Industry Interviews: Michael Castello (Castello Cities Internet Network)

I recently said in this interview that what I came to love most about the domain industry is the people. Unlike other industries, domain investing attracts people from all walks of life, like Fred Mercaldo, who had a previous career as an art trader, or Ron Jackson, who was an accomplished DJ and TV anchorman.

Michael Castello is no exception. With his brother David, Michael was a successful musician playing first on stage in NYC, then in landmarks as the Roxy and the Whisky a Go Go in LA, the iconic bar where The Doors and Janis Joplin played. Off the stage, Michael is famous in the domain world because he had the intuition to build an incredible domain portfolio as early as 1994, which subsequently led him and his brother to develop sites like Traveler.com, Nashville.com and PalmSprings.com under CCIN (Castello Cities Internet Network).

Michael’s incredible life story has already been covered extensively by Ron Jackson on this fantastic DnJournal cover story, but, 14 years after the article, I wanted to get Michael’s perspective about how developing GeoDomains and the business of “domaining” have changed. Without further ado, let’s jump into this quick paced conversation with Michael Castello:

Where do you live and why?

I live in Moorpark, California. Its affectionately known as “God’s Country” and is the reason why Ronald Reagan, who was both Governor of California and President of the United States, chose this area for his library museum. We have a beautiful 180-degree view of the mountains and landscape from our backyard much like the Library. We also chose this area for my daughter’s music video titled “Blue Sky” where we rented a horse ranch near by for some of our filming. We hope to have the video out shortly so that everyone can see the grandeur of our slice-of-life.

Grimes Canyon Road in Moorpark.

You and your brother David were born in Little Italy from an Italian family. How has that influenced you growing up?

We were born in the Little Italy section of the Bronx and lived near Arthur Avenue. Most of our family lived in that area for almost 80 years. The food, Italian ice, pastries, and Italian culture were all we knew until our parents moved us to Florida. We went from stickball to surfing. It was quite a change and we are still attached to both areas even though we have moved on to different states and neighborhoods. David currently lives in Flagler Beach, Florida. We have the colder ocean here in California.

The Castello Family in Little Italy.

How did music enter your life and what are the highlights of your musical career?

When I was in Catholic elementary school in the 4th grade, a fellow student, named Gregory Sinclair, played the accordion in front of our small class. Everyone was glued to Gregory as he was the center of attention. My father had played the accordion and, in an instant, that instrument became important to me. I started taking accordion lessons. Too bad my father was not a guitar player. It would have saved me a lot of time and the guitar was much more suited for when my band headed-back to NYC at the age of nineteen.

Young Michael and his guitar.

How did you first get involved with domain names?

I was pioneering random access recording back in 1991. Everyone now knows it as digital recording on your computer. At the time, my computer setup cost $100,000. Technology had gone from floppy discs to hard drives. I had a system with four-1Gb hard drives that cost $16,000 at the time. Now you can buy a 5000 Gb for $100! It was expensive because no one else was trying to record music on computers back then. I had a 16-channel setup which was completely unheard of at the time.

I realized that instead of tape, my songs were now on a file. I had the idea of placing files on the internet. Back then I was using the intranet through a walled garden called prodigy. Jeff Bezos was doing the same thing using a bulletin board to sell books. While music would become less expensive, shipping tangible products would be a goldmine for Amazon.com. My production company was called Powwow Productions. I realized in 1994 that I would need a website to market and promote my music and artists. My first registration was Powwow.com in late 1994.

I had a system with four-1Gb hard drives that cost $16,000 at the time. Now you can buy a 5000 Gb for $100!

Michael and his $100k Spectral System Setup

Your developments include domains like PalmSprings.com and Nashville.com, which you discuss in this Domain Sherpa interview. What has changed in the geo domain space since then?

What changed was the emergence of a monopoly called Google. I’ve written extensively for over ten years about why Google is bad for the inventiveness and ingenuity of small business and entrepreneurs. They basically own online traffic which smothers and stifles everyone else trying to get a business foothold on the web.

Our GEOs are incredible destinations. Once the online monopolies are either controlled or assigned as utilities, the downstream of local will meet global once again.

Our GEOs are incredible destinations. Once the online monopolies are either controlled or assigned as utilities, the downstream of local will meet global once again.

Michael with his brother David at the Traffic conference.

If you wanted to develop a geo domain from scratch today, what would you do?

1Find an area that you have personal access to which have verticals that can be monetized.

2Get the best domain name for the area as a .com.

3Join the Chamber of Commerce and network with the locals.

4Offer something that is of value to your visitors. Unique content is king. The locals will come to you once you are driving traffic to your website.

5Be Patient. Exponentially grow your vision and your website. If you obtain the killer domain name for the area like a Nashville.com, you will get instant credibility and grow natural organic traffic.

Growing organic traffic is the key to any Geo Development

Google is your best friend and your worst enemy. You must use them to drive searched traffic. They expect you to be SSL secure and mobile ready. You will have to conform to their algorithms. Much of your traffic will depend on content pages being listed on the front page of their search results but the caveat to the dominance is that your direct navigation will always be free from them.

Work on your returning traffic. It will compound daily if you have a reason for people to check in daily. A community forum can be nurtured, and locals will even want to be a part of it if they become local influencers through your brand.

You are a visionary and a trend-spotter. In a recent DNJournal article you quoted: I realize that it is now almost impossible to run a new website and make a “living” from it year after year. The huge companies that are in control are now crushing our potential to succeed, much less survive. If they see a money stream in your vertical, they will claim it for themselves and leave you very little.” How do you think this development has affected the industry?

The domain industry has become a name-centric business of services for domainers by domainers. It is a market within a market that is struggling to survive. Buying and selling domain names has become the industry. We are more like real estate owners, brokers, and agents. For the most part, we really do not stay and grow our properties.

Buying and living in a home is a global and American dream. We can only be virtual vagabonds for so long. At some point conditions will be ripe for us to settle in virtually once there is an economic reason to do so. The 5 trillion dollars locked up in five monopoly companies need to be released into the marketplace for a hierarchy of capitalism to propagate globally. No free public or independent middle-class will be able profit from this economic repression much longer. Hopefully, Congress or a new administration will see the object deficiencies of our economy and offer relief back to our creativity.

We are more like real estate owners, brokers, and agents. For the most part, we really do not stay and grow our properties.

Do you think it is easier or harder for someone who wants to enter the industry today?

It is much easier to enter. There are so many avenues to learn from and a wealth of information available on the internet. Regarding developing and earning wealth from a new website – it is much more difficult. Like all trends, you must be willing to gamble on your idea and intuition. Do not follow the herd as you will start on the end of the line. Create a new idea and be at the forefront.

What do you think “Domaining” will look like in 2030?

The internet should not be offered up in capitulation to a few companies. There is no leverage when we are in a position of self-preservation. We need to reclaim the URL (address bar). That is OURS and the path to our virtual economic future.

Social networks are a great entryway into this new technology but it’s imperative that we stay independent and not imprisoned by them. It comes down to the will and wants of the people. The era of – I want It and I Want it Now – can only be supported for so long. It takes money and consistent success to live by that standard. We are currently waging an attritional war with these walled gardens.

Do not follow the herd as you will start on the end of the line. Create a new idea and be at the forefront.

Talking about your sale of Whisky.com for $3M, you said that “there is no difference between $10,000 and $10,000,000. It’s just a number“. If you could offer one piece of advice on negotiations, what would that be?

Do not be driven by your fears. People can smell it.

You also wrote that: “In life, you have to ask for the things you want“. What other life advice would you like to pass to your children?

Believe in the fantastic, and fantastic things will happen.

Everything in life is in what you expect from it. Find the truth and expect more.

Ignorance is pathway for an adversary to defeat you. Do not be your own worst enemy.

Take small steps, be patient and eventually you will succeed.

Michael’s Lamborghini with the TGIF.com license plate.

What are your favorite non-domain related books and apps?

Books:

  • The Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft
  • Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge – Rudolf Steiner
  • Moby Dick; or, The Whale – Herman Melville

Apps:

How does your average day look like these days?

During the pandemic I spend most of my time at home as I have the last 25 years. Fortunately, so.

How can people find you?

michael*at*ccin.com

https://www.CastelloBrothers.com

Any parting notes or comments?

Try to enjoy life. Mute the noise. Find Harmony.

Live long and prosperous – Vulcan salute 🖖

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Giuseppe Graziano
Giuseppe is the CEO and founder of GGRG.com, a domain brokerage and consulting firm based in Lisbon, Portugal. With a focus on the 586,848 short .com domain names defined as “liquid”, Giuseppe has helped his clients sell over 10 million dollars in domain names, receiving award nominations for „Blogger of the Year“ and „Industry Goodwill Ambassador“ in 2015 and „Broker of the Year“ in 2016. Escrow.com awarded Giuseppe “Master of Domains”, as one of the top 3 highest grossing domain brokers in the world in 2016. Giuseppe has lived in 5 countries across 3 continents, speaks 5 languages and holds a Master Degree in International Management from the Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

4 Responses to “Industry Interviews: Michael Castello (Castello Cities Internet Network)

  • Michael and David have had a significant impact on my career in the geo domain business. Lucky to call them “friends” since 2007. We spent great times together in many locations, board meetings in the Associated Cities days, and more. They are both incredible branding and marketing people, and visionaries.
    My only complaint or comment in this overall excellent interview is Michael’s point #3 in building a Geo site. These days, Chambers of Commerce in my opinion are worthless. Having dealt with over 100 of them, they are either jealous that we have the official City name and they don’t (CVB’s also) or lack the ability to drive meaningful relationships and revenue. I was “lucky” in Scottsdale, where the Scottsdale Chamber actually endorsed us, and made us a preferred business partner. This was over a 3-4 year period when we were actively managing and developing Scottsdale.com, and gross revenue was at $3M annually. Our results from the Chamber relationship? ZERO. Actually, we gave them $5,000 to sponsor their annual golf tournament, and we worked it hard, zero results. In the pre-internet days, Chambers were a business only choice in getting involved with the business community. But in the same sentence in Michaels interview….”network with the locals” was in BOLD. He is absolutely right….just not thru the Chamber. In Scottsdale, we joined Networking Phoenix, a group of 30,000 business people, and had much better results. Also, getting involved with local businesses through interviews content and social media interaction and promotion is much more effective than a Chamber relationship. Now, possibly the Nashville Chamber has yielded different results….not criticizing, just sharing my experience.
    Anyway, great article, and great people…..

  • Thank you Fred for sharing this insightful comment, much appreciated.

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