and so it was now owned by Monster and he basically called up the switchboard and go transferred through to a few people, transferred, transferred, and ended up talking to the right person, basically who could make stuff happen.
And so, when he got through to the right person, it was like: “We are really interested in buying it,” and the guy was like: “Well, we are not using it for anything. Yeah, it seems a reasonable thing to do.” So, they had not actually sold a domain, I believe, so they had to come up with an asset sale program because it was considered an asset, and so we go through all that and got the paperwork and yeah, it turned out in the end to be quite straightforward. I think especially easy bit for us was they were not using it for anything.
Michael: Right. All right, let me try and unpack a little bit. What was the first year that you remember or you can estimate reaching out to the owners of FastMail.com to ask if they are interested in selling it?
Rob: I think it was probably 2004 or 2003.
Michael: ’04. So, five years into the business.
Michael: You were growing. You were like: “Hey, we need to. We should probably get the .COM.”
Michael: And then that did not go anywhere.
Rob: We needed some money as well, so I think when you actually have some money early on – we were not earning. We were bootstrapping ourselves and getting to the point of accepting payments, and once you start accepting payments you start going: “Oh,” and also customers started expecting a bit more, I think, when you start taking money from them.
Rob: And so, you kind of start learning of some of the difficulties and what people would really like, and so you get some: “I wish you guys had FastMail.com.” So, you think, “Oh, we might try,” and so I cannot remember the exact dates. I am sure around there we tried once, and then sometime I am sure in 2008/2009 we tried again. But again, I think the biggest problem was we did not try very hard. I think that is the big point.
Michael: Okay, and then your employee. What is your employee’s first name?
Michael: So, when Alfie picked up the phone and started calling, did he call just the main Monster.com switchboard and say, “I want to talk to somebody that is in charge of domain names,” or did he ask to speak to somebody in marketing? Do you remember who he asked for?
Rob: Unfortunately I do not remember exactly. I can ask him and you can follow up after here. I can find out the exact details, but I cannot remember which exactly it was. I know he called the switchboard and tried to find the right person through there, but I cannot remember exactly who he asked for. I will try and find out for you.
Michael: Sure. And I would assume that when he finally got through to the correct person, they had never sold a domain name before, so he did not know the process. From the time that he actually got through to them to the time that they realized that hey, we can sell it, we need to sort of break off that asset and put a value on it, how long did that take? Was it days, weeks, or months?
Rob: It was only a couple of weeks for the whole thing to move on. Within days the guy was. I think partly he was keep as well. He was happy for it to happen.
Michael: Why do you think he was so happy to sell the domain name?
Rob: I am not sure entirely. Maybe just because it was a realization that oh, we probably have a lot of domains we are not using. These could be considered assets. And why hold them when we can actually sell them and make some money? I am not entirely sure. Maybe yeah, I am not entirely sure of what their reading going on there was, but they were quite happy and maybe it is this realization. Maybe there a whole bunch of companies out there, sitting on a bunch of domains that maybe they are not really using and just bought them up. Maybe they bought a whole bunch of other companies and they have just all come in from that. I imagine that happens quite a bit. And yeah, why not turn it into something valuable? If we are not using them now and there is no likelihood we will, because it is not part of our business and never looking like it will be, it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
Michael: Yeah. So, the business that Monster.com acquired was called Fast Web. From my research, it was an online resource in finding scholarships to help pay for school. Monster.com bought them in 2001. Monster.com uses a Domain Branding Management Company called CSC Corporate Domains. So, if you try and contact through the WhoIS information, the information that is associated with the domain name, I believe it goes to CSC Corporate Domains, whereas Alfie just picked up the phone and called somebody at Monster and got to the real decision maker. So, he sort of short-circuited the process without even knowing it.
Rob: Without even knowing it, and I think, in hindsight, that is actually a really good way to go. As I said, we tried a couple of times previously to go up the chain, and I think you get lost in the noise. I think, in this case, it was lucky going to the right person who can make decisions. Just makes things a lot easier. It kind of feels a bit, in some respects, oh, we are jumping levels and we should go through the right process, but we tried that previously and it just got lost. So, I think jumping straight to the right person paid off in this case.
Michael: Yeah. Now, when this person at Monster.com said, “Yeah, I think we would be willing to sell it,” did he or she set the price on the domain name themselves or did they sort of ask Alfie what are you willing to pay for it?
Rob: They asked what we were willing to pay for it, and we gave them an offer and they gave a counter offer, and we accepted.
Michael: Got you. And so, when you gave an offer, without asking you what the offer is, how do you even determine, not knowing much about the domain name – well, I should not even say that. Do you know much about domain name pricing, Rob?
Rob: I had a look on a site and inputted it to just get an idea of what it is like. The problem I found was I tried a couple of sites and got vastly varying figuring. I think it is very hard to valuate a domain that is not in use because there is no traffic to it per se, so the valuation sites come up with vastly different values based on whatever criteria they use.
Michael: Right. And to be honest, FastMail is a brandable domain name. It is your brand. I do not think anybody else uses FastMail. Maybe the prior company, Fast Web, used some sort of mail service prior. Maybe they used it for their DNS or something. Who knows?
Rob: No, I think they just bought FastBlah for a number of different domains on the assumption that, well, we are Fast Web. Maybe we will come up with a whole bunch of services one day, and never did, which is not uncommon for businesses to do as well. Let’s just land grab over here a bit, in the general area of what we kind of feel our name and business is.
Michael: Right. Sure.
Rob: Just in case we one day want to use them, and then you discover no, well, we never did end up using them, but you have still held on to them because, again, renewals are only ten or 12 dollars per year, or whatever. They just get forgotten in the big pool of a thousand domains you have lying over there.
Michael: So, when it came to actually negotiating the price, did you step in for Alfie or did you say, “Alfie, here is our price. Go negotiate”?
Rob: Yeah, we had a discussion amongst ourselves, what we thought would be a good starting price, and that offer was one where we felt it was, well, you do not want to have an insulting offer.
Rob: But at the same time, you do not want an offer that is the top end of what we are willing to pay for it. So, you pick something that you feel yes. I mean you can do it in your head, where you go: “Is this worth in orders of magnitudes? Would I pay one thousand dollars for? Oh yeah, easily. Ten thousand? Probably. One hundred thousand? One million? No.” So, you can just at least come up with a range based on a simple orders of magnitude thing there, and then you narrow it down a bit more and you go: “That feels about right,” and yeah, so we put that in as an offer and of course, as often, they will go: “Well, we want some more than that.”
Michael: Exactly. So, may I ask what your initial offer price was, Rob?
Rob: Well, it was in the five figures.
Michael: Okay, so it was in the five figures. Did you submit that to them over email or over phone?
Rob: It was over email.
Michael: Over email. And then how long did they take to roughly respond to you?
Rob: Oh, I think it was only a couple of days.
Michael: A couple of days. Were you nervous during the couple of days, like: “Ooh, did we go in too low? Are they insulted?”
Rob: A little nervous, but on the other hand, I felt that our offer was not an insult. I did not think our offer was an insult at all, so I felt reasonably comfortable that they would come back and say probably yeah, you have not insulted us, but we want more than that. And that is what did happen.
Michael: So, you went in with five figures. Did they come back? I often hear these sorts of numbers or these strategies, where come in with a decent five-figure number, but half of what you are willing to pay. So, if they were to double it, you are still happy with the result and they are happy with the result. Did you go through any sort of strategy gyrations like that?
Rob: Yeah, almost exactly that. And let’s just say it was very close to that. That is what happened.
Michael: Okay. Was it over six figures that you paid for the final domain name?
Rob: No, it was still five figures, but a higher five figures.
Michael: Are you willing to disclose what the purchase price was?
Rob: I do not know. I did not actually read the contract. Again, sorry, so I am not sure if that is non-disclosure, but I would like to keep it. I do not think there is a need. I think we are all in the ballpark. We know what we are talking about.
Michael: Sure. So, you put in your figure. A couple of days later, they came back with the counter offer, and then you responded back by email and you said, “Okay, let’s do the deal.”
Rob: Let’s do the deal.
Michael: All right. Was there a contract that Monster.com used to sell the domain name or did you use a buyer’s or acquisition contract?
Rob: They came back to us with a contract. In fact, that is what took a bit of extra time. Because they had never sold a domain before, they actually had to get a contract written up. And they did that, and so I admit I was not sure what a standard domain name contract looks like, but we read through it and we had our lawyers look at it and they said, “This looks perfectly reasonable,” and so we were happy to sign and yeah, the deal was done basically.
Michael: Yeah. Did you use an escrow service to put the money in, or the legal contract was satisfactory for you to pay them and get the domain name?
Rob: We looked at an escrow service, but now, to be honest, it has slipped my memory. I cannot remember if we ended up using it. I think in the end we just decided Monster is a publicly listed and big enough company. Okay, there is an asymmetry here of power. Certainly they could do us over, but the publicity of that would probably be pretty bad for them as well.
Rob: So, I think we, in the end, just assumed that this all seems in good faith. Let’s just go ahead with it and get it done. And partly as well, I will be honest. One of the problems we sometimes have being based in Australia, the world is a small place these days with the Internet. I am talking to you in real time. It is quite amazing, but time zone is still an issue. Daytime over in the US is still often middle of the night here, so there can be 24-hour turnaround on any kind of conversation via email. So, often it is just like we get in the habit of what can we do to get as much done in one go, so that 24 hours later we know that a lot has been done.
Rob: Maybe that is just a habit of living a bit further, time zone shifted in the world. You start thinking that way.
Michael: Yeah. So, you purchased the domain name outright. You did not finance it at all.
Rob: No, we purchased it outright.
Michael: Okay. And I was wondering. Since you mention it is hard to value a domain name because it does not get traffic and it is not a business, but in actuality, FastMail.com was probably getting type-in traffic from your customers that were trying to get to you and typed in FastMail.com by accident, and it was probably receiving emails like me when I reached out to you and sent it to Rob@FastMail.com. It might have bounced back because you do not have an email address there.
Rob: Yeah, but the value of an email being sent to a wrong address is zero. It is just a bounce, so in that respect, it is not worth anything for email. For domains, that is a lot less of an issue, I think, because people do not even type .COM on a lot of things these days. They just type Facebook and it either autocompletes Facebook.com or it Googles Facebook.com and goes to the first result. So, it is kind of the same with FastMail. People knew us as FastMail. I do not think most people typed FastMail.com or FastMail.fm. They just typed FastMail, Fast Mail, or something like that and it got to the right spot magically. They do not understand how it got there, but all I do is I type FastMail in my address browser or something and it works. I think that is how most people kind of use things these days.
Michael: Sure. Do you own a trademark in Australia for the phrase ‘Fast Mail’?
Rob: We do not have a registered trademark yet. It is something we have been looking at doing. It is something we should get onto I believe. Although it is not registered, given that we used FastMail branding on absolutely everything and the name, it would be nice to get a word mark on our actual logo these days, which you can get. And on the name, I do not know it we will be too generic, but we will have to find out.
Michael: Yeah, okay. When I was doing my research, I realized that you and your partner sold the company FastMail to Opera Software, the company best known for the web browser. I could not find any details of that transaction price, which I would love to know of course, but more importantly, as an entrepreneur, you mentioned that customers of Opera’s software, the browser, would likely want to buy email services or at least have a need for email at some point, and that you would be able to take advantage of their hundred million user base. Did that actually work out as you and Jeremy had planned? Was there a lot of synergies with Opera Software for growing FastMail?
Rob: Yeah, look, the actual sale to Opera was really good for the company. At the time, when we sold, we were only a very small company. There was only three full-time staff and there were actually four owners at that stage, or co-owners for various reasons. And so, we were just kind of running along. We were not able to keep up. We were just keeping the service running, adding bits and pieces of features, but I did not really feel like we were able to take the leaps and bounds we wanted to. So, Opera approached us, wanting to buy us, and they wanted us for two reasons, mostly the email expertise. They, at the time, had a service called My Opera, which was this online kind of community, forum, blog system, and they wanted to add email to that.
So, they wanted to add free email to that, and they thought: “Oh, well, FastMail know what they are doing with email. That would be great.” The other thing is they have a lot of contact with Telco’s and stuff like that. They wanted to be able to sell them extra services and email was one of the things they wanted to be able to sell them. So, there were two good reasons for the purchase there, and we met with me and I went over to Opera in Norway and met with their teams. And look, the companies were a great fit. We were a very technically oriented company. A small group of very technical engineers, and they were still there. The CEO at the time was still the founder of theirs. They were a very engineering-focused company. Great people to work with.
And so, that actually worked really well, that sale, for everyone. It gave the staff some certainty. It gave us some certainty, and it gave us resources to actually do what we wanted to do. And Opera were great to us. They basically said, “Here is some money to hire some more people. Here are a couple of really big goals to aim for. We want full cross-folder searching across all your email in seconds. We want conversations and we want a really best-in-class Ajax interface.” We hired some awesome people, we built those products, and just as we were getting to build those and it was all coming to fruition, Opera had a change of management and as part of that, had a change of strategy and vision, and services ended up not being their core interest anymore, and so they ended up shutting down My Opera and a bunch of other things. And as part of that, they decided well, why do we have this email arm in Australia, halfway around the world.
And they were nice enough to actually talk to the staff and they sold it back to the staff. So, now a subset of the staff own FastMail again as an independent company, which is an awesome position to be in. We have what I think is now a really fantastic product, a great staff, and we are building on what we have spent the last couple of years creating this fantastic backend infrastructure, frontend interface. It is all a really great position to be in at the moment. Part of that I think was the whole FastMail.com came up again. It is like well, we are doing really well. We are growing really well. We have jumped up to over 30 percent a year growth rate now, which is a nice position for us to be for email.
Other startups want to be in 30 percent a month, but we are happy to be 30 percent a year. It’s a manageable growth rate for us, and it is also nice knowing that we are a long-term business. We want to be around for a long time. We enjoy that basically. And if you grow too fast, you are either probably taking on an awful lot of customer liabilities while you are doing it, and usually, if you grow that fast, you are probably not taking money. Maybe you are. I do not know, but we are nice and stable. It provides us a great stable growth rate for the business and a long-term future, which is what we want for the business.
And that is where we see ourselves, and I think that was what reignited the whole .COM discussion. We are doing great. Maybe we should appear a bit more at the next level of seriousness, again, that I was talking about earlier and .COM would help with that. So, that kind of ignited that discussion and how we got there again.
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Michael: Was it ever a discussion right after the acquisition by Opera and maybe having access to larger marketing budgets to acquire the domain name at that time?
Rob: Only very tentative. It got mentioned a couple of times here and there, but again, at the time, the focus was really on the My Opera product and Telco services. So, for them, FastMail as the business was handy. It was a revenue-generating business, and so it helped offset cost in some respects, but it was not a core focus of what they had bought FastMail for.
Michael: Yeah. You had mentioned earlier that you own a bunch of FastMail.extension domain names. If you had to make an estimate of how many you own, do you have any idea?
Rob: I think we have about 20.
Michael: 20. So, you own .COM. Maybe .NET, .ORG, .FM, CO.UK.
Rob: Yeah, .COM.AU, .CO.NZ. I think .CO. I better not say that one. I do not know if we have that. I am just used to across the water.
Michael: And did you buy those for defensive purposes or did you buy them because you were seeing a lot of customers in those countries, and so you want to offer a FastMail.co.uk offer for them?
Rob: No, mostly defensive. Mostly because it was one of those like oh, that is available. Oh, cool, let’s grab that. FastMail, the brand, at any country code. There is always going to be some people in the country who want a domain that is local per se, and so I think that is always a great thing to be able to offer. But yeah, it is not a strategic, like we must get for that country because that has got ten percent of our business or something like that. It has always just been that would be nice to have. It helps people over there choose that as an option.
Michael: Sure. So, a lot of entrepreneurs, starting up a business, have a great idea. Maybe they have funding. Maybe they do not, but whatever domain name they want has been taken. Pretty much every domain name has been taken. So, a lot of startups will use .CO. A lot of startups will use .IO or maybe a .TV if they are TV related or maybe a .ME if it relates to individuals. Regardless of what domain name they start with, because they can buy it for less, like you did with FastMail.fm, what advice do you have for other business entrepreneurs to learn from your situation, launching on FastMail.fm and later purchasing FastMail.com?
Rob: I do not think it is a bad thing to do. Partly it allows you to validate the business idea. Regardless of the domain, I think the important thing probably is choosing the word so it can be Googled. I think a lot of people get to websites these days via that. So, if you appear first when you Google FoodBar or whatever it is, whether it is FoodBar.io or FoodBar.co, as long as that appears first or high up, then I think that is fine. Longer-term, if you find that the business is validated and you are earning enough money, then you can look at buying the .COM if you think that is important and that, again, gives that area of seriousness that is a very nebulous kind of concept to describe, but I think there is still a sense out there for people.
Is this a serious business or not? And there are kind of subtle indicators or cues that businesses give our whether they are or are not, and people like that when they look at a business. Oh, these guys look professional and serious. On the other hand, when you are gearing towards consumers, sometimes consumers like oh, that business looks quirky and fun. So, it is not necessarily important or not. It is all a bit nebulous I think. Yeah, so .IO seems very, especially for tech services these days. It is very popular for tech services.
In some respects almost, I think the tech crowd, if you are doing a business that is specifically tech oriented, then .IO might actually be a better way to go with. I think there is almost a cache with .IO these days, saying oh, these guys are a tech-oriented business. I need a tech solution for this particular problem, whether I want to host at IRC, I want to host at that, etc., you might almost be better going for .IO these days for that. Still, for a consumer-oriented service, I think your choice is a bit wider. If you are going for a more business oriented service, then probably .COM is probably something worth going for still in the long run.
Rob: I cannot put extreme reasons for any of those things.
Michael: It is just your feeling, yeah. Rob, one of the questions that I wanted to ask you when you were talking about Alfie reaching out to Monster.com, working his way through the switchboard to find the right person: were you or Alfie or the rest of the team aware that there are domain name brokers out there that act like real estate agents, where they will help you find out who the contact is, find out if they are interested and negotiate a price, and get the deal done?
Rob: No, not particularly. Thinking about it now, that seems entirely obvious to me. I do not think I had really thought that there was an active service to go out and get domains. I thought of brokers as more of domains come in to be sold and it was a marketplace more. I guess I think of something. I have looked at Sedo before, I think it is, and I think of that as an exchange marketplace, but I do not think of it as active in that sense, searching.
Rob: I also think, because we were not that oh, we must get .COM, I do not think we had that idea of we are willing to invest five grand in a broker to go out and get us .COM. This was, again, a very much a ‘hey, let’s just go try. See what we can do.’ And if you have got someone enthusiastic and just happens to get everything right, and finds the right person and everything like that, it worked. But again, that is all a bit of a coincidence I think for us. It was not an active right, we have got a budget of X. We are going to get .COM. Let’s use the budget to get there. It was not quite as structured as that for us.
Michael: Yeah, excellent. And I am asking only because, and I have interviewed people on DomainSherpa that are domain name brokers, and you can go under the buy or the sell pull-downs and watch those interviews on how domain name brokers work. But from an entrepreneur standpoint, I wanted to figure out if you really knew if they event existed or you thought that it would be worthwhile. I cannot imagine ever going to buy a home and dealing with the sellers directly. There is so much emotion involved, and this seems like it was such an ideal transaction. They owned it. It sounds like they felt it was a good fit with you. They wanted to put a fair price on it. You guys came to an agreement pretty quickly and everybody is happy.
Rob: Yeah. So, in some respect, there is an aspect of luck in that as well, but in so many things in business and life, they can be an aspect of life. If you find the right person at the right time, who has the right connections and has exactly what you want, that can be a fantastic luck. And sometimes it is the opposite. You run into a wall at every stage.
Rob: So, I will admit in this state, I think we were quite lucky to get what we wanted, but that does not mean you do not always create your own luck sometimes as well. As I said, we tried before. If you go the unlucky route, all you hit is walls. If you go the lucky route, all you hit is open doors. So, you have to create your own luck a bit sometimes as well.
Michael: You do, and luck favors the prepared, so congratulations to Alfie for leading it and the entire team for acquiring FastMail.com.
Michael: If you have any other questions for Rob, please post them in the comments below this video on DomainSherpa and I will ask Rob to come back and answer as many as he can. I also encourage you to take a moment and post a quick thank you to Rob in the comments. He took time out of his day to come on the show, to share his insights on acquiring this fantastic domain name, his brand for the company. You can click on the Twitter. You can click on the Facebook and share it there.
I am going to be the first to thank Rob. Rob Mueller, Founder and Director of FastMail.com. Thank you for coming on the DomainSherpa Show, sharing your insights on how domain names can impact and affect your business, and how you acquired your own phenomenal domain name, and thanks for being a DomainSherpa for others.
Rob: Great. No, thanks for the interview. It was lots of fun.
Michael: Thank you all for watching. We’ll see you next time.
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