The Story of Name Ninja with Bill Sweetman [Interview]
We are continuing the weekly interview series with a domain industry veteran: Bill Sweetman. Bill is the founder of Name Ninja, a domain brokerage and consultancy company. It was a very entertaining and informative interview for us. Thanks to Bill for his sincere answers to our questions.
Who is Bill Sweetman? Can you please tell us more about yourself?
Personally, I’m a proud Canadian living in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. My wife and I have three rescue cats, and I’m a lifelong movie fanatic.
Professionally, I’m the founder of Name Ninja, a boutique domain name brokerage that specializes in helping clients acquire domain names (and social media accounts) that are owned by third parties. Prior to working in the domain industry, I was an executive in the digital marketing field, and prior to that I worked as a producer in the film and TV industry. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked in a variety of creative industries over the course of my career, and I’ve met so many interesting people over the decades.
You said you registered your very first domain in 1994 which you later sold. What was your first domain name and what was the effect of this domain on your domain name related journey?
The first domain I wanted to register, which was the name of my freelance creative consulting company at the time, was not available to register, so I ended up registering my ‘nickname’ instead.
Years later, I was approached by an advertising agency that wanted to buy my domain name since it was similar to their ad agency domain name, and I agreed to sell it to them because they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. That ad agency is no longer around, and the domain (which I cannot disclose) is listed for sale for five times what I was paid for it. I would love to get that domain back, so I have been stalking that domain name ever since. One day it will be mine again, because it was my first domain.
Selling that domain, which was almost an accident for me, made me realize that people place a great deal of value on domain names, and that inspired me to learn more about domain names, how to value them, how to buy them, and how to sell them. As I became fascinated – OK, obsessed – with domain names, my friends and colleagues would come to me for advice about domain names, and eventually I became the ‘go-to’ person within my professional network whenever someone needed help with domain name stuff.
In 2007, I resigned from my role as a vice president at Canada’s largest ad agency to take a job working full-time with domain names. That was the scariest career move I have ever made – walking away from one industry to enter a relatively new one – but also the most rewarding move. It changed my life for the better.
You were the Vice President of Domain Portfolio at Tucows, and as well as General Manager of YummyNames. Can you please let us know more about those days?
Working at Tucows was my first full-time job in the domain industry, and I loved working there since Tucows was, and still is, a very entrepreneurial company. I was hired to help Tucows turn their existing in-house domain portfolio into a scalable and profitable business. They had a fairly good portfolio, but most of the inventory was not priced or listed for sale anywhere, and the portfolio business was not being treated or managed like a proper business.
I had a great team working with me, and we put processes into place, removed inefficiencies, built some amazing internal tools, forged some wonderful partnerships, and launched a consumer-facing brand for the portfolio, which was “YummyNames”. And yes, we sold millions of dollars of domain names a quarter, which was great for a publicly traded company like Tucows. I had a blast working there, but eventually I lured myself away with the chance to be my own boss and focus on one specific area of the domain industry I loved most of all: domain buyer broker work.
You founded “Name Ninja” in 2013. What was the idea behind this name?
It’s funny to admit this, but it probably took me close to a year to come up with the final name of what became Name Ninja. In fact, I delayed the launch of my company because I couldn’t find a name I liked. How ironic! I knew, strategically, that I wanted my brokerage to have “name” in its name, and not “domain” because I wanted to appeal to marketers whereas the word “domain” is more technical. So I figured my company name would be “name[something]” but coming up with that second word was difficult.
One day, I was driving in the country, and I let my mind drift a bit, and I started thinking about my awesome team at Tucows and how I sometimes referred to them as “Ninja” since they had mad technical skills. Suddenly, I thought of combining “name” and “Ninja” and I realized that could be a great name. Unfortunately, someone already owned the domain NameNinja.com, so my first Name Ninja buyer brokerage project was for myself as the client; I had to convince the owner of that domain to sell it to me. Coincidentally, I already knew the owner of the domain, a gifted software engineer with a passion for domain names, and we worked out a deal that everyone was happy with. I chose “Name Ninja” because it has nice alliteration and “Ninja” suggests stealth, expertise, and loyalty to the client, and I knew my creative director would have fun with the branding of my new company.
You say Name Ninja’s primary services are domain name acquisition as domain buyer brokers. What do you do at “Name Ninja”?
I sometimes like to tell people that we help clients get ‘impossible’ domain names, and that is actually a pretty accurate description of what we do. A domain buyer broker represents the buyer and is focused on helping that client acquire domain names that are owned by third parties. I joke that it is a cross between detective work and hostage negotiation. Clients hire us to figure out who owns a domain name, track down that owner, spark a conversation with that owner, and persuade that owner to sell the domain name.
What I love about what we do is every single project is different, and each project has its own unique set of challenges. We also spend a lot of time helping our clients understand the value of domain names and set a realistic budget – or at least we try, LOL – and if we are unable to acquire the client’s first-choice domain name, we will work with that client to identify and acquire a different, and maybe even better, alternative domain name. We also help clients acquire social media handles that are owned by third parties, which is an equally challenging mission and sometimes way harder than domain acquisitions!
I’m sure you have a lot of interesting stories about domain acquisitions. Would you mind sharing a few of them?
We’ve seen and done some crazy stuff over the last seven years. Several times we’ve been asked to help clients buy a domain name owned by a mystery party… only to discover weeks later that the domain is actually owned by the same client; they just didn’t realize they owned it and no one in the client’s company had a record that they owned it!
We’ve also been asked to re-acquire domain names that we originally acquired for a client, but they let them expire, so those clients ended up paying twice to acquire the same domain name. The most fun part of our work is the hunt for the domain owner, especially domain owners who don’t initially respond to us. We will do just about anything that is legal and ethical to get the attention of a domain owner. I’ve sent balloon-agrams, cookie-grams, flowers, pizzas, boxes of chocolate, just about anything you can imagine to domain owner’s homes and businesses to get a response. I’ve even sent Ninja agents in person to intercept domain owners at tradeshows and speaking engagements where we know they will be attending.
Let me put it this way, we Ninja do not like to be ignored, so we will track down a domain owner anywhere in the world in order to get a conversation going with them. Right now I have Ninja agents working for me on five of the world’s seven continents tracking down domain owners. You can run but you can’t hide from the Name Ninja!
What would your advice be for entrepreneurs before naming their companies?
Find a name that will resonate with your customers, even if that name does not appeal to you personally. Too many entrepreneurs are too inward-looking and pick names that have special meaning only to them, or are even about them, but are objectively crappy names and meaningless to their customers.
A great name will convey an emotion or feeling or sense of how your company operates, the experience, not just what your company does. You want a company name that people will still remember the day after they first hear your company name, a name that is distinctive and memorable and resonates in the hearts and minds of the customer.
Process-wise, give yourself plenty of time to find and choose your name, get professional help if you need it, and if you want to get the exact-match .com domain name, which you should since that’s a best practice, I recommend coming up with a two-word company name, ideally with alliteration and with one of the words being related to the service or product you sell. You know, like “Name Ninja”. ;+) I can almost guarantee that if you choose the keyword that is most important for your business, with enough effort you should be able to find a memorable two-word name (and affordable .com domain name) that will resonate with your target market.
For example, if you are in the ticket business, brainstorm around names that use the syntax ticket+[word], and focus on finding words that are the same length and have the same syllables as the primary “ticket” keyword. Even better, find words that start with the same letter, or rhyme with the first word. By focusing on a specific syntax, and spending time with an online dictionary, thesaurus, and my favourite tool, RhymeZone.com, you can probably come up with a great name in a few hours. It takes focus, discipline, and a bit of luck.
What do you think about Dofo?
Back in my Tucows days, I remember having a discussion with my colleagues about how frustrating it was that if we wanted to do a keyword search of the major domain marketplaces and large portfolios of premium domain names, we had to go to about 10 different Websites. We talked about how great it would be if someone would build a tool that allowed the user to search all the major portfolios and marketplaces from one simple dashboard. That was a product we wished existed back then, because it would make finding a premium domain name so much more efficient for entrepreneurs.
Years later, Dofo came along and rocked my world. A search for a keyword domain using specific syntax that would have taken me an hour or more to do in the past I can now complete in five minutes with Dofo. I often recommend Dofo to entrepreneurs who are looking for a name and matching .com domain because, as I tell them, they are almost guaranteed to find a good name and domain that starts or ends with their desired keyword at Dofo because the pool of inventory at Dofo is so large and you can filter by price. Thank you Macit and Sacit for creating Dofo; you have certainly made my professional life easier.
Thanks a lot for the interview Bill. Do you have anything else to say to our readers?
Domain names may not be so attractive, but they can be powerful marketing and branding tools. Don’t underestimate the impact a great domain name can have on your business. That domain name can attract motivated customers, differentiate you from your competitors, and even position your company as the leader in its field. Domain names are a marketer’s secret weapon!
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