Fred Wilson is one of the most well known and successful venture capitalists, and he is currently a partner at Union Square Ventures in New York City. Some of the best known investments his company has made include Foursquare, Etsy, Meetup, Zynga, and Twitter, among many others.
On Wilson’s blog today, he discusses domain names and their importance to a startup. Although a domain name is not on “The 10 Golden Principles for Successful Web Apps” he wrote, he believes it’s something that could be listed.
In the article, Wilson makes an interesting observation about prices of domain names:
“We’ve noticed the average price of a good domain has risen fairly dramatically in the past year. We used to advise companies to spend $10k or less on a domain, then we upped that recommendation to $25k. We recently upped it again to $50k. I suspect domain prices and pre-money valuations of newly launched startups are highly corrrelated <sic>.”
If a startup builds its brand on a confusing domain name, they are actually building value on someone else’s domain name. For instance, when Del.icio.us was launched, it made the already valuable Delicious.com even more valuable (and expensive) due to the lost traffic and likely revenue generation for the previous owner. Had the startup bought Delicious.com earlier, the cost would likely have been significantly less, although it still may have made a big dent in its budget.
For domain owners who own a name coveted by a startup, they should realize that perhaps taking equity in a company is a good idea in addition to the cash. This is especially true when a startup is backed by a guy like Fred Wilson or his team at Union Square Ventures.
Perhaps if more startups are upfront about who they are and what their plans are, domain owners would be more amenable to working out mutually beneficial deals. In fact, here’s a piece of advice for operators of startup companies looking to get a good domain name without spending a lot of cash up front: telling a domain owner you’re a poor student or a single mom trying to buy a domain name doesn’t work).
Whether you’re a domain investor or you are operating a vc-funded startup, Wilson’s article is a good one to read.