Domain Name Services

One of the ideas I’m considering working on is a project to help people find great domain names for their websites.

Before I start (if I start), its important to evaluate the competition. Based on my research, here are the major players and what they bring to the table.

Bust a Name – Created by Ryan Stout, this is one of the top places to find unregistered domain names. The application lets you enter multiple keywords then it will search for different combinations and display the unregistered ones. The site was made with Ruby on Rails (!) and makes heavy use of JavaScript. What differentiates this from the other sites is that it’s not searching a precompiled list of available domain names. You can search for uncommon keywords and it’ll still test the combinations.

Nameboy – Similar to Bust a Name but without the great interface. I don’t think they offer anything important that Bust a Name doesn’t.

Ajax Whois – My personal favorite – you type in a domain and they will show you which extension are available. Some of the other sites do the same, but I really like Ajax Whois’s clean interface. GoDaddy bought this site from the original owner, Carl Mercier. He might have been the first to use Ajax for domain searches.

123finder – Unlike Ryan’s site, 123finder has long searchable lists of unregistered domain names. You can sort by category, such as “Frequent Words”, “Scrabble Dictionary”, and “Italian Words”. Most of the names listed are garbage and their site is ugly.

PickyDomains – This is clever. You describe what kind of site you’re making and for $50 they find a domain for you. People can suggest domain names too and if it’s chosen, that person gets half of the $50. If you’re not satisified with your results, they’ll refund your money.

DomainsBot -You type keywords and they search their database for matching domains.

MakeWords – Pretty much the same as DomainsBot. It’s amazing how much their cold white and grey interface impacts my desire to search their site. It’s possible they have a much better selection than DomainsBot, but because of their design, I have no desire to play around with it.

Domainology – Type in a keyword and this’ll search for your keyword + various other common words. For the ones you’re interested in, you can then ask it to check the availability of the .com, .net, .org, and other extensions. Ugly site too.

Freshdrop – This is another great site. They compile a list of all the recently expired ‘dropped’ domain names and let you search them using lots of easy to use filters. I think all the listings are auctions, so you have to bid, but most are $10 and it looks like you can find some pretty good domains that way.

Summary: This is a saturated industry, but there’s still room for improvement.

Ping Back Spam from autocarsinsurance.net

I was pleasantly surprised to see a ping back on one of my recent blog posts originating from autocarsinsurance.net. I followed the link, curious why someone from an auto insurance domain would mention this site. The site didn’t load. I did a quick Google search for the domain and saw that there were lots of Ping Backs originating from the same domain. “Spam!”

I hate spam as much as the next guy, but I gotta commend them on their originality. Faking the Ping Back is a great way to lure bloggers to your spam site.

Next time, pick a more popular blog though… geeze…

Decision Time, Old Guy at B&N, and Executive Summary

I had the day off today, which gave me with some much needed time to think about what project to work on next. I finished Simply Rails 2, which has given me a foundation for starting a Rails application. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I feel like I’ve got a good enough foundation now that I should just go for it and learn along the way. It’s time to just do it.

There are four projects I’m considering and I haven’t been able to decide which one to pursue. So I headed to Barns & Noble and spent a few hours there this afternoon writing about the pros and cons of each project. There’s something about the atmosphere in book stores that I find very conducive to thinking, writing, and of course, reading.

Making the decision is tough and I don’t want to make it hastily. I didn’t put enough time into thinking about my last project, ALL IN Expert, and realized after I launched that there wasn’t a market for the product I had just spent three months developing (more on that in another post). For this one, I want to spend my time working on something that has potential to be big.

Armed with an asiago pretzel, some tea, and a notebook, I set to work detailing the pros and cons of each endeavour. I spent several hours there, doing this, perusing their selection of Rails books, and talking a 75 year old small business owner named Dave about politics and business. At the end, I still had no idea which project to go after, but was a little bit closer ;)

Dave was an interesting guy. A little overweight with thick white hair, I saw him reading Michael Moore’s guide to the 2008 elections and started a conversation with him. He told me that McCain had just picked a VP and we discussed the merits of his choice for a while. I don’t know much about politics, but I find other people’s opinions fascinating, especially when they are passionate. When that conversation died down I asked him what he did, and he said he was a business owner.

He was a minister till 40, then got into the wholesaling crafts and eventually jewelery. He traveled to Mexico a lot for the crafts, but eventually determined the margins were too small and the inventory too large, so he transitioned into jewelery. He’s been to Tailand, which apparently is a big jewellery hub, many times, but he said in recent years because of all the travel regulations he had to stop. I guess its harder to just carry $15K worth of jewellery into the United States these days. Anyway, I asked him if he had any advice for an entrepreneur and he said above all else, “Be dogged“.  He said you’ll run into a lot of problems along the way and you just have to take the hits and keep going. He said once a guy wouldn’t pay him $5K that he owed him from some jewellery sales. So, Dave went to the guy’s house and sat in the guy’s driveway till he came home. The guy, who had been at a casino, was furious when he got home. He got out of his car, cursing and threating Dave. Dave explained politely to the guy that he wanted his money and wasn’t going to leave until he got some. He said he got some of it that night and eventually got all of it. (This is Jersey – was Dave a mobster?) When he left he wished me luck. Nice guy that Dave.

Anyway… moving on…

Later on while browsing HN, I came across angelsoft.net, a site that helps link entrepreneurs with angel investors. One of the sites led me to an Executive Summary template for companies seeking an angel investment. Here’s my summary of each section on the template:

1. Business Description – quick summary of business including product, vision, and business model

2. Management – why our people are going to kick ass

3. Company Background – what problem are we trying to solve and why

4. Technology/Proprietary Rights – what hurdles do we have to overcome to get our product out

5. Marketing, Sales and Customers – who is our audience and what are the current trends in your market

6. Competition – where do you stand and what will set you apart

Then it asks about some of the more technical aspects of the company including:

* Type of financing sought

* Pre-money valuation

* Professionals (account firm, corporate legal, IP, bank)

* How you will use your funds

* What type of entity (S Corp, C Corp, LLC…)

Part of me says not to start working on something that wouldn’t make a legitimate business with a clear source of revenue. The other more persuasive part of me says don’t worry about that, just get traffic and worry about the money later. I think whatever I wind up doing will probably have a freemium business model, which is a great compromise which has worked well for a lot of web 2.0 companies.

I’m going to relax a bit this weekend, which’ll hopefully provide the clarity I need to make a good decision.

Legal Q&A

I posted a question on HN yesterday asking for clarification on an array of legal issues. They included questions about when to form a company, what type of lawyers to seek, and how to deal with copyright issues. The responses were generally well thought out but varied a lot.

– Form an LLC immediately (it only costs a few hundred dollars) to get some liability coverage. Most recommended talking to a lawyer before you launch, but forming an LLC is better than nothing.

– Definitely seek a lawyer when you start having employees because you’ll have to restructure the company, often to a C corp (need to research)

– For charging money you’ll have Terms and Conditions, which should be created/reviewed by a lawyer

– You produce content it is copyrighted. The little © doesn’t really mean much

– People can take your idea and modify it all they want. There’s not much you can do to stop them

– If you have a partner, make sure you have an Operating Agreement

– The type of lawyer that you look for to help with these things is a Corporate Lawyer

– Forming an LLC is easy; keeping up on the paperwork is hard. Make sure you do it properly

Matt Maroon, a poker player gone entrepreneur via YC threw in his 2c: don’t ask hackers, ask a lawyer. He followed up with an excellent blog post expanding on the idea:

This is dangerous to you, seeker of legal advice, because you’ll be fooled into thinking maybe, just maybe, you can save yourself the retainer. The guy telling you “oh don’t bother to form an LLC, you’re not making a profit yet so you can’t be sued” sounds so confident, surely he must know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t, and you really don’t want to find that out the hard way.

He goes on to explain how the law is difficult to understand and you assume a huge amount of risk by not taking the proper legal precautions. While I agree with him, I think that asking the community has merits too. For me, the question was somewhat of a starting point. None of the posts are a definitive “you should do this” and they couldn’t be, but it still gives me a foundation for future research. The ensuing discussion was filled with smart comments on his article. Some of the best points made included:

– It can be tough to know when it is appropriate to consult a lawyer

– It can cost a lot of $ to consult a lawyer. The benefits might not outweigh the costs. -$EV

– What if the lawyer wants to screw you over and take your money? People responded that most don’t do this because of reputation and they want you to come back in the future, spread the word, etc

– Keep in mind its free advice from nonprofessionals

Updates

I’m 90% of the way through Simply Rails 2. It’s an excellent book for someone like me who has no experience with Ruby or the Rails framework. I have about five SitePoint web development books now and all of them have been fantastic. The examples are practical, the explanations clear, and the they always excel at not bloating the book (which a lot of programming books do).

I also purchased Agile Web Development with Rails this evening, the original book on Rails. Althrough the third version of the book hasn’t been released yet you can buy an early PDF version here and they’ll ship you the paperback when its available in October.

I didn’t get much of a change to look through it, but it seems a lot more comprehensive than Simply Rails. That makes sense too, since it’s supposed to be the definitive text on the subject. Simply Rails is more of stepping stone into the more advanced concepts.

On unrelated subject, I found an old copy of Inc magazine this weekend. I try not to subscribe to too many magazines, since I rarely ever read them, but they had some great business articles including on on Twitter that was really interesting. Maybe I’ll actually read this one? ;)

TBD.

Fostering Creativity

It’s pretty rare that I take a break from my work for more than a few days at a time. Recently the major breaks I’ve had were for my wedding, honeymoon, a trip to Baltimore to donate stem cells, visiting family in CT, and this weekend, where my wife and I spent an absurd amount of time dealing with complications from a cat bite she received a few days ago.

After every one of those breaks I’ve had a rush of ideas. My day to day thoughts are usually just additions to those ideas. For example, while we were cruising in the Caribbean for our honeymoon I came up with a few ideas for potential start-ups. Since then, I’ve just mostly been making small changes to those ideas and not coming up with anything radically different.

This weekend I spent very little time at the computer and I came up with some other ideas that I’m really excited about. Somehow this always surprises me. Its like I don’t want to admit that I’m not as clear headed on a normal basis.

I’m not sure whether its because of the break itself or because I get more sleep during those times.

The problem is that whenever you’re taking a break you’re not getting work done. If you work too much you never have any great ideas. If you are always taking breaks you’ll never get any work done. The key is to find the right balance between work and rest. I don’t think I’ve found that yet. Usually if I’m tired and have a decision between programming and sleeping I’ll choose programming.

Also, I think my body requires 8-9 hours of sleep to really be 100%. I get 6-7 normally, which would mean I have to sacrifice two precious hours each day to achieve my potential. So I work at 70% mental capacity for 4 hours vs 100% for 2 hours. Maybe a good compromise would be to go to bed an hour earlier, meaning 3 hours of 85%. Mathematically that works out to be the best, although it seems like a stretch to represent the situation mathematically.

Regardless, the key is to get regular breaks. You won’t work at your potential otherwise.

Chris Wanstrath

Check out this great speech by Chris Wanstrath, a notable Rails developer. Most of the stuff I really liked was towards the end:

I don’t know how many of you read RSS, but I challenge you (that’s a keynote term) to give it up for a month. Just turn it off. Stop using Google Reader or NetNewsWire or whatever
the kids are using these days. It’s not worth your time.

If you’ve been meaning to learn a new language, start learning it. But don’t just read a book. Start writing a program.

In fact, stop worrying so much about other people. Every time I’ve worked on a project I thought other people would really love, it was a massive flop. Every time I’ve worked on a project I loved, it worked. If you’re sitting in this room, your taste is not as far off from those around you as you’d think. Build something you love and others will love it, too. (Not everyone, of course.)

My plea to you today is to start a side project. Scratch your own itch. Be creative. Share something with the world, or keep it to yourself.

One thing he mentions is to take one Sunday a month and just go go go. I think this is a really great idea for me given my current time crunch.