High Stakes Game: The Fate of New gTLDs & The Future of Domain Investing Will Be on the Table at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West in Las Vegas

The 2014 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West Conference coming up May 28-31 at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas (preceded by two days of Cabana Networking starting May 27) marks the start of the pioneering show’s 10th anniversary year. T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu staged the first major domain conference ever held back in October 2004 and will conclude this year with a landmark T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East anniversary show October 28-November 2 at the historic Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.

But first things first. With all eyes trained on Las Vegas we got together with Schwartz and Neu to find out what they have planned for their return engagement at the Bellagio where T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West 2013 was also staged – and more importantly, why you should be there. Here is that interview in its entirety:

DNJournal: The domain industry has seen a lot of changes since the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in 2004. While T.R.A.F.F.I.C. has remained a constant presence, just about everything around you has changed and that will be reflected at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West where we will see a new lead sponsor that has chosen T.R.A.F.F.I.C. to roll out a new domain monetization platform, as well as a totally revamped domain auction format. Let’s start with your new sponsor, GetItFido.com – a name that will be new to most people in the domain business, but one that has been a presence in both ecommerce and brick & mortar retail for over a decade now. How did this marriage come about and what will GetItFido and their founder, Neil Sackmary, bring to the show?

Rick Schwartz: GetitFido.com follows a rich heritage of lead sponsors at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. From DomainSponsor to TrafficZ to Skenzo ALL used T.R.A.F.F.I.C. as their major launching pad. It was the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show that played a major role in the transformation of each of their respective companies. That happens because of our attendees and our attendees make more money when that happens. WIN/WIN. T.R.A.F.F.I.C. means B.U.S.I.N.E.S.S.

Plain and simple. We keep it simple. When a new sponsor like GetitFido.com shows up on the scene, they come with innovations and it shakes things up. It puts the other companies in the space on notice that they are going to have to fight to maintain their business because somebody is coming to ask for that business and are likely to get it.

Ron Sheridan said DomainSponosr did a year’s worth of business at the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Ammar Kubba did his first T.R.A.F.F.I.C. in Las Vegas and came there in a pretty run down van and left in a damn Ferrari or some other exotic he is driving. And Skenzo? They came to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and PPC payouts went up 400%. That forced others to TRY and be competitive. So when we leave Las Vegas, the next unknown, GetitFido.com and Neil Sackmary will not be unknowns because they are coming to SHAKE THINGS UP!

Howard Neu: Neil Sackmary registered for the show along with his wife a few weeks ago. I suddenly got a call from him saying that he is registered for the show, that he lives and works in Las Vegas, that he advertises his Coin and Jewelry business 24/7 on TV in Las Vegas, that he has followed T.R.A.F.F.I.C. for 10 years, but now has something that he believes our attendees will find is a new way to monetize their domains as it has been successful for HIS domains and he is opening it up to others.

DNJournal: Domain auctions have been a fixture at every T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference since the very first one back in 2004 when names were scrawled on a whiteboard with people then penciling in their bids. Things got considerably more advanced as the years went along and live auctions, complete with a world class auctioneer became the standard format. For Las Vegas you are giving the auction a complete overhaul. Tell us how it will work and the thinking behind the change.

Howard Neu: One of the major problems in putting on a live auction that is also online is that internet connectivity in hotels is spotty at best and sometimes non-existent. This puts a major damper on the auction that discourages a number of potential bidders.

Rick Schwartz: When T.R.A.F.F.I.C. had the first live domain name auction it was a huge success. It set the course and blazed the trail for many that followed. When we had that $12.5 Million auction in New York it was quite an achievement. But It was also a novelty. Today there are auctions 24/7 and at multiple venues. We decided to use that time slot in a more universal way. And at the same time the auction itself is open to all and this new formula just may be received well and is open to both the attendees and the online audience. It just runs quietly in the background until we announce the winners and I think we will have some fun and some excitement. It also gives me a larger list of domains to draw from and we always try new things. Like the 2004 white board auction.

So, we are going in a different direction. In conjunction with Above.com, we open the show with a Silent Auction at the Welcome Party. All of the domains will then be placed on Above’s monitor in their booth at the show and will go online until Friday, May 30th when the winners will be announced at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Luncheon. Anybody in attendance may bid on the domains that have not yet sold. All domains that have not met their Reserves, or have received no bids if No Reserve has been placed on them, will continue to be auctioned on Above.com Marketplace until Monday, June 2 at 5 P.M. PDT. So it will be a combination of Silent Auction, Online Auction and You-Have-to-be-There auction that we believe will cause a lot of excitement both before, during and after the show.

DNJournal: You are often crafting your final agenda right up to the last minute in an effort to provide the most relevant content possible, but I understand Castello Cities Internet Network Founder Michael Castello, who made headlines with his $3.1 million sale of Whisky.com earlier this year, has already been called upon to speak about changes in the industry landscape that he believes are a threat to all domain owners. A letter Michael has penned on that topic (that each of you has posted on your blogs) has sparked an ongoing conversation that could culminate with some concrete responses being decided upon at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West. Tell readers why you believe this is a particularly important topic to tackle at the upcoming show.

Rick Schwartz: We all know that organizing domainers is like herding cats. For over a decade we have failed to organize or stand for something in a common way for a common goal that is good for folks both in and far outside of the domain industry and is clear. We as domain registrants have common objectives, common predators and common interests. We need to identify those things in common to the most amount of folks weather a domainer or not.

There was a lot more money sloshing around 5 and 10 years ago than today. We have wasted precious time and we don’t have the funds we once had. It makes it all that much harder today. Exponentially harder. Why? Because now folks understand a domain has great value and in many cases, PRICELESS. The stakes are much higher today and we as a group are actually weaker. Weaker because very precious and formative time has passed. We have done little to fortify while others are figuring ways and earmarking more and more money and resources to wrestle our assets away.

DNJournal: Regardless of whatever changes are underway in the industry, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. has continued to keeps its primary focus on networking. I understand your dedication to providing the best networking environment has even extended to the official T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party Thursday night (May 29) when you have arranged for acoustic entertainment so people can enjoy top notch talent without having to shout over the din if they are trying to have a conversation. Tell us a little more about the networking opportunities at the show.

Rick Schwartz: Part of the formula for T.R.A.F.F.I.C. is slowing folks down just long enough where they can have some more casual conversations that are more likely to lead to making deals and progress. They can better forge relationships when they are not always on the run. Everything we do is designed for people to meet people and talk and see if they have some common goals and maybe each has tools to help the other.

I want to talk to Neil Sackmary and learn what he can do for me and what I can do for him. The opening party is sponsored by the folks from .Vegas. I want to hear their vision, their timeline, what constitutes success. What are the challenges with vegas.com and lasvegas.com. That to me is GROUND ZERO for competition, confusion, expansion etc. That’s an interesting conversation to have. I would like to have all three on stage at once. It is a long shot but I would like each of their takes.

Dwayne Forrester is going to be interesting as well because I really don’t care as much about search as I care about Bing’s strategy to take market share from Google. How they plan to do that. How long? What they can and can’t do. What to look for.

So just adding these folks to the mix along with new folks that are coming to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. for the first time but have been around for 18-20 years, makes for new information that you can act on and THAT is just one way folks make money when you come to T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Networking and breaking bread are the key to it all.

DNJournal: Industry change has affected domain conferences just as it has other sectors. We have seen some come, some go and some completely change direction in an attempt to survive. The arrival of new gTLDs in particular has changed the face of most shows – and even become the primary reason some have been staged. The end result is that T.R.A.F.F.I.C. is the only one that is dedicated, as it has been from the start, to the interests of the individual domain investor. Some have noted that your focus has likely cost you money in lost sponsorship opportunities because you have challenged a lot of the policies and assumptions new gTLD registry operators have made with respect to the domain investors market. What is your reasoning behind that?

Rick Schwartz: If selling your soul is part of the job description, I am not on board. Of the 1000-2000 extensions coming out our job as investors is to pick the winners not the losers. But part of picking the winners is isolating the losers. My opinion can’t be bought. I say what I believe. And I believe as an investor my job is to pick the winners. That likely makes a lot of the losers very unhappy.

For example, I think .rich is a loser. So if they become a sponsor do I change my opinion? I may if they convince me. But from the outside, it’s a loser and I am not going to BS you or the industry just because it is politically correct. It’s worthless in my opinion. Let time prove it either way.

I think .ceo is a loser. The numbers prove I am on to something. I am not trying to hurt somebody’s feelings, I am stating what I see as a business fact. I am not going to be a cheerleader for a loser because I know the owner or an owner is a friend. The extension has to standup on its own merit.

But what we as investors think really means nothing. It is the LARGE end user and how they adapt and what they learn. The formula may be different for a mom and pop that can afford confusion and a multi million dollar ad campaign that can NOT afford the confusion. And in success, will they migrate to a .com as we have seen many times? This is likely to take many YEARS to unfold. But there is certainly plenty of evidence out there for anyone that has the courage to look and be objective.

We also have history to point to. I know everyone has their hands in the trough and the more that do the less folks will agree with me. That is fine. It is little more than touting a stock or giving reasons you believe that stock is a bad investment. As capitalists we get to try and exploit the system in any legal and moral way we see fit. My choice to exploit this is to be clearly on record as to how this will unfold. There are few honest voices out there and many have varying opinions on me and so that does not make me popular. But one thing is crystal clear. I speak my mind and share whatever I see no matter which way it cuts. That has great value to some and those are the folks I focus on.

It is stunning the lack of marketing we have seen ANYWHERE when it comes to the gTLDs. The vision thing is missing completely. Am I supposed to ignore facts and the economics of business? If a gTLD is worthy of investment regardless of my personal opinions, then they need to make their case. If they can’t face the #1 domain investment audience in the world and make it, maybe they have no case to make. We are giving each gTLD in attendance 5 FREE minutes of podium time. Convince us. Share your vision. Many of these gTLDs are in danger of stalling, others ARE dying on the vine already and it is no wonder because we have seen a stunning lack of marketing from almost any of them.