I am often asked about how to get started investing in domain names. Those without a foundation of industry experience can learn a lot from the mistakes and successes of those that came before us. Flipping short domain names is a common point of entry for those looking to get started in domain name investing. A return on any investment is never guaranteed*, of course.
Who is Giuseppe Graziano?
Giuseppe Graziano is a recognized analyst in the area of domain name speculation. I had the privilege of asking him some questions in hopes of helping others who are interested in learning about short domain investing.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My Instagram profile says: “Italian, living in Lisbon, in love with Asia,” which is short and accurate enough! About domain names: I am the founder and CEO of GGRG.com, a Lisbon-based domain brokerage and consulting firm specializing in short .com domain names.
What is your background?
I grew up in in a small town in the South of Italy on the Adriatic sea. When I was 18, I moved to Rome to study Economics. After a couple of exchange programs, one in Kentucky, the other one in France, I got the travel bug and started living in several countries around the world, including the US, Spain, and China. One of the places which influenced me the most was Shanghai, where I took Masters in International Management and Finance at Fudan University. Eventually, I fell in love with Lisbon, which is the place I now call home.
How did you get interested in investing in domain names?
It is a bit of an odd story. Throughout university, I was playing a lot of online poker. It was good enough to support my travels, but it was not as glamorous as people think. Most of the time I was playing multiple tables simultaneously and it took a lot of focus, study and emotional resilience to handle the variance. Even when I played perfectly, there were days I could still lose because of a bad run of cards.
It all changed the summer of 2010 when I moved to Vegas for 2 months, during the World Series of Poker. In Vegas, I realized I did not want to spend my life playing poker and that I could apply all the effort I was putting into poker towards something entrepreneurial. This led me into looking at other online businesses. First, I started building affiliate poker websites, which is how I registered my first domain name. During another trip, I found myself unable to play online poker, so I decided to start writing an Italian blog about productivity. I remember trying to register produttivita.com (“productivity” in Italian), but noticed that the domain was taken and listed for sale for $1,000.
However, produttivita.net was still available for registration. I wondered: “Wow, if produttivita.com costs $1,000, then produttivita.net must be definitely worth more than $10!” That led me to study all the resources available on domain names. I spent the next months after this realization researching available domains which could be valuable. It just felt like I was on the right track; domains were at the intersection of languages and mathematical analysis. I devised a system in which I would cross compare the appraisals of available domain names on 3 different domain tools and registered all the domains that were worth more than $1,000 across the tools. I registered over 100 domain names.
Despite believing the system was accurate and gave me an edge, I never ended up getting even one single inquiry on those domains, which I dropped throughout the years. That experience taught me a valuable lesson, which I like to call the golden rule of domain investing for newbies: “If a domain is still available, then it’s probably worthless!”
Liquid Domain Names
Joe: When asked about domain name investing, I explain the attributes of domains that may make them more liquid or valuable as investments. Your focus is on short domains which tend to be easier to sell.
What is a liquid domain name, and what does it mean to you?
Giuseppe: Liquid domains all belong to categories which have been fully registered long ago. We normally define as “liquid” the following 9 categories: 2 letter .com (676 domains), 3 letter .com (17,576 domains), 4 letter .com (456,976 domains), 2, 3, 4 & 5 number .com, 2 & 3 characters .com. The total number of liquid domains is 614,928, which is about 0.2% of the 300 million + existing domains.
The interesting thing about liquid domain names is that there exists many comparable sales we can use to calculate their market value. For example, while we can’t accurately tell the difference between the value of house.com versus library.com, we can, based on previous sales, calculate the approximate price range of 3 letter domains like jyc.com and otw.com.
Let me give you an example of how you can use this information. Let’s assume you own fyvp.com, a four letter .com. If you try to sell it, according to current market prices, you should expect to get at least $100. Now, this also implies that if you buy a 4 letter .com like vpfy.com for $50, then you should be able to sell it for at least $100 and make a $50 profit. The same principle is true for similar domains like 3 letters .com, 5 numbers .com and so on. Overall this makes it easier for investors to understand market values and avoid mistakes.
Tips for investing in short domain names
What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to get started investing in short domain names?
The tip I pass along the most to new investors is one I once received at my first domain conference by the veteran Canadian domain investor Thierry François. Rather than registering many mediocre domains, do your research and buy just one good one.
This seems like simplistic advice, but it is actually great because it sets you on a path of correct actions. First of all, you have to decide on a category. For example, let’s say you want to buy a 4 letter .com. As a first step, you have to study that category in depth. Who is buying 4 letter .com? Who is selling them and why? How much do they sell for? Where can you buy them for the cheapest price? Where do they sell for the highest price? You might want to research for the least crowded place when buying and the most crowded when selling.
In completing the first transaction, you will also learn how to negotiate and how to use an escrow service. Overall, it is almost like an accelerated course in domain investing. If you have bought for the right price, you should be easily able to get offers for at least 10-20% over the price you paid. Compare this approach with the newbie method (which I used): you rush in and register names that you think are valuable, only to realize that nobody wants them!
Quarterly short domain name reports
Joe: I look forward to reading your quarterly reports on the short domain name market.
How do you choose what goes into those and how do you go about compiling them?
Every quarter we gather the sales and ownership data for all liquid domain names. We then publish a report which includes several indicators, like the disclosed sales volume, the development index (the percentage of domain names in each category that are actively used), the 5th percentile (used to calculate the floor price) and a few others.
The data is obtained through our partners Intelium (the creators of Estibot.com and DomainIQ.com), ShortNames.com, which is an aggregator of sales for short .com domain names, and finally Escrow.com, the most trusted domain escrow provider with over $3B in transactions.
These indicators are valuable because they allow investors and industry stakeholders alike to keep the pulse of the market. For example, if 3 letter .com domains (like gyt.com) are more “developed” than 4 number domains like 6921.com, it is fair to assume that there is less supply and potentially higher demand. By knowing supply and demand, sales turnover and floor prices, you are in a much better position to make informed decisions and avoid mistakes.
What tlds do you cover in this report and why?
We only cover .com because it is the most popular and transacted domain extension in the world. That is not to say that you can’t find opportunities in other tlds; I would recommend being a lot more careful when looking at other extensions because there are considerably fewer buyers, and it is easy to end up buying domain names that do not really have a market.
Why do you do this? Where can people sign up to get this report?
We do this because we believe domain names can and should be considered a legitimate asset class. The only way for that to happen is to create common guidelines to help investors and industry outsiders alike to understand how much a domain is really worth. There is a reputation for domain investors as being “cybersquatters”, which is nothing further from the truth. While, like any other industry, there are unethical practices, domain investors are some of the smartest, interesting and generous individuals I have ever met.
What is your favorite investment story from the short liquid domain name market?
My favorite story is definitely the one of Ken O’Brien. Ken came from another industry and did not own a single 4 letter .com domain until he decided to buy a small portfolio in early 2015. He then managed to build a portfolio of over 1,000 4 letter .com domains, timing perfectly the rally of Chinese Premium 4 letter domains, which increased in value from $100 to $1,000, making in the process over $1,000,000 in profit in less than a year.
I love Ken’s story because he started with almost no knowledge but managed to do extremely well in a relatively short amount of time. His negotiation skills and market timing definitely helped, but success stories like Ken’s are not uncommon in this industry for people who are willing to stay focused and work hard.
Where do you see the market heading as we enter the last quarter of the year?
Historically, the last quarter is one of the best because companies like to complete their purchases before the end of the year. At the same time, there is a clear downward trend across certain categories (like 4 letters) because of the slump in the Chinese market. My recommendation is to tread carefully and be even more selective with your acquisitions.
Any last thoughts?
* This is not intended to be interpreted as investment, legal or tax advice of any type. No entity or person associated with the production of this article or report currently holds or has the intention to hold themselves out to be a registered investment advisor or attorney. The readers of this article or report are responsible for performing appropriate due diligence in considerations with any action they may take as a result of this article or report. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Authors, the publisher and their respective affiliates disclaim any and all liability in the event any information, commentary, analysis, opinions, advice and/or recommendations in the article or report prove to be inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable, or result in any investment or other losses. Authors, and are subject to change at any time without notice. This publication is not a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any securities, domains or any other type of investment or commodity interest. References to specific domain names, extensions or any third parties are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be nor should be interpreted as, recommendations to buy or sell domain names. The Authors or entities participating in the creation of this article or report may be affiliated with some of the third parties mentioned in the report.
Image by: Header image from Giuseppe Graziano's homepage