Kevin Ham is the most powerful dotcom mogul you’ve never heard of, reports Business 2.0 Magazine. Here’s how the master of Web domains built a $300 million empire.
When Ham wants a domain, he leans over and quietly instructs an associate to bid on his behalf. He likes wedding names, so his guy lifts the white paddle and snags Weddingcatering.com for $10,000. Greeting.com is not nearly as good as the plural Greetings.com, but Ham grabs it anyway, for $350,000.
Trained as a family doctor, he put off medicine after discovering the riches of the Web. Since 2000 he has quietly cobbled together a portfolio of some 300,000 domains that, combined with several other ventures, generate an estimated $70 million a year in revenue. (Like all his financial details, Ham would neither confirm nor deny this figure.)
Ham makes money every time someone clicks on an ad — as does his partner in this venture, the West African country of Cameroon. Why Cameroon? It has the unforeseen good fortune of owning .cm as its country code — just as Germany runs all names that end with .de.
Spreading the word
Kevin Ham is a boyish-looking 37-year-old, trim from a passion for judo and a commitment to clean living. His drink of choice: grapefruit juice, no ice. His mild demeanor belies the aggressive, work-around-the-clock type that he is. Ham frequently steers conversations about business back to the Bible. Not in a preachy way; it’s just who he is.
From doctor to domainer
It made sense: People shopping for hosting services were often interested in buying a catchy URL, so Ham launched a second directory, called DNSindex.com. Like similar services operating at the time, it gave customers a way to register domain names.
He also expects Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to find ways to effectively combat typo-squatting. Some browsers can already fix typos; Internet Explorer catches unregistered domains and redirects visitors to a Microsoft page — in effect controlling traffic the same way that Ham is doing with .cm. “The heat is rising,” Ham says.
When Ham buys a domain now, he’s not doing pay-per-click math but rather sizing it up as a potential business. Reinvent Technology aims to turn his most valuable names into mini media companies, based on hundreds of niche categories.
It’s all part of the master plan, as Ham aims to become the first domainer to move from the ranks of at-home name hunter to Internet titan. Smaller players have been selling out to VC-backed groups, and Ham expects that the best names will eventually be owned by just a handful of companies.
If he bets right, he might very well be one of them. “If you control all the domains,” he says, “then you control the Internet.”