Mike Robertson: An interview with Australia’s most well-liked domain broker

Mike Robertson is hands down one of the most likable professionals in the domain industry. He’s also, in our opinion, the most well-liked domain broker from Australia, due to his eagerness to be helpful towards fresh starters and established domainers alike.

As a domain industry professional, Mike’s been around for a good two decades and in the past 15 years we’ve been thrilled to have presented his achievements and his fun moments with or without parody overtones. From the Crocodile Dundee 4 spoof, to the Fabulous acquisition interview, to the Mini Donuts visit, Mike Robertson has always been a superb host.

But enough about the past coverage, we are here to present a fresh new interview with Mike, who’s back in Australia whilst maintaining his connection to the US. Three years ago Mike launched his personal website and we’re here to talk about some important facts and figures.

DG: Mike, you’ve been in the domain industry for over 20 years. Can you share a bit about how you got started and what initially drew you to this field?

Mike Robertson: To be honest, it was purely accidental that I landed in the domain industry. I had completed a Bachelor of Business degree, majoring in Marketing, with the hope of having a career in the music industry. As an avid music lover and concert-goer, I wanted to work for a record label, radio station, tour company, or anything in that space. I moved from Yeppoon, a small coastal town to a large city, Brisbane and started the job search. After months of not being able to crack into the industy, I realized I had to expand my job search.

Long story short, I applied, interviewed, and landed a job at Dark Blue Sea, which was the parent company of Fabulous.com. Initially, I worked on their Roar.com pay-per-click search engine as a sales consultant. Because it wasn’t my dream job or passion, I continued looking for a way into the music industry, applying and interviewing for other jobs.

It wasn’t until a few months into the job that something clicked. I took the time to understand the business model. It was then that I fully committed to making the domain industry my career.

DG: Your reputation for kindness and willingness to assist others in acquiring domain names is well-known. Can you tell us about a particularly memorable experience where you helped someone secure the perfect domain name?

Mike Robertson: Back in 2019, the band Crowded House failed to renew their domain (CrowdedHouse.com), and it was auctioned off at one of the expired domain marketplaces. As a fan who grew up listening to their music, I knew I wanted to do everything in my power to get the domain back for them. I reached out to their record label and asked if they wanted me to represent them, pro bono, in trying to reclaim the domain. They were very happy for me to go ahead and do what I could to help. Using my network and connections, I was able to get the domain back under their control and ownership within five days.

I’ve also been able to do the same for other singers, bands, and athletes. There was never anything in it for me; my reward was seeing the domain names end up in their hands and put to use.

Another memorable and extremely rewarding acquisition I was involved in was for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity in NYC that was born in the wake of 9/11. They help American heroes with mortgage-free homes and housing. It took over a year to complete the deal, involving lots of twists and turns, but after seeing the amazing things the charity was doing, I was determined to get them their dream domain, T2T.org.

Rounding out my top three is the acquisition of Strong.com. This was probably the moment I knew I had a knack for domain acquisitions. Adam Strong came to me and asked if I could try to get Strong.com for him. He said it was going to be a challenge as the domain was owned by Wells Fargo. He also mentioned he had two other brokers try, both unsuccessfully. Eager to take on the task, I set off with a fire in my belly. Without going into all the details, I sent one email, received a response from someone at Wells Fargo within 24 hours, and we negotiated a price within two to three days. I think the whole transaction was completed within a week. From there, Adam cherry-picked some other names from the Wells Fargo portfolio, including Evergreen.com.

I will note, not all domain acquisitions are that quick and seemingly easy (I did spend a considerable amount of time researching the corporate structure of Wells Fargo). I’ve been involved in deals that have taken years to complete.

DG: As an Australian who has worked extensively in the US, how do you find the domain investment landscape differs between the two countries and what unique challenges and opportunities have you encountered?

Mike Robertson: One of the most frustrating differences between Australia and the US is that Australia is noticeably behind America in terms of corporates understanding the power of a premium domain name. Here in Australia, the .com.au ccTLD is the extension of choice. More often than not, companies are using a .com.au, and it is more prevalent in advertising and marketing.

I actually don’t spend a lot of time working in the Australian market; it takes a really special domain. One of those was Brisbane.com.au, which I had brokered back in 2013. I spent a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources pitching it to all relevant stakeholders and key players, however I was unsuccessful in selling the domain.

Fast forward to 2021, Brisbane had been awarded the 2032 Olympics. The owner reached out to me and asked if I wanted to take another shot at it. Feeling that the Olympics was a compelling reason for a company to snatch up such a valuable piece of online real estate, I took it to market again. This time, I was interviewed on two major radio stations and received a lot of publicity for the sale. I was able to directly reach every level of government—local, state, federal—and every level of tourism—Brisbane, Queensland, and Australia. I even got through to the International Olympic Committee. I pushed it hard. However, no one stepped up to the plate. It was both disappointing and frustrating.

That said, I’m someone who always looks for silver linings. While I wasn’t able to sell the domain, I cast a very wide net and, as a consequence, grew my network. I connected with a very successful entrepreneur and have since formed a great relationship with him, becoming his “go-to domain name guru.” He’s also been very kind to refer me to others in his network.

In terms of challenges and opportunities, the most obvious challenge is the time zone, which means early mornings and late evenings when scheduling calls. The biggest opportunity for me has been traveling all over the world to meet clients and attend conferences.

DG: In your extensive career, you must have seen significant changes in the domain industry. What are some of the most impactful trends or shifts you’ve observed and how have you adapted your strategies to stay ahead?

Mike Robertson: Having started in the industry back in 2002, Dark Blue Sea was building traffic sites on domains and populating them with their own PPC feed and CPA offerings. Then came domain parking with Google and Yahoo feeds. Over time, as parking revenues declined and plateaued, we saw the emergence of domain sales, which is now the main way to monetize a domain portfolio.

Another significant event was the introduction of new TLDs. This saw an influx of new entrants into the space as greater opportunities were created. While I remain very firm in my belief that .com is king, I can appreciate that some of the new TLDs have value and at times may be the only solution for a company when acquiring a domain. That said, the large majority of domains I acquire are .com; .io and .ai have been popular too.

Crypto and NFTs are probably the other notable trends that disrupted (and maybe distracted) the industry. One of my mentors told me I should pivot into brokering NFTs because they were going to be the future. I really didn’t have a passion (or belief) for them, so I stuck to my course and continued to steer my ship with domain brokering, and I’m glad I did.

In terms of adapting my strategy to stay ahead of the curve, I really haven’t done anything too different since 2011. That was the year I sold eSignature.com for the late, great Roy Flanders. Since then, I’ve pretty much stuck to my lane as a domain broker.

Actually, I probably owe my career as a broker to him; he was someone who saw my potential before I did. He was an incredible mentor and an amazing friend. I miss the wild and wacky stories he would share and the lengthy conversations we would have.

For a period, I took on a role with Directnic.com, which involved managing a large portfolio of domains and serving as Director of Business Development. A large part of my job was selling domains from that portfolio as well as acting as a buyer’s agent for domain acquisitions for Directnic.com customers.

It was during that time that I really honed my domain acquisition skills. I had done a number of acquisitions prior, such as domains like Curious.com, Rev.com, and BTC.com, however, during my time at Directnic.com, I was doing them more frequently.

DG: With your extensive experience in domain investing, what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned that shaped your approach to the domain business?

Mike Robertson: I think it all comes back to reputation. Because the industry is quite small, your reputation is your currency. For those who have been in the industry as long as we have, we’ve seen a number of different “characters” come in guns blazing, looking to make an impact; however, most typically exit just as quickly as they enter.

I’ve learned to slowly build my own personal brand and earn the trust and respect of those within the industry. I’d like to think that I’ve become someone known for their integrity, transparency, honesty, and high ethical standards; someone who is driven, passionate, dedicated, and a positive role model for the industry at large.

Also, I was fortunate to grow, learn, and evolve with the industry as it’s gone through its transformation. I think a lot of people view the domain name industry as a get-rich-quick gig, but it couldn’t be further from that. I’ve spent years learning on the job, seeing what works and what doesn’t, experiencing my own personal and professional failures and missteps, as well as many rewarding and satisfying successes and triumphs.

DG: The domain industry can be highly competitive. What strategies have you found most effective in staying ahead of the competition and identifying lucrative opportunities?

Mike Robertson: Building a solid network is probably the key to being successful in the domain industry. I feel like I’ve been in the industry long enough now that most people know who I am, even if I’m a little quieter these days than I have been in the past.

I’m in a position where I don’t spend a significant amount of time promoting or marketing myself. It’s all organic, word of mouth, repeat business, or referral-based.

That said, one thing I have found helpful is identifying a small online community of users looking for assistance with all things domain names a few years back. As you know, I started my career as the face of Fabulous.com. I was very active on forums and blogs as Mike Fabulous. It got to the point that people thought Fabulous was my surname and that I was the owner/founder of the company.

So when I saw this group of users, I jumped in and started answering their questions, assisting them where I could, providing value, and trying to be helpful. This group has grown and flourished over the years and is now one of my biggest sources of leads and business. I never intended it to be; I was just trying to give back. I also saw it as an opportunity to be a positive spokesperson and role model for the domain industry, which often gets a bad reputation in various online circles.

I think most would know me for having a kind and caring nature, and that’s always my approach and what I’m led by. This is probably why I’m regarded in that community as a trusted leader and professional. I took the time to establish myself as someone knowledgeable and experienced in the field of domain names.

The reality is, I’m a one-man band. I’m not actively trying to get ahead of the competition; I’ve carved out and forged my own path and niche. For me, it comes back to staying in my lane and being of service—quality and genuine service—and building relationships with clients.

I’m actually at a point now where I often refer business to other brokers because I’m not willing to take on more work just for the sake of it. I’ve created a very steady stream of business, and I know it’s important to service and foster those relationships effectively. It’s also important to me to have a healthy life/work balance, something I didn’t have in check earlier in my career—which essentially resulted in me getting sick.

DG: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a domain broker and what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this field?

Mike Robertson: I’ve been fortunate that this career has given me personal, professional, and financial freedom. That said, it hasn’t been an overnight success. I’ve been in this industry since 2002, and I’ve put in the hours and the work.

My advice for someone starting in the field would be to read, learn, and understand the industry. Attend conferences to expand your network. Build trust and a professional reputation. Enter the market with the view of making it a career, not a quick buck. Be prepared to hear a lot of “no’s,” especially when doing outbound marketing. Be genuine and authentic. Be willing to share and collaborate. And be kind and grateful to those who help you along the way.

DG: Mike, thanks again for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with us. I appreciate you and wish you the very best for your personal and professional ventures.

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