Founder Stories

Founder Stories: What’s in a domain name anyway? Tips included.

A domain squatter is generally a large company specializing in acquiring domain names and holding them, waiting to sell them at a future date at a higher price. Sometimes they are lucky, and they offload the domain in a month.

Before literacy became common, shops would hang icons that represented what they did. A barbers sign would be a pair of scissors (as seen above), and tailers would be a pair of trousers. Later on, as literacy spread, a combination of the icon and the business activity became common. Logos are thought to be a modern-day representation of the same. However, things have changed drastically since then and interestingly, although the internet is supposed to be a wiki of all earth information, the URL’s apple.com, amazon.com, and alibaba.com don't lead you to apples, the largest river in the world, nor a fairy tale.

Early June 2020, I looked for a name that would encompass my interest in mobile innovation/solutions. I had previously developed ideas around mobile payment, mobile lending, and mobile conversation. I wanted a name that would sum them all, with a prefix or postfix like Apple, e.g. iPhone, iPod, iMac. So when I woke up with the name brrng stuck in my head, I knew it was heaven-sent. The name is derived from the sound that old cable phones would make when they rang. brrrng! brrrng!.

Tip 1: Domain hacks

You won't always find your company name available as a domain name. While you might be the only Carol with a Cake shop in your village, many other Carols have likely had the same idea and one of them might already own the domain carolcake.com. A domain hack would enable you to get the domain carolca.ke. Domain name hacks like this were most likely made famous by bit.ly and del.icio.us Bookmarks, the latter deriving popularity because of its domain name hack. The story goes that when the founder, Schachter, sought to acquire the domain delicious.com, he found a squatter and decided to hack the name del.icio.us using the US top-level domain, .us

A domain squatter is generally a large company specialising in acquiring domain names and holding them, waiting to sell them at a future date at a higher price. Sometimes they are lucky, and they offload the domain in a month. Other times they might hold the domain for close to 10 years. 40% of 4 letter domains are believed to be owned by such squatters.

The cool factor in the name brrng is that the last two syllables, ng, are top-level domain names for Nigeria and the domain name brr.ng was available, short and sweet, and it won my heart. I scooped it up.

Tip 2:Not all top-level domain are created equal.

I quickly learnt that not all top-level domains are created equal. In this case, I realized that some routers blocked .ng and .ng.com by default. Not fair, but Nigeria + Internet have not had a good reputation of late. Secondly, those who understood the domain hack still read it as Brr dot ng, similar to how you would read carolca.ke as carolca dot ke and not just carol cake.

Tip 3: Staking out a domain name you like

Deciding not to give up on the name, I searched the .com domain. Sadly it was already taken and would redirect to a gambling website in China. Looking it up on https://who.is, the domain was set to expire on January 3rd 2021 and had only been registered since January 3rd 2020. Which indicated that the current owner was most likely not a squatter. I considered reaching out to the current owner and perhaps putting in an offer, but that would indicate demand and should the owner refuse to sell, they might go ahead and register the domain for another year. I couldn’t risk it. I marked the date on my calendar and decided to wait.

Fast forward to January 2nd, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept refreshing my browser, expecting to see that the previous owner had renewed the domain. However, when I visited the domain, it redirected me but to an expired domain message. That brought hope. Now the only problem was I had to keep waiting for another 75 days for the domain to run through the recycling lifecycle. These next 75 days felt longer than the last six months. Moreso, the domain owner, had another 45 days from January 3rd to still recover ownership.

Tip 4:What happened over the next 80 days would cost me $100.

I owned my first domain name in 2007. Back then, I did not care what the domain name was. I just rolled the dice on a couple of words I liked and settled with whichever was available. I remember trying out names like page.com, pictures.com and somehow believing that it was not owned if Google didn’t index it. I was naive.

The online world is very much similar to the physical world, premium domain names are like beach properties, and just because you are the only pizza shop in London, https://pizza.london or pizzainlondon.com is not guaranteed to be yours.

I bookmarked the URL https://www.whois.com/whois/brrng.com, and over the next few days, I kept visiting it to check on the domain lifecycle. In my head, I figured should the domain go back to the market, I could easily scoop it up for less than $25.

After 45 days, the domain status switched to ‘Redemption Period’. This is a 30 days wait period in which the domain owner can still acquire the domain, albeit at a high cost than before. I crossed my fingers and waited. For another 30 days, I made sure I visited the whois domain and checked on it.

Finally, the five days deletion phase came around. I set up my calendar reminder and started counting down the days. Each day, I would search for the domain on GoDaddy and check the status on the whois URL. At one point, I was able to add the domain to the basket but no sooner had I hit checkout than GoDaddy reverted the status to “Sorry, this domain is not available”. I assumed that this must have happened due to the deletion phase. I kept the wait.

After 10 days, the status on the whois URL was still ‘Pending Deletion’. I suspected something was wrong, and upon doing a quick Google search, I discovered my $100 mistake. In a panic, I visited the domain and alas! The domain now pointed to Dan.com. Who is Dan.com, and why did they have this domain?

On my Google search, I learnt that whois.com is a private company, and they had tracked my interest in brrng.com and probably sold that information. The correct domain should have been https://lookup.icann.org/lookup.

Despite the fiasco, I was happy to learn that the new owner was willing to sell the domain (better words are ‘shake me down’). I accepted the offer and scooped up brrng.com for $100, 4 times higher than I should have paid.

Wazi.

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Kennedy Nyagah
June 21, 2022

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