An Interview with Michael Cyger, Publisher of DomainSherpa & DNAcademy
Whether you are a start-up looking for you first domain or a skilled “domainer” (domain investor), there is always a lot to learn about domains and the domain industry. Michael Cyger has been at the forefront of providing practical, real-world domain knowledge to people at all levels of experience, centered around his flagship DomainSherpa. His efforts have been repeatedly recognized by the domaining industry and his awards include: Blog of the Year, Developer of the Year, and induction into the Domain Name Hall of Fame.
Michael shares with me the interesting path he has taken to get where he is today, how he sees the domain industry evolving, and his newest projects and future plans for DomainSherpa.
HostAdvice: Let me start by saying that I’ve been following your DomainSherpa program for several years now and it definitely played a key role in my deciding to invest in domains as an addition income stream. Please tell us about how and why DomainSherpa got started.
Thank you for being a fan of DomainSherpa. It's appreciated.
After working in corporate America for GE and Citigroup for a decade, I decided to try an entrepreneurial venture. So I built a media company, and was fortunate to grow it quarter over quarter for 8 years. I sold my media company in 2008, and after consulting for the acquiring company for a couple of years I turned my attention to figuring out what problem I wanted to solve next.
I attended quite a few startup events in Seattle, and it became clear that startup companies either had terrible brand names or had questions about how to acquire good domain names to match their brand. Often times they'd ask me since I ran an online publishing company and had acquired domains in the past, but I never had all the answers. Just like them, I thought the domain name industry was opaque and hard to figure out. So I decided to do something about it. I launched DomainSherpa and dedicated myself to publishing information that helps anyone learn how to buy a great domain name and/or invest in domain names.
HostAdvice: You’ve taken quite an interesting path to get to where you are today. Please tell me about that.
I think the most interesting part of my journey is how previous, seemingly unrelated jobs all fit together to help me achieve my desired end goal of building a multi-million dollar publishing company.
For example, at GE I learned how to build Microsoft Access-powered applications to solve problems in the organization. I would later couple that skill set with front-end HTML programming skills I gained at UC Berkeley in 1995 to build the first version of my publishing company (yes, I used to code…in classic ASP!). And the skills and "presentation polish" I gained creating marketing materials at GE Power Systems would assist me in doing outbound advertising sales, promoting services to corporations, and offering conference production consulting to the Department of Defense.
HostAdvice: You seem to spend a tremendous amount of time on your DomainSherpa and other domaining activities. But you still have your other media properties. About what percentage of your time is dedicated to domaining activities?
I spend time everyday working on DomainSherpa, DNAcademy and my personal domain name investing portfolio – in that order. It's an exciting industry full of great people who want to see each other succeed. Often what I learn through DomainSherpa is refined, distilled and added to a DNAcademy lesson.
We have a fantastic team running our publishing companies at iSixSigma.com and BainbridgeIsland.com, as well as our quarterly print magazine (past issues online at BainbridgeIslandMag.com).
I like to learn try new things and always learning. One of my latest ventures is called Resolution Club (https://resolution.club) where anyone can build a healthy habit, break an unhealthy one or do something to make the world a better place.
HostAdvice: Recently, you seem to be rebranding as the Sherpa Network. Correct? Why is that?
Not rebranding; just a new salutation. The "Sherpa Network" is my way of referring to the audience of DomainSherpa without saying "DomainSherpa audience." I found it awkward referring to the "audience," "watchers," or "listeners" – since so many people watch, listen or read the transcripts. And since it's so important to network with other people to succeed in this industry, I decided to refer to the network of people that participate at DomainSherpa as the "Sherpa Network."
HostAdvice: How do you define your target market? What can you tell me about the demographics of your audience?
The DomainSherpa target market is anyone who wants to learn about the domain names. It includes:
- Small business owners who need to understand how to determine who owns a domain name
- Entrepreneurs who need to understand how to value a domain name
- Startup founders who need to learn to negotiate the purchase of a domain name
- Attorneys who need to discover the major escrow providers, or services that can help find historical ownership information of domains
- Domain name investors of every level, who need to advance their management, marketing and monetization skills and keep their investing perspective fresh
HostAdvice: How many shows do you currently have? How many downloads per month do you typically have? What geographic locations normally download your shows?
We're currently producing three different "TV" shows on DomainSherpa.
- Interviews with entrepreneurs and investors is the staple of our offering. We also include how-to tutorials in this category.
- Then we offer the DomainSherpa Review show, where we get into the minds of expert investors who have different investment strategies, so we can learn valuation, purchase and sale tactics.
- And finally, we produce the Profitable Flip show where investors share a buy+sale transaction in detail, and we get to learn from their experience…what went right, what went wrong.
In all, we've produced and aired more than 350 episodes as of December 2016. Most shows are about an hour in duration.
40% of our audience originates in the United States, 10% from India, then decreasing percentages from the UK, Canada, Russia, Australia, Germany and other countries.
HostAdvice: What would you say was your most memorable interview or show?
There are so many, it's hard to choose. Plus, choosing a single show is like asking me to tell you which of my three children is my favorite. :-)
HostAdvice: What are your future plans for DomainSherpa?
We will continue to find the most interesting and educational content possible for DomainSherpa. As always, all videos/audios/transcripts are free on DomainSherpa, and it's our mission to continue to educate the world about the power and benefit of domain names.
We launched DNAcademy in February 2016, and it's going to be our focus for the upcoming year. In year one, our objective was to set the curriculum, modify it as necessary based on student feedback, and continue to add depth and examples.
In 2017, our objective will be to advance our marketing activities. Already we've brought on fantastic corporate customers like Uniregistry, who are using DNAcademy to onboard their new sales and customer service employees. I believe there are additional companies that can "short circuit" and standardize their employees' on-boarding and educational process with DNAcademy, making them more efficient and better at solving customer issues.
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your main competitors?
I don't see direct competitors in the educational space of the domain name industry. There are very reputable news and opinion blogs that share educational material from time to time, but our focus is our differentiation. We live and breathe educational content on DomainSherpa and DNAcademy.
HostAdvice: How do you see your shows as different and/or better than theirs?
I don't know if my shows are better but I try to dig deep in every show, to have detailed tactical discussions with Sherpas (what I call experts that come on the DomainSherpa shows) about what they're doing and how they are doing it. Often times I'll ask a Sherpa to share their screen and walk us through exactly how they do it. I also try to have proper diversity of content, so whether you invest in new gTLDs (generic Top-Level Domains), old TLDs, and everything in between, you'll find value in most shows we produce. If nothing else, it's my hope the discussion will spark investors to think differently about why and how they invest.
HostAdvice: How do you see the world of domaining changing in the next few years?
It will take a few years for the supply of new gTLDs to be absorbed and normalized in the industry. Then we'll see which are being used by businesses, and which are falling by the wayside.
There will always be opportunities to buy and sell the best 1% of each TLD. So while I see the industry changing rapidly with respect to supply, the fundamentals of domain name investing will continue to operate in the same way they always have.
HostAdvice: What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to someone just starting out in domain name investing?
People should invest in domains that:
- Are selling.
- They understand how to value.
- Their budget allows.
If you don't know how to determine what's selling, then figure that out first. Once you know that, you need to understand how to value domain names. And then finally, when you understand what's selling and how to value domains, you can set a budget and execute against an investment strategy in a responsible manner.
HostAdvice: I’d like to hear a little more about two other of your newer projects, both related to domain name investing. The first is an extensive online training program called DNAcademy.
DNAcademy is an accelerated learning course for domain name investing.
People would constantly ask me how to learn "X" or where to find out more information about "Y" – and I would be happy to refer them to shows on DomainSherpa that they could watch and learn. But I knew that the information was scattered across tens to hundreds of DomainSherpa shows, and some portion of the information was old our outdated, whereas all of the information was out of order because interviews don't happen in a sequence that builds in a proper progression of knowledge. Plus, people don't necessarily have 10 hours to watch 10 shows, summarize the take-aways, and internalize the lessons learned.
I decided that I'd go through every one of the hour-plus-long shows we've produced and pull out all the most important strategies, tactics, tips and tricks, put them in order, organize a curriculum, and professionally produce a course with written text, videos and tutorials. It was years in the making. Today it's available at DNAcademy.com, and it is constantly updated and continually added-to as I continue our mission at DomainSherpa.
HostAdvice: How did you get Frank Schilling and his company Uniregistry to adopt it as their standard training program for new employees?
I was socializing DNAcademy and looking for beta students at NamesCon in January 2016. In the process, I mentioned it to Jeff Gabriel, VP of Sales at Uniregistry, but he didn't have time for a demonstration at NamesCon. A couple of months later he had a need to train employees, and asked me for a demo for him and a couple other Uniregistry leaders. They saw the value, and we worked together to add Uniregistry-specific content to the standard DNAcademy curriculum so all Uniregistry employees have a customized and comprehensive on-boarding experience that standardizes their knowledge gets them up-to-speed as quickly as possible.
HostAdvice: How many people have signed up for this training – not counting UniRegistry employees?
We have trained hundreds of students to date. And I hear about the success stories every week – like a domain name purchased for under $50 that sells for $2,500. There is a ton of opportunity, and we're grateful to help students understand and take advantage of it.
HostAdvice: The other project is that you’ve invested in a company called Efty and are the company’s investor evangelist. What exactly is Efty and what attracted you to invest in it?
Efty is software that helps investors sell more domain names.
The best way to sell domain names is to promote that the domain name is for sale, provide a clear path to inquire about the price, and allow for an impulse purchase when a buy-it-now price is set. Efty does this better than any other company – for a small per-month fee, with no commission. All data is private and owned by the investor, as this is a financial transaction and we think that's important.
I discovered Efty about 3 years ago through industry news sources, and followed the development progress of Doron Vermaat and Lionel Petitiaux, Efty co-founders, for two years. I saw constant, innovative improvement that helps investors manage, market and monetize domain name portfolios. I thought Doron and Lionel were sharp, earnest, focused and – quite simply – great people that I'd love to partner with. It was at that time I pursued conversations with Doron and Lionel, who were not seeking investment, and asked them if they would allow me the honor of investing-in and becoming a partner in the Efty journey.
HostAdvice: I know you attend a lot of conferences over the course of the year. Which is your favorite? Why?
Anytime there's an opportunity to meet other investors live, in-person, I highly recommend it. Whether it be NamesCon, The Domain Conference, local meetups, or the event I produce every spring in Seattle – called DNSeattle.com – I think investors can only benefit from expanding their network.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I gave up the traditional 8am-5pm corporate schedule when I started my own company. When you're an entrepreneur, you're always on. I've spent 80 to 100 hours a week building my company in the past, and while I still work a lot of hours per week, it's now a much more flexible schedule. An hour prior to the family waking up, solid work all day long, and then a few more hours after the kids are in bed and on the weekends.
What I never miss, however, are breakfast and dinner with my family – every day. It's a treasure every day to be able to spend so much time with my family.
HostAdvice: If you were asked to give the graduation address to the class of 2016, what would be your message to them?
If you can find something you're passionate about, you'll work much harder, for a longer period of time, and it won't feel like work. You'll find fulfillment, and make a difference in the world. They key is to understand yourself, which is something that can – unfortunately – take a lifetime to learn.
HostAdvice: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Hosting has become an after-thought in running a business. I remember back in 2000 to 2005, as my media company grew exponentially, I'd often get my website shut down by my hosting company for using too many resources (e.g., too much memory, too much bandwidth, etc.). It was always a "cat and mouse" game between me and the hosting provider as I tried to keep hosting costs as low as possible for as long as possible. I wish HostAdvice.com was around back then to help me find the right resources at the best price. Thanks for the resources you provide.