50 Years: The Story of Richard Lau, Logo.com Founder [Interview]
We are continuing the interview series with Richard Lau. He is an entrepreneur and a well-known person in the domain name industry. He has had a lot of interesting stories for the past 30 years.
This is a very informative interview for us. Thanks to Richard for his sincere answers to our questions.
Who is Richard Lau? Can you please tell us more about yourself?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur and love talking about business ideas. It’s easy to pontificate about how you’d do something better – but when it comes to implementing it, you meet the reality of life and that’s where persistence and tenacity come in to play.
I just turned 50 years old and have been married for almost 30 years. I live in Vancouver with my wife and two sons and of course, my two cats. I survived colon cancer 20 years ago this year, and I’m celebrating that with a 200km, two day bike ride to raise $20,000 for Cancer Research (see: Lau.com).
Starting new businesses has been part of my life since I was young. Beeper business, domain name registrars, domain name investing, resume building, conference business, and now logo design. Life is a journey and I’m enjoying it!
When and how did your domain name story begin?
Back in the late 1990s, I was running a beeper business and a business partner left to startup a dial-up internet provider. He had customers who needed domain names registered and the typical charge was $150 over and above the annual fee. So, as a side-hustle, I started a service called DomainsDirect.com where you could search for and register domain names for $20, and you’d receive an invoice via postal mail for the annual fees from the Internic. Yes, this was pre-Network Solutions days! I offered URL and email forwarding as up-sells. It’s kind of cool to use Archive.org to look back at my first real website.
I registered the singular version as well, but about a year later, I let DomainDirect.com drop and was surprised to see Tucows pick it up, and launch an almost identical service to my DomainsDirect.com. So, being a one-man show, I renamed my service YourNameFree.com and redirected DomainsDirect.com visitors to my new site:
See my “WE ARE NOT DOMAINDIRECT.COM, WE ARE DOMAINSDIRECT.COM” disclaimer on the page from 1999. There’s an early lesson I learned first-hand about defensive registrations and trademark considerations.
I love the people at Tucows, and went on to be the first client of their OpenHRS system and in a great twist of fate, we at Logo.com are working with Hover.com (formerly DomainDirect).
Anyway, back to the story, after my name change to YourNameFree.com, I was able to get listed in Yahoo’s directory service (remember that before Yahoo was a search engine, it was a simple directory) for Free Domain Name Registration. Getting listed on Yahoo exploded the upsells of email forwarding and URL forwarding and I was then able to bring on staff, started a registrar called NamesDirect.com, and bought the MyDomain.com free DNS service. In the span of a couple of years, I went from literally launching DomainsDirect.com as a side-hustle to having a top 30 registrar with 30 staff. It was an incredible experience but I lost it all.
In the summer of 2000, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and was told I had 6 to 18 months to live. I sold and merged my websites into Namezero for stock, which turned out to be a terrible decision. Fast forward a year and while I’m miraculously recovered from the big C, they were selling the assets and paying off creditors. I walked away with a severance package and my health. That’s when I turned lemons into lemonade and became a full-time domain investor. Working from home, talking online with the likes of Stevan Sacks, Adam Strong, Phil McKegney, Richard Kirkendall, and everyone on Rick Schwartz’s message board, I had a new lease on life. No staff, no offices, and attending conferences around the world.
I bought and sold domain names daily and absolutely became addicted to the friendly camaraderie of the domain industry. Over the years, I built up my own portfolio, but really in those early years, I rarely hand-registered any domains. I operated almost entirely in buying domains off registrants and selling them to larger domainers or end-users. It’s funny to hear someone say “oh, you have <insert a one-word domain name here>, you are so lucky to have registered that early!” In actual fact, the only one-word domain that I was able to hand-register was my surname: Lau.com. And to do that, I stayed by my computer for almost 3 days straight, submitting an email application every few minutes to register the domain. At the time, I had no idea how “the drop” worked, didn’t know how to automate emails, and was using a 14,400 baud modem to dial into my ISP each time!
I know you own very high-value domain names. Do you invest in domain names? What are the domain names you are most happy to own?
Yes, I see domain names like real estate. I try to diversify my investments so that I don’t have all of my eggs in domain names. I’ve sold a lot of domain names that I look back on and wish I’d not sold. About ten years ago I sold a lot of one-word domains for about 1/10th what they’d fetch today. And one of the domains I sold back then has an Estibot.com valuation of $15,047,000. I sold it (at a public domain auction) for less than I bought it for. That domain? Weed.com. I guess not everything I touch turns to gold, at least, not while I owned it.
Having said that, I’ve had more successes than failures in holding high-value domain names. I’ve lost money on some by paying too much when purchasing them. However, my gems in my portfolio today are ones that I am extremely proud of acquiring: Face.com, Short.com, Hockey.com, Rye.com, GLD.com, and of course, Logo.com.
You acquired Resume.com in 2007 and then sold it later. What was the story behind Resume.com?
Richard Kirkendall and I met at an ICANN Event in Rome in 2004, and a few years later we bought Resume.com and Resumes.com together. It took a few tries, but we built a world-leading resume builder as a real business. By the time we sold it to Indeed in 2018, our office in Vancouver had double-digit staff and we’d built the user base to over 4 million. It sounds simple, but in reality, it was a tremendous amount of sweat, work, and sleepless nights.
Your latest project is Logo.com. How is it going? What are you doing on Logo.com?
We are having an amazing time building our automated logo maker on Logo.com. I am a big believer in local teams. When we built Resume.com we learned a lot of lessons about the best way to build industry-leading tools and we are applying those to our build-out of Logo.com. The pain-point that we are looking to solve is the time and expense facing entrepreneurs and small businesses who are looking for a new logo.
Our algorithms enable a visitor to simply input their name and industry and then view dozens and dozens of professional logo designs. We use our algorithm to guess what your business is about and provide the most relevant logos for your brand. The timeline is cut from two or three weeks down to just a few minutes. And the expense is reduced from hundreds of dollars down to less than $20 for our starting package of logo files. With Logo.com there’s nothing to pay until and unless we create a design that you love.
We aim to turn the logo design industry on its head by enabling entrepreneurs to get online faster than ever before. We’re even including free domain names and soon will have website building tools as well. Our mission is to enable entrepreneurs and small business owners to take care of their branding and online presence in just a few minutes so they can focus on their business.
According to the public records, the logo.com domain name was purchased for $500,000, 10 years ago. Was it you, or did you buy the domain name later?
Yes, that was us. As I’ve touched on earlier, all great one-word .com domains cost significant dollars to acquire. We value the domain name today at north of $2M. Add on the business and IP that we’ve built and you can see that the value of Logo.com as a business is far more than the original purchase price for the domain name itself.
What is next?
I’ve really got my head down on Logo.com with the occasional glance at my domain portfolio and real estate investments. To build a successful business, you need focus, and my focus is on Logo.com.
What are the effects of using one word and generic domain names such as resume.com and logo.com in new projects?
Instant credibility. No matter who you are dealing with, they instantly know that you are not doing this as a test, or a side-gig. You’re not just a hackathon project that you are tossing up on ProductHunt.com to test the waters. You are using a category-defining name and delivering exactly what a first-time visitor would expect to find. We aren’t using Logo for a ride-sharing service, or the next meal-planning service. At Logo.com you are going to find logos and lots of them. At Resume.com you will be able to build and host your resume. It’s a simple and extremely effective use of resources.
When I was running Resume.com and wanted to meet with a $300M competitor, I sent a one-line message via Linkedin to their CEO and received a reply within 15 minutes. If our name was ResumeMountain.com I am confident that I wouldn’t have received any reply at all. The power in a one-word category-defining domain name is one of the most underestimated, and underutilized resources available to startup companies. And you don’t have to shell out hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. There are many one-word .com domains available under monthly payment plans like what Kevin Ham’s Venture.com runs. Imagine you run a temp service specializing in receptionist positions. Why go with ReceptionistMountain.com when you can rent Receptionists.com for $500 per month? (See: https://venture.com/domains/receptionists.com).
What can you say about naming a new company or project? What would your advice be for entrepreneurs before naming their companies?
Let’s grab a chair and chat this out. Just kidding, but there are a few things that I see entrepreneurs doing wrong that are easy to avoid. Many others have covered things like the length of a domain, the radio-test, and various extensions so I won’t go over those here. But I’d add that you can have one “hack” but not two. For example, if you are going with an extension other than .com then you must use fully spelled words. If you are going with .com, then you can drop a vowel. But don’t do both. Twittr.com is fine. But Twittr.xyz is not ok. Go with Twitter.xyz instead.
As a real-life example, there was a competitor to Soothe.com that launched here in Vancouver, and they used the domain name Pampr.co. Obviously that’s a play on the dictionary word “Pamper”. Options they should have considered could have been Pampr.com or Pamper.co. But Pampr.co is a two-hack domain, and that spells failure IMHO. Just don’t do it. Don’t let your friends do it. Don’t even let your enemies do it. It just is bad for everyone.
“One hack, OK. Two hacks, NOT OK. Zero hacks = the BEST.”
What do you think about Dofo?
I use and refer people to Dofo.com for the speed and clarity of the search results when looking for a domain. Many competing platforms are cluttered with upsells and are slow. So slow that I wonder if the systems are slowed down intentionally in some kind of sales psychology. Anyway, I love Dofo for the speed and clarity.
The Lists (https://dofo.com/lists) section is fun to browse through, and extremely useful when talking to non-domain investors who are looking for a domain name. The modern interface and advanced search filters are intuitive and easy to use. It makes my life easier when trying to educate buyers on what premium domains are available to purchase.
Thanks a lot for the interview, Richard. Do you have anything else to say to our readers?
Growing NamesCon from an idea to the world’s largest domain conference now run by GoDaddy was no accident. Growing Resume.com from a domain name to a business now run by Indeed was a hands-on lesson in business building. So, I invite your readers to come by Logo.com and see what we are up to now. I’m hoping you’ll find a tool that will help you get a new logo quickly and inexpensively!
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