Updated: Aug 15
Our next podcast interview is now live! Ever wonder about the financial catalyst behind Grit.org? This episode we discuss domain brokering - a business that I have been very fortunate to be a part of now for 9 years that has allowed me the time and financial capacity to pursue the passion behind Grit.org. The domain industry is an incredibly fascinating industry that very few people even knows exists, yet is the foundation for every online presence for a business or individual. As we say in the industry, all roads lead to domains. Recently, Grit Brokerage was awarded the Escrow.com 2022 Masters of Domains award for being one of the top 10 grossing domain brokerages in the world. Escrow.com manages over $500 million in domain transactions each year, so this award was a really big deal for Grit Brokerage. For me, I have really enjoyed brokering domains as it has been a perfect intersection of aligning my skill set with what I enjoy and what I am good at, and it has been even more enjoyable getting to work alongside an amazing team with Michael, Maureen, Sabrina, and Kathryn. We look to release an episode per quarter with a behind the scene peek into the domain industry that helps educate people on the value and importance of a quality domain name.
Link to the interview is below so be sure to check it out and let us know your favorite part of the interview.
Intro: Welcome to the Grit.org Podcast with Colby Harris and Brian Harbin. In these episodes, they speak to top achievers in athletics and business to understand the habits and mindset they apply in order to build more grit.
Colby Harris: Welcome back to the Grit-org podcast. My name is Colby Harris, and I'm here with today's guest, Brian Harbin. Brian, thanks for being here!
Brian Harbin: Yeah. Thanks, Colby. Good to see you!
Colby Harris: Absolutely. Always good to see, you know, got you on the other end of the mic today. So we're super excited to have Brian here. As you all know, he's the host of the Grit.org podcast as well as the founder of Grit.org. But today we have him here to discuss his main business, grit Brokerage, a domain brokerage firm he started in 2014. And they specialize in helping clients buy or sell premium domain names and websites.
So, first off, what does brokering domains and Grit Brokerage have to do with Grit.org? Well, it's actually the engine that has made a lot of what we do possible here at grit.org. So if you're connected to the domain industry and know of Grit Brokerage or have used them or thinking about using them, just know that Grit Brokerage is way more than just a domain brokerage firm, and in fact, they are continuously helping change the lives of young people. That's the way they give back, and you can find more at Grit.org
So, Brian, let's dive right in. Recently, Grit Brokerage was just awarded the 2022 master of domains award by Escrow.com as being one of the top ten grossing domain brokerages in the world. One of the most prestigious awards you can receive. Escrow.com handles over a half a billion dollars in domain sales each year. Grit is regarded as the SEO guru, grit is regarded by the SEO guru, Neil Patel as one of the top three domain brokerages in existence.
So today, we're here to learn more about domain brokering and hear some about the deals that made up almost $10 million of domain sales that Grit Brokerage did in order to achieve the 2022 master of domains award. So, Brian, let's go ahead and just get started. Tell us a little bit about what you do. What is a domain broker and why are they so valuable?
Brian Harbin: So a domain broker is simply kind of like a real estate agent of domain names and websites. There's a buyer, there's a seller. Broker brings together a deal and then gets paid a commission.
Colby Harris: And the general public usually associates domain names with things like, GoDaddy, these smaller sites. And since they're the largest place where you can actually register a domain, your business organization, whatever it might be, what makes the domain names you broker valuable compared to the ones that anyone can register for just $15 a year?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, that's a great question, I mean. If the domain industry has been around since the late eighty s, right? And we're in 2023, that means if somebody goes out there to buy a domain name for $10 at GoDaddy or one of these large registrars. That means that in almost 40 years, nobody has ever wanted to pay more than $10 for that domain name. Right? So which means that it doesn't really have a ton of value unless it's a brand new industry. So what we're working with, we're typically working with domains that have been owned for 20 and 30 years.
People that bought a domain name, built a company on it, maybe sold the company, now they're looking to sell the domain name. Maybe it's something that was gifted to them. And so maybe they just don't have a use for it anymore. Should they come to us to help us extract the most value possible from it? On the flip side, we also help clients buy a domain name. So it's a large company that has recently rebranded and they really want to go after that premium.com or some other non.com domain. That's where they hire us to go in and help them acquire that domain name for the best possible price.
Colby Harris: Right, and I mean, there's also obviously a lot of these even blue chip companies are constantly either changing domains or making a brand switch. So a lot of these domains are selling for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. So how come more people don't know about this business? And why is it that a lot of domain sales are kept so private?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, it's definitely a very specific industry, very specific niche, and a lot of companies don't want people to know how much they're paying for. And for clients that we help acquire domain names, they don't want their competitors to necessarily know what they're doing, why they're doing it. They don't want them to know how much money they're willing to invest in it.
Sometimes they don't want their investors to think they're crazy spending that much money for a domain name. There's also the part of it where if they buy it for a certain price, they later on don't want that to be setting the baseline of where it should be valued. So there's a number of reasons that they're kept private. Those are really just some of them.
Colby Harris: And when someone's doing this, how many transactions is there in the domain space? Maybe tell us a little bit about just Grit Brokerage specifically as well. And are these people paying in cash or is this something that they can finance?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, I mean, there's hundreds of transactions daily that happen through domain names and websites, but with our firm, so for the masters of domains, we average doing about 400 transactions a year, and I'd say 90% of the transactions we do are all cash. So they're paid, typically closed and done within two to three days, and then about 10% are financed, typically over a two to five year time period.
Colby Harris: And kind of like we were talking, I mean, the domains that you really specialize in are sought after domains essentially something that's not collecting dust. So the average size deal at Grit Brokerage is a little over 20,000. Give us an idea of some of the domains these people are buying in the range of $10,000 to $100,000. Are they .com domains or what really makes them so valuable?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, well, one of the things that makes Grit Brokerage unique is we'll sell any type of domain name, we'll help people acquire any type domain name from a couple of $100 up to in the millions. A lot of domain brokerages really only specialize in the super expensive $100,000 and up. So that's one of the things that really separates us. For example, that year that we did the Masters of Domains, there was 31 one word AI domains that we sold in that five figure range.
So for example, just to give you an idea, the reason in domain terminology, a lot of times if you ever inquire about a domain and they say, oh, it's a four figure or a five figure, six figure, like, why don't they give me a specific number? There's a reason that people speak in those terms just because it's kind of more of a range. Like I said, a lot of times people don't like giving exact price because prices do change daily.
So when we say five figures, that's generally going to be between that 10,000 range and that 999,000. So but we sold. It was 31 one word AI domains like Mesh.AI, Marvel.AI, we sold, it was 18 one word co domains. We sold a handful of oneword.org domains in that five figure price range, a number of app domains, .IO domains like that and of course we sold dozens and dozens of .com domains in that price range.
Colby Harris: And based on what I know too, I would assume that terminology is really because the price is very subjective. I mean, you never know who you're talking to. If this company is his heart and soul, this guy might be willing to pay six figures to another guy, it's only worth four or five. So tell us a little bit more about some of those six figure deals that Grit Brokerage did that were 100,000 or higher.
Brian Harbin: Sure, absolutely. And kind of to your point too. I always tell people that domain names, the valuation is more similar to art than it is to real estate and the fact that it's really more what somebody's willing to pay for it. And that's really the benefit of using a broker is because a lot of times if somebody owns a domain but it's a huge billion dollar company that inquires about it, well, the price just went up.
So by using a broker you're kind of able to protect the identity of it. But you're right in terms of just the valuations are definitely very subjective. But some of the .com domains we sold, well over a dozen .com domains in that six figure, they were Domains like Series.com, we sold probe.com, pave.com, prove.com. So really Context.com. So really those one word .com domains. And then there was two co domains that we sold in the six figures, and then there was a .IO domain as well. We sold in that range.
Colby Harris: And, I mean, just like we were talking about. Now, if you were a cement company, pave.com, if you're a nine figure company, you're probably willing to pay a lot of money for that. Same with you. If you're a big law firm, prove.com might be the biggest key to growing your company. And along those lines of these companies that are spending millions of dollars on domains like we were talking about, they're kind of harder to talk about because sometimes they involve NDAs. But are there any that you can share with us that were in that seven figure or more range?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, so there was one. Greenlight.com was one. We actually helped them acquire that domain. It was greenlight card, and they wanted to get Greenlight.com. And it was owned by a big company that doesn't really sell domains. And it was really a lot of work just to even get to the person that was going to be able to make that decision. But we helped them acquire that domain name, and so that was a seven figure deal.
But one of the things that was so neat about that story was the fact that you've heard the game of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, right, where every movie is seven degrees of Kevin Bacon. Well, in the domain industry, a lot of times it's like only two to three degrees of separation just with who you know. And it was crazy.
After that transaction finished, the guy that I'd worked with to help acquire it, we had one mutual friend on Facebook, and it was my best friend from high school. So I immediately text my best friend from high school and say, hey, how do you know this guy? He said he was my roommate in college. I'm like, you got to be kidding me. So I had helped my best friends from high school roommate in college by this domain name, and so we made that connection. But it was after the deal, which was crazy.
Colby Harris: Well, I know the business world itself is massive, but just like you said, it's a very niche group of people, and that kind of leads me into my next question is we've talked a lot about .cos .com .ais. Can you tell us a little bit more about what differentiates those finishings to the domains and how that really dictates their value?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, great question. And that's something that we work with a lot because there's only one .com, and if the.com is either not available, not for sale, being used by a large company, you have to go with an alternate. And most of the time, companies have a brand, so they don't want to veer too far off that. So there's these other gTLDs that people can use that also are short, memorable, they match their brand.
And nowadays people are more used to seeing the non .coms, like the .co, the .io, the .ai, the .org (Inaudible 11:18), so there was a large trend for a period of time where people would use like, a brandable domain. In other words, a made up word, like a Google, an Uber, take a misspelling of a word to try and create a brand name. But the reason people aren't doing that as much is because you have to spend so much money on marketing to make it a household name.
So to pick an actual word, a lot of times the best option is to go with a non .coms. And so that's the reason these other gTLDs, and especially nowadays with generation Z, generation Y, they're a lot more used to seeing non .coms domains, they're a lot more popular and as a result, they're selling for a lot more nowadays.
Colby Harris: Well, even a big one that we use at Grit.org is Frame.IO, which has now become a massive, massive hosting site for media companies where they can collaborate, things like that. And on that topic of Gen Z and kind of the way we operate, one thing that you and I have talked about in the past is the differentiator between common social media, like a Facebook, an Instagram, a YouTube, in comparison to actually owning your own website. So can you tell us more about what is different? And why is it important for people to have a domain compared to just hosting their social media on a platform?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, that's a great question too. And you see so many companies that it's great that people are able to monetize their Instagram account or Facebook and they have a large following. But the catch is you don't own that traffic, right? You don't own that direct relationship. It's actually through that social media.
So if you ever get shut down or censored, they can pull you at any time and all of a sudden, there goes your entire business and your way to connect with that client. So by having your own domain name, you can have a direct relationship with your own client versus going through another social media platform where you don't have any control over that relationship.
Colby Harris: Yeah, and let me ask them on that note. I mean, obviously there's a lot of things on the Internet that may or may not should be there, but is there any way for a domain to get shut down or to have your operations on your domain just kind of closed off? I mean, that might be like some FBI level stuff, but…
Brian Harbin: I mean, it's super rare. I mean, you'd have to really be doing something that would warrant that type of action.
Colby Harris: I see.
Brian Harbin: Yeah.
Colby Harris: So tell us then a little bit more. I mean, you started brokering domains part time initially and then you flipped to full time. I guess that was about four years ago now. Five years ago, 2019. Correct? So tell us, how did you decide to make that flip, and were there any events that led to you deciding being a full time domain broker?
Brian Harbin: Yes, I want to say this was probably 2018. I'd been brokering domain names part time for about four years at that point. But I went to a domain conference in Vegas, and there was a guy that I'd helped buy a whole bunch of domains for his business. He was in the Vape and CBD industry and helped do a lot of deals, but his company was in Vegas.
And I said, well, hey, let me come by and see. You have a chance to meet face to face. And I remember I took the taxi to his company. He's got a big beautiful building. And I walk in the front door, and there's receptionists, and I go up to her, and I said, hey, I'm here to see Billy. And behind her, there's a guy standing there with a button down shirt with some papers. And she says, well, can I tell him who's here? I said, well, I'm Brian.
And the guy looking at the paper looked up, and he said, Are you the Brian? And I said, Well, I'm not sure. I'm Brian, the domain broker. He says, oh, my gosh, it's so good to meet you. And he takes me and gives me a personalized tour around the whole office, and I got to meet all these different people I'd worked with. What was so neat about that is I sold a lot of things in my life up to that point, but to see firsthand how they really saw me as an extension of their company, and they really saw me as a valuable asset.
I mean, I'd never been called the Brian before, so at that point, I knew I'm like, this is a really unique industry, and I have a chance to add a ton of value for people. And I think that's one of the things that I really love about. And a lot of people know a bunch of attorneys, they know a lot of financial planners, they know a lot of guys in insurance, real estate, but most people don't know many domain brokers. Right? Or we help somebody do a deal, we become their guy, right, or their person, and we get passed around and referred to their friends. So that's really a neat thing, is just kind of being such a specific niche that you become their person.
Colby Harris: Well, you're known as the Brian in my book, that's for sure. But I think that's one of the big things that a lot of the people who've worked at Grit.org and around you have taken from your experience and what they've learned from you is just that personalized effect and kind of approaching it as knowing you are a bigger part of something than you might initially realize. So we can tell you're very passionate about you're very knowledgeable. But what is it that makes grit brokerage so unique?
Brian Harbin: Well, it's definitely as with anything, it's all about the people, right? So it's really about our team. So with our team, we've got Michael Law, who's been with us now for a number of years, Maureen Sullivan, now for a couple of years. And between the three of us, we've got over 35 years domain brokering experience. Michael really helps specialize in our outbound Sales, our monthly newsletter. We have a few administrative assistants that he helps manage.
Maureen is really our domain acquisition specialist, so she really helps companies acquire that perfect domain, which takes a ton of time and research. And then we have a couple of full time researchers that when we sell a domain, we do a lot of research and do outbound to pitch it to companies that should own it. So there's a ton of research that goes into that and a lot of management of just data and spreadsheets and stuff like that.
So we have two full time assistants, Sabrina and Catherine that help with that. So it's really just about the team and the synergy and us working together and being creative and having fun with it. One other thing I would say, too, and I would say this is just kind of a sales nugget in general. I think one of the things that has really helped our team succeed is just our response time. We're just really quick to get back to people. I never go a day without my entire inbox being. Everybody's gotten back to you.
And I remember a guy called me up this past New Year's Eve. It was like 05:00. I get a random phone call and he's got a domain he wants me to sell. And he says, well, I'm talking to a couple of other brokerage firms. He's like, why should I work with you? I'm like, well, it's 05:00 on New Year's Eve, and I just took your call, so if you ever need me, I'm going to pick up your phone call. So I think just the response time has really helped us get to the level we're at.
Colby Harris: And do you have any advice for anyone that's looking to buy or sell a domain?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, hire a professional. We do this every day for a living. There's so much that goes into understanding what a domain is worth. I think one of the things that the fact that we specialize in helping clients buy or sell domains is we understand how both sides think, right? So if somebody wants to acquire a domain name, we know how that seller thinks, right? We know all the different levers of what it takes to get them to respond and what type of price they'd want for it.
The same way, if there's someone that wants to sell a domain name, these potential buyers, we know how they think because we've helped them acquire those domains. So by hiring a professional and again, goes back to the two degrees, you know, why the domain industry is so small.
When you go to these conferences, there's typically only about 300 or 400 people there, and you're talking about tens of millions of premium domain names out there. And so usually if there's any domain that's for sale or that's expensive, we usually know one or two connections away from being able to get in touch with that person. And so a broker just makes that relationship a lot more efficient.
Colby Harris: And I'm not trying to take any business here from you, Brian, but if someone was looking to become a professional or learn more about the space, whether it's for their own business or they're really intrigued by the business itself, what advice would you have to someone to educate themselves on domains and start figuring out more about it?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, there's a lot of great tools out there to help people get, you know, there's a lot of forums, there's academies, there's a lot of communities out there. Like NamePros is a great community. Domain academy was put together by a really smart guy that helps people understand how domains are valued and understanding, there's a lot of trademark laws that's important to know the legal aspect of buying domains.
So, for example, if somebody reaches out to me and says, hey, can you sell this domain name? But it's a Fortune 500 company and it's a domain they just bought. Well, no, you can't sell a domain that way because it's trademark protected. So just understanding all the laws of what you can and can't buy.
Colby Harris: Would you say that's been the biggest challenge for you up to this point is really learning the laws and the ins and outs and the small details of it? Or what would you say has been a biggest challenge, even working with companies or you personally?
Brian Harbin: I think it's just the longer you're in the business, you're exposed to more and more situations and knowing how things typically play out. So I think understanding the laws and precedences, understanding what's selling, being on top of trends, things like that. So it's obviously a full time job staying on top of those types of.
Colby Harris: And if someone has a domain they're looking to sell, how could they get in touch with Grit Brokerage and be able to get in contact with you?
Brian Harbin: Yeah, just go to Gritbrokerage.com and you can reach out to me, Michael, Maureen, and call us, text us, email us. We're always responsive.
Colby Harris: Well, you're the guy. And they can know that all the money's going to a good place as well throughout the Grit.org umbrella. So, Brian, really great having you today!
Brian Harbin: Yeah, I appreciate it!
Colby Harris: Excited to be back on the panel and doing more interviews with you here soon. That's a wrap today here at the Grit.org podcast. Share this with someone you think it would resonate with or impact. Thank you for joining us for another episode of the Grit.org podcast.