Podcast Episode 5: Dot Com

By Paul Ford

Paul Ford: Hi, I’m Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: We’re the co-founders of Aboard. Rich Aboard dot what?

Rich Ziade: Dot com.

Paul Ford: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: That’s right, and that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. We’re gonna talk about acquiring a domain name for our business. So quickly to recap, Aboard is a tool that combines data management and conversation to make everything easier in your life, your whole life. It’s so good, it’s so great. We can’t wait to show it to you.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And it was called– is called, if you go to aboard.io right now, you’ll see the website.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And we had emails @ aboard.io, et cetera, and over the course of the last year, this started to make us feel a little screechy. Maybe it wasn’t right?

Rich Ziade: The dot io?

Paul Ford: Yeah, it, it wasn’t, first of all, it stands for Indian Ocean, which is not where we’re located.

Rich Ziade: We are not, we are based in New York City with a team around the United States and around the world.

Paul Ford: And so aboard.io wasn’t good, but then other things [00:01:00] started to crop up. So it’s really, uh, dot com addresses, email addresses, if you’re sending email-

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: Which a product has to, it has to send like, “Oh, hey, you forgot your password. No worries. Um, get in touch”.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

Paul Ford: Or you have a new notification in your board.

Rich Ziade: Yup.

Paul Ford: Uh, those- Google likes it more, I think if they come from a .com.

Rich Ziade: I think MailChimp also has a better time when the email blasts come from .com emails. Um, look .com is the beginning of the internet, right?

Rich Ziade: Uh, there was an era, in the late nineties called the .com Boom and Bust, um, because everything, it, it meant a lot. And now, dot coms are a scarce commodity. aboard.com, a one word, one word, relatively short url.com is not cheap. In fact, it’s worth noting aboard.io was not [00:02:00] cheap.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziad: Uh, it was, uh, low five figures. I’ll share that. We’re not gonna share how much .com cost, but it was a lot more.

Paul Ford: It was a lot more. Let, let’s give people some parameters. We didn’t spend trillions of our-

Rich Ziade: No, I think people who know this world know that it was a lot of money, but not like earth shattering millions of dollars.

Paul Ford: But also, it came down about three acts over the last year.

Rich Ziade: Pause, don’t say that.

Paul Ford: Okay [chuckles]. 

Rich Ziade: [laughter] Um,

Paul Ford: How? okay, so hold on-

Rich Ziade: There’s a few things worth noting, Paul.

Paul Ford: Let’s, let’s talk through this whole process. So first of all, let’s just say it costs about as much as a car, not like a super fancy car, not like a real cheap car, cost about as much as a car. Whatever that means to you.

Rich Ziade: A very nice car.

Paul Ford: Okay, avery nice car. That’s about right.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.

Paul Ford: And so now, hold on– I don’t think most people have had the experience. So what, what, how do you buy a domain? So, so, so let’s give, first of all, let’s talk about why you might want to get this domain. So first was SEO. Second was just [00:03:00] kind of like, for the impact of it. Any other things come to mind?

Rich Ziade: Um, I, I think yes, if the product or your, whatever your service is or whatever your brand is, is going to be, um, if you want the general public to engage it, uh, you need .com.

Paul Ford: This was actual advice from a good friend, someone we trust very much, who was like, if this is a consumer product, you need the com.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: You should go ahead and get it.

Rich Ziade: And where we are going is definitely for everyone to enjoy the use of Aboard, and hopefully it makes their lives a little bit better, so we needed the. com.

Rich Ziade: There’s no way around it because we want people who aren’t that tech savvy to hit that .com.

Paul Ford: It hurts to spend money for something arbitrary like a set of letters in a database somewhere.

Rich Ziade: That hurts, and I want to get into how we, the thought process for a startup to think about that, cause it wasn’t insignificant the amount of money we had to spend.

Rich Ziade: The other thing worth mentioning is [00:04:00] just how back alley the whole process is.

Paul Ford: Pause there, right? And let’s talk about that process.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So, so most people, let’s-

Rich Ziade: But first hit the URL. You might find a com, like I- oracle.com, which would be an amazing company name, simply not gonna be available for anyone ever.

Paul Ford: No, that’s right. So, okay, I, we have aboard.io. We’d already seen that aboard.com was for sale. It was very expensive and so on, so, and we weren’t ready to-

Rich Ziade: But it was kind of opaque. It was, it’s worth mentioning it was like, “This domain might be for sale” and there’s like a shitty form on it.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. There’s no-

Rich Ziade: It’s really bad.

Paul Ford: There are no standards in this industry except for the standard for the transaction, which we’ll get to in a second.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So very arbitrary as to if it’s for sale, who owns it?

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: How long they’ve had it? et cetera. So you, what do you do? You send them an email, and what’s the email say?

Rich Ziade: “Hey, I’m interested in this” and, and, [00:05:00] and I sent it from my personal email. I don’t want them to know that I have a successful company. I didn’t really share who I was or what I was doing.

Rich Ziade: Um, uh, it was like, “I’m interested in your domain name”. And then they come back and, uh, they put a number forward, or I forget if we put the number forward, we put a number forward, outlandishly low, uh, they yelled at us, uh, and they said, here’s what we’re willing to do it for. And it was astronomical.

Paul Ford: Well, and you get, they also, there’s a lot of comparables. They’ll be like, “Hey, and, and dogs.com just sold for 30 trillion dollars”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, they love showing you comparables. They love– I mean, it’s a classic sales moot tactic, right? Which is “you’re like the fifth person asking for this domain today” [in unison]. Yeah, yeah, so there’s, they’re trying to create that anxiety of missing out.

Paul Ford: There’s, there’s a secondary reality, which is you can look around and there aren’t other companies called Aboard, and you’re like, okay, well we’re in a tran- we’re, we’re gonna exchange little bits of information over time.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.

Paul Ford: [00:06:00] And so emails back and forth CC’d. I’m CC’d on all of them. Um, and uh, just a so classic negotiation. It took a while, it takes a long time.

Rich Ziade: Well, we walked.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Uh, classic negotiation advice, um, there’s, it’s very powerful when you walk away, right?

Paul Ford: Well, there, there is a reality here.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: Which is that there are many ways for us to be successful without owning this domain name.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So it wasn’t, we were never over a barrel.

Rich Ziade: No, no, and uh, the numbers they sort of drew a hard line on were just way too high economically. Like if Aboard had taken off, then we would’ve had to bite the blood, which by the way, a lot of startups have to do.

Paul Ford: You see it.

Rich Ziade:They have to go back and go get, they have to go get it.

Paul Ford: You see, you’ll see places with like .so and .xyz.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and then they gotta go pay a couple million bucks.

Paul Ford: Then you go to the actually the .com address and it redirects to the other one.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Because they had to go buy it, their VCs were, and here’s [00:07:00] why. Here’s the real, here’s the real risk, okay? We’re gonna double down on this thing. We really believe in it, we love it. We’re gonna go live this year. At which point someone can send and then, you know, let’s say you’re gonna let somebody pay you to access this service?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Somebody can go take that .com and you’ll never know who, and they can send an email to anyone in the world saying, “Hey, you’re late, I need your credit card”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And if your, if your product is successful, how are you gonna communicate and control that message to your customers?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: If you own it, and you say, “Hey, send me, you know, your, your bills late@aboard.com, all to the good”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: But you are just very, very exposed because of this fundamental, shadowy way that all this stuff works.

Rich Ziade: It, that’s real and, it, you know, by, it’s a cost benefit. You have to kind, it’s this kind of calculation you have to make. We’re not successful enough.

Paul Ford: You and I hate this part though. I, we looked each other in the eyes many times over drinks and we’re like, let’s not do this. This is [00:08:00] terrible. Don’t do it. Don’t buy this domain.

Rich Ziade: Well, it feels ridiculous.

Paul Ford: It’s, you’re buying absolute air for a lot of money.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it, and it’s also you and I, we didn’t grow up with a lot of money. Like it, it’s money that you could use to buy shoes or hats.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes. And, and look, for a long time it was not on our minds.

Paul Ford: True.

Rich Ziade: And then in the December-ish timeframe, they made an overture.

Paul Ford: It’s true it is holidays, everybody needed to get some new, uh-

Rich Ziade: Whether it’s year end revenue in the can or whatever it is.

Paul Ford: Stocking stuff, and let’s be clear, we don’t know what we’re dealing with. Are we dealing with a company, a family, a holding company?

Rich Ziade: The Mafia?

Paul Ford: No, you have no idea.

Rich Ziade: It’s unclear. It’s just very– there was a broker in the middle. It was very unclear who was selling it.

Paul Ford: The emails are all from Gmail.

Rich Ziade: The emails are all from Gmail, so it’s all kind of shady. But there is a process which we could talk about.

Paul Ford: Well, let, and actually, let’s be clear, I don’t want to give them, uh, I don’t want to cast any aspersions. It’s not shady, like every, all the-

Rich Ziade: It’s just the way it works.

Paul Ford: It’s classic sales, [00:09:00] right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: Like it’s just– but you have no idea what the other entity is.

Rich Ziade: Feels scare, right? Like a little bit.  

Paul Ford: Wait, you’re just, you’re, you’re talking about big numbers.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: With who could be, and if you Google these people, kind of nothing comes up, and-

Rich Ziade: Yeah. So they came back, um, a number that was a little more down the earth, but was still too high for us also. I’ll share, uh, I’ll share something about how I viewed negotiations, Paul. I can tell when someone has sort of exposed their soft underbelly.

Paul Ford: Yeah, me too. We, we got there.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: We got there. We got to the point where it was like, yeah, this is probably, we’re not getting to the point where it’s probably within two to three acts of what they paid.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and, and we reached out and said, “here is our number. We’re not that far apart. Do not counter offer. That’s not why we’re, we’re not floating this number. We will get this done for [00:10:00] this number”.

Paul Ford: I do wanna say nothing.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, they walked again.

Paul Ford: Nothing says, I encourage everyone in your life at least once or twice to say, “this is our final offer” because it’s a, it’s a, it’s a beautiful thing cause there’s no such thing.

Rich Ziade: Guess what they did?

Paul Ford: They counter offered.

Rich Ziade: They counter offer, every time. And then we said no, and then there was silence for about five days. And then they reached back out and they said, the thing that you love to hear if you’re looking to acquire a thing, they said, “If we agree to your number, how quickly can you get it done?”.

Paul Ford: There you go…

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: That’s right… baby-

Rich Ziade: And It was like I think a Tuesday and we said, “by end of week, we can get it done”.

Paul Ford: Baby needs new shoes.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] And so we took the plunge. It didn’t, it still was a lot of money, but it didn’t feel like a fleecing-

Paul Ford: It wasn’t a fleeing, it’s a, it, it has-

Rich Ziade: It was fine. 

Paul Ford: Instant obvious brand value. It’s good, it’s okay. And it, it’s just one of those things that I now [00:11:00] will think back on and go, “eh”, as opposed to “what were we thinking?”, “Eh”.

Rich Ziade: I, I’m hoping that, you know, Aboard sees, you know, beautiful growth and then we turn and say, “boy, weren’t we smart?”.

Paul Ford: Listen, I, I don’t even care about that. Frankly, my life is so much easier as the sort of storyteller around this thing. If I can say aboard.com, just-

Rich Ziade: .com, I hear that.

Paul Ford: It’s just something I don’t have to explain. It’s, it’s hard to articulate how little things like that just make so much diff- because you don’t have to say it thousands of times.

Rich Ziade: The job of good technology, and good technology experiences is reducing friction. If you’re finding yourself explaining the steps, you’ve, you’re already gonna, like, you need to lop off a good chunk of the population that could be interested in your tool.

Paul Ford: Alright now you’re-

Rich Ziade: you gotta be able to say it.

Paul Ford: You’re about to give a stranger lots of money. You’re about to buy a, a car made of air.

Rich Ziade: Let me tell you about escrow.com.

Paul Ford: Okay. So what is it? So they have the domain name registered at a domain name, registrar.[00:12:00]

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.

Paul Ford: There’s escrow.com.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And then there’s us and we are ready to transfer money through some transfer process. Literally, a wire transfer.

Rich Ziade: It’s a wire transfer.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: It goes to a third party inter-intermediary in this case, escrow.com. They hold, the money.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Uh, meaning the, the, the seller doesn’t have it yet. And then, uh, they confirm that they have it and they tell the seller, release the domain and we have to verify that you’ve released, you’ve relinquished control of it.

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: Such that it can be transferred to us. Then they notify us and they say “you have the domain, you have been cleared to get the domain, go grab it,” and then, it’s the equivalent of eating out of a garbage pale.

Paul Ford: It is a weird feeling, It is a rough one [laughter]. I’ve done a lot of various transactions in my life, like they’ve all been, and this is, everything was clean and tidy, it just was weird.

Rich Ziade: GoDaddies, Look, it’s not just about [00:13:00] GoDaddy by the way– just the whole like way domains are policed in the world it’s preposterous.

Paul Ford: I hate all of it.

Rich Ziade: It’s all bad. It’s all bad, anyway, not GoDaddies for– not hating on GoDaddy here, they all kind of suck this way. We finally gained control.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Our, our co-founder and CTO, uh, Adam told us, “Yep. It’s in our hands”.

Paul Ford: “I got it”. Weird moment too cause it’s like, really? Are you sure? How can you be sure?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and then you go back on escrow.com and you click a button and say, “yes, I’ve got it”.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Once you say, yes, I’ve got it. Uh, they confirm that the registrar and the, the process of transfer has completed and then they release the money, they release the escrow money, out to the seller.

Paul Ford: It’s weird because I keep thinking, what if it was my next– 

Rich Ziade: And the seller is saying, “thank you very much”.

Paul Ford: Yeah, “good luck with your business”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: It was all very, you know, it’s all real nice after, and so truly a surreal experience.

Rich Ziade: Well, it felt like nothing happened.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And yet for us, something significant had happened. It’s a bizarre [00:14:00] thing. It’s a gr- we do believe, we do feel like we have it. Look, we may be on the other side of this one day. We may be selling this domain one day, and to be frank, we’ll be, we’ll probably be using a similar process. It’s the only, you know, surefire way, I mean, look there, look, you know– whether you look at it as an expensive car or a cheap house, it’s a lot of money getting transferred on the internet, which is bananas.

Paul Ford: It is a, it’s a difficult asset for our wiring because it’s, it’s so fundamentally illiquid. Like it really depends on a market existing for that particular domain.

Rich Ziade: There will be a market for it. I had another domain name that I bought for, I, I sold for seven times what I bought it for, and it was thousands of dollars when I bought it.

Paul Ford: Sure, sure.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I mean, look, uh, there are people who do this for a living. We don’t, um, and, but it is an asset, it is like having, uh, you know, a piece of intellectual property or a piece of hardware in your office. It’s an asset that you own now. Um, shifting to how you think [00:15:00] about money at a startup. 

Paul Ford: Yeah, tricky.

Rich Ziade: I don’t, that’s not this podcast, but there is, you know, we come from such a different culture that’s actually driven by short term money.

Paul Ford: When you say that, you don’t mean Lebanon or Ireland. You mean agency, we ran an agency.

Rich Ziade: We ran an agency, which was like, go get money. You didn’t get money last month? Go get money this month.

Paul Ford: It’s just agency is just capitalism in its purest form. I, I-

Rich Ziade: What a beautiful definition.

Paul Ford: Goods and services will be delivered to the client, and the client-

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: will pay money, and that will, that will pay for labor.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: And then there, there might be a margin on top of that that you use to grow the agency, pay yourself, and pay others.

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: Um, what’s different about this experience for me as someone that comes out of agency is I don’t have the comforting security blanket of the occasional large check that comes in right away.

Rich Ziade: Like we were making money, we weren’t wildly profitable. We were making money within a couple months of starting an agency because they’re paying you for goods and [00:16:00] services. Here, it’s like “weeee” like, let’s see where this all goes, and on top of that, let’s go buy an expensive domain name. So it’s all a little scary.

Paul Ford: It’s a lot, but at the same time, with the agency, we were renting an office and we were way ahead of our skis and all of that. And I remember that same sense of we, weeee, um, the only way out is work.

Rich Ziade: The only way out is work, eventually a revenue plan. A money making plan has to come into the picture. Look, I’m, I’m new to the classic tech startup world for a lot of tech startups.

Rich Ziade: In the past, you were discouraged from making profits. You were instead told to optimize for growth.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And then worry about profits later. The promise is you can always turn a few dials once you’re big enough. And just make money. That’s the dream. Um, but that’s, you gotta understand for somebody coming from agency that’s completely alien and insane, and I wanna talk on another podcast. I wanted to save this podcast [00:17:00] for the Dot com.

Paul Ford: Dot com. 

Rich Ziade: And here we are.

Rich Ziade: But I wanna talk on another podcast about how you think about burn. They call it burn, which is hilarious.

Paul Ford: It is good, and what’s, what’s the aloe that you can smear on your burn?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So, okay, so Rich, let’s call it on this one. Um, if somebody wanted to get in touch with us, what should they email?

Rich Ziade: Hello@aboard.com

Paul Ford: That’s right, that’s working. I don’t know if the, there are a few issues with getting the website over to, um, aboard.com, so it might still be @aboard.io. Check it out either way.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: But, uh, we will talk to everyone soon. Get in touch, hello@aboard.com. That does see, it does, see it rolls off the tongue.

Rich Ziade: It what?

Paul Ford: It rolls off the tongue.

Rich Ziade: aboard.com?

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: It’s a great domain name.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s a good domain.

Rich Ziade: I mean, it’s A B O A R D six character real word .com. There’s not many of those.

Paul Ford: Pretty exciting.

Rich Ziade: Yes, have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye.