Show Title: "DNW Radio: Brian Null of MO.com"
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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Domain Name Wire Radio. Find Domain Name Wire on the web at www.domainnamewire.com. Now here’s your host, Andrew Alleman.
ANDREW: Welcome to Domain Name Wire Radio. Before we get started with today’s show, I’d like to thank our sponsor, Traverse Legal. You can find them on the web at www.traverselegal.com. Also I want to remind you that you can listen to this and any other Domain Name Wire radio shows, as well as read transcripts www.domainnamewire.com/radio. So today on the program we have Brian Null. Welcome to the program.
BRIAN: Thank, Andrew, good to be here.
ANDREW: Brian, I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to us about your latest venture, but also what you have been doing in the domain name industry for a while. So tell us a little bit about how and when you got started with domain names.
BRIAN: I got started back in 99. I was working at corporate America at the time and my wife and I were relocating and I had to look at whether or not I was going to jump back in with another company and start a new career in Colorado. We were moving from St. Louis to Colorado, or what I would be doing with my time when we relocated and at that time my father-in-law put an interesting opportunity in front of me and that was to take a run at building an online business. That online business was a vacation rental property business, focused on the ski area of Colorado. So we took a run at that in 99 and it was fun; it was exciting, but we didn’t make any money at it so I learned a ton during that short venture, but that is when I was really introduced to online business and at the same time I learned a little bit about domain names and that’s where it started then I just kind of went from there.
ANDREW: So, let’s talk about where you went from there, because I think this will be interesting to people. You ended up acquiring some very high-value, generic domain names and creating businesses around them. Is that correct?
BRIAN: Right. What we did after the vacation stuff didn’t pan out, I started developing with my brother and sister developing websites for other people, and we got pretty good at building sites, and I also learned a little bit about buying traffic back in the day with GoTo and if anyone out there remembers GoToâ€¦
ANDREW: Those were the days, penny clicksâ€¦
BRIAN: penny clicksâ€¦that’s all I needed to see was, wait a second I could buy a visitor for a penny? So what that did was it got me real excited about buying traffic, but if you were buying traffic on GoTo, you were a stats junkie. I mean you were in their looking at search volume, conversions, specific terms, long tail, and that was a real educational thing, but what we did was eventually we built an office supply website for ourselves and that was called Ordersuppliesonline.com.
BRIAN: And I was just cranking on buying traffic to it. The first month we put it up we made about $15,000 in sales, the second month we put it up about $30,000, next month about $40,000 and we’re like whooooo this is pretty exciting. So eventually we had to come to the decision are we a web development company or are we an office supply company. Well we were doing a lot better in the office supply stuff than we were as a web dev company so we made the transition and just started focusing on our office supply website. During that time, we dealt with the issues of our name. People just could not remember that Ordersuppliesonline.com, is it officesuppliesonline, is it orderofficesupplies.com? We constantly had our own families couldn’t remember what the name of our business was. So my role in the operation was the buying traffic and looking atâ€¦I was the one into domain names so went looking for a better name, and I think one of the very first, I think I typed in Officesupplies.com and that was owned by Office Depot. I typed in officesupply.com and it was a for sale page. So I literally reached out to a guy on a Friday and he replied he wanted $50,000 for the name. In my mind, I was like awww that’s doable. I didn’t have it, but I was like ok, let’s put this together. In the minds of the other partners, they’re like what? $50,000 for a domain name? So it took a little convincing. I had to make the rounds with the family to get my big on and try to raise some money with family and friends and fortunately some of them believed and we put the money together and we bought Officesupply.com. I just knew at the time it was the game changer for us, and it really was. I mean once we got control of it and transitioned it was just a game changing moment. Our credibility, our image, traffic, all things combined really just went straight up. The graph went up.
ANDREW: With the credibility factor, that interests me a lot. Obviously if you’re calling someone up to potentially to get a partnership and you’re XYZ long domain name, it’s probably much harder than saying, “Hi, we’re with Officesupply.com.
BRIAN: That was the teaching moment to officesupply.com. Getting in to see CEOs of billion dollar companies, getting them on the phone, literally meeting with them in their office. That doesn’t happenâ€¦it can happen if you have other things to leverage, but for me that was the door opener, a conversation starter, officesupply.com taught me that, and the properties I bought since have reinforced it every single time. It’s pretty amazingâ€¦not just opening doors, but in terms of credibility, we were a three person company for a while. We grew to about 10, but I was doing marketing, my sister did the phones and my brother did the development. My sister would take phone calls, or we’d call our customers, or she would, and I just remember the one company which was a 200 employee company that was just so stunned that a company the size of Officesupply.com would call their little 200 employee company, personally to check on the customer, and it was really my sister sitting there in her curlers in the basement. I hope she don’t listen to this thing. Those things were incredible, you know, they just viewed us as a huge company, but in reality it was just 3 of us running it.
ANDREW: Right. So you later sold officesupply.com, I believe to iREIT is that correct?
BRIAN: That is accurate. Yep.
ANDREW: Ok. Then you moved on to your next category killer, right?
BRIAN: Yeah. So officesupply.com also taught me another thing. At work parties, my wife’s work parties, when I told people I was in the office supply business, it would generate the instant yawn and they would move on to talk to the next person. Selling paper clips didn’t have a lot of sizzle. It didn’t have a lot of sizzle for me, personally, either. The next venture was golf, and I love to golf. It is something I have a lot of passion for, and I had actually while we still owned officesupply.com, I was doing some research for office supply stuff and I went back and looked at the old page for officesupply.com and there was a list of other domains that that person owned. One of those names was golflessons.com so I reached out and said, “Hey, any chance you want to sell this one too?â€ Ended up doing a deal on golflessons.com and that got me hooked on what other golf domains were available, and a few people heard the story, but I was just taken back, I think I literally had my feet up on the desk with the keyboard in my lap and typing golfcourses.com and it was “page not foundâ€. There was literally no page on it. That made me sit straight up in my chair and start doing my homework looking at the numbers and they were massive numbers in terms of search volume. It was definitely a good, you know, that was the good overture tool days and I could see this thing is going to come with a lot of traffic, the big name, so long story short over time I was able to come to a price on that and that was $55,000, again, I didn’t have $55,000 handy so I had to have that heart to heart with the wife and say “how do you feel about second mortgaging the house to buy a domain name” and I could tell you it isn’t a conversation you want to have too often, but she’s been extremely supportive and luckily we had just had success with officesupply.com so she was on board. We did that deal and that was my next crowned jewel so we snatched up golfcourses.com, golfersearch.com, and really built a strong portfolio of golf properties and then started building those out.
ANDREW: And what was the culmination there? You sold that as well?
BRIAN: I took a two year run at that and in 2006 in those days I was doing the TRAFFIC domain conferences quite a bit, actually, I sponsored the golf tournaments at the conferences so I had a pretty good presence there and I didn’t even realize I had met a company during the rounds that emailed me later that had interest in adding golfcourses.com in their portfolio that started off seeing if I had interest in a joint venture, and I wrote just one sentence back, you know, send me something, and literally a few days later they had acquired golfcourses.com and they came for the rest of it Part B of the deal and that company was Geosign.
BRIAN: Toronto area.
ANDREW: The Geosign which later ended up being somewhat of a debacle.
BRIAN: Yeah. It’s, you know, Geosign was definitely in the news both good and bad. My experience with Geosign, first of all, they made a great deal for me on the golf properties. The golf stuff I thought I’d be doing for the rest of my life, but they came in and, you know, it was one of those cases they had a passion to similar things, but they had a lot more money than I did so they bought my golf portfolio, and they had real ambitious plans to build those out and at the same time they were looking to acquire more premium internet properties and asked me for my help. And eventually we came to a deal that made sense for both of us and I came in to help them do more acquisitions, and I can tell you, whatever people say about Geosign is they were building a big publishing department and they were really looking to transition into building premium properties into real businesses and they were hiring teams. It was exciting. We were acquiring names like hockey.com and dance.com. People who read the story that went south in a hurry and that company split and I went off to do my own stuff, but I still keep in touch with some of the core people there, and they’re still doing some exciting things.
ANDREW: Right. Right.
BRIAN: It was fun, you know, they asked me to come onboard to help with the acquisitions and being able to help acquire names like hockey.com and dance.com that’s right in my wheelhouse and it excites me doing those kinds of deals from my basement in Columbia, Missouri, was just a thrill for a short time while it lasted.
ANDREW: And now, you know, you talked a little bit about this, but office supply, it’s kind of hard to get jazzed about that, but you love golf. Now if you’re looking out there, a typical domainer has all these domains in their portfolio, and it seems a lot of times people gravitate towards which one they think gets the most traffic or can make the most money as opposed to which one they really care about. I mean how important is it to be passionate about what you’re developing?
BRIAN: I think it helps, you know, anyone who listens to me I say play to your strength. If you are a number cruncher and can knock out a bunch of content, or you know, can really hammer a particular category, go for it, and some people finance is their thing, I wish it was mine, because there is a lot of money to be made there, but I like to say play into your strengths. What works for me, doesn’t work for the next guy. I have to have some interest. With my current thing, Mo.com. It took me a while to where I am now. I bought Mo.com, because I’m in Missouri. It’s the state abbreviation, and I thought I’ll build a site about Missouri. That was interesting, but it just didn’t have the sizzle for me. Eventually, when I had the light bulb go off to make it a site about entrepreneurs that has a ton of sizzle for me. It’s something I truly enjoy talking to domainers. Anyone who has been to a domain conference knows it’s all hours. You’re talking to domainers from morning till the next morning, because it’s so exciting and every domainer is different and the conversations are so incredible. Entrepreneurs, it’s really the same M.O., sorry I had to throw that in there, but once I discovered, hey I’m going to build out a property and focus on the stuff around entrepreneurs. Now it’s, here I am again, I can’t sleep at night, I can’t wait to get up the next day, start, contact entrepreneurs, do the interviews. So the passion for me is important, but at the end of the day most of us including me want to make money at it to, and big money.
BRIAN: So, for me it is trying to find that balance, something I do have a passion about, something I have a little bit of understanding of, but if I can also make some money at it down the road.
ANDREW: Sure. So let’s talk about I’ll call M O dot com since it’s kind of been rebranded.
BRIAN: Thank you.
ANDREW: You know, I’m from St. Louis so my initial thing when I saw it was MO Missouri, right.
BRIAN: You’re from St. Louis, alright.
ANDREW: Yeah, so I grew up there anyway, and so the site — you talked a little bit about it — basically you’re interviewing entrepreneurs to get their story. Who are some of the entrepreneurs that you have interviewed so far?
BRIAN: Well, we were talking about Bruce Marler. Here is an example of one thing works for me, something different works for someone else. Bruce is right here in Missouri and he is operating Missouri.me. I’m a .com guy, that’s been my MO, whoop I’ve thrown that in twice!
ANDREW: You do say that a lot.
BRIAN: It’s worked for me, but Bruce he is playing into his strengths. He’s a great developer, a great marketer, and he is hitting the streets here in Missouri doing that. I think he has a great story. It opens eyes to folks to say hey there are many ways â€¦almost as many entrepreneurs out there there are ways to build a business. Bruce was a fun interview because he is sitting there with Missouri.me and I interviewed him on MO.com. The Johns Wu interview was fantastic. He had a fantastic homerun. He taught me a lot putting his interview up. It taught me a lot about star power as I saw my traffic reallyâ€¦
ANDREW: And for those listening aren’t familiar, Johns Wu founded Bankaholic and sold it to Bankrate for about fifteen million dollars.
BRIAN: Yeah, exactly as a one man show before he turned 23. Really incredible story and that interview I had known him through emails prior, but that interview rekindled some conversations and ultimately led to him joining the effort on MO.com.
ANDREW: So he’s going to collaborate with you then?
BRIAN: Yes, absolutely. He will be on there blogging what he is up to, you know, his strategies, his latest acquisitions, and he is going for some, what I like to think I have some premium stuff or have. He is going after the next level. So it’s exciting to have him on board and we’ll see where that leads to.
ANDREW: So is MO your kind of full time project right now, or are you also still involved with kind of domaining buying and selling and that sort of thing?
BRIAN: Yeah, I’m not doing any buying right now. MO is absolutely all my fun and time are going into that. There is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes on MO. That will be coming out over the coming weeks and that’s absolutely where all my focus is and I’m really trying to throw some tunnel vision on it. I’ve done some ventures in the past where I’ve tried to do a few at the same time and trying to divide my time has not proven to be a very successful strategy for me. I’m not a good multi-tasker. I really need to just grab onto something and sink my teeth into it and attack it. So that’s MO for now for me. Really trying to put the team together and hopefully in the next week we’ll start seeing some real activity on MO.com.
ANDREW: We’ll look forward to seeing that. So. Well listen, Brian, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk here. For those listening that want to check it out, this is probably the easiest domain name and the shortest — MO.com — and on there you will find all these interviews that Brian has done and hopefully over the next week or two we will see some really exciting stuff there as well. Hopefully this will work out bigger than some of your past successes like officesupply.com and your golf portfolio.
BRIAN: Thanks, Andrew.
ANDREW: Thanks so much for your time, Brian.
BRIAN: Take care.
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