Connecting Brands and Emoji Domain Owners With Emoji Domain Leasing

Quick Summary of Contents

If you’re new to registering and owning emoji domains, then you’ve likely discovered the scarcity of single emoji domains, especially .WS and .TO emoji domain extensions.

Or perhaps you were one of many lucky persons able to snag a few circa 2014 or 2015 before emoji domain search sites and engines started popping up left and right.

And if not then, then maybe you purchased your favorite emoji domains by way of public auction, expiring auction, or a 3rd-party private sale.

Emoji domains are the current talk of the town. But truth be told, emoji domains somewhat remind me of the dog that barked and chased the car. How so?

Well, like the dog wouldn’t know what to do if he caught the car, so it could be with misguided emoji domain owners not knowing what to do once securing an emoji domain.

Whether you have a vision for your emoji domains or not, today’s interview discusses, guides, and gives perspective for how one might attempt to employ emoji domains to produce results and revenue.

Today I’d like to introduce you to Ethan Berl, Co-Founder and CTO of Flye. If Flye sounds familiar to you, it’s because of one of our latest interviews: Rising From the Ashes With the Fire Emoji.

Having been involved with numerous startups since the age of 16, Ethan is an experienced tech entrepreneur with a passion for machine learning and technical strategy.

After graduating from Princeton in 2014 with a Computer Science Engineering degree, minoring in Statistics/Machine learning, Ethan honed his machine learning prowess in industry a few years before taking the dive as an early founding member in his third startup, Flye.

There’s so much to share, so I’ll let Ethan chime in, kicking off today’s interview. Enjoy!


KC: Do you invest in domains? If so, how long and what types of domains interest you?

EB: I have always registered domains for my own projects, but became very interested in domains as assets approximately 2 years ago. For a while, I followed the activity of Flippa, Enom, and other auction sites, often searching for underpriced domains.

I then tried domain flipping. Even though it was unsuccessful, domain flipping taught me a ton about the industry and the market for domains. I’ve currently resigned from flipping domains while giving more focus to trying to build businesses and brands.

KC: What’s the worst domain you’ve purchased?

EB: Hahaha, that would have to have been or or some variant. I can’t remember exactly. I thought this type of domain would be easy to flip, but it definitely wasn’t. I had been super stupid and didn’t do my basic research to realize the real ticker was AAPL.

Also, the domain wound up expiring a week after purchasing it. Luckily, the domain was pretty cheap, yet taught me a few affordable lessons, like BUYER BEWARE.

KC: Moving along, Flye uses as its digital presence. Was a hand-reg domain or a 3rd-party purchase?

EB: I’m not really sure, ironically for all my interest in domain names, I had nothing to do with us getting that domain originally.

KC: Does Flye own additional domain names used to market and advertise its services?

EB: We own several 2 character emoji domains. Most are general purpose for different industries (i.e., music, sporting, or casino type clients) as a fallback option. This helps in the event we’re not able to secure particular single emoji domains that we think would really make a campaign pop.

KC: Speaking of emoji domains, when and how did you learn about emoji domain names?

EB: About 3-4 years ago I was the first engineer in a completely different startup company. It was a new social app aimed at the high school market and we saw how often kids of that age would replace words for emojis. It wasn’t just our app though, all social media and text conversation is full of emoji.

After looking at this for months, my friend Mike who was the CEO of that startup mentioned one day that he had just bought a new domain which was the most commonly used word on all of Twitter that year – the heart emoji (❤). This was the first time I became aware that you could have non-ascii in domain names. He had bought several emoji domains and in fact since it was a very new concept about 3-4 years ago most of them were available still.

At the time you couldn’t register .WS domains on GoDaddy or any of the common registrars, so I found a smaller registrar in New Zealand to purchase one or two emoji domains myself. I waited a week and noticed one of the ones I was planning to get had just been bought, and then another, and another.

My friend Mike wasn’t the only one who had found out about emoji domains right around that time and there was a buying gold rush from all over the world. I jumped in and bought 4-5 domains, then 4-5 more, and then a few more.

I was aiming for larger industries like fashion, sports, music etc. and trying to get general domains which could fit a lot of different companies who might want to buy them from me at a higher price at some point in the future. I secured all three globes, a bunch of animals, the chat bubble, the biceps/muscle, the basketball, the video game controller, and several of the shoes.

I didn’t realize it at the time but several of the first payments I had made bounced because my credit card thought this smaller New Zealand registrar I was suddenly buying so many things from must be fraud. I actually lost the video game controller and the grey alien emojis because my credit card never actually allowed the payments to go through. I only realized that when a week later someone else had successfully bought those ones.

Like I said, it was a gold rush. I’m sure in five years I’ll see those ones I almost had selling for $10k+ and really kick myself. About a month later it was actually hard to find very many premium single character domains which were still available.

My thoughts were that emojis are great for mobile and obviously very memorable but are hard to type in from a desktop. I should mention that when I was first buying, .ws was the only tld where emoji domains were allowed at least according to my research.

KC: How many inquiries do you receive pertaining to your emoji domains?

EB: Over the years I have had probably about 2-3 people a month contact me and ask if I would sell one domain or another. Most of them were individuals who wanted the domains for their own projects and were only willing to spend $100-$300.

So, there was no deal. Like most domain sellers on Flippa, I had dreams of selling my emoji domains for thousands or tens of thousands to the largest companies in an industry.

But it got me thinking that until the domain space became more developed, there was very little chance that a large company would come knocking or even be aware of the opportunity.

KC: When did the thought to rent or lease emoji domains occur to you?

EB: I realized that I didn’t really want to sell unless someone was offering me $10k-$20k but my domains were losing me money on the registrar fee every year. Most people and companies want a permanent website indefinitely – so I realized the perfect targets were large brands who wanted to run a specific marketing campaign for a specific amount of time. In that way, I could make money immediately while still owning and letting their long term value grow.

It was about a year into that when I started actively trying to rent my own emoji domains out. Whenever I would be contacted to sell one I would name a price in the $10k+ range or rent it out for $30-$50/mo. I had a few deals in discussion but none ever materialized. It is quite hard to get people used to the renting idea.

It’s challenging to lineup emoji domain deals as an individual pitching a single domain. For this exact reason, Flye works with emoji domain partners. It’s much easier to build a relationship with a partner and then benefit from a greater pool of partner relationships. Flye is becoming a partner hub for brands to connect with the right emoji domains and influencers.

KC: Share a bit about Flye as a business concept and how long you’ve been in business.

EB: Flye is a tool for brands to do the following:

  • Understand their audience better through location based social data
  • Reach out and give their audience relevant messaging in a given context

We view our overarching goal as helping brands connect between the online world and the brick-and-mortar real world.

Flye is a result of pivoting from a social startup, Teleport, close to two years ago. Teleport was all about showing real world live events as they happened to people far away and allowing people to interact around them – but every social consumer focused app has to struggle with securing millions of people to download an app and perform a new behavior, even for free.

However, we noticed event venues consistently requested attendee analytics and were even willing to pay for it. Hence, the pivot to Flye.

Today Flye provides industries around live events — primarily music, sports, and hospitality — a platform that tracks, monitors, and measures all aspects of location and social signaling across varying social networks – Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, Youtube, etc.

In short, Flye locates ideal customers, allows intelligent engagement, and interactivity builds awareness for long-term customer relationships.

KC: So end-to-end, how then do emoji marketing campaign services fit Flye’s business strategy?

EB: Emoji marketing campaign services are just one successful strategy which we use to help our target market reach their audience by fine tuning messaging based on the voice of the brand and the intended audience.

Our sales team attracts new clients who desire to develop engagement campaigns with trackable and measurable conversions for their location-based events. Often these campaigns will only last for 2-3 months leading up to a specific event or around a product launch.

Once we’ve assessed and identified client’s business needs and objectives, we then find an emoji which appropriately matches their brand.

For example, we matched the following emoji to respective brands:

  • Airplane emoji (✈ .ws) for a travel company
  • Microphone emoji (🎤.ws) for a music festival
  • Cash emoji (💵 .ws)for a casino

We work with several emoji brand partners — World Emoji Brand, EDN Store, and others — to secure matching brand emojis at competitively-priced rates. In addition, we partner with independent emoji domain owners by directly reaching out, which is how 🔥.ws was leased to the Phoenix Rising soccer team.

With emoji and brand successfully matched, clients then define campaign URL paths and messaging to direct target audience to offline and online destinations.

When we have both the client brand on board with messaging and campaigns defined, and the emoji domain partner agrees to finalized lease price, the emoji domain partner initiates an A record to redirect the respective emoji domain to a Flye redirection and tracking server for the duration of the campaign.

This is great for the emoji domain partners because they:

  • Remain in control of the domain through the whole process
  • Receive payment for the duration of the campaign
  • Get free publicity and emoji domain exposure leading to sales offers or interviews
  • Receive analytics on how their domain was used as a case study to sell it better

Flye provides reporting stats on how many people followed the link, from where, and on what types of devices to both the emoji domain partner and the client brand.

The client pays us monthly for the duration of agreement to run the campaign in its entirety. We then pay emoji domain partners monthly for their emoji domain.

When the campaign is over, the emoji domain partner is free to redirect their emoji domain back to parking.

KC: What is the price point for emoji marketing campaign services?

EB: We run campaigns which are for specific periods of time, so we are only paying to rent the emoji domain monthly.

Our clients pay us very different amounts depending on if they are a sports team or a music event production company. Pricing also varies depending on the volume of data that they want to use to run the campaign. In addition, the emoji domain with tracking stats is an upsell which excites many clients.

The typical amount that we pay to the domain owners (emoji domain partners) has been between $50 and $100 per month, but that depends on the brand and size of the campaign. We found this price point to be the sweet spot for such a new idea. This price point also removes the need for seeking budget approval from superiors.

If client brands realize a good experience, stats and results at campaign end, some of the companies we have worked with will in fact turn it into a longer engagement at a higher monthly rate.

KC: Have you met any resistance pertain to Flye’s emoji marketing campaign services?

EB: The whole concept of using emoji domains in social campaigns is such a new idea that many clients need to see it working for their niche before they can really invest more into it, which often requires allocating funding with permission from their superiors.

To the client, some of the value is brandability, some is in the extra attention that it gets and therefore better click through rates, and some of the value is in the tracking services that we provide.

It really depends on the client. Some will only use it for one simple campaign while others will extend the engagement and use it for their entire marketing push or even their steady website.

Flye’s goal is for more companies and consumers to become used to the idea of emoji links and for the value of the whole market to grow.

Even as an owner of many premium emoji domains myself, I have incentive to grow the whole emoji domain space. You don’t want to sell a house in an area where real estate is growing in value – but you definitely want to rent it!

KC: Before I forget, you mentioned 🔥.ws earlier. But how did Flye learn about 🔥.ws being available for lease?

EB: At the time, we were working with Phoenix Rising, a soccer team with a flaming soccer ball logo.

🔥.ws (fire emoji) wasn’t originally available for lease. Using whois, we reached out and convinced the owner that renting was the way he should monetize his domains, and made the deal.

At first he didn’t like the idea of renting but after we showed him our goals and stats, and he soon came onboard. A quote from the emoji domain owner of that particular domain on why he chose to work with us:

“My impression is that a lot of people in this space aren’t really that good at branding and marketing, but just happen to strike gold once awhile. I’d rather be leasing out or dealing with companies directly with proper strategy and creative behind it.”

In other words, many of the people in the emoji domain space today are looking to buy a domain and flip it eventually, or are trying to do one off deals rather than have constant business with different brands.

He decided to work with us because he saw that we are trying to build something which will increase the value over time and work with brands to make this an accepted common practice.

KC: Why does Flye consider emoji domains special, attaining much value?

EB: Flye loves emoji domains because they are super brandable and fun at the same time. Because emoji domains are new and eye catching, they often get clicks where a link with the same messaging would look spammy.

We already have anecdotal evidence of this, but we are in the process of measuring exactly how strong this effect really is as a selling point to all future brands.

I think emoji domains are special because they are so memorable and on mobile they are one or two taps away.

One of our friends that recently finished Harvard Business School shared insight on this topic saying:

“In marketing you are always supposed to try the new channel just because it is new.”

I think that is a bit true – people have learned how to tune out billboards, radio ads, and website ads just because they have gotten used to them.

While emoji domains are new and in fact have not crossed into the mainstream yet is when they are most valuable for marketing because people are unfamiliar with them and therefore interested.

KC: You know I’m going to ask about emoji domain renewal costs. What are your thoughts on it?

EB: At $35 a year on the .WS extension, one month of a campaign through Flye pays for a whole year’s renewal and then some.

In addition, I know of the other emoji domain TLDs can be a bit more expensive in the $50-$100 range.

KC: What emoji domain extensions do you consider when buying or registering emoji domains?

EB: Technically the first emoji domain ever was a .COM and .LA used to allow it as well before they changed to no longer allow punycode.

However, .WS is the emoji domain extension most everyone knows about and the longest standing extension allowing emoji domain registration. I think .WS is the most familiar and also one of the cheaper ones.

After .WS, I would say .TO, .TK and then .AI as a best guess. I don’t really know, but I would say ones like .GQ or .CF are harder for people to remember.

Even with .ws we have to nudge people to understand that it is a link by having it start with http:// and by having the message suggest they find something at that location.

KC: Does Flye have other emoji domains that are developed, leased, redirected, parked or simply held as a short/long term investment?

EB: Yes, I personally probably have 18-20 emoji domains only 3-4 which are in use at any time currently. In addition, I have about 20-30 non-emoji more standard domains.

Flye has several 2 character emoji domains which are fall backs for us when we can’t make a reasonable deal with the single character emoji owner that we want for a campaign.

KC: Does Flye track emoji domain usage using Google Analytics or another web analytics software/platform?

EB: We have our own web analytics tracking on each domain which can tell us the following:

  • where each visitor came from
  • what type of device they were visiting on
  • referrer information
  • what sub path is getting the most attention

Using the referrer information, we can often map visits back to a specific tweet and show which messages were the most effective.

We have also used the referrer analytics to spot fans talking about the domain on their own blogs, reddit posts, and twitter messages even though the brand didn’t expect this at all.

By using different paths following the emoji domain, we can also track what parts of the site are getting the most attention and help correlate that back to what messaging was the most successful.

We have to filter out a lot of bots and scrapers – there are a ton of search engines and port scanners in general but it seems like emoji domains have a bunch more which are trying to map out the space.

So far, we’re seeing hundreds of legitimate hits per link every week, with the highest ones getting over 1500 in a month. It totally depends on the marketing campaigns.

KC: Does Flye recommend emoji domains to personal and business brands to represent their primary or secondary website?

EB: Because it is still hard to type in emoji domains from the desktop and many social networking sites have not yet built in good support, I don’t think that emoji domains are really appropriate for a primary website, yet.

However, they are perfect to grab attention and bring people in as a forwarding website to the main website.

KC: When do you think emoji domains will become mainstream?

EB: 2017 was when I started to see a lot of tech people become aware of emoji domains. My guess is that 2018 is the year when a lot of people in the marketing space are about to become interested.

In order to become mainstream, emoji domains must be used by larger and larger brands in ways that actually reach many people (exactly what Flye is growing today).

As they become more commonplace, I also think that some of the social networks like facebook and instagram, which do not have good support for them, will begin to allow their use as links (Twitter and LinkedIn already do).

There is a whole ecosystem around making this work. I think that it will take 3-5 years before it has really become mainstream and maybe 7-8 years before it is ubiquitous.

That said, this is exactly why renting makes so much since for owners right now. Why sell something you know will be worth more in a few years if you can hold on to it and make rent from it now as well?

KC: Speaking of value and worth, where do you see emoji domain values going in the future?

EB: I think that, although there are still very few people who know about emoji domains, that it will definitely rise in value over time.

I would not be at all surprised if very premium ones were selling for $50k-$100k in 10-20 years but for the past 3 years even $2000 would have been a great deal.

This year I saw a turning point when I was offered $10k for a set of 3 emoji domains that I own, and I definitely thought about it, but ultimately turned it down.

In that sense emoji domains are almost a bitcoin like bet and we are just coming into 2013 when the price crossed into the thousands and many new people were becoming aware of it for the first time.

There will be hype cycles and troughs of disillusionment but just like bitcoin, there is fundamental value – in this case branding value and advertising value – so the only thing to watch out for is if the hype has temporarily inflated prices past the real value as I think could happen in a few years from now if they really do cross into the mainstream.

Unlike bitcoin which has an ultimate cap of 21 million eventually in existence, more emoji domains can be made because as they become popular and valuable, more ccTLDs will consider allowing people to register punycode domains. I still think that emoji domains will be quite valuable, but if more TLDs begin allowing emoji domains this could put an upper cap on the amount that people are willing to pay since there are then options for that same emoji.

KC: For emoji domain owners looking to lease their domains, what insight and guidance should they consider?

EB: You should clearly define how long the lease will be and how the brand which is using it intends to do messaging.
Make sure emoji domain usage builds brand and value, and not come off as spammy or promoting something shady, which could make future clients less likely to want to associate with it.

A good campaign with a reputable brand can increase the value by showing an example to others how the site could be used. A bad campaign with a shady or spammy brand could make future brands want to stay clear.

KC: If I own an emoji domain, what is the process to get start using Flye, and how long does it take before my emoji domain is generating profit?

EB: For Emoji Marketing Clients looking to rent or lease, getting started completely depends on when the client is ready to go.

We have had some clients who sign the paper work and start in a week so we had to rush to get things setup on our end but we have also had other clients who are excited about it for months while they get the right approval inside of their organizations. It’s really hard to predict.

But in general probably it takes a few weeks of back and forth to get started and then the owner will be making money for the next few months while the campaign runs.

Once we have built relationship with that owner, it is often much easier to get the next campaigns going since they only have to redirect to our tracking servers which takes all of ten minutes.

The technical part is easy, it is closing the deal and making sure that everyone understands what the campaign will entail which is the harder part so once we have done that with an owner once it is much quicker the second time around.

All campaigns we run will depend on the clients that we have wanting to run campaigns at that moment, so just because someone has an emoji domain, there is no guarantee that we will be able to run a campaign with them right then.

Often our hunt for emoji domains starts when we are working with a specific client to find one that works well for them. However, any that are in the sports or music related themes are definitely ones that are more likely we already have clients which would use them.

We work with several emoji domain partners to generate awareness of the idea of renting as a possibility. When we have a client come in, we look to see what emojis they have available on these stores that we have partnered with first.

Most emojis have several potential meanings so the airplane for example could mean flights, airlines, travel, vacation, etc. and there are many different clients in that world which it could apply to. Some are specific like a mascot of a certain team. But the ones that are general or represent a whole industry can be part of many campaigns back to back.

Any Emoji Domain Owners who want to become an emoji domain partner, feel free to contact us to discuss and assess emoji domains and possible client matches. Even if not at this moment, in a month or two one might come available. If so, we will re-contact you.

Contact Ethan Berl or Flye by email.

Closing Thoughts

Special thanks Ethan and the entire Flye team for sharing their experience and insight for this interview. Flye is truly a pioneering a space where not many dare to venture: emoji domain marketing services.

It’ll certainly be interesting to keep tabs on Flye and their efforts to bridge relationships between brands seeking to employ emoji domain marketing services and emoji domain owners seeking to lease their emoji domains.

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading and sharing…

Written by Alvin Brown
He's an experienced and passionate serial entrepreneur, founder and publisher of Kickstart Commerce. Alvin possesses a great love for startups dominating their market using profitable digital strategies for greater commerce.