Kevin Ham, the $300 million master of Web domains

Kevin Ham, the $300 million master of Web domains
By Paul Sloan, Business 2.0 Magazine editor-at-large
May 22 2007: 2:17 PM EDT

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.

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Kevin Ham leans forward, sits up tall, closes his eyes, and begins to type -- into the air. He's seated along the rear wall of a packed ballroom in Las Vegas's Venetian Hotel. Up front, an auctioneer is running through a list of Internet domain names, building excitement the same way he might if vintage cars were on the block.

As names come up that interest Ham, he occasionally air-types. It's the ultimate gut check. Is the name one that people might enter directly into their Web browser, bypassing the search engine box entirely, as Ham wants? Is it better in plural or singular form? If it's a typo, is it a mistake a lot of people would make? Or does the name, like a stunning beachfront property, just feel like a winner?

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 for $10,000. is not nearly as good as the plural, but Ham grabs it anyway, for $350,000.

Ham is a devout Christian, and he spends $31,000 to add to his collection, which already includes and When it's all over, Ham strolls to the table near the exit and writes a check for $650,000. It's a cheap afternoon.

Just a few years ago, most of the guys bidding in this room had never laid eyes on one another. Indeed, they rarely left their home computers. Now they find themselves in a Vegas ballroom surrounded by deep-pocketed bankers, venture-backed startups, and other investors trying to get a piece of the action.

And why not? In the past three years alone, the number of dotcom names has soared more than 130 percent to 66 million. Every two seconds, another joins the list.

But the big money is in the aftermarket, where the most valuable names -- those that draw thousands of pageviews and throw off steady cash from Google's and Yahoo's pay-per-click ads -- are driving prices to dizzying heights. People who had the guts and foresight to sweep up names shed during the dotcom bust are now landlords of some of the most valuable real estate on the Web.

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