The Case for Buying Domain Names Compulsively
I buy domain names like I buy cheap chocolate: Compulsively and with feverish optimism. Life is about to get a hell of a lot better! I think to myself at check-out. In both cases, I imagine a future much more grandiose than the reality—not five minutes away — of sitting alone in a hot, parked car, shoving handfuls of candy into my mouth.
I won’t defend my habit of compulsively buying discount holiday M&Ms in June, but I will defend my habit of compulsively buying domain names.
Every domain I purchase represents a kernel of an idea that, however small or stupid, deserves a hole in the ground and a chance to grow.
But guys, these ideas have been really small and stupid. Take BrownieOrDie.com. I bought this domain in 2007 because I wanted to be a food blogger and felt passionately that I should own a niche. Brownie or Die was about brownies and bar cookies. Like, militantly so. The site hosted overwrought essays on chocolate and amateur macro food photography. A Bon Appétit editor once left a comment about a misspelled word; that was the blog’s apogee.
There are many more examples in this vein, and I share a few below. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on domain names I’ve never used and never will. But I won’t stop. Here’s why:
Brainstorming domains boosts creativity
Every domain I’ve purchased has been based on an idea for a business or a blog. When choosing a domain name, I ask myself: How can I express this idea as intuitively as possible? What words can I associate with one another to communicate this idea in a way people will understand?
These harmless questions can yield horrible answers. For example, I bought BizPlop.com in 2008 to help young professionals sharpen their networking skills. BizPlop was meant to be an onomatopoeia for a fishing line bizzzzz-ing off a reel until its bobber plopped into water. This was meant as a metaphor for college grads “putting lines in the water” to find jobs. In retrospect, BizPlop was more of an onomatopoeia for shit dropping into a toilet, which, in 2008, was more of a metaphor for the future of the U.S. economy.
Fortunately, you don’t have to follow my lead in dreaming up domain names. Daniel Eckler outlines helpful exercises in associative thinking in How to Name a Unicorn. As you brainstorm puns, rhymes, and portmanteaus for your next dot-com, notice how you become a kind of strategic poet. If one of the best ways to improve creativity is to “go through the creative process again and again and again,” as Julie Zhuo suggests, the practice of thinking up new domain names is lightweight and can be pumped for maximum reps and to maximum effect.
Buying domains builds an entrepreneurial habit
Entrepreneurship is a habit, not an identity. It’s the habit of creating something that addresses a problem or improves a life. Sometimes you’ll be more entrepreneurial; sometimes less. I was feeling very entrepreneurial when bought RowToday.com. I was working at law firm in rural Virginia at the time and had just Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. I believed passionately that a “muse” would save me from a life of doc review and Bojangles dinners. Having rowed in college, I decided to create a learn-to-row video and a point-of-sale website. I sold exactly one video, which is hard to believe, because who wouldn’t want to watch me row in slow motion to the mourning howl of a giant fan?
If I hadn’t purchased RowToday.com, I wouldn’t have gone as far as producing a short film. If it’s your goal to be more entrepreneurial, you need to build a habit of creating. Belle Beth Cooper advises building a habit by identifying the “smallest possible amount of habit you can do and still feel something.” Forking over $12 to GoDaddy for a domain name is a small step towards building something greater, but you feel it in your wallet. It’s that small investment in your own idea that encourages the habit of creating again. And again. And again.
Giving up domains creates room for curiosity
Since $12 isn’t half of your retirement savings, you can easily abandon a domain name, and the business idea it represents, if you can’t find time to build it or if you lose interest in it. I do this most of the time. I bought CulturedCream.com with the idea of creating exotically spiced — i.e., “cultured” — coffee creamers (never mind that cultured cream is actually crème fraîche). Then I actually tried to make an exotically spiced coffee creamer. After one silty cup of coffee I soured on the whole idea.
Instead of forging grit, we might instead follow curiosity. Curiosity is the ever-downstream current. Like water down the river, curiosity does not compel us to push through obstacles, but around them. When the path stalls, we spill to new paths. So long as we are curious, the barriers we encounter create energy, rather than deplete it.
Give yourself permission to let something go when it no longer gives you joy (H/T Marie Kondo). This includes domain names and business ideas and awful cups of coffee. If you’ve built a capacity for creativity and an entrepreneurial habit, you have little to lose by ducking out of an eddy that’s going nowhere. There’s always something new to explore.