Domain Industry and DNAcademy with Michael Cyger [Interview]
We are continuing the interview series with Michael Cyger. He published more than 400 interviews in his blog, DomainSherpa, before founding DNAcademy.
We really enjoyed this interview. Thanks to Michael for his sincere answers to our questions.
Who is Michael Cyger? Can you please tell us more about yourself?
I’m a father, husband, friend, engineer, entrepreneur, facilitator, and teacher.
When I set my mind to accomplish something, I work as hard as I can to do so. One year I ran at least 3 miles every day for 365 days. Another year I called my mom every week at the same time, on the dot. A couple of years ago I learned to walk on my hands (it took me 5 months to accomplish). Last year I ran 323 miles across Washington state, unassisted, from Seattle to Spokane in about two weeks (mike.run chronicled it).
I enjoy meeting people, traveling, learning about the world around us, soaking up the sun on a beach, and a cocktail with friends. I am looking forward to the day we find a vaccine for COVID-19 so that I can get back to sharing life with extended family and friends again.
How did you get into domain names?
I was completing my master’s degree at UC Berkeley when the internet was being commercialized. My first recollection of a domain name was my faculty advisor’s web page, which had a strange URL full of convoluted directories and included a tilde symbol. When I returned to corporate America in 1997, email was becoming mainstream and so the idea of having a domain name, required for sending emails, was also becoming more familiar.
In 1998, I started consulting for the Mining Company (miningco.com), which used people to write authoritative articles and “mine the internet” for the best resources. When the company changed its domain name and brand to About.com, that introduced me to the idea that a shorter, one-word domain name was more desirable.
When I considered buying my last name as a domain name at the end of 1999, by that time the .com was taken (five months earlier, of course – what luck! ? ). I bought the .org version and was happy for a while…until people started mistakenly sending me emails to the .com. (I was eventually able to acquire cyger.com twelve years later.)
In March 2000 I started my own online publishing company about the process improvement methodology called Six Sigma, and I needed a domain name for the business. Since the generic phrase SixSigma.com was already registered at the time (since January 1996), I looked at alternatives. In 2000, it seemed like every company was either prefixing an “e” or an “i” in front of their name, so I followed suit and hand registered iSixSigma.com since eSixSigma.com was already registered.
You published more than 400 interviews on DomainSherpa. What was the story of DomainSherpa? What brought you to start it?
I built and grew iSixSigma.com and a few related business process-related publishing companies from 2000 to 2008 and was fortunate to have a company sale and exit in 2008. After my earn-out from the acquiring company, I started angel investing in startups in Seattle and discovered that many of those companies had questions about domain names because the domain name industry was opaque and difficult to understand.
So I started DomainSherpa.com as a way to respectfully interview the most successful domain name investors in the world, find the answers to questions I had, and help entrepreneurs value, negotiate and acquire their perfect domain names.
The concept of DomainSherpa was simple: do a ton of pre-interview research, formulate interesting and thoughtful questions, focus all the curiosity on the interviewee, don’t make any judgments or include any bias, have an active appetite for learning, and make the interviewee look like a rock star.
As a result of all the interviews – in addition to the knowledge I gained from the generous experts who shared their experience – I formed deep and lasting friendships with people all over the world. I feel really blessed about that.
After a 5.5-year continuous run, I decided to retire from the show and was fortunate that Andrew Rosener, Tess Diaz, and the Media Options team wanted to continue the mission and acquired DomainSherpa. They do a fantastic job producing educational shows on a regular basis. DomainSherpa is always the first show I listen to on Monday mornings.
Do you invest in domain names?
Over the years, I’ve invested in four of the six different types of domain names, but in 2019 I decided to focus on generic, single-word .com domains that are great brands for a company – names like Brew.com, Tulip.com, and Important.com that I’ve sold, and names like Dragonfly.com, Pyramid.com, and Diagnose.com that I still own today.
I’m actively working to reduce the quantity of my portfolio while increasing the quality. My investing strategy is not right for everyone, but it’s perfect for me right now and will allow me to create the type of life I want for the next 20 years.
What is DNAcademy? What do you teach there and who is your target audience?
DNAcademy is an accelerated, online learning course for domain name investing.
I believe DNAcademy to be the most comprehensive training program ever created, and includes lessons, video tutorials, self-assessments, tools, templates, guides, a sales case study library, a legal agreement library, a standard operating procedure library, a domain name tax guide, and a domain name valuation system.
In addition to training more than 1,000 individual investors since 2016, DNAcademy is the chosen corporate training provider for domain name brokers at GoDaddy, Sedo, and Uniregistry.
Our primary target audience is new domain name investors and brokers but even a veteran recently said, “Having been a domain investor for the last 15 years, I believed I knew (almost) everything about domain name investing. Boy was I wrong.”
What is the thing that new domain investors don’t know but you wish they’d know? What’s the most common mistake you see among new domain investors?
Regardless of the asset class, investors should spend time understanding the market, the players, the forces, and how everything functions. This takes time, so investing money too quickly carries a great deal of risk, and making a costly, wrong decision can turn a new investor into a former investor.
Long-term wealth creation in any industry, including domain names, takes persistence, consistency, and at least 5+ years.
New investors should follow and listen to proven investors, not nameless avatars on the web. And they should look beyond the glitz of an individual sale to try to understand (or at least think critically about) the full revenue and expense of the domain name portfolio that the sale came from.
Finally, new investors need to form relationships in the industry so they can network and ask people for advice. Going alone makes for a long, arduous, and lonely journey.
What is next? 🙂
I’m really enjoying teaching domain name investing and improving my skills in the process so that’s what I’m continuing to spend my time on.
I’m always thinking about ways to add more value for students, so we’ve been improving our tools and technology, and have recently launched the DNAcademy Accelerator program to pair online asynchronous learning with live virtual classroom training over an 8-week period.
What can you say about naming a new company or project? What would your advice be for entrepreneurs before naming their companies?
I would follow the brainstorming process identified in Chapter 5 of “Hello My Name is Awesome” by Alexandra Watkins, a great resource recommended to me by DNAcademy’s teaching assistant Aline Carriere.
Then, from the shortlist, I would – in parallel – investigate the availability of domain names and their pricing, registered trademarks, and availability of appropriate social media handles for the business (not all social media networks are necessary, and the decision is based on the business, industry and customer types).
Evaluate the pros and cons, consider required defensive registrations for each option, set a priority list and budget, organize your options, and start down the list to negotiate a purchase.
Spend appropriate time on this task. It should take a few weeks at a minimum, and likely a few months, to do properly.
What do you think about Dofo?
Great companies turn data into actionable insights that people can use to make decisions. It’s clear that is the mission of Dofo.
In particular, I use Dofo to:
- Determine the registered extension count and details because usage is one factor that indicates desirability.
- See where a domain name is listed for sale and with what prices because every marketplace is an opportunity for discovery and sales.
- Quickly view whois history – while this takes years to build this type of database, it’s clear that it’s part of your mission and is in development.
It seems that every time I use Dofo, there’s another aspect that’s either new or that I haven’t discovered yet, such as searching by “Domains in Auction” and “Domains Available Soon.” Dofo continues to innovate, which is wonderful to see in the industry.
Thanks a lot for the interview, Michael. Do you have anything else to say to our readers?
As the world continues to move commerce online, there will be more buyers and sellers of domain names. Not everyone wants to learn the intricacies of valuing, buying, selling and negotiating domain names, so I believe demand for domain name brokers – the equivalent of physical real estate agents – will continue to grow over time.
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