Why So Many Entrepreneurs Hoard Secret Stashes of Domain Names
Dreaming up a new business starts with a domain name, and some entrepreneurs have hundreds of them
Michael Lindsey and Daniel Rubin have a tradition. At the end of each year, when GoDaddy announces that their domain names have renewed, they send each other screenshots of the notice, paired with a tongue-in-cheek caption: “We’ve got to get started on that idea.”
Since their time as undergraduates at California State University, Long Beach, the two of them have fantasized about launching a series of quasi-viable companies together, ranging from a Jewish holiday clothing line that Rubin dubbed “Mitzvapparel” to a subscription box for men (bottle of whiskey, disposable razors, a tie) called Alpha Mail. All it takes is a good pun and a few drinks, and the duo goes all in. Over the past seven years, they’ve sunk hundreds of dollars renewing about a dozen domain names tied to businesses they brainstormed together.
Whether either of them has the time or energy for the new business — or whether the idea feels commercially feasible at all — has become irrelevant. They don’t need a side hustle to boost their careers; Lindsey is a co-founder of the money management app iBank, and Rubin manages artists at the startup Element1 Music. The appeal is the fantasy: That one day they could grow this inside joke into a full company together. “The dream of carving out time and executing it with your bud is almost as enamoring as the idea itself,” says Rubin.
Like Lindsey and Rubin, many entrepreneurs have secret caches of unused websites — in some cases hundreds of domain names — kicking around. Each domain is like a beautiful little entrepreneurial fantasy, a kernel of business idea, just waiting for its owner to find the time or funds to get started (and presumably, to someday do the hard work of, you know, actually building that business). With domains costing as little as $2 to $20 per year to register, it’s tempting to buy up a website for even the vaguest outlines of a business.
“Looking through an entrepreneur’s domain portfolio is a bit like browsing through an old notebook,” says Thies Lindenthal, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge who studies the domain…