Michael Rader is the founder of Brandroot, a unique marketplace for business names with associated .com domains. They focus on serving aspiring entrepreneurs by bringing their business ideas to life through easily identifiable, unique names and consistent branding.
The beginning of Brandroot
What inspired you to start your business? When?
I started out as a web designer/developer and registered various .com domains in hopes of one day developing them. When I realized I wouldn’t have the time to ever develop them all, I found ways of selling them off and soon after launched my own website, a marketplace of brand-worthy domains.
What first steps did you take to launch the business?
I immediately registered the domain Brandroot.com and set up a server at GoDaddy to host the website. From there, I worked on the design and got help with the development process from freelancers. I also jumped on several domain-related forums and blogs to learn as much as I could about the industry.
What obstacles did you face as a startup, and how did you overcome them?
As with probably all early startups, getting people to know I existed was the biggest obstacle. I did everything I could to first let friends and family know about the new venture and asked them to share and like my new social media pages.
It wasn’t much, but it was a small motivating start that opened the doors to more free social media opportunities, like LinkedIn and Facebook groups.
From there, I worked hard to optimize my website to ensure Google and other search engines wanted to show my site higher in their rankings. A small budget for advertising helped, too.
How did you identify your niche in the market?
I stumbled upon people buying and selling their domains on eBay, which I tried early on with little success. A lot of the sellers were designing logos for their eBay listings. It was a very interesting and somewhat strange concept, but I found myself liking it quite a bit. I saw some promise for the business model of buying and selling domains with a description and logo. I expanded on that idea at Brandroot, taking the risk of removing the bidding process and adding only a buy-it-now (BIN) price.
Tell us about your business model.
Brandroot is a domain name marketplace. We offer unique, brand-style, .com domains, which we call, “brand name web domains.” We believe it is this type of domain that serious entrepreneurs are looking for when starting up their businesses online.
While we do sell many of our own domains, we also have many dedicated sellers who use our marketplace to broker the sale of their own domains. However, we are very strict about who we allow to sell on our marketplace. An application is required, and the waiting period is currently very long. Only about five percent of applicants are accepted. We do this to maintain the quality of domains that we offer and to ensure that we only have reliable, trustworthy professionals selling on our site.
What are the goals for your business?
We want Brandroot to grow toward becoming a startup hub, where future entrepreneurs come to begin their startup and get more than just a domain and logo for their business. How that totally looks is yet to be seen, but we recently included a common-law trademark and trademark monitoring service with most of our domains, which is a step in that direction.
Goals and philosophy
What’s your guiding business philosophy?
Humanness is a big one. Sounds a little strange, but I think a lot of businesses forget about the customer as a person and treat them more as a prospect. Brandroot has great and consistent customer feedback, mostly about our level of support.
If a business wants to grow and succeed it must have an extremely caring, reliable and responsive support system in place.
For new businesses especially, this might even mean working around the clock and being available at almost any time of the day. Early on in this business, I remember waking in the middle of the night just to complete a sale or to provide support in some way. To me, it wasn’t just money made — it was a person on the other end trusting in my business to provide. That meant everything to me.
What three words epitomize success in your book?
Contentment, provision and being trusted.
What strengths do you bring to the table as an entrepreneur?
One of my bigger strengths is UX, or user experience. I still design every new function on our website because I can’t find someone who knows the product as well as I do, and therefore can’t design it better. I’m also not bad at coming up with new ideas that facilitate and streamline the use of our products and services. These strengths in particular have been invaluable assets to me as an entrepreneur and have been applied with success in other verticals outside of Brandroot.
Where do you see your business in five years? Ten years?
Put simply, bigger and better. Just this past year, we have nearly doubled the number of domains that we offer and close to doubled our revenue over last year. It has been our biggest year for growth, and our plan is to continue that growth, obviously.
We will also have better methods of organizing and classifying our domains to make the process of finding a name much easier and enjoyable for our visitors. Better marketing and advertising will also become bigger priorities as those budgets increase.
Products and tools
What online tools do you use for your business? How do you use each of these tools and why is each important?
I like to have 100 percent of my domains registered at GoDaddy. GoDaddy’s support and domain management system has been unparalleled in the industry.
In the several years of being with GoDaddy, I have never once had an issue with their support. It’s something I have emulated and strived for in my own business.
Other online products I use are a mix of ones that I have developed and other common ones, like a domain research tool I created called Namador.com that helps me find new domain investment opportunities. I use GoDaddy Auctions and its IOS App quite a bit, which is essentially where I get all of my high-value domain acquisitions. Sites like ExpiredDomains.net and NamePros.com help me find other domain opportunities and keep me in the industry loop.
Sites like Asana, ZenDesk, MailChimp, SteelHouse and Bench.co are other great products I use behind the scenes that make running my business easier and more productive and successful.
What difference have these tools made to your business?
GoDaddy Auctions has proven to be an indispensable tool for me. Ninety-nine percent of my favorite acquisitions and resulting sales were through this platform, mostly via the app. It also keeps my finger on the pulse of this industry, informing me about what is and isn’t coming easy, what people are willing to pay for a good domain, and the general sentiment of .com domains, which is the only type of domain I register.
GoDaddy hasn’t just made a difference in my business — it has essentially shaped it. Without GoDaddy, I’m not exactly sure how things would have turned out for Brandroot.
The other tools I use are mostly expendable. There are many services like them that help a lot of small and large businesses, but the ones I’ve chosen to use have outstanding support and product features.
GoDaddy and Bench.co are my favorite support systems, both assigning account reps to my account that I can easily contact and receive quick help and responses from. My GoDaddy rep goes as far as taking care of essential tasks for me like domain transfers, renewals and paying for GoDaddy auction winnings. Shout out to Michael Terry for all the incredible support he has provided my business!
Advice and personal
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
You can’t have success without passion. Like anyone else, I wanted success when I started this business, but I also very much needed the success. Without it, I would have been stuck at another computer job, slaving away for someone else’s passion for business. That to me was just about as severe as death.
I talk to a lot of people with a dream to start and run their own business. The 50 percent who seem clever enough to pull it off want to walk away when I tell them about the work and hours involved with running their own show. It typically takes years to become reasonably successful. Without a passion behind a great need, the chances of being successful are greatly reduced, in my opinion.
What’s your best advice for other entrepreneurs?
For those brave enough to risk it for the biscuit, I would first say learn as much as you possibly can about your industry — even about the boring stuff.
If you’re not aiming that high, you might as well reconsider. There are too many sub-par operations out there providing a service that stinks and support that’s even worse. Be better by knowing more and offering something that’s more promising and more reliable. You’ll be rewarded with people who want to be part of what you’re doing.
How do you unwind?
Riding my longboard to and from work is a great one. There’s nothing quite like listening to music and carving down the middle of the street early in the morning before cars are even on the road. Spending time with my family and my church community is unmatched, though.
Was there a turning point in your life that led you to where you are today?
Getting fired. I was working as a web designer/developer in a high rise in downtown San Diego. I got fired when I was hours late for a second time. I remember that moment being exciting for me, actually. I literally walked out grinning to myself, knowing that I had no option but to pursue my own venture, which I had already started and worked toward on many late nights while working there.
How do you balance the needs of your business with your personal life?
In the first few years of starting up, I didn’t have much of a personal life. My priority was to build a successful business so I could eventually support a sensible personal life. I still have many long days, but now it’s because I choose to have them instead of being forced to have them. Now, I employ people to put in the long hours for me while I manage the business. Now, if I feel like taking a day off, I do it. If we want a vacation we take it. If I feel like going to the Billabong Pipe Masters, I go (and I did).
All the work that led to the flexibility and comfort I have now made the sacrifices at the time well worth it. I now enjoy a very nice balance of my business and personal life. I do it by putting the right talents and right assets in place for my business. I also don’t fool myself into thinking that I can do it all myself.
Also published on Medium.