I am starting a new monthly series highlighting founders of companies that make software that I myself know and love. So it should probably come as no surprise that to kick things off I decided to pick Doron Vermaat, founder of the popular domain name service Efty.com. Last year I had the chance to sit down with Doron over lunch in Hong Kong to talk more about his inspiration for the company and the genesis of Efty and I thought his experience getting started would be something my readers would all really enjoy.
Ready to dive in? Here we go – Doron, I have some questions for you!
[MORGAN] When did you first come up with the idea for Efty?
[DORON] I started investing in domain names in 2012 and the moment my portfolio started to grow I found it was difficult to stay organized, track renewals, expenses and measure my performance (was I making a profit, or not?). At the same time, I started looking for a tool to help me better present and sell my names by using good-looking For-Sale landing pages instead of parking them with pay-per-click ads that hardly made me any money. I also thought it was ridiculous to pay commissions on sales when they happened through direct navigation (when a buyer types in your domain name directly in their browser). When I found there was no solution on the market to help you manage, organize as well as sell your domains without paying a commission I realized there was an opportunity and the idea for Efty was born.
[MORGAN] How long did it take from having the idea to starting on the development?
[DORON] Not long. It just so happened that Lionel, who’s my technical co-founder, and I were looking for the right idea to start a business. We’re long-time friends and we thought that building a business together would be a great “excuse” to travel and see each other more often since I had moved from the Netherlands to Hong Kong several years earlier. So when I came up with the idea for Efty Lionel hopped on a plane to Hong Kong right away and we started working on Efty in November 2013.
[MORGAN] When it comes to building software, everything tends to take longer than you expect. How long did you think it would take to build v1 vs how long it actually took?
[DORON] I can’t really remember if we had a timeline set but while I started to create some buzz and build a list of domain name investors that wanted to help us beta-test the platform, Lionel shipped the first version of the software within 6 months. We launched a private beta version of Efty in May 2014.
[MORGAN] What have you done to get user feedback?
[DORON] Efty is being built around user feedback which we’re very grateful for. We actively ask for feedback at any chance we get. When we publish on our blog, when we attend conferences, in our email onboarding, within the application itself and also while we deal with customer support. Domain name forum NamePros.com has also been invaluable for us to get early and ongoing feedback from the community.
[MORGAN] How do you decide which feedback to act on?
[DORON] A big part of my job is to be in constant contact with our users to gather feedback and then try to filter out and prioritize the most popular requests. We act on feedback when we’re confident that a new feature will add value to the fast majority of our users, not just a segmentation of them. I try to keep in mind that often “less is more” and building an application that is too feature rich can also scare some users who get turned off by too many bells and whistles.
[MORGAN] What has been the high point of running Efty so far?
[DORON] I love hearing from users how much more money they’ve made after switching to Efty and sell domain names directly without paying a commission. We don’t have access to sales data at Efty so it’s always awesome hearing from users who closed sales with the help of the platform while saving a huge amount of money otherwise paid in commision. Another great win for us was bringing Michael Cyger into the company as an advisor and investor. His alignment with our vision for Efty and how it helps create better domain name investors was a great confirmation that we were on the right track and his advice and support over the years are priceless.
[MORGAN] What has been the low point?
[DORON] Since Efty only charges a small monthly or annual fee instead of a commision on sales, we’re essentially a hosting company. You pay us, we host your For-Sale landing pages and marketplace site. This business model caused a lot of stress and anxiety during a time we were growing at such a rapid pace that we were starting to experience some serious scaling issues last year. Luckily we managed to turn the tide and Lionel did a brilliant job getting Efty in shape for the next phase of its growth.
[MORGAN] Can you share a new feature you’re working on now?
[DORON] We’re currently working on bringing Google Analytics visitor stats inside the Efty application so you don’t have to leave the site anymore to check your traffic stats and we’re also working on integration Escrow Pay into the platform. There’s another, very exciting, partnership in the works which I hope we can share more about later this month.
[MORGAN] If you could go back and do one thing differently what would it be?
[DORON] There are many things I am sure but that is the great thing about a startup, you learn so much along the way and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I have to choose one however it would be an earlier focus on turning Efty into the sales platform it is today. We spend a lot of time and resources in the early days on hard-to-scale and costly domain name management features.
[MORGAN] Tell us something about you that we probably don’t know
[DORON] I also spend a significant amount of my time building and growing another SaaS business called Loopy Loyalty. We’re the worlds only blockchain backed web application to create and manage digital stamp cards for Apple Wallet and Google Pay. Our users range from coffee shop and restaurant owners to dog walkers and nail salons. These small business owners often are so different than domain name investors which makes my average day at work very diverse and never boring!