Kevin Ham, Cameroon, and the Domain Name Industry
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If you’re interested in web hosting or buying and selling domain names, you probably read the recent CNN Money article on Kevin Ham. This man has built an empire around generic domain names. While the article itself was excellent, many in the domain industry believe it has given the field a black eye from which it might not recover for a year or more.
Kevin Ham’s story has the undeniable appeal of a rags-to-riches tale, with a modern Internet twist. The 37-year-old son of Korean immigrants to Canada dreamed of becoming a doctor. He delved deeply into Christianity in his undergraduate days, which also indirectly planted the seed for his later Internet activity. He graduated from medical school in 1998 and completed a two-year residency in Ontario. It was during that residency that he started to build an Internet business, teaching himself to code in Perl.
Ham’s business, HostGlobal, brought together information about web hosting providers into an online directory. Naturally he sold ads on that directory. Realizing that people looking for hosting providers might also be interested in domain names, he built a second directory, DNSindex, where they could buy URLs. His directory featured weekly lists of available names, for some of which he charged as much as $50. By June 2000 that side business was making more money in a month than he made in the hospital in a year. He decided that his medical practice would have to wait.
Then the dot-com bubble burst. That hurt many people, but not Kevin Ham. With dot-com companies going out of business, tons of domain names were suddenly considered worthless – and ripe for the picking. This was back in the days when Network Solutions controlled the best names. Twice a day, this company published the master list of all registered names. Ham wrote software that compared the two lists, and when he found discrepancies he tried to get in and buy up the names that were expiring.
For some time he didn’t realize that he had a rival, Yun Ye. This software developer had created programs that automated his purchases. Ham eventually created software that also automated his purchases, but “Yun was just too good,” Ham admitted. So Ham employed one tool that can sometimes trump software: money. He cut deals with discount registrars, offering to pay significantly more than the standard prices when names “dropped.” Ham registered as many as 10,000 domain names in a single six-month period.
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