The Dot-Com Don: Meet the Domain Prospector Turning Stray URLs Into Real Businesses
Most entrepreneurs acquire domains to fit their businesses. Peter Askew does the opposite.
Inside the Switchyards, a buzzy Atlanta co-working space, local tech founders like to plaster the elevator with stickers for their companies.
There’s one for Soylent, the Space-Age nutri-gunk whose founder went to Georgia Tech; there’s one for MailChimp, the email behemoth that does almost half a billion dollars in annual business.
Then there’s VidaliaOnions.com. For between $35 and $95 a pop, the site will mail you box of Vidalia onions, a prized varietal known for its sweetness and grown exclusively in 20 counties in south Georgia. Shipping and handling are included, and every order is processed by the site’s founder, a twangy, rhapsodic guy named Peter Askew.
Askew loves Vidalia onions. Onions pay his bills. And they’ve propelled him to minor celebrity in his field — which is not onion farming, but domain investment.
In addition to VidaliaOnions.com, Askew runs sites devoted to farmworkers, dude ranches, and, perplexingly, the tiny North Carolina mountain town of Brevard. As we stood in the Switchyards elevator, the 6-foot-8-inch tall Askew debated where to place the logo sticker for his newest project, BirthdayParties.com, a sherbert-colored search engine for party venues. Though most entrepreneurs acquire domains that fit their businesses, Askew takes the opposite approach: buy a good domain, then build a business on top of it. “I rarely ever come up with an idea,” he says. “The domain is the inspiration.” According to Askew, only one of his domain-inspired businesses has failed so far and he says he still sold the domain, CallTracking.com, for a $100,000 profit.
Askew is far from the first or only domainer “developing” dot-coms rather than flipping them — an underrated tactic, he says, in the art of domain investment, which is almost as old as the commercial web itself. The strategy is founded on the belief that building property on a site — even the semblance of a functional enterprise — can make the domain that much more attractive, in much the same way that developing land can make a property more…