I will turn 43 years old in August. I now have the gray hair, receding hairline and sports injuries to prove it. Along with the bad stuff comes also the good stuff: wisdom, accountability, reputation, and enduring friendships. Whether you call it Karma, win-win, or what-goes-around-comes-around, I have learned that it pays to be nice.
Ebay is an interesting case study
To an extent, empowering a generation of internet entrepreneurs is what drives me. When I look at how many people make a living selling on eBay, I think to myself “how cool is that!”. This was a company that started as a hobby and blossomed into a massive global enterprise that created an enormous network of entrepreneurs, the vast majority of which are engaging in legitimate transactions. The company built an entire business model around personal accountability and reputation. If you are a reputable seller, you get more business and with less transactional friction. It pays to be nice.
At Epik, our goal is to empower thousands of entrepreneurs to become financially independent through domain development. However, beyond helping people to make money, I am intrigued by the idea of creating a community of like-minded individuals who also want to be part of something bigger — something that can actually make the Internet work better. The folks who I think share this vision of the future are what I call “Friends of Epik” or FOE. When I first started using the term, even I thought it seemed a little corny. However, it fit the spirit of what we are doing. After all, life is too short not to have friends.
The FOE Letter
Part of making the “Friends of Epik” scalable has been a Friends of Epik letter, or FOE Letter. This letter is in the form of an email update that I write personally. I send it out a few times a week, often at night. In this letter, I share details about what we are working on, what is working, and also what is not working. I also publish the list of domain names that Epik acquired recently and which we make available on buyer-friendly terms.
Beyond communicating transparently, we try to proactively seek the win-win even if it is not “profit-optimizing” in the short term. A few random examples:
- Earlier today, Friend of Epik, Mike Ray, part of the prolific Albuquerque Epik mafia, bought the domain name stainlesssteeltable.com from Epik. He paid $249 for the domain with a product portal. The Estibot appraisal here is $9,000. The name was a drop-catch for Epik and so it was easy to find the win-win here.
- A number of folks have bought names from us that for whatever reason have been sandboxed by Google or otherwise underperform. In good faith, we do further work on the site. If we still can’t get it right, we’ll buy the name back for what the client has into it, or offer a comparable name in trade.
- A lot of folks in this industry are what I call “Long on Domains. Short on cash”. In these cases, we have accepted domain names in trade for developing their sites. We have done many of these deals. It is always a win-win and gets folks who were losing money on renewals once again cash-flowing from their developed sites.
- We pay out on the 20th of the month whereas our affiliates usually pay us at closer to day 60 or later. Is there a risk that we get some charge-backs from our affiliates? Sure. Does our CFO like this practice? Not really. We do it because it is the right thing to do. We do it because it rewards our partners’ success in a timely manner.
- Occasionally we will miss our deadlines for delivering a developed website, e.g. because of a technical issue or because something slips through the cracks. If we screw up, we’ll take the hit. For example, we will offer to develop an additional domain for free, do some free SEO work, provide supplemental content, etc.
This may seem a little novel but clearly it is not. If you have shopped at Nordstrom, Costco or LL Bean, you get it. These companies make an inherent assumption that people are not evil. In other words, in business, as in life, you can usually turn the other cheek. I find that 9 times out of 10, it will work out in the long run. This is not a license to be asleep in the switch or to be a sucker. Rather it is a starting point for how I approach any new acquaintance. Trust but verify.
Being a Friend has been a win-win
What has Epik gained in return for being a Friend? Lots.
- People are building their entrepreneurial ventures on our platform.
- People tell us when we are screwing up and give us advice on how we can be more successful.
- People bring us deal flow and refer new business.
- People trust us with their money, usually paying in advance for development.
- People offer to come work for us, with us, or be acquired by us.
I could go on. I think the point is clear. It pays to be a Friend.
Thanks for reading and thanks for being a Friend.