Paul Graham Shares Excellent Domain Name Advice

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Paul Graham is one of the most respected people in the startup community, and he frequently shares advice on his personal website, PaulGraham.com. In an article he just published, Change Your Name, Paul discusses the importance of domain names. More precisely, he wrote about the importance of startups owning .com domain names.

The opening sentence of the article says it all: “If you have a US startup called X and you don’t have x.com, you should probably change your name.” The basic reason for this can be found in the next paragraph: “The problem with not having the .com of your name is that it signals weakness.”

There is quite a bit of good advice shared in the article, and I will let you have a look to see what one of the leading minds in the startup world has to say about .com domain names.

I frequently see startups launch on a domain hack, non-exact match domain name (like GetX.com), a ccTLD or something else that isn’t .com. I would imagine that most of these companies simply can not afford to purchase the exact match .com domain name when they are starting out, so they settle for something else that works. Many of these companies have the smarts (or have investors with the smarts) to know how important it is to have the .com, and they buy the .com when they can afford to do so. It may be more expensive down the road, but it would likely be more costly to not have it.

Paul Graham’s article is excellent, and I think you should read it and share it. Not only is it positive for domain investors with good .com domain names, but it also offers insight to people buying weird domain names with the hopes that someone else will want them in the future.

I would guess that other influential people in the startup space will read the article and write a rebuttal, and I look forward to seeing those, too.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Elliot,

    Not many people (startups / businesses) care about the value of a .COM domain name.
    I own at list 200 .COM domain names that are the exact macht domain for many well established companies out there running their website on a .NET, .ORG, .BIZ or a ccTLD. When I contact them to sell my .COM the majority are NOT interested and some (less than 3%) offer between $100 and $300 never more that that.

    REAL CASE:
    I own “ElectroCircuits.com” and I contacted the owner of “ElectroCircuits.net” which is a Houston-TX based company (with over 600 employees).
    He got back with a $200 USD offer and the argument that a domain name can´t be worth more than that.

    • agreed on lack of end user awareness, similar story years ago in Houston amidst dire mold issues I approached mold remediation about buying our moldcure com name and their reply was “What would I do with it?” Education and awareness problem for our industry! You Think?

    • ElectroCircuits.com

      //////////////

      This looks to be a quite small business, they aren’t likely to have much of a budget for a domain, especially if it is you contacting them. To sell a name like this for a good price you’d need a whole lot of potential buyers not just one.

    • There are a lot of potential buyers for “ElectroCircuits.com”
      Just type ElectroCircuits on GOOGLE and you´ll see:

      *ElectroCircuits.net (this is a Big company. They have over 600 employees and between their customer are NASA, COMPAQ, SCHLUMBERGER just to mention some)
      *AmElectro.com
      *AecPcb.com
      *CapitalElectro.com
      *ElectroCircuitsCorp.com (they could upgrade)
      *ExcelElectro.com
      *ElectroCircuit.com
      *AutomayionAlley.com

      All these companies mentioned above are just from the first 2 pages from GOOGLE.
      They all advertise on the term “ElectroCircuits”, they are all US and Canada based companies and for sure they all can afford to buy a domain name up to 10K.

    • You’re going to have these companies in “old school” industries that don’t understand the benefits of owning a .COM domain. It comes down to educating them, but I’m sure there are a lot of them are stubborn and won’t budge.

      On the other hand, people in the Internet business (startups) understand the value of domains, so they are more likely to pay higher prices.

    • Maybe you could try this approach:

      Tell him you’re offering the domain to a list (like Miriam mentioned) as a first come first serve basis.
      If he doesn’t buy it, someone from the list will do it.

  2. Yes I have seen my share of companies operate on. Net, hyphenated or just plain -inferior -quality. Cons. However, as an accountant who has seen how much companies spend on IT, advertising, marketing, professional services, etc it amazes me how little they value domain names.

  3. Not sure how this qualifies as “excellent” advice. In fact it is neither a “guide” with specifics nor practical.

    One thing I am glad he is not explicitly stating is asking start-ups to cough up 20-50K or more for COMs.

  4. I read this and honestly thought that it’s kind of bizarre that he seemingly “randomly” came out with this post. My first impression was that it was a publicity stunt by Verisign.

    Nonetheless, Paul’s point about naming is a good one. You have to have a good name. But, I see no evidence (and he didn’t provide any) why the name has to be associated with a .COM domain. His only ‘evidence’ that he mentions is the fact that “100% of the top 20 YC companies by valuation have the .com of their name. 94% of the top 50 do. But only 66% of companies in the current batch have the .com of their name.” This doesn’t mean that 94% of the top 50 are right (in owning the .com).

    • Why does he have to back his personal, anecdotal opinion up with evidence?

      Would you feel comfortable banking online with BankOfTex.as or BankOfTexas.com, especially if BankOfTexas.com was parked or used by someone else? I would question why they don’t have the .com.

  5. You’re right, Elliot, it’s his opinion. But opinions tend to be more trustworthy if they’re backed up with facts.

    With your Bank of Texas example, I agree that the .as is not as “good” as using a .com domain, but why would BankofTexas.com be better than BankofTexas.Bank? .Bank now has more “security” in place because not anyone can own a .Bank domain.

    In the startup world, and naming companies, they’re all pretty much “made up” names for branding.

    I see no technical reason why a .com would be “better” than any other TLD. Only that .com has been around for so long, that the public just thinks it’s better “just because”.

    I chose a .domains extension and not a .com for our new service because of the two Ds in the name. It’s just better than the .com because the dot breaks up those two Ds in the name.

    • I think someone could likely hack a .bank website as easily as a .com website. I suppose it would be harder for phishing, although I don’t know why anyone would click on a GoDaddyBlahBlah.com domain name thinking it’s GoDaddy. My guess is the confusion will still be an issue.

      Also, there is not a “technical” reason .com is better. It’s more of a location/branding issue. I would rather have a ski house on the mountain than one a couple miles away from the mountain. When I am entertaining friends or selling the property, the better location will be important. Both homes might be exactly the same, but nothing beats ski in / ski out.

  6. The bottom line is that people in commerce have been mind-mapped to default to .com, and anything else is realistically a bit of an uphill battle. Just like Kleenex became the word for tissues, it’s really hard to get people to say tissues when they know they want that flimsy papery thing to blow their nose. Kleenex is trademarked, so you can’t say Kleenex officially, buy that’s what most people say in real life. Dot .com was first in commerce (geeky early adopters who loved .net, notwithstanding), and will forever hold the first position in people’s minds, where the battle is waged for market position. Nevertheless the new millennials and domain investors have surely embraced some of the new .tld’s and there will be some uptick and “hipness” there, but for substantial business, outside of the hipster culture, .com reflects “I’m serious,” in my view. The cool thing about this environment, is that there is something for everybody, and some of the new tlds have certain appeal. 95% of my portfolio is .com’s, but I do have a few like trampoline.tv, rentals.la, and soloists.net set aside for future development.

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