Mike Mann, sporting a costume that suits his bluster.
The next time you find yourself pounding your keyboard in frustration because the domain name you want is already taken, direct your ire toward Mike Mann.
Mann is one of the longest members of the clubby world of domain speculators, and he’s buying up names in force these days. And not all on the aftermarket, as some others do. But new names. Dot-com names that aren’t registered — even though 100 million-plus already are — that he then turns around and sells for a few hundred bucks, sometimes far more.
And this week, in a span that lasted less than 24 hours across Tuesday and Wednesday, Mann snapped up 14,962 domains — 1,822 starting Tuesday evening and the rest on Wednesday.
“I’m just really greedy,” said Mann, a man no one would describe as modest. “I want to own the world.”
First, the quick backstory. Mann, who’s 45 and lives in Delaware, joined the dot-com land grab relatively early, in the late 1990s. He had founded an ISP called Internet Interstate, but one day in 1998, much to his surprise, he got a $25,000 offer for a domain he owned, Menus.com. The following day he got a $50,000 offer.
“I was like, ‘I paid $70 for this,'” said Mann, who tends to sport dark glasses and, despite the outfit in the photo, doesn’t smoke cigarettes. “The next day, I went into the domain business.”
Mann went on to become one of the most aggressive domain speculators in a world that was — and still largely is — the digital Wild West. In the early years, registering good names wasn’t that hard, and some people made many, many millions doing just that.
But as time went on, it became far more difficult. The shrewdest (or craftiest) of the so-called domainers went to great lengths to bag their URL prey. They wrote scripts to pound on the registrars, working in the dark of night to “catch” names the nanosecond they expired, or “dropped.” (The king of the “drop catchers” was a mysterious man named Yun Ye, who built a portfolio he sold to the now-public Marchex in 2005 for $164 million.)
Some cut deals with small registrars so they could get direct connections to the names that were expiring — in effect, buying their way to the front of the line, as I documented in this piece, “The man who owns the Internet.” Helping to drive it all: Google and Yahoo, which supply the pay-per-click ads that fill so many undeveloped, or “parked,” sites that people land on by typing URLs directly into a browsers’ address bar.MORE