The first time I met Ron Jackson was in an unusual setting. He was sitting on an improvised barber chair in the middle of a conference room at the Domaining Europe conference in Valencia, surrounded by an ecstatic group of people, while his hair was being shaved for charity. What struck me about Ron in that occasion, and all the subsequent times I met him and his wife Diana, was his incredible poise and grace.
You can’t separate Ron from his work as editor of the Domain Name Journal, which is the first resource I came across when I first started to learn about the domain industry. In DnJournal I found the record of the biggest sales, and the stories of the people who made the industry. In the tradition of the great historians, Ron Jackson has for 17 years diligently kept records of the largest sales and written beautiful chronicles of our industry. While the sales helped me understand the legitimacy of the business of buying and selling domain names, what inspired me the most were the human stories.
Ron’s industry profiles are unparalleled and a pleasure to read, covering people from very different backgrounds: from art to finance to technology, to other fields. Without Ron Jackson, many people (myself included) might have not found the inspiration to join this industry. It is not surprising then that Ron has won multiple awards, the most recent one being the Lonnie Borck Memorial Award, captured by Morgan Linton in this video.
The whole domain industry owes to Ron Jackson a lot more than he gets credit for. Here is my interview with him.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE AND WHY?
I live in Tampa, a large U.S. city located on the west coast of Florida. However, I grew up in Ohio, a Midwestern American state with a much colder climate. When I was a kid, I had an uncle who lived in Florida who was always sending us photos of him on some sunny beach enjoying the sunshine in the middle of January while we were freezing up north! I loved the beach (and we didn’t have any in central Ohio), so I decided then that I would be moving to Florida when I grew up!
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE JOINING THE DOMAIN INDUSTRY?
After going to broadcasting school in Ohio, I became a radio DJ in my hometown while keeping an eye on job openings in Florida. I had also learned that TV people made more money than those of us in radio, so I had that in the back of my mind as well. In the early 1970s I happened to get two job offers at once – one from another radio station in an adjacent state and one from a radio station in Florida whose owner had also just put a new TV station on the air! Sounds like a no-brainer, right? The catch was, Florida businesses were notorious for paying people in “sunshine” rather than cash! The radio station offered me twice as much money as the guy in Florida but I was not willing to trade my dreams for dollars. I took the Florida job, loaded up a 1969 Ford Mustang with my stereo, a row of record albums, a small TV set and some clothes, and hit the highway heading south, never looking back!
In Florida I was a DJ and newscaster on the radio station and also did everything they would let me do at the new TV station (hoping I could convince them to let me do TV full time). I started as a fill-in weather man, then became the weekend news anchor, then the full-time weatherman and finally got to move into the job I wanted as the station’s Sports Director and sportscaster on the 6 & 11 o’clock news. I eventually moved up the coast to the much larger Tampa TV market to become a sportscaster at the #1 station in what became my new hometown.
After a 20-year career in broadcasting I finally decided I wanted to own my own business. I had always had a love of music (which is why I became a radio DJ) and had another dream of owning my own record store one day. So, I took some of the money I made in TV and opened what was the first in series of three record stores in Tampa. They did well for a dozen years before the Internet came along and killed almost all of the record stores, including mine.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH DOMAIN NAMES?
They say “If you can’t beat them, join them!”, so I did. I saw that the Internet was putting all kinds of businesses OUT of business, so I decided whatever I did next had to be Internet related. I had built a website for my record stores, so I had been through the process of registering a domain (in 1997) and building a site. When 2002 rolled around and the music business became toast, I started thinking of various things I might like to do.
Knowing I would need a website, I decided to register three or four names in areas I was interested in, though I still had no concrete plans for what I would do. In the course of looking for a few suitable domains I stumbled upon DNForum.com where these people were talking about buying and selling JUST the names with no business or website attached. I didn’t know you could do that or that any such market existed, so I was very fascinated to learn more about it. This was May of 2002 and in my search for a domain education I found there were virtually no resources. The first thing I looked for was trade magazine like we had in both broadcasting and music. There was none. So, having been a journalist, I decided I would just start one myself. The economics of the Internet made it possible. While a print magazine could have costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch and distribute, the cost of an online magazine was a $10 domain name and $10 a month website hosting account!
DNJournal.com was launched on New Year’s Day 2003. Originally, I never thought it would be much of a business – just a way to network with more people who were established in the domain world so I could learn more about it myself. It turned out that others were just as hungry for that kind of information as I was and before long the site started attracting advertisers and – to my delight – grew into something far beyond what I originally envisioned.
WHAT IS THE INDUSTRY PROFILE YOU ENJOYED WRITING THE MOST? WHY?
That’s a tough question because I have enjoyed all of them making it almost impossible to rank. Of course, I wouldn’t have written about each person if I didn’t have a deep interest in their life and the path that led them to this place where I ended up as well. There are so many great rags to riches stories in this industry that are truly fascinating. Taken as a whole, they provide dozens of inspiring examples of how people from all walks of life did it. If so many others did it, that means you could too – and that remains true today.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE YOU MOST RESPECT IN THE INDUSTRY?
Like the question about favorite stories, this one has too many correct answers to single out a few. I have met literally hundreds of people I highly respect in this business over the years and I try to treat every new person I meet with equal respect. The most pleasant surprise about this business to me was finding out it was populated with so many intelligent, personable and highly creative people with very wide-ranging interests. Being a tech-related field, I thought people would have a less social, more singular focus on things but if these domain people are “nerds”, they are the coolest nerds I’ve ever met!
WHAT IS THE SALE THAT YOU MOST ENJOYED REPORTING?
Just like sports where it was always fun to report a new record of some kind, it is really exciting to be able to share the news that the biggest sale ever reported has happened. So, when that $30 million Voice.com sale came in last year, obliterating every previous record for an all-cash, domain only sale, that was definitely fun!
AS A BROKER OF VALUABLE DOMAINS I OFTEN SEE SALES REPORTED BY DUBIOUS SOURCES. FOR EXAMPLE, 360.COM, IS OFTEN QUOTED SELLING FOR $17M EVEN IF THERE WAS NO OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION FROM THE BUYER OR SELLER. HOW DO YOU PREVENT RUMORS FROM SPREADING?
For my part, I just won’t report a sale unless the information comes from a very reliable party – the vast majority of the time that means the buyer, the seller or a broker involved directly in the transaction. While I am sure some rumored sales are real, if I have no proof and no one associated with the sale will confirm it, I won’t use it. Without credibility, the numbers that are reported would mean nothing. That doesn’t mean that no one has ever gotten one by me but I am confident the sales that DNJ does report have a very high degree of accuracy.
HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED? WHERE DO YOU FEEL THE INDUSTRY IS HEADED?
It has changed in almost every conceivable way. When I came in, in 2002, it was in a major slump, still suffering from the .com bust. But then, especially with the arrival of domain monetization services that allowed domain owners to make a substantial amount of money with their traffic, a new golden era arrived in the mid 2000s. With the decline of monetization (via Google’s decision to keep virtually all of the money for themselves rather than split it evenly with domain owners) and the arrival of the Great Recession, things declined again. Then came the China boom and another ride to the top of the roller coaster – then the China bust…and the circle of life continues!
Of course, the biggest change of all was the arrival of hundreds of new gTLDs which has dramatically altered the landscape, but still done nothing to dislodge .com from the top. The impact from all of the new extensions is still being digested by the industry and the business world at large, so it is still hard to say what their impact will be in the long run. There are also bigger external forces at work that could be very disruptive to our industry. As I write this, I just published a very interesting article on that topic written by industry pioneer Michael Castello.
DO YOU THINK IS EASIER OR HARDER FOR SOMEONE TO START?
I don’t think it is a lot harder to start. A real advantage of this business is that there is a pretty low barrier to entry. Domain names are still affordable to register and renew (though that too is starting to change). The difficulty is the same as it has always been, knowing what to register and buy, what to sell for, where to sell, etc. All of that is much harder than it looks on the surface. It took me a good two years before I felt like I had a pretty good handle on things (and I am still proven wrong more than I like!). So, my advice is to start slow, read, look and listen to everything you can BEFORE you start putting money you can’t afford to lose on the line. There are many more good resources out there to learn from today than when I started, so take advantage of them.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE(S) BEGINNER DOMAIN INVESTORS DO?
I think it is very much what I noted above – spending money before you know whether or not what you are buying is worth anything. That takes experience and a lot of it. Sure, you can dabble in some things you think look promising early on and consider the lessons learned from your losses to be “tuition”. Too many people just dive in head first from the high board and don’t realize the pool is empty until they hit the bottom. Learn what makes some domains valuable and most others of no value (at least in terms of resale). I have always believed in the safety net of multiple revenue streams. If you have a job, keep it until you are sure your domain endeavors can replace your income. For most it could and probably should just remain an interesting hobby that you can make a few bucks from. I would also pick an least one topic you are interested in and develop a website devoted to that topic. If you find an audience you can make some additional money with your site. Again, the biggest mistake beginner’s make is thinking domains are as easy way to make money – they are not.
IF YOU HAD $10,000 TO GIFT YOUR KIDS AND GUIDE THEM TO INVEST IN DOMAIN NAMES, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM TO DO?
I don’t think I would tell them to buy domain names unless they had a real interest in them of their own. Otherwise, they would likely never take the time to learn what they needed to know to invest the money wisely (whether that be from me or anyone else). I would want them to take the money and follow their own interests with it. My main philosophy in life has always been to only work at something you love to do, regardless of how much money you do or don’t make. I came to that conclusion when I was a kid when I watched my hard-working dad go off to a factory job he really didn’t like day after day. He was smart and very creative but he didn’t have much of a formal education and had a family to take care of so he did what he had to do. But he often said, “I can’t wait until I retire so I can do what I want to do.” He was in his 30s at the time – and wishing to be an old man so he could finally have some freedom. That is when I adopted the philosophy I have. I have had financial ups and downs but have been happy virtually every day in every job I’ve had, whether it was in radio, TV, music or domains. I also found that if you work at what you love you will almost certainly do a better job than people who don’t really care about the business they are in. If you do it better, you tend to get paid more, so the money follows the passion you put into what you do.
HOW DOES YOUR AVERAGE DAY LOOK LIKE?
I usually wake up around sunrise, get some coffee and read both the local morning paper and various general news and industry related blogs. Once I feel I am up to date I’ll head to my in home office and catch up on email, take care of advertisers needs, etc. Then decide what I want to write about next and get to work on that. I usually shut work down at 6:30pm to catch the evening network newscast with my wife. Then have dinner and do whatever we feel like doing the rest of the evening.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NON-INDUSTRY RELATED BOOK OR BLOG?
Again, this would a long list, probably better described in categories. With books it is definitely non-fiction, especially biographies. I never tire of reading how interesting people navigated their way through life and wound up accomplishing something noteworthy. My love of those stories is why my Cover Story profiles are essentially biographies, starting from the person’s birth all the way up to what they are doing today. I also read a lot of history which is probably why I approach my reporting from a historian’s viewpoint and don’t focus so much on the 24 hour news cycle.
On the Internet I tend to use apps like Flipboard and Pocket to find and save interesting articles I come across each day so I always have a stack of good material to catch up on in my next reading session.
HOW CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU?
I think I know the answer to that one! DNJournal.com and via email to editor at dnjournal.com.
ANY PARTING NOTES OR COMMENTS?
I’ve probably rambled on too long already. In fact, I think I just wrote my first book! Sorry about that – but thanks for the opportunity to do some reminiscing Giuseppe. It is easy to lose track of time because this business has given me so many great memories and, more importantly, blessed me with friends around the world who share my obsession with domain names. Wishing all of you the very best in your domain and entrepreneurial endeavors!