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Recently Paul Graham, a VC and entrepreneur whom I very much respect, wrote a post called Change Your Name in which he argued that a startup should seriously think about changing their name if they are not able to get the “.com” TLD for their brand name. Graham also stated some statistics that are meant to make us think that his position is mostly irrefutable. He said:

100% of the top 20 YC companies by valuation have the .com of their name. 94% of the top 50 do. But only 66% of companies in the current batch have the .com of their name. Which suggests there are lessons ahead for most of the rest, one way or another.

I’d argue that having the .com domain is not the most important thing (and I don’t think that’s what Graham was saying). What’s more important, in my opinion, is consistency. In fact, I’d even argue that not having the .com is missing the forest for the trees. Let’s dig in.

How Many Had Their Now-Brand .com When They Started?

Graham argues that the top 20 YC companies by valuation all have their .com name. They’re also well venture-backed and have the money to pay the previous .com owner *almost* life changing money in order to get the .com for their brand name.

Here are the top 20 YC companies by funding, which we can be pretty confident is also a pretty solid list by valuation. This data came from Mattermark. If someone has a better list by valuation, I’d love to see it. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding their other domain names they’ve owned and have links to (found via a lot of investigation online) (click for bigger version):


Graham is absolutely right that all of the top 20 own their .com. They’ve also raised, at minimum, $52.5M in venture funding.

What Graham failed to mention is that 4 of the top 8 started with a different domain name than what they ended up with. What matters isn’t the .com – what matters is starting and taking over or creating an industry. Also, at least 4 of the top 20, and likely more, own other domain names where they may have started.

Also, remember that Facebook started as thefacebook.com, And if your site is international, you’ll also want to consider buying the ccTLDs. The .com, while most popular, is not always best for building a company in another country. AirBNB takes this approach (insight courtesy SpyOnWeb, h/t Mike King:


Find A Name You Can Dominate

I run HireGun.co, which is a project (business?) I started to connect great companies who are ready to grow with the best marketing consultants in the world who are equipped to take those businesses to the next level. Unfortunately, hiregun.com was taken. This is what that site resolves to:


Hiregun.com also serves a 503 (server error) status code and isn’t even cached.


When you search the exact phrasing of their company, “Hiregun Solutions”, in Google, guess what site shows up?


Here’s another example. Take online marketing agency Distilled (which I worked for in New York City for 2.5 years). Distilled uses the .net domain, aka www.distilled.net. The .com is owned by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and it redirects to 911hoax.com. Check it out:


But check out what ranks for the term “distilled”:


And while it’s a woolly metric, I dare you to try to guess which site has more links (and therefore in the algorithm eyes is more trustworthy). Alright I’ll save you the investigation.

I'm shocked. Not.

I’m shocked. Not.

Why The .Com Might Not Make Sense (At First)

As I’ve shown with the HireGun and Distilled examples, it doesn’t necessarily matter that much what your domain is at least at first. Longterm, when you are more concerned about type-in and other forms of direct traffic, it may behoove you to try to acquire the .com domain. In Distilled’s case, they have tried many times but the owner refuses to let it go. In my case with HireGun, I have no need to have the .com domain right now because it is a small project (albeit one I am investing in) and there is no reason for me to go barter and try to buy the .com when I am not even sure how well the business could scale up. Why waste the money? Pick a name, ship it, and start doing the real work – building a product, marketing that product, and proving out that it’s a viable business model.

I’d also like to point out that a lot of successful companies don’t own the .com for their brand name, or have some permutation of their brand name just to get started. This also carries down to things like Facebook brand page URLs, Twitter handles, and more. Sure, you can use a service like KnowEm to see if all of the important sites on which to have a profile have your brand name available, but in this day and age with so many online companies, so many social media users, and so many domain and social media name squatters, it’ll be hard to find a meaningful name with not one taken.

As one astute Redditor pointed out, depending on who your audience is having something other than the .com might actually help you short term. And it makes no SEO difference:



What’s more important, in my opinion, is consistency. Using HireGun as an example, this is the company presence:

Domain name – hiregun.co

Twitter – @hiregunco (though I am trying to get @hiregun)

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/HireGun

Google+ - https://plus.google.com/+HireGun/

Angel List - https://angel.co/hiregun

I have made a point to get (@/+)HireGun wherever possible, and when possible with a capital H and a capital G to keep the brand consistent as often as possible. I have made the choice to do this because I believe that I can get all of the @/+/hiregun names where needed, because my brand name has essentially no competition. However, if I wanted to be truly consistent across the board, I should get @/+/hiregunco across the board. This is a decision that everyone has to make to keep their brand consistent.

Related read: Jason Calacanis’s point 7 in this post about How To Save Your Startup Money. tl:DR – fake it till you make it.

What Matters Most in Startups

What matters most in startups is traction. When you’re in a new space or working to take down an incumbent, you need to move as fast as possible. You’re shipping product, you’re doing market analysis, you’re testing new growth channels and trying to get that first 500, then 1000, then 10000, then 100,000+ users.

Focusing on something like getting the ;.com is, in my opinion, counter productive. Go after that once you have product-market fit, have a solid revenue model, and aren’t concerned with shutting down your company next month.

So my advice is to find a name that works for your company, buy a sensible version of the domain name, and start working as hard as possible to get traction. Start doing great marketing and building a brand, and it won’t matter at the end of the day what your domain ends up being. And what’s the worst case? You start with a .co and train people to go to it, then you eventually acquire the .com and redirect .co to it. You save all your traffic, customers, and links if you do it right, and you’re already off to the races.

Good luck. I welcome any comments.

I recently read this post entitled The Curse of the Full Stack Marketer. I tweeted a few brief thoughts (a brief rant really) around this post, but now I think it needs a longer treatment. I also realize that there have been a few posts written as follow-ons but I’ve purposefully not read them so as to make this my own thoughts.

I think that there are a few elements at play that make this an interesting and tough topic (especially as someone who feels the tension very personally). Those include:

  1. The rockstar problem
  2. The meritocracy problem
  3. The individual vs manager dilemma
  4. The small vs big company challenges and differences

Let’s unpack each.
Continue Reading…

I don’t often write about technical SEO issues anymore on this site, but I have over time often come across questions about when it is best to use a 301 vs a 302 vs a canonical tag on duplicate content. I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about each in depth with the pros and cons of each, as well as a few examples of when to use them. Continue Reading…

I’ve often been asked about guest posting for SEO purposes. I always said that it was less than ideal, but when at an agency I couldn’t really say that it shouldn’t be done.

After being in-house for a year and a half now, I’m putting my stake in the ground.

I do not think that enterprises should be guest posting for SEO purposes.

Before we get going, allow me to draw a distinction between “amplification”, which is spreading the word about content you’ve produced or something you’ve launched, sometimes via guest contribution, and “guest posting ” as most SEO’s think of it, where you write content specifically for a site for the purposes of a link that hopefully will pass some link equity.

Here is why I think “guest posting for SEO” for enterprises is a waste of time and better-used resources. Continue Reading…

I am a voracious reader, which is hilarious because when I was younger and bored, my mom would say “Read a book!” to which I always lamented “But reading is boring.” How we change.

May was no exception to me reading a lot, and actually I read a lot more in May than I have most other months recently. Part of that was due to a cross-country trip in which I had a lot of plane time to read, but I also think that May was an exceptionally good month for good writing.

Here are the articles and books I read in May that I found really impactful. Continue Reading…

Manager Mistakes

John Doherty —  May 22, 2015

Have you ever managed anyone? Then you could probably write this post too. Have you ever been managed by someone? Then you could write this post as well.

I’ve managed people in a few different companies and roles now. Like any position, management is learned skills that you have to both figure out and be trained on. Unfortunately, making mistakes in management skills directly affects people as opposed to simply business metrics.

Here are some management mistakes I’ve made and am seeking to learn from. Continue Reading…

When I became a boss I never really thought about the fact that the way I’m put together and tend to be day-to-day could end up being a liability for me in some ways. I mean, the same is true of marriage (I’ve been married just over a year), but in a professional sense it feels different.

I have always considered myself a 10x professional. I get a lot done and pride myself on that. I can have 8–10 things in my head and on my mind at once, and I can pretty well hold all of them in tension and somehow get them all done. I don’t say this to brag; it’s simply a reality of who I am.

Continue Reading…

Learning To Say No

John Doherty —  December 16, 2014

Today I tweeted something that seemed to resonate with others. This was the tweet, with an embedded quote from this post (h/t Joel):

This was the quote:

“You can only go so fast for so long. You have natural output limitations. Other people rarely consider that when they ask for stuff and set deadlines. In fact, they rarely consider anything. Most times, I find the expectations that other people have around time are arbitrary. They don’t *really* need that thing right now–and if you gave it to them tomorrow, the world will go on.

Don’t be afraid to say, “It’s not going to happen by that time. Here’s when I can have it for you.”

There’s really no way to argue against that. If you draw lines and say no, they’re just going to have to figure out an alternative and accept. ” Continue Reading…

A little over a year ago, I joined HotPads.com as their online marketing manager. I was the first marketer at HotPads in a while, hence the team was me and I was doing everything (though nothing super well). One year later, I have a team of eight marketers (including myself) spanning SEO, email, and content. We’re soon to add a few more positions too.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned creating and growing a marketing team over the past year.

But first, here’s how I feel about my leadership experience over the last year:


Lead Don’t Dictate

As an individual contributor, I never had issues with motivating myself to learn new skills or challenging myself to try new things where I might fail. As a leader, this can work well if you harness it correctly, because then you can show your team that what you are proposing could actually be a) feasible and b) helpful to your goals.

The challenge comes in communication. One lesson I learned the hard way was that I was failing to communicate to my team *why* I was doing something. They took it as me doing their job and not trusting them, when really I trusted them completely but wasn’t sure myself if an idea would actually be a good idea.

A large part of leadership that I previously did not understand is communicating why something should be done, and what the end goal is. If you fail to get someone on board to do something, you’ve failed to inspire and you’ve failed to lead. At this point you’re a dictator. I especially have to be careful of this because my personality type is ENTJ, which I share with Napoleon, Stalin, Steve Jobs, and others. Yikes!


Hire for Culture, Not “Culture”

In San Francisco where I live, and in tech culture more broadly, people talk about “hiring for culture” frequently. When I started thinking about hiring, at first I thought culture was similar interests, a fun attitude, etc. Those are nice things to have in a coworker, but what about things like work culture, humility, how they solve problems, and other things like this that affect the day to day?




Make Your Team Look Good

The last feedback you ever want to hear as a manager is that your team feels like you are taking credit for their work. Part of your job as manager is to amplify their amazing work to your boss. If you’re leading well by making them decision makers (next section), this should be easy to do because they’ll be the ones sending the update emails and you can either a) make sure that your boss is CCd on them or b) you can forward it directly to your boss.


Make Them Decision Makers

You’re probably not the right person to make tactical decisions in areas that you are not a specialist. The person actually doing the work is the right person to make that decision, so why do we try to make the decision when we are the senior employee? I recently read The Decision Maker after the team at Buffer wrote about it, and it changed my perspective on leading a team. Now, instead of making a decision when asked for one, I respond with a question and get them to think through the answer. I’m always the support (and rarely will push back, and only when I think it’s the wrong decision or they haven’t gathered enough information), but the channel owner makes the decision.

I’m actually actively trying to give away as much decision making as possible, and it’s been amazing for the last month.



Some Final Words

I love the HotPads marketing team. I love leading the HotPads marketing team and inspiring them to do great work. This last year has been the hardest of my professional career, but the lessons learned have been invaluable.

Here is what I’ve decided are what I care about on my team:


And how I feel about leadership:


I wrote this post as part of our bi-annual Hackweek. Yes, we do hackweeks twice per year, and yes, we are always hiring.

In my role at HotPads, I manage an ever-growing team of smart marketers. My job is to hire, train, and retain the best and smartest, with the goal of removing roadblocks that keep them from both working together and succeeding at their individual jobs.

I’ve had managerial positions before, but never this direct and I’ve never been able to build my own team. Building your own team is quite different from inheriting a team, which is a whole different topic I’ll explore at some other time. Continue Reading…