When A Domain Was Caught Up In A Bidding War

AKA: The Good Old Internet Gold Rush Days

Back in the mid-1990’s (or more fondly, “ancient times” as we know the internet ages at the same pace of a dog), I had a fine civil servant’s job in Sonoma County, CA. And like everyone else I’d found myself quite amused by the new internet and my Mac Performa (rockin’ the 4 megs of RAM, baby!). To get perspective on just how long ago this was, my co-worker Sue did a little moonlighting as a realtor agreed with me that the internet had genuine possibilities as a tool for selling houses. This was a cutting edge idea, no doubt about it. Put up the house listing, add pictures and sales information…it was pure genius.

Armed with a recent dalliance with “Photoshopping” my face into famous pictures and scenes (alas, those are long lost) and emailing them to amused friends at their AOL addresses, I set out to secure my first domain at what was an early incarnation of Network Solutions. I thought the pictures might make for a fun little website in addition to the millions I’d make as a trail-blazing real estate mogul. I paid my $50.00, completed the email based registration form that required some delicate and unforgiving formatting and secured my new the domain.

[Regrettably for this story, I have only a passing recollection, but fully developed paranoia about the terms of the agreement (the domain must remain cloaked) and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to discuss them. I am, a man of my word. That, and the major media company hinted at below is still quite active and I suspect they have many attorneys on retainer.]

Keep reading, it will make more sense.

Over the next couple of years, I used my new domain as my brand and began creating some modest websites for a handful of Santa Rosa small businesses and non-profits. Ironically, I never took on a real estate project (there’s your big hint) There was Stampa Rosa, a local plumber, an adoption agency, churches, a martial arts studio (a website that is still up and running; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Give Master Jim DeBaca a call–he’s a good guy!) a woman’s health clinic, and a bakery. The latter two being in San Francisco where good internet resources were apparently scarce. Who knew!?

In early-mid 1999, I got a call from a friend that was part of an internet start-up and he was kind enough to ask me if I’d be willing to leave my life-long home, my family and move to Michigan to join his team. It was reckless and obviously it had to be done. Leaving the security of my county job made no sense but I was all-in. But that actually has little to do with this post but it puts the time and atmosphere into perspective.

Just prior to the job offer and our preparations to move, I got an email from a guy in Minnesota named Nick R. (it’s Polish, impossible to spell and I don’t feel like digging through paperwork to look it up–this isn’t a deposition, eh) that offered to buy my “real estate flavored” domain for $15,000. In a moment of unexplained clarity, I replied and told him that I’d consider his offer and get back with him soon. Suffice to say, that was an unexpected email. But it gets better. Before I could even return with my breathless agreement to this remarkable offer (I believe it was less than seven days), I got a second email from a home furniture company. While obviously blind to the initial offer, they intelligently came forward with $17,500 for the same domain. I promptly gave them the same, coy response and promised that I’d return shortly with an answer.

Not knowing any better (I was only a couple credits short of my Harvard MBA), I casually touched base to my bestest-new-pen-pal Nick about being approached by a second party. Perhaps foolishly, I was transparent about the terms they offered. Nick countered with an offer of $25,000. Caveat: Presumably Nick needed to first get that offer approved and offered $5,000 for “first right of refusal”. Should he back out of the deal, the $5k was mine to keep but should they decide to move forward, an additional $20,000 would be delivered.

Now we’ve all seen game shows. Contestant Alice is a second grade teacher from Intercourse, Pennsylvania (I’ll wait here while you Google that) and she loves collecting socks worn by Elvis, has 12 cats and this is her first trip to California. Her quiz show dilemma is this: Do you take the sure thing or hold out for the bigger, better prize. No one likes the safe route, eh?! I mean come on! I was quitting a perfectly good job and moving to (gulp) Michigan! So of course I played the trickier hand and chose what was behind curtain #2. While the “cooling off” period was to last as long as 90 days, it was probably less than 30 before I heard back from young Nick and the cash was mine. I had already moved, ahead of my family, to Michigan when Melanie sent a photocopied image of a second check for $20,000. That’s a net profit of $24,950.

Man. Did that screw up our taxes.

A fair and logical question – where’s the money? This story comes to an abrupt, predictable and altogether un-sexy end. We paid off our newish Volkswagen Passat (Roxie) and offset bills associated with buying snow parkas for everyone in my new, Michigan based family. Investing in APPL stock wasn’t an option; they were trading at about $8-$12 a share and heading south. They were clearly done for the day…