Michael Mann founded BuyDomains, and numerous other companies through his WashingtonVC incubator. He also launched Grassroots.org and the Make Change! trust, and authored the popular ebook Make Millions and Make Change! for entrepreneurs and non-profits. After reading his book I asked him for an interview and he said sure.
Why is confidence so important when starting a business?
That is one of the ways we make our own luck, life is a self fulfilling prophecy. All leaders are believers, or there can be no followers/stakeholders, and therefore no competitive teams. All leaders who didn't believe turned out to be obsolete and the rest remained.
How do you balance confidence, ego, success, and drive while still having time for family life and charity work?
I don't balance it but people should.
Why is it so hard to create a business working part time?
Because your competitors work double time and they will have better information and ideas too, and take your customers, investors, and employees.
What made you appreciate the value of domain names so early on? How much more upside do you see in the domain market?
Someone offered me 25k for a domain that I had only paid $50 a year for, I was instantly sold. The domain market is really part of the overall Web 2.0/ecommerce market, which will boom indefinitely. Domains serve as company names and core ecommerce addresses, therefore any generic domain name that is high quality today will continue to rise in value. Names that are worthless today (the other 99%), will remain worthless.
For a new small business does it make more sense to focus on efficiency or scale?
Scale comes naturally to an efficient business following a plan and standard best practices. Attempting to scale without efficiency is a waste of resources.
What pieces are software are vital to helping you manage and grow your business?
SugarCRM, Salesforce.com, Yield Software, Apache, MS Office, Eudora (unsupported currently)
What books should every small business owner read?
Origin of Species, Darwin (is the essence of business fundamentals), Make Millions and Make Change, (an up and coming classic :), In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek, Cheri Huber (will help you manage success and charity work)
Does luck matter in business?
Not really, other than by birth. You make your own luck.
Why do you view obstacles as an asset?
Because all your competitors have the same ones. The more things to confuse them in dominating the market, the more things there are for you to understand and optimize. You are in the business of competing, you need items (obstacles) to compete on in order to express your superiority in the market.
Why should you start in a field that matches your experience and interests?
Because to win the long marathon you want to start better trained and miles ahead of the competitors if you have the chance.
When does it make sense to go high profile and when does it make sense to stay hidden?
When you have something to promote and when you have something confidential, respectively.
Your book said there is no reason to fear capitalism. You also support a lot of charities. Do you ever worry some business processes might have hidden costs? How do you stay so close to so many issues and stay upbeat?
Oy veh. Business process always have emerging unexpected costs, which is why you need a huge load of profit to pay for everything and need to be very efficient operationally. Close and upbeat?, I study, speak to lots of bright people, and take tea.
Market saturation tends to erode profit margins. What trends or signals make you avoid a market? What tells you when it is the right time to get in a market or to sell?
I only work in a few select complementary technology areas so I don't get diluted outside of my core competencies. Basically, have a plan and gut feeling when the stars are aligned.
Is the Internet making the typical model of business (employees in an office on certain set hours) irrelevant? What are the keys to keeping employees motivated and loyal, even if they are far away?
The market is international and therefore 24 hours, so hours are less important than doing a lot of them in an educated and motivated way. However, managing people is best done in person, not online for sure. People are motivated by working on a killer team, with a killer plan, and mostly bringing home the bacon. I like to hire only people who are so motivated and such high achievers and believers that they like equity or profit sharing to incentivize themselves even more than cash.
With the trends of cheaper technology, increasing communications, and globalization, do you think the Internet will end up causing a consolidation of wealth or will have the net effect of re-distributing it? Who stands to gain the most and who stands to lose the most?
The rich will get richer I'm sure unless and until they have programs to redistribute it like Grassroots.org and Make Change! Trust.
The Internet is making many things free, but many of them are free with hidden costs (such as destructively biased self serving advice). Do you think the move toward free will improve or decrease the quality of information being created?
Neither, its not really free, its ad supported, so ostensibly no different than pay content. To get better content pay more, like cash and not just 'ad' viewing.
How do you determine how well you can trust something you find in the search results?
I search for consensus. Unfortunately a lot of what passes as consensus is just one site regurgitating bad data from another. But I look for confirmation from experts and trusted online sources for everything I read.
With the web people may be more able to form groups and take action quicker, but many people may fight so much for certain causes that they don't see the downsides of what they create. Will media and ad personalization end up having a net positive or negative effect on society?
Just positive. Groups online learn to police themselves over time, or people flock to the sites that do. There are a lot of useless and otherwise lame sites, but they are a reflection of what people want, just like stores in the offline world.
How many charities does Grassroots.org help?
800 and ultimately growing to 10,000 that are each saving $10,000 per year, for a net benefit of $100M per year to the charity community serving the poor, sick, uneducated and otherwise needy. Grassroots.org is one piece of our charity work, whereas Make Change! Trust supports dozens of other 501c3 organizations like Grassroots.org
What percent of time and profits should go to charity?
There is no ceiling. If you ask me you can go ahead and be Mother Theresa and give it all away. Or as much of each as you can handle.
How do you decide if a charity is deserving of help?
For MCT, usually we know them personally or by reputation. For Grassroots.org they have 501c3 certificates and fit in to certain broad categories that we support. About half of all 501c3s meet our criteria.
What market today is as good to invest in as the domain market was when you started building BuyDomains.com?
The domain market. The web site market. The SEO market. The hosted or downloaded software market. Most of the best new Internet stuff. And Apple. Google. Wal-Mart. Dell.
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