NamesCon, arguably the most popular domain name conference in the calendar, is set to kick off in Las Vegas on January 10th. With an expected attendance of over 1,000 people, the stage is set for a memorable event. Such a big industry event warrants an auction of equal magnitude. Mike Berkens and Monte Cahn of RightOfTheDot (ROTD) have put together what looks to be one of the largest domain auction events ever, with multiple seven-figure names such as At.com and By.com leading the field for premium .COM and new gTLD names. I had the pleasure of interviewing Monte Cahn (@mcahn), co-founder of Right of the Dot, LLC., regarding the upcoming NamesCon auction. NP: How do you choose the domain names to enter into the auction? Is there a theme? For example, with the strong Chinese market currently, are your domain choices geared more towards that market? Monte: We look at a number of factors in choosing names for the RightOfTheDot / NamesCon auction (not in order of importance): Premium and Super-Premium names that are priced at no or low reserve. By this, we mean names that are obviously worth more than what the seller is setting as their net reserve to them. This has proven to drive more bidding interest, excitement and competition making for an exciting and active auction. (Such as SouthAmerica.com, Kaite.com and Tuscany.com) Hot industry trending and sales such as the Chinese market names, such as AT.com, BY.com, and BDD.com New TLDs that make good linguistic and logical sense and meaning to the left and right of the dot (".") and are supported, marketed, and funded by some of the strongest registries. Examples of some great names priced at no or low reserve in this category are: 88.xyz, Night.club, and Web.hosting. Other legacy-but-popular TLDs with good key words, trending, or with good sale history like: PP.org, Feel.me, and HD.tv The obvious industry category killers such as Auctions.com, Degree.com, and Row.com. NP: Why did you opt to host the auction's pre-bidding at NameJet? Monte: NameJet has a strong and successful reputation as well as great market presence in Asia and worldwide. We have also successfully worked with NameJet on other themed auctions in the past. Some of our clients (MediaOptions, FindYourDomain, etc.) have also had successful themed sales with NameJet. One of the key factors in choosing NameJet was the fact that they are equally owned by two publicly traded companies in our industry: RightSide Group Ltd. and Web.com. This provides us targeted opt-in access to the customer bases at Network Solutions, Register.com, Enom, and Name.com. They also have an agile management and marketing team that is aligned with our goals and objectives in providing a great auction offering for the NamesCon event. Our online auction on NameJet will continue to run now through January 21 and will include all names not going to the live auction along with any names that did not meet reserve or sell in the live auction. NP: Last year, the NamesCon auction produced $990,851 in sales. Do you have any expectations as to your sales figures this year? Do you think you can double or even triple last year’s figure? Monte: Yes, we are very bullish on this year's results. I believe that we can do 2X - 3X+ this year due to the quality and greatly priced inventory, strong marketing conditions, larger conference attendance and more marketing time. Last year was more of an experiment on bringing back a domain industry live auction concept that I originally pioneered in 2004. As many know, I conducted and ran the industry's most successful domain online and live auctions for years until I left Moniker in 2010. We felt it was important to bring the excitement of the live auction with some of the best names in the industry and attract end users, new and existing domain investors, and at the same time open the door for investing in some of the best new TLDs coming to market. Because there has been so much attention on the new TLD market and some of the greatest minds are now running new TLD registries, we feel it is important to also have these well represented in our auctions. This provides great investment opportunities for new and existing domain investors and speculators as well as the next generation of end users and corporate brand buyers. NP: Do you reach out to end users who may be interested in purchasing a domain at the NamesCon auction, or are you focused on primarily raising awareness within the domaining community? Monte: Yes we have been doing a ton of end user, corporate branding marketing and outreach. We have been targeting specific companies and getting "C" level contacts and presenting a number of domains to each in specific market segments and industries. Many existing brands are also looking at new TLDs to launch products, services, and marketing campaigns on while maintaining their key brands in .com. Others are looking to switch onto a new TLD that makes more logical and linguistic sense to them and their customers. On the other side, we are spreading the word to new and existing domainers, investors looking for great opportunities to bid on names never offered for sale before. The majority of the domains in our auction have never been for sale before or are owned by corporations that are putting up names for sale for the first time. We are targeting the international markets including China. We just came off a successful DomainFest Asia domain auction where most buyers were Chinese so we are targeting all of our buyers and more of the larger buyers there. NP: I noticed that you have many valuable new gTLD names in the auction at no reserve, such as web.hosting. Do you think any of these domains can beat the Wine.club sale from NamesCon last year? Monte: Yes we do. We have been encouraging no and low reserve pricing for all the domains in this auction but having this on some of the new TLDs can drive many more bidders through competition and excitement. The Wine.club sale last year was a huge win not only for the .club registry but for the entire industry. That sale raised the tide water for all domain owners and brought a lot of positive reaction and attention both inside and outside our industry. Six figure sales are not common in general so we will see how some of the new TLDs do this year. As long as most of them sell, it should be good for the industry regardless if any exceed the high mark of $140,000 that Wine.club hit last year. We have sold several 5 and 6 figure new TLD names thus far and know that when the overall worldwide market is more aware and when there are more new generational users coming to the market, that more new TLDs will sell for premium prices. NP: Who sets the reserves on domain names at auction? Is it the domain owner or RightOfTheDot? Monte: Reserve prices are set by the seller but as stated above, we are very involved in market prices, values and have been encouraging lower reserve prices to drive more bidding interest. We feel it's important to let the market price the names rather than the seller. Setting names at no and low reserve in an active market achieves that goal and it's good for the industry. NP: How many domain name submissions did you receive for the NamesCon auction, and how did you decide which names to place in the auction? Monte: We received over 15,000 domain submissions. It is a very hard and exhausting process going through each domain, looking up trends, sales, values, end users, PPC/CPC values, current bidders and offers, etc., and then narrowing that huge list down to something manageable and attractive to potential buyers both attending NamesCon and those bidding online. And yes, not everyone agrees with our final selections; sometimes, some feel their names are better than others selected, and sometimes they are right. However, for the most part and after having done this for so many years and so many events, I feel we generally have a good pulse on the industry and do a pretty good job on selecting the best names with the best chances to sell. Sometimes we tease live names for the extended auction because we have an extra 10 days to market those. Some names are high priced but get a lot of press and media attention and may never sell, but the marketing effect helps the overall auction and industry, etc. Again the core ideals we were looking for were great names at the lowest net reserve prices to drive as much excitement, bidding, and inertia as possible. NP: For those who cannot make it to the auction in person, will there be ways of following the auction and or bidding online? Monte: Yes, those who cannot attend will be able to sign up for remote online live bidding. That bidding link will be put up this week on NameJet, ROTD, and NamesCon websites. You can also pre-bid right now and put your maximum bids in at NameJet. Once signed up, you will be notified on how to bid in the live auction if you're not attending NamesCon. If you want to put in a proxy or absentee bid, you can email me with the domains you are interested in at [email protected]. We will also have phone bidding for those interested. The online portion continues on NameJet through January 21st. NP: On NameJet.com, there is already a bid of $1.5m for AT.com. Do you expect to see even more seven figure bids as the live auction gets closer? Monte: Yes, as of this post, there are several high bids for domain names. At.com is at $1,502,000, fw.com is at $1,051,000, by.com is at $602,000, wi.com is at $444,000, and 380.com is already at $301,000. There is about $6,000,000 in bids as of this post which is much more than we were at this time last year. NP: Do you have any tips for people looking to bid at NamesCon? Monte: If you are attending the auction in person, it's best to get your paddle and get registered on Monday morning rather than waiting in line or right before the auction starts at 2 PM PST. We will have a table set up on Monday morning to save time. There will be an open bar and some light food since it's right after lunch. You will want to stay for the entire auction and not leave early so you can bid on names that are towards the end of the auction. Typically these are of better value. All sales will be closed and escrowed by NameJet. NameJet is integrated with Enom and sometimes Name.com accounts to do change of ownership, so setting up your free account at Enom in advance will also save you time if you are a buyer or seller. If you are still not sure if you should attend NamesCon, I would encourage you to go. It is the largest conference in our industry and has great speakers, content, great networking opportunities, and many, many new friendships and business deals are struck there. It's well worth the trip and business expense! We look forward to seeing everyone there and if anyone has any questions about bidding or names in the auction, contact me at [email protected]. -- Thanks to Monte and his team for this excellent interview! This interview has been edited for length and clarity.