Or how I made bank “hacking” domain names
In the late 2000s as a young twentysomething with too much time on his hands and a few grands made from an online vintage shoe business under the hyphenated domain z-box.net I discovered the wonderful world of domain names. Now imagine my surprise when I read that “I” could make thousands from a single hand registration with less than $10! So I traded my shoe salesman uniform (a pair of pajamas) for thus of the domain investor (another pair of pajamas) and registered my first domain with intention to sell. That was the birth of what would later become Claim.Club a million dollar business
Claim clubs, also called actual settlers’ associations or squatters’ clubs, were a nineteenth-century phenomenon in the American West. Usually operating within a confined local jurisdiction, these pseudo-governmental entities sought to regulate land sales in places where there was little or no legal apparatus to deal with land-related quarrels of any size. Some claim clubs sought to protect squatters, while others defended early land owners. In the twentieth century, sociologists suggested that claim clubs were a pioneer adaptation of democratic bodies on the East Coast, including town halls.
A pioneer! That’s what I had to become in order to survive in this highly competitive, often misleading and sometimes ruthless business. And like a lot of newbies I started by registering well known company names, I was a cybersquatter or for some of you dear readers: the scum of the internet.
Good dot-com domains were already gone so instead of wasting my time and money on complex combinations of keywords or expensive backorders via services like Namejet.com or Pool.com I decided to explore unknown digital territories also known as “obscure extensions” an expression used at the time for Eastern European’s, African’s, Oceanian’s and South American’s ccTLDs or country code top-level domains. In 2011 everybody’s favorite travel aggregator Booking.com was making a profit of 1 billion dollars and expanding worldwide, not just Europe but also emerging economies so whatever booking.ext or bookings.ext domains they wanted and were paying up to $20K to get ‘em all! I was one step ahead and managed to register dozens of them mostly under African’s and micronations’ extensions. Some of them I had to fax a registration letter and send a wire which could take weeks. When there was nothing more to register I reached to DNStination Inc. (MarkMonitor.com) which was in charge of the domain acquisitions for Booking.com and offered them my portfolio of both booking and bookings domains. If I recall correctly it took a few weeks of negotiations to get a $60,000 offer on the table. I was 22 years old and eager to see the world so I took it. And I was just getting started.
Instead of blowing the cash on frivolous crap or saving for university like any normal 22 year old would I reinvested most of it in 🥁… more domains. But this time I would stay away from brand names. From cybersquatter I became a “domain hacker”(dixit Flippa.com). Ten years ago domain hacks were relatively unknown only used by a few websites e.g. inter.net del.icio.us instagr.am and Wordpress’ founder Matt Mullenweg aka Ma.tt.
A few weeks ago I twittered I was heading to the bank to wire money for a life change. People got excited, and assumed I was buying a house, fancy car, plane, company, jewelry… it was really amusing to see where people’s imagination went. I’m afraid the truth is much less exciting, at least to other people. I was wiring money for the domain I’m on now, ma.tt.
The poet (artist?) in me loved those unusual domains I felt like I had discovered a new language — deconstructed and digital. To me they were the coolest domains in the whole world wide web. So just like with the booking(s) domains I registered as many as I could and soon the offers started to arrive $6,000 on webc.am $10,000 on mur.al $20,000 on smart.ly … $50,000 on me.ga.
You may have heard by now that Internet superstar and enemy of the U.S. entertainment industry Kim Dotcom announced today the URL for his forthcoming relaunch of Megaupload. The website will be, simply, Me.ga. Clever — but not just clever. This is a shrewd move by Dotcom, made in an attempt to avoid a repeat of Megaupload’s doomed fate.
Me.ga uses the .ga country code top-level domain (ccTLD), which is intended for domains registered in the small, central African state of Gabon. The domain registrar for all .ga ccTLDs is Gabon Telecom, which is a key detail in all this.
Me.ga was a total fiasco and deserves its own Medium post which could be untitled ME(ga) vs. Kim Dotcom. Long story short serial con artist Kim Dotcom with his big ego and bigger mouth tempted the US authorities to try and stop his efforts in launching his new Mega service when Me.ga was still MY domain for indeed he never paid for it.
“The new Mega will not be threatened by US prosecutors,” he said.
“The new Mega avoids any dealings with US hosters, US domains and US backbone providers and has changed the way it operates to avoid another takedown.”
Announcing the new site on Twitter, Mr Dotcom said the holding page — hosted at Me.ga — was already getting “millions” of hits.
He said many of the visits were from US authorities themselves, tweeting: “All FBI agents pressing reload hahaha… We see their IP addresses. LOL!!!”
“Millions of hits”.
When I read this I thought to myself “that must be worth a couple extra zeros” so I shot an email to Kim who had called me a couple days before to buy Me.ga. Since we didn’t have any contract yet and although I was letting him use my domain for his landing page (biggest mistake of my 10 years as a domain investor) I told him that the price had changed. It was no longer $50K I wanted but a share in Mega. He was reluctant at first but agreed to give me 1% in his new company which he said would soon be worth “hundreds of millions”. It was of course a total sham and I should of course have pocketed the $50K. Was it greed? No. I would have offered him Me.ga for a $100,000 and he would have accepted. It was bad luck and Dotcom (not I) had a lot of it. Everything Dotcom has touched since the infamous take down of the Mega empire and the ridiculous raid on his mansion has turned to 💩.
As Gabon seizes Kim Dotcom’s domain, hackers take control of Me.ga and offer to sell it to Universal
Fake news before fake news. Journalists made fool of themselves, Kim was humiliated and I got the last laugh or last lulz. I won’t lie my little tour de force was worth the $1,000 I had spent on registering me.ga. For the first time in my life I had made a name for myself, got my 15 minutes of Twitter fame and earned the title of “hacker”. But more about that in a later post.
Now at 23 having moved to New York City I decided it was time to get serious. I wanted to make use of my domains and not just sell them. I made some contacts and soon enough I had an appointment with an high executive in a Times Square office. I pitched him an idea, he gave me some advice and that was the end of it. Disappointing like my overall experience in the big apple. I left the city after three months (my visa was coming to an end) but not without registering my first company under the daring name of Anonymous Media LLC.
I made some more cash with domains (sold Mega.co for $60,000 to someone in Luxembourg and K.im to none other than Mr. Dotcom who later embraced the shorty in favor of Kim.com), moved to Berlin, partied for six months straight, registered yet another company, sold yet another high figure domain for $40,000 took a three months vacation to Mexico and hit the jackpot with O.ly (as part of the O.foundation) acquired by Overstock.com for $50,000 in Bitcoin when 1 bitcoin was under $400. I was 150 bitcoins richer which as december 2017 was worth over a million dollars. (H)oly shit!
By that time I was 25 years old and making over a $100,000/year with little to zero effort. None of my domains were developed and I was not making a dime with ads (I hate advertising). I accepted an interview with DomainSherpa.com in the hope of selling my portfolio and to promote my new company (interview that I regret and been unsuccessful at taking down). Still no one in the domain game knew who I was and I couldn’t be happier. I was fine being anonymous selling hacks for a living.
Now age 30 I somewhat moved from the digital world to something much more real: the world of antiques. What can I say, I was always a romantic…
I still own some domains… 😎.st