The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Lonnie Borck is the Yiddish word “mensch,” meaning a good person. I haven’t told anyone this until now, and I hope Lonnie doesn’t get upset, but he and his partner are behind the best deal I’ve ever made in the domain business.
I wrote about it in greater depth before, but the short story is that Lonnie and his partner made a very substantial offer on a domain name I owned, knowing all proceeds were going to a non-profit organization we all support. This was all precipitated by a chance meeting with Lonnie’s business partner as we were exiting the restroom during the TRAFFIC show in New York.
Since our introduction and subsequent dinner, I’ve had the chance to get to know Lonnie better, and come to find out just how active he has been in the domain community. Lonnie first started registering domain names in 1998. Using a dial-up connection in Edison, New Jersey, he would search through the NSI drops until the early morning. The first name Lonnie ever registered, for $70, was Offlease.com (he was a reseller of off-lease equipment), which still generates a good amount of revenue today.
A year later, Lonnie moved to Baltimore to become Director of Marketing at his friend’s highly successful company, Poetry.com and Picture.com. That friend was also his first investor. Through this experience, Lonnie learned a lot about the power of Internet advertising and the money involved. Though intriguing, it wasn’t enough to pull him away from the business of his dreams, owning a restaurant.
An opportunity came about for Lonnie to take over an upscale kosher steakhouse in Baltimore. He jumped on it, and a year later, he opened a brick oven pizza place. Running two restaurants didn’t leave much time for domain investing, as he would be working from 9 am to 1 am. He would get home in the early morning and then sit down at the computer and start domaining – quite rough for someone with a family. Lonnie’s wife is a graphic designer (which certainly comes in handy), and they live in Baltimore with their family.
Recently, Lonnie left the restaurant business and now works on his Internet ventures full-time. He is currently launching a start-up, netRocket, with his web development company. Netrocket is a bookmark scheduling service that allows you to collect, edit, and schedule your bookmarks for viewing when you want to view them. This is a unique service, and I predict it will take off!
EJS: 1) How is netRocket different than most comparable sites, what advantages does it offer registered users, and how does your company intend to generate revenue from the business?
LB: “netRocket.com differentiates itself from comparable sites by focusing first and foremost on the individual and their needs. The business idea stemmed from a true practical need that we felt was not being adequately addressed. We carried out one-on-one sessions and discussion groups with a diverse group of real-world users to ensure that we were solving the problem at hand. Our goal is to provide a free service that helps people manage their time and keep track of all their online information in a smart and efficient manner.
Smart bookmarking services are no longer enough. One needs a service that helps organize and schedule their online resources in an efficient and pragmatic manner. I’ll give you an example: I frequently discover interesting things while I am surfing the web. One minute I’ll discover an auction that ends in 3 days and later on I’ll be reading an article about something and discover a couple of other sites that look like they may be of interest to me but I simply don’t have the time to look at them then and there. Then an e-mail comes through from a friend or colleague recommending that I look at a viral video (or some other online resource) and now I have something else that I’d like to get to at some point but it’s simply not practical to do it at that point in time.
So what I really need is a way to be able to organize all of these things along with other essential items such as credit card bills, online news and weather and so on. I schedule an e-mail reminder for the auction that fires off an hour before the auction ends, I place the other resources in my ‘To View’ list so that I can find them easily when I have some downtime and I save the other useful stuff I’ve found permanently in the site. That’s where netRocket.com comes in. It goes above and beyond the other sites that are out there and lets you tackle all these things with the click of a button using our browser toolbar buttons.
We will continue to add bells and whistles as we move forward, but what makes us different from the others is that our focus is primarily on you – the end user. We have a strong business plan in place and revenue is going to come from a few different angles with the primary one being highly targeted advertising that is automatically generated based on the things the user likes and dislikes. We are also working on ways to make the advertising effective without being obtrusive. We consider ourselves as part of the user base since we are all avid users of netRocket, so we don’t want to do anything that will diminish the usability or overall feel of the site.”
EJS: 2) What are the favorite feeds that you currently have in your netRocket Mission Control panel?
LB: “My main use for netRocket is for organizing my domain name auctions, articles and useful resources. I have all of my favorite auctions, drop lists, blogs and useful tools/resources scheduled on a daily basis and every time I come across an interesting article or a name I am potentially interested in, I add it to my ‘To View’ list so that it doesn’t get lost. The great thing is that I can catch up on my domain research from anywhere using this method. I have pretty much everything I need in there so it gives me an edge at the end of the day when I am working on my domain real estate. I am also a huge football fan and I have a lot of sports links so I can keep track of the Philadelphia Eagles when I’m not in my seat at the Linc.” (EJS: I am a die hard Pats fan, so I must interject a big BOOOOOOO!)
EJS: 3) Since netRocket is currently in a Beta test phase, what enhancements do you plan to make during the official release?
LB: “We have just moved into public beta so anybody and everybody can now sign up and use the site for free. The private beta phase was used to iron out initial bugs and to get more feedback from a core group of users. We are strong believers in taking note of all user feedback and incorporating as much of it as possible as we strive to offer a service that provides the maximum benefit to our users. So we are currently working hard on integrating the key features that have been proposed. The biggest enhancements you should see in the very near future are seamless integration with mobile devices as well as making it even easier to add links to the system even when you are not sitting at your computer. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves but you’ll have to keep using the system to see them unfold.”
EJS: 4) You were once involved in the restaurant business. How has that experience helped you as a domain investor?
LB: “The restaurant business is one of the toughest and most demanding businesses out there. If you’ve survived the experience of owning and running a restaurant then you can conquer just about anything. One of the positives of owning a restaurant is that you get to meet people from all facets of life and this in turn broadens your outlook on things and arms you with a lot more knowledge and insight on trends and opportunities. I came out of that experience with more tools in my arsenal than the average Joe as I have seen it all and have developed a profound understanding of how people think and act. This has helped me tremendously as a domain investor as I have a knack for what people get excited about and where the money is at. I am also a lot more resilient than the average person so I am willing to take on more risk and in turn the reward is there for the taking.”
EJS: 5) What advice would you give to people who are involved in developing an online business?
LB: “The most important thing is to work with people that are smart, hard working and hungry. I associate myself with the best of the best and I am willing to take chances and to persevere in order to attain success. Nothing scares us technologically and we are confident in our ability to outproduce our competition. If you are working with great minds and you are willing to work hard at it and do whatever it takes, then this is one of the most rewarding businesses.
The Internet is shaping the future of our lives and there is nothing greater than being a part of that. Just make sure that your expectations and resources are in line with the reality of things. The other important piece of advice is that you need to be open to criticism and challenges. My business partner and CTO of netRocket has a tag called ‘Inspiration’ in his netRocket.com page that contains all of our competitors from various projects that we are developing. Instead of focusing on them negatively, we use them as an inspiration to attain greater success.”