The most popular TLD? It’s definitely not a secret that .com is the most frequently registered domain, topping all charts. According to our Global Domain Report 2022, the popular extension accounted for more than 43% of all registered domains worldwide in 2022, with a 4,5% increase compared to the previous year. An impressive growth streak that has not stopped ever since the first .com was registered in 1985! The world’s first and oldest registered .com on the internet is symbolics.com. This internet dinosaur was acquired in 2009 by Aron Meystedt, an American entrepreneur, collector and passionate supporter of the branding power behind this gTLD.
Today, we are relaunching the new 2022 interview series “It’s all about domains” and we do so by looking at a domain name that made history! With Aron Meystedt, we uncover the story behind symbolics.com and how he managed to acquire it. We also talk about the new “domain for lease” business model and why he believes that .com remains the true digital asset on the internet.
What were your first steps in the domain industry?
I jumped into domain investing about 20 years ago. Throughout college and my early 20s, I operated many one-man-show online businesses. I used to sell electronics, sneakers, watches, etc. Naturally, every time I had a new idea of what I wanted to sell, I looked to register a .com that matched the new venture. While dealing with days and months of frustration, realizing that “all the good names are already taken”, I had an epiphany and I wondered if I could track down the owners of these already registered names and make them an offer. In addition to that, I thought running a business where I buy and sell domain names would take much less overhead to operate since domain names are purely digital assets. I started buying domain names, reselling them, and I immediately fell in love with the hunt for hidden unused domain gems.
You own symbolics.com, the first and oldest .com ever registered on the internet. What is its story?
This domain name was registered by the Symbolics Computer Corporation back on 15 March 1985. Symbolics was a very forward-looking tech company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were not only one of the first companies to assemble a “computer workstation” but also the very first entity to register a domain name when the naming space opened up to the public. One of the reasons Symbolics does not exist anymore is because the Lisp computing language they developed isn’t widely used anymore.
But, we can’t dismiss how forward-looking and brilliant these people were. Symbolics was spun out of MIT labs and was a leader in computer software and development in the ’80s and ’90s – way ahead of today’s established players.
What prompted you to purchase this domain name and how did the purchase occur?
I love to collect rare items – from sports cards to sneakers and even sealed video games. So, the collector in me is always seeking the one of one type of item. As I mentioned before, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt more than anything – and I began to think about what a one of one domain name might be and wanted to satisfy the collector in me and locate something exceptional.
I eventually read about symbolics.com and its story of being the first .com ever registered on the internet. I never really paid much attention to this until one random day in 2009. I sent the Symbolics Computer Corporation a brief message expressing my interest in acquiring their domain name as part of my growing domain name collection.
They had never considered selling the domain prior to this, but my request landed on their table at the perfect time! Many people were politely turned away in the years leading up to 2009. Call it luck! The company was restructuring and they actually considered parting with it for the first time ever! After a brief back and forth, we settled on a fair price (a non-disclosure agreement prevents me from mentioning it!) and this is how I obtained symbolics.com, the first .com ever registered.
Upon realizing that I was the new owner of this domain, countless investors and speculators reached out, curious to know how I was able to make such a deal happen. I wish I could say I am an expert negotiator. Sometimes things just happen with a bit of luck when you are at the right place at the right time.
How do you use this “historic” domain name nowadays?
For a few years, I did very little with this domain name. But then I realized that hundreds, sometimes thousands of people randomly visited symbolics.com each day, completely unsolicited. From CNN to Wired, the New York Times and TechCrunch, the major media were curious to know its story, thereby increasing traffic to the domain. I understood I needed to create something for these curious surfers.
So, several years ago, I partnered with “The Big Internet Museum” and we incorporated their work into symbolics.com. Today, symbolics.com is an online museum that chronicles milestones of the internet evolution: from memes to music to social media and technology. We have listed the key moments that brought us to the internet we know today.
I still think the highest and best use for symbolics.com hasn’t been touched yet. So I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
Have you ever thought of selling it?
I often receive unsolicited requests from interested buyers, but no one has made an offer that would entice me to part with this historical asset. To me, symbolics.com is a part of the foundation of the internet – a technological development that changed the way the world interacts and transacts. I love owning this piece of history. I am not sure what dollar figure would change my mind about this.
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Today you work as an asset investor and offer “domains for lease” at napkin.com. What is the concept behind this business model? Is it possible to “rent “a webspace as it happens with real estate?
I switched all of my domain names to a lease model in March 2022. Every time I sell one, my excitement is tempered with frustration because I realize that I parted with a fantastic asset which is impossible to replace. Once a domain is sold, it is gone forever. After a sale, I immediately used to go on the hunt again to find something to fill the void. It is challenging to find something of equal quality for less than my previous selling price.
As these qualitative domains are far too hard to acquire, I have decided that I should lease them if I want some sort of exit from each one. Several top investors have already switched to this business model since it can benefit all parties. Instead of significant capital expenditure, the buyer can start with a single monthly payment and immediately brand the company with a top-flight domain name. It’s a considerable value proposition! And as a seller, I can monetize these assets without dealing with my replacement frustrations.
You have been in the domain industry for the past 20 years. What aspects have changed since then?
The domain industry has changed in many ways. When I started, there was considerably less competition. I could find domains and their owners quickly and I was often the only person making an offer. More investors entered the space with time, which drove the prices of quality domain names up. This goes along with the fact that startups and corporations have realized the benefits of a top-tier domain name.
Secondly, domain parking was very lucrative 10-15 years ago. I was often able to buy a name, park it with PPC ads and generate a steady revenue stream. I could then sell the domain name on a parking multiple – rinse and repeat. Parking has become much more challenging now. Hence the lease idea – I would love to monetize my portfolio without selling my key assets.
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When adding a new domain name to your portfolio, what features are you looking at?
I pick .com domains only. I don’t own any other extensions – yet I do realize some investors are doing very well with extensions like .io and .xyz. The gTLD .com still appears to be the standard for the Fortune 500 and other serious businesses. Furthermore, it is not bound by buyers in a local market, making .com the standard for companies doing business across borders.
I really like to look for short, one-word names with a generic keyword like apple, uber, amazon, march, etc., that can be used to brand a business. The reason for this is simple: many startups pivot, and they need a name that is flexible as well. I also like short acronyms because the collector in me can wrap my head around the fact that there are only 17,576 combinations of 3-letter .com names.