What Should Your Startup Do If The .COM Is Taken?

Startup Team

It happens all the time, and I personally hear about it at least once a week. A team of people gets together, starts a company, comes up with a catchy name and then starts building. A year or two later they have a product, customers are flying through the door but there’s one problem, they don’t own the .COM of their company name and they want it.

If this sounds like a situation that you are in right now, then read on, if not, heck read on anyways.

Over 90% of the startups I work with want the .COM that exactly matches their company name. Around 25% of those companies can afford it and realistically speaking I think only about 10%-15% actually need it. Yes I said it, and I’ll go on record saying it loud and clear, you absolutely do not need a .COM to build, launch, and grow a successful startup. That being said having the .COM definitely helps.

Look at companies like About.me, Angel.co, Vine.co, etc. and it’s easy to see that you can still be incredibly successful company without the .COM. I know most Domainers won’t love it when I say this but it needs to be said. Anyone who tells you that your business will not be a success without the .COM is really just thinking of themselves and a deal they want to make.

Like I said above, the .COM can definitely help but it really isn’t going to make or break your startup – you are. So before I dive-into what you should do if the .COM you have your eyes set on are taken I want to first cover the pro’s and con’s of going with a .COM vs. another TLD like .ME, .CO, etc.

Pro’s Of A .COM
  1. Easy to remember – most people will remember your name and go to the .COM first if they don’t know your URL
  2. Allows you to go by your company name – if your company is called Bongo and you own Bongo.com you can tell everyone your company is called “Bongo.” On the other hand if you own another TLD you need to make it clear when you tell people your company name that you are Bongo.whatever
  3. There’s a .COM button on smartphones – smartphones only have on TLD on them and that’s .COM
Con’s Of A .COM
  1. Price – the one and only con of .COMs can be the price. This can be a huge con though that should not be overlooked. If your company just raised $300,000, spending $150,000 on a domain name doesn’t make sense if you can get the exact same keyword in a TLD like .ME or .CO for $15,000

What I hope you can see from the above comparison is that when you’re looking at why you should or shouldn’t buy the .COM, the decision will most-likely come down to if you can afford it or not. Also, there are of course cases where you can afford the .COM but you don’t need it since your business is rocking and rolling fine without it.

I think it would be hard to tell the people over at Vine that they should get Vine.com rather than Vine.co, they have broken more records than most apps ever will and are still growing like crazy, the .CO hasn’t held them back at all. Do people sometimes go to Vine.com thinking they are going to the website for the Vine app? I’m sure they do, but I don’t think that hurts their business at all.

Now back to the title of the post – what should your startup do if the .COM is taken?

Many startups don’t know where to start when it comes to making an offer on a domain name and negotiating a deal. In many cases you’ve probably already contacted the owner of the domain and either been ignored or given a quote that is way out of your price range.

This is the point where most startups throw up their hands and give up. They say things like, “We tried to get the .COM but it didn’t work out.” The problem here is they really didn’t try to get the .COM, they just sent one email, heard back (or didn’t) and concluded that it wouldn’t happen.

Just like you probably wouldn’t negotiate your own Series A paperwork you probably shouldn’t negotiate your own domain deal unless it’s something you have done in the past. As a startup founder you have to be great at being a founder but you really don’t have to be a domain name expert. That being said, just like you’d hire a lawyer to negotiate and review your Series A paperwork, you should hire a domain broker to negotiate your domain name acquisitions.

Think about it. There are probably already many places within your company where you hire experts; lawyers, marketing agencies, catering companies, security companies, the list goes on. Companies have no problem hiring lawyers that charge $500/hour or more to provide their legal expertise, why not pay someone to provide their domain name expertise?

Here’s the catch. There are a lot of domain brokers out there and only a small fraction of them have experience working with startups. Of those experienced with startups only a very small fraction work under a reverse commission structure where they make more money as the price of the domain goes down.

Now I really don’t want this post to seem like a massive ad for the acquisition services I provide for startups. That being said, I have done millions of dollars in deals for startups and always work under a reverse commission structure so 100% of the time my goal is to get the best price possible for my clients.

As a startup every dollar counts, I know because my full time job is running a startup, Fashion Metric in Los Angeles. Still I absolutely love helping other startups get domain names and I cringe when I hear about a startup being ripped-off by a broker that didn’t fight to get their client a good deal. A good broker shouldn’t convince you to get the .COM but should take your budget into account and look at all the options. If your budget is $5,000 you probably aren’t going to get that one-word .COM you’ve been dreaming of, but a one-word .CO or .ME might be perfect for you.

Like most things in life, doing your research really helps and just like you want to pick a good lawyer, you will also want to pick a good domain broker. Like I said above I really don’t want this post to seem like a massive ad since my goal here is really to provide an answer to the question that so many startups have, what do I do if the .COM is taken?

In most cases the .COM will be taken, it’s .COM so it’s been around for a little while. However, just because it’s taken doesn’t mean you can’t buy it, nor does it mean you can’t potentially lease it either. The key is working with a broker that has experience with startups and puts your needs first. If you hear a broker tell you that you need a .COM to be successful, head for the hills, a good broker should give you all the options.

After six years in the domain industry I’ve put together a short list of the brokers I think are the best for startups. There are so many awesome brokers out there but I wanted to limit this list to less than ten options so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices. Just know that if a broker isn’t on my list, that of course doesn’t mean they aren’t a great broker, just use what you’ve learned in this article to test them and make sure they have your best interests in mind.

Startup Domain Brokers

  • Linton Investments – this is my company and we do not offer general brokerage services, instead we are laser-focused on helping startups acquire domain names.
  • Igloo – formerly Domain Advisors I can tell you this team has some of the best brokers in the business and some of the nicest people on the planet. I trust them with some of my own domains and we work together on deals as well from time to time.
  • Media Options – Andrew Rosner, the CEO of Media Options is one of the most savvy domain brokers on the planet. He has worked with many startups and is one of the best negotiators I’ve ever known.
  • Toby Clements – I’ve known Toby for years, he’s a great guy and he has a lot of experience doing domain deals. Toby is a no nonsense kind of guy and will always give you his honest opinion and his gut feel for a deal.
  • Buy Domains – with a team of incredibly bright and talented brokers Buy Domains has probably seen more deals than many of us will see in a lifetime.
  • Go Daddy – Go Daddy has always been a favorite of mine thanks to their fantastic customer service. Since they have access to more domains than you could shake a stick at you can imagine they are pretty good at getting deals done.
  • Domain Holdings – I like to think of Domain Holdings a bit like the Google of the domain industry. Everyone I know who works there truly enjoys what they do and they have hands down some of the best brokers in the business.
  • Moniker – a great team with an long-standing history of brokering domain deals, it’s all about the people and Moniker has great people.
  • Sedo – as a large domain marketplace and brokerage house Sedo has some very solid brokers that have a proven track record of closing deals.

So remember, just because the .COM is taken doesn’t mean you can’t buy it, however in most cases it will take an expert to make it happen. Last but not least, if you want to negotiate a deal yourself, go for it. By no means should anyone read this article and think that they can’t go it alone, you certainly can, but, just like a good lawyer can really help with legal issues, a good domain broker can really help with domain issues.

Enough said?

Photo Credit: hackNY via Compfight cc

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton