Back when Harry Potter was just starting to become an empire, I had a clever idea. Register.com revealed a shocking number of Potter-related domain names unclaimed, and so, with my children cheering me on, I acquired several. They weren’t cheap, but when Scholastic came begging, I would be generous; and I always wanted a Porsche.
Fast-forward to 2003, and it turns out to be the legal department at Time-Warner whose people connected with my people. In the end they even were kind enough to pay me exactly enough to cover my legal fees, making the whole deal a wash. I don’t know where college Quidditch players get their equipment, but it still isn’t from www.QualityQuidditch.com. But at least J. K. Rowling didn’t actually, personally sue me, as she had threatened—at least that’s what the Time-Warner guys were saying. The sad thing was that my little nuisance didn’t even warrant their good stationery.
Over the years I’ve succumbed to the temptation of a good idea on a few other occasions, and I’ve at least learned that GoDaddy is a better deal than Register. I’ve let a few of my worse ideas lapse—turns out the designation “electro” didn’t really catch on when all the good “digital”-thises and thats had been used up, and there were a few others that sounded pretty stupid in retrospect.
I would like to bet that I’m not the only internet romantic out there with a handful of clever-sounding (to their registrants, anyhow) web addresses in his or her hip pocket, just waiting for that wonderful moment when a perfect storm of unsolicited venture capital, technical wizardry, and a fully formed business plan breaks over the otherwise entrepreneurially arid plain of my life.
Having failed to claim oil.com or ketchup.com back in the Nineties, I have sadly come to the realization that there may be fewer fortunes to be made in domain names than there once allegedly were. Of course, those fortunes may largely be the stuff of legends based on impossibly thin odds, like the summer fortunes that supposedly awaited college kids working the Alaska Oil Pipeline or the crab boats out of Dutch Harbor in the era when most of us were slacking at Woodstock—or wishing we were. And now that I can watch the crab boats on reality TV, I think mowing greens at the golf course was a better choice for me.
But upon reflection, the big lesson for me has been that the people who create successful web ventures know a lot of things that I don’t, and they are driven to succeed in ways that I haven’t been. As repugnant as were many of the characters in The Social Network, they certainly believed in their own ideas. Their instincts for monetizing their ideas stun me; lately I’ve been reading a biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had the same kinds of instincts around transportation networks in the nineteenth century. I blame my parents for failing to give me the gene.
It’s also clear to me that there are still fortunes to be made by people with brilliant ideas—and that the really brilliant ideas do indeed meet some sort of need that has apparently been lying latent in the human genome—some Facebook chromatid that Mark Zuckerberg and/or the Winklevii figured out how to activate. It seems that there was no corresponding site for electrowallstreet.com.
As I seem to be hardwired to consume big commercial opportunities rather than to create them, I don’t imagine that I’m ever going to skewered in a blockbuster movie. But I will stay in the game, in the hope that, if I don’t get the perfect storm, some day there may be at least a little cloudburst that turns one of my web addresses into something as useful as it was on the dreamy day I claimed it on GoDaddy.
Otherwise, I’ve got a solid handful of object lessons in the challenges of being a successful web entrepreneur. And by the way: Anyone interested in creating a site that offers people with technical skills what the “personal services” listings on Craigslist provide, without the clutter of other, er, services? Give me a call—I’ve got a great name all registered. It can’t go wrong!