I’ve been sick for a few days and as I drift in and out of consciousness I’ve been watching some of my favorite movies such as the original Star Wars. Its amazing how simplistic the dialog is in that flick, but I think that has helped it to achieve classic status. Star Wars contains a ton of recognizable and memorable one liners that anyone from my generation can identify instantly. Why not turn them all into domain names and create a marketplace for pop culture domains?

You need a substantial list of quotes from the start, otherwise the idea can be usurped. I don’t think any other popular/classic/cult movie would yield as many lines as Star Wars, but there are plenty of gems out there. If you are familiar with a movie you can read an online script and be done in about 15 minutes. For everything else I’ll bet a college kid would love a minimum wage job where they had to watch cool movies. Ultimately I’d expect there would be about 2000 quotes that fit within 63 characters, but this is the easy part.

In order to keep startup costs to a minimum you need to have a partnership with a major registrar/host company. They allow you to register these domains for free plus the ICAAN fee of 20 cents. You as a startup have no leverage, so to get such a sweet deal you need to give the registrar quite a lot upon each sale  – they get half of the sale money plus they get to keep the buyer as a customer.

The marketplace works as follows: All the domain names you have for sale are always listed on your site. Each week visitors get to vote on what domain names should be put up for auction (great data mining opportunities here). Then during the next week a selection of the domains (partially influenced by the votes) is put up for a 7-day auction. The number of domains and the quality of the selected domains will be ramped up as the interest in the site grows.

Each domain is auctioned as a complete hosted package with all necessary software pre-installed. That is, the bidder gets to specify if they want a blog, forum, CMS, or wiki, and upon winning it is set up for them already. This injected up-sale allows us to have a higher starting bid of say $49.

The ISP gets a great deal out of this. They get a minimum of $24, which equates to the cost of a domain registration (typically $10/yr) plus a simple hosted account sale (typically around $15/yr), but more importantly a simple registration has been converted into a strong probability of re-registration the next year. Sure someone can ignore the “free” installed software and move to a different host, but this will be the exception.

The startup costs are very low. 2000 domains would be an initial outlay of less than $500, but you need to assume this will be an ongoing per year cost. There are some costs associated with identifying the original set and adding new domain names, but this probably only $500 per year. The initial site build is probably the biggest cost depending on how you want to do it. If you just use eBay for the auction itself then the app is just a list of database entries and a voting mechanism, plus a splash page directing to the active auctions; this should take less than 2 weeks to do.

I calculate this to be anywhere from a break even to 30K per year venture. The tough part about success is that it will burn through your supply and therefore kill your company; and raising prices due to low supply won’t work well as the demand side is very price sensitive, probably topping out at $200 with rare exceptions.

Even though this isn’t a take-over-the-world plan, it  still qualifies as an “evil business plan” because all cyber squatters are inherently evil.