Elliot Silver is very well known and highly respected in the domain industry. Involved in domaining since 2003, Elliot stepped out of a successful corporate career at AIG in 2007 to focus on his own business of domain investment and development.
Elliot is the founder of Top Notch Domains, LLC, which he started as a grad student at NYU. Later, in 2008, he founded Silver Internet Ventures, LLC, an Internet media company that currently has several developed web properties. Elliot also leads the award winning DomainInvesting.com, one of the most popular blogs in the domain name industry.
Stepping away from a successful corporate career is a bold move and one that every entrepreneurial mind dreams of. What was it like to do that and what steps did you take to make it happen? Did you have a backup plan? Any regrets?
I had been with AIG for 2.5 years, and it was just my second job after graduate school. Although I felt that I was doing well at the company, I wasn’t loving what I was doing (direct marketing management of insurance products). This was probably one of the key reasons I continued to pursue my domain business on the side. Just before I resigned in October, I had a couple of large deals lined up for the following January, and I knew just those deals could carry me for a year even if business fell off of a cliff for some reason.
I had been making significantly more money with my business than I was earning at AIG, although the domain business (as with any new venture) has much greater risk. I figured if things didn’t work out with my company for whatever reason, I could find another marketing position elsewhere after a year. I was ready to move on from AIG, and I knew the domain business would either be a stepping-stone to something else or it would be a new career for me. Luckily, things have been working out well, and I have never regretted my decision.
I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I’ve always imagined that I would work for myself. I was really lucky to have discovered this business when I did, and I am very appreciative of all the advice that has been given to me over the years.
You have quite a number of moving parts in your business such as domain buying, domain sales, domain investing, developing, blogging, and more. When you’re out at a party with the wife and someone asks “What do you do?”, how do you answer that question? What type of reaction do you receive?
Your question is very funny because Karen and I were just discussing this the other day.
It really depends on the crowd and the knowledge of Internet business. If I am with a tech/Internet savvy group or person, I will generally say that I am a domain investor, which usually leads to a number of questions and/or stories about domain purchases and sales. It’s often followed up with suggestions that I buy names like “WallStreet.com,” “Cool.com,” and other long-gone domain names People seem fascinated by that aspect of the business because most people don’t really know it’s something that can be done full time.
There is a downside to mentioning that I am a domain investor. The most annoying reaction from someone came at an Internet tradeshow when a guy said, “oh, so you’re like a cybersquatter.” I laughed and walked away.
If I am with a non-Internet savvy group, I sometimes say, “Internet stuff” which my wife hates! I think she thinks that’s too broad and/or thinks people will make false assumptions about what I do. One thing I don’t like being introduced as is a blogger since that’s just one aspect of my business and it’s not really what I do. Ironically though, that is the way many people came to know me.
Lowell.com is one of the developed domains in your portfolio. What challenges did you face in developing, launching, and maintaining the site?
When I started, I knew very little about coding or development. I had to learn quite a bit so I could add pages and content to keep the site updated. I originally didn’t use a CMS, and it became unmanageable for me, especially when I had other development projects. The site has gone through three iterations, with the most recent one launching a couple of months ago. I am VERY happy with how it looks, and since it’s now on WordPress, it’s very easy to manage and update. Having it on WordPress has also made it easy to add features by using readily available plugins, and it seems that the search engines love WordPress.
My other big challenge with Lowell.com and Newburyport.com is that I live in New York City, and I don’t have a local presence. Twitter and Facebook have been great resources to help me connect with people in those cities, but nothing beats a face to face meeting.
Lowell.com is just one of your properties. What are some of your favorites and can you explain some of the different ways the sites generate revenue?
My company owns Burbank.com, and I have a marketing and development partnership with the team from Scottsdale.com. They manage the site and are responsible for bringing on new advertisers. This is great because not only will I earn revenue somewhat passively, but I am also learning about their approach to sales and marketing, which is something I can use on my other geographic websites.
My blog (DomainInvesting.com) now earns considerable advertising revenue from domain-related and Internet companies. I was fortunate to be able to turn this blogging hobby into an actual business to justify the time it takes to manage it.
DogWalker.com and CatSitter.com are two websites with a directory model that allow dog owners to find dog walkers and cat owners to find cat sitters. There are well over 200 advertisers who pay $49/year to be listed on DogWalker.com. These sites were launched around December of 2009.
TropicalBirds.com is another website of mine with a different revenue model. I built a considerable amount of content about birds on the site, and I have pay per click links in a custom set-up with WhyPark.com. I have a number of smaller websites as well that are monetized with Adsense.
DomainInvesting.com is a precious resource for many in the domain industry. You recently shared statistics indicating over 64,000 monthly visits to your blog. That’s an incredible number. What does it take to launch a successful blog with such an impressive following?
Thank you for the compliment about my blog. It took quite some time to build trust and readership for my blog, and not only has it been fun (most of the time), it’s been a great learning experience. I write anywhere from one to three articles a day about the things happening in the industry and in my business. I like to think I am one of the most open people who do this full time, and although it is sometimes detrimental to my business, it’s helpful to people who read. I never looked at my blog as a business until last year when I realized it was taking up so much time I would either need to quit or monetize it. I’ve been lucky to work with a number of great companies in the domain space who have been advertising.
People also seem very willing to share information on my blog as well, and I think that information is very helpful to readers.
You’re business model seems to be constantly evolving and improving. What’s next for Elliot Silver and his business ventures? What can we expect?
I’ve been working hard to build and grow additional revenue streams to supplement my income from domain sales. It’s great to flip a domain name and make a profit, but it’s getting more difficult to do, and I don’t know if it’s sustainable over the next several years. My goal is to build additional revenue streams that are less reliant on direct sales and bring more consistent revenue with low overhead. I went from somewhere around 98% of my revenue coming from domain sales a year or two ago to around 77% today, and I hope it gets down to 50% (keeping domain sales consistent) in another year or two.
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