How I Successfully Launched A Domain Search Tool (Over 35K Users)
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello Starter Story! My name is Steven, and I’m the creator of One Word Domains, which is a database of all the available and brandable one-word domains out there. In total, there are over 100,000 one-word domains on the site, across 38+ TLDs such as .ai, .app, .co, .com, and .io, as well as a highly-popular domain hacks category (think instagr.am, youtu.be, redd.it, and li.me).
A week after its launch, One Word Domains got to #2 on Product Hunt, the front page of Hacker News, as well as popular domain news websites like Domain Name Wire. Since then, it has received over 35K users - both domain investors and startup founders alike - who bought 650+ domains on the site. Based on the 20% WoW growth in customer volume since launch, I expect to see a consistent upward growth trajectory in revenue in the months to come.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Currently, I’m a data science student at the Minerva Schools at KGI, going into my senior year this fall. To give a little bit of context, at Minerva, we start our freshman year in San Francisco and then travel to a different country every semester after that. As a result, I’ve lived and worked in 7 different cities in 4 different continents in the last 3 years - SF, Tokyo, Seoul, Hyderabad, New York, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. Due to constant exposure to the startup culture in all these cities, I was naturally drawn into the world of building products that truly make an impact.
The story with One Word Domains started at the beginning of this summer (‘20). Our spring semester had just come to a rather unceremonious end - thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic - and I was eager to start a new side project. However, I was unable to find a good, catchy name for the project that had an available domain name associated with it. I tried domain search tools like Dofo.com and InstantDomainSearch, as well as various domain names generators like Name Mesh and Lean Domain Search, but none of them gave me a name that I liked.
But then a thought struck me: What if there was a tool that allowed me to browse through all the available domain names out there and pick the best one? I didn’t need more name generators - all I need is a database of all the available one-word domain names out there for me to choose the one that best suits my startup’s nature.
I did some Googling. And more Googling. Half an hour later, I realized that such a tool...didn't exist. I know, I couldn't believe it either. The closest resource I could find was Dictionary Domains, which had a list of dictionary words paired with TLDs like .ca, and .io, but most of the words were either the present continuous tense of a root word ("saying", "hiding") or paired with "-ly" suffixes ("particularly", "apparently").
But I was looking for words that were more startup-y (if that's even a word), words like orchard, notion, pocket, canny, or bloom.
And then I thought - why not make it myself? As a data science student at Minerva, I have plenty of experience wrangling data with Python, but I haven't yet had the chance to build something more applicable in real life. This would be the perfect opportunity for me to do so.
And so the journey began.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I set a goal for myself to build this tool in a week - partly because I didn't want to waste too much time if it didn't work out, but also because I'm a fan of hackathons and I was excited to see what I could build in a week. And here's a simplified version of my build process:
Find an open-source dataset that has all the most commonly used words in the English language. This part wasn’t too hard - I typed in "top 10000 most common English words Github" and the first result that popped up was pretty promising.
Parse through those words and separate them into different categories: adjectives, nouns, verbs. For this part, instead of using Hidden Markov Models to create a Part-Of-Speech Tagger (POS Tagger) that would parse through that list and categorize the words into adjectives, verbs, and nouns, I decided to save some time and do some more Googling. By doing that, I found this wonderful repository that had everything I needed.
Find a (preferably) free API that would allow me to perform bulk WHOIS checks for a list of domains to determine their availability. This took a while to nail down. Inspired by this blog post, I started by using the Godaddy API, but it turned out to give a lot of false positives - i.e. the API would say that the domain is available when it's not. Plus it would crash if I sent too many requests within a given timeframe, so I eventually scratched it and opted for the Namecheap API instead - which could also tell us if a given domain is a Premium domain or not.
Write a script that would pair them up with the respective TLDs and run the bulk WHOIS checks. I did this with 30 lines of Python code and was able to parse through over 15,000 words and find all the available domain names for the .ai, .co, .com, and .io TLDs.
The best way to find the product-market fit is by building a product that you want to use and sharing it with everyone else.
I also realized I needed a landing page for the site since I didn't want to use any of the TLDs as the homepage for the site. This page would have a carousel that would display the "Most Popular" and "Recently Viewed" domains, and I would hook that up to an SQLite database the backend that would track and record all of the click actions that users are making. Here’s how the homepage looked when I first launched:
Here’s how the homepage looks now:
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since I didn't have an in with the domain industry, I decided to launch One Word Domains at the platform that I was the most familiar with - Product Hunt. As a first-time launcher, I was pretty nervous about launching something that I've built with tears and sweat to the world. After doing a bunch of research, I found this concise (but, on hindsight, super-effective) Reddit guide written by my good friend Ryzal and decided to just roll with it.
A few days before the launch, I did a "soft launch" on IndieHackers, where I briefly explained why I was building this and how I did it. I didn't pay too much attention to the post but it got some positive feedback, which helped boost morale for the actual launch.
On Launch Day, instead of launching at 00:01 SF time (which is when a launch cycle starts on Product Hunt), I decided to wait until 8 AM, which was when most of my audience was online. There was already a bunch of products on the leaderboard - some of which had over 60 upvotes - so naturally, I was a little intimidated, but I went ahead and designed a thumbnail GIF, wrote up a short brief about the project, and launched.
The next couple of hours were grueling. I started by posting it on the various Slack groups that I was in, reaching out to people from my school, and sending out newsletters to the 5 subscribers that I had at the time.
This is when the comments started rolling in.
My initial target was to get to the top 5 products of the day on Product Hunt to be featured in their daily newsletter, but One Word Domains blew up and got to #2 Product of The Day, with over 700 upvotes, 90 comments, and 23 positive reviews.
This also drove quite a bit of traffic to the site as well, with over 6,000 users visiting the site on Launch Day itself and 3,000 more in the next couple of days after. In terms of SEO, One Word Domains went from not ranking on any search results to ranking in the top 5 search results on Google in just 2 days. Oh, also, remember the 5 newsletter subscribers I had earlier? That number stands at 457 now.
If you want to launch on Product Hunt, try to be in a favorable timezone - being in Malaysia, which was GMT +8, I had to stay up till 5 AM, take a 2-hour "nap", and then continue, which probably wasn't too good for my health.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the week following my Product Hunt launch, I started incorporating some feedback that I received on Launch Day. One of the biggest updates was the "synonym feature", which would allow you to find similar words of a given search term that also have available domain names. I also received a lot of requests for new TLDs, which wasn’t too hard to implement given the modular nature of my code.
My Product Hunt launch also caught the attention of various domain name news websites, including one of the biggest in the industry, Domain Name Wire (DNW). Andrew, the Editor-In-Chief at DNW, was kind enough to write about One Word Domains and even interview me on his podcast, and that drove a lot of high-quality traffic to the site.
And then this happened:
Turns out, someone went ahead and posted about One Word Domains on Hacker News, and it was trending on the top 10 posts. Now the crowd on Hacker News is quite different from the one on Product Hunt - though they both mainly consist of entrepreneurs, hackers, and startup enthusiasts, the comments you get on Hacker News are no doubt more constructive and less forgiving compared to Product Hunt. So I braced myself for the worst (but was also looking forward to getting some constructive criticism).
Monetize early. As long as you are putting out good, quality content, you might be surprised how willing people are to pay for it.
Surprisingly, the comments were mainly positive as well, and a few of them helped me understand which features I should be building next. For instance, I received a lot of comments asking if there was a feature for them to list their domains on the site. Taking that into account, I eventually built out a feature for people to list their domains on One Word Domains for a nominal fee and added a "Featured Listings" section at the top of the home page.
The Hacker News feature drove a ton of traffic to One Word Domains. For the 5 hours that it was on the front page (check out the stats here), there were constantly 100+ people on the site, and by the end of the day, I had over 8,000 new users on One Word Domains.
Till today, I have yet to spend a single cent on paid ads or marketing and have relied entirely on word-of-mouth and organic marketing. Therefore, I’ve been able to stay super lean throughout this entire project and essentially bootstrap this project to profitability right from the very beginning. I strongly believe that this is since I was able to find the product-market fit very early on in the launch phase, and things just took off from there and started snowballing without me having to pay for ads or influencer marketing to get the ball rolling.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
For now, I'm planning to try out a few different monetization strategies to turn One Word Domains from being just a side project into a sustainable business that could provide me with enough passive income to pay off my student loans. Aside from the affiliate programs that I have set up, I'm also trying out the following strategies:
Featured Listings: Domain investors can now list their domains on One Word Domains for a nominal one-time fee.
Paywalls: I've recently added support for 20+ more TLDs to the site including .me, .org, .net, .tech, .so, etc. and people can pay a one-time fee to get early access to those lists.
Partnerships: I am negotiating partnership deals with a few interested parties that I believe would be able to provide enough monetary backing for me to focus fully on the product in the coming months.
The world of domain investing might not be the hottest topic in Silicon Valley right now, but I believe the online real estate market is ripe for disruption, and I cannot wait to see where I can bring One Word Domains to in the months to come.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
This experience, as surreal as it was (and still is!) has taught me a lot of important lessons:
You don't "find" product-market fit. You build something that provides value to your users and let them come to you.
The best way to find the product-market fit is by building a product that you want to use and sharing it with everyone else. When you figure out a way to scratch your itch and realize that a lot of other people share the same itch as you, that’s when you know you have product-market fit.
Also, if you want to launch on Product Hunt, try to be in a favorable timezone - being in Malaysia, which was GMT +8, I had to stay up till 5 AM, take a 2-hour "nap", and then continue, which on hindsight, probably wasn't too good for my health.
Also, if you're familiar with Python, Flask is the best gateway drug into the world of web development. Trust me, I'm like a full-out addict right now, and I'm just getting started.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Airtable: It’s a painless way for people who are not too familiar with various database frameworks to get into database management. If you’re a student, you also get 2 years’ worth of Airtable Pro for free!
Notion: Perfect for documentation, ideas dump, etc. Also free for students!
Mailchimp for email marketing, but I’m considering switching to other alternatives - if you guys have any recommendations, please let me know!
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit for social media marketing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Principles by Ray Dalio, How To Build A Billion Dollar App by George Berkowski; The Tim Ferriss Show.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Stay as lean as possible without sacrificing productivity.
As a college student, I’ve learned how to be very thrifty when it comes to spendings - one of my proudest achievements is living on a $50 monthly budget in the heart of San Francisco. By applying this mindset to One Word Domains, I was able to stay incredibly lean without sacrificing productivity.
Fail fast, learn faster.
It’s good to fail early on in your entrepreneurial journey. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.” Once you’re done with your MVP, Launch on Product Hunt, IndieHackers, and various platforms to get early feedback on it and how you can improve - and never be afraid to fail!
As long as you are putting out good, quality content, you might be surprised how willing people are to pay for it. Pricing strategies can be a tricky aspect as well, but with anything in the entrepreneurial world, you never know if you never try. So try.
Never give up.
This is as cheesy of entrepreneurship advice as it gets, but I’ve found myself going back to this during the days where the site seemed to be losing its initial growth momentum. Launching a business is easy, but maintaining it and finding a sustainable and profitable business model for it is the challenging part. So when morale is down, always remind yourself of the reason why you started on this journey in the first place, and then put your head down and keep on hustling.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not really at the moment, but feel free to reach out if you would like to collaborate - you can do that on Twitter or via email!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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