It’s been one week since I boarded a plane from Orlando heading back to good ole’ Austin, Texas.

I thought I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts and interactions from my MERGE! 2018 experience.

Two weeks before this very, my family and I were bright-eyed and busy-tailed on our way from Austin to Orlando for MERGE! and Disney World.

Welcome to Orlando -

With 3 kids in tow under the age of 6, we made it to Disney Magic Kingdom a day after we arrived, and Animal Kingdom as the follow up the very next day.

Disney World - Magic Kingdom

Disney World - Animal Kingdom

While my family continued yet another consecutive day of their Disney experience with character breakfast and lunch events, I ventured over to the second annual MERGE! conference to start my journey and experience.

Although my family didn’t travel last year, I was grateful MERGE! was held closer to Disney Springs than its inaugural debut at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

In my opinion, MERGE! was four days worth of sessions, keynotes, and networking well worth the price of admission. For more information about each day of MERGE!, use the following links:

As for my overall thoughts and interactions while at MERGE!, I’ll sum it up using the good ole’ “Good, Bad, and Ugly” comparison.

The Good

MERGE! was and is an exceptional networking event, especially the with addition of the hospitality suite and swimming pool access.

Most conferences are surface level greetings and exchange of business cards at most. What I love the most about MERGE! was the ability to go deeper in conversation with attendees and various domain industry professionals.

Ray Neu (MERGE! Co-Founder and Organizer) with Alvin Brown

Jason Eisler (.Club)with Alvin Brown

Escrow’s Brian Tharp with Alvin Brown

Jothan Frakes (Co-Founder and Organizer), Dave Evanson (Sedo), Toby Hall (MMX), Jodee Rich (PeopleBrowsr and .CEO), Alvin Brown, and Jebidiah Burnett (Donuts, Inc.)

Alvin Brown with Emoji Empires and EmojiUrl.comThe Emoji Experts: Tanner Schneck, Eric Thoni, Matan Israeli, Mike Razz

I was able to not only reconnect and continue conversations with existing relationships, but forge new relationships that have lead to video and podcast interviews, collaborative works, and digital strategy inquiries.

While I didn’t secure any domain inquiries, leads, or sales at MERGE!, I did hear and confirm a few interesting deals were reached outside of breakout sessions and keynotes.

Compared to last years venue, I liked this year’s layout with exhibition room in the middle, and breakout rooms and keynote on either side of it respectively.

Keynote hall this year was noticeably smaller than last year. However, the experience was more personable and intimate in my opinion.

In addition, another kudos to MERGE! was live streaming to Facebook this year (although sound less than stellar — see next section). Although I don’t know the stats behind live stream usage, this was and is a great add-on, seeing that MERGE! can monetize it.

After all, why pay for travel, lodge, meals and entry to MERGE! when you could simply watch from the convenience of your home?

The Bad

While ecstatic that my family could join me due to this year’s venue, I wasn’t impressed with on-site lunch options. But in all fairness, there were a slew of off-site options that made up for on-site options that we more suitable for dinner.

As for sessions and keynotes, there were 1-2 session presenters that acted in a “bait and switch” manner — titling their presentation as one thing, and pitching nothing but their companies.

I don’t have a problem with pitches, but don’t promise to present on what is or is not working in 2018 digital marketing only to present your company as the answer. Educate us, but don’t hard SELL US! 😉

Then there was the sound and acoustics, which both years could have been better. Coming from experience though, achieving great sound based on an empty room versus a somewhat populated room is bit tricky.

One item I hope for next year is that the breakout rooms having sound, if nothing but a portable or lapel mics and amps for each room.

The Ugly

In all fairness, these last thoughts really aren’t “ugly”, per se. They’re simply more thoughts of reflection.

I was most surprised by the lack of attendance. I would have thought more people would have registered and attended based on last year’s conference. I believe attendance to impacted by a few considerations.

One of the first considerations that comes to mind is the fact that the conference spans a weekend. Quite honestly, not many folks are willing to give up a weekend — local or traveling, and especially if they have families or other commitments.

In addition, many non domain industry professionals likely don’t want to miss work knowing the holidays are fast approaching and paid-time off (PTO) running a bit scarce until the first of the year.

The second consideration that comes to mind is the collapse of crypto, token, and bitcoin markets. Which come to think of it, most of last year’s attendees that were bullish on such things were nowhere to be found this year. In all fairness, they may have had other commitments, but it does make me raise an eyebrow as to why the no show. 🤨

The third consideration would be the lack of topic focus. I don’t know this to be fact, but appeared that most Digital Search, CMS and eCommerce attendees had left the building after Sunday sessions as most of the remaining domain industry professionals were arriving.

With a background in software development, search marketing, digital strategy and domain investing, I discovered and attended quite a few interesting sessions. However, the same cannot be said for all attendees.

In fact, it was expressed in the closing remarks of Day 4 by Dr. Gregg McNair, affectionately known as “Triple G”, that MERGE! should consider more focused topics as well as limit the number of event registrants while possibly increasing the price.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing MERGE! lose a few topics, nor would I mind paying more to gain limited, exclusive access to a network of domain professionals. It would be awesome to have Berkens, Mann, Schilling, Schwartz, and a few other industry heavyweights appear or attend if access were limited and premium pay.

Final Thoughts and Looking Forward

In closing, I believe MERGE! to be a great value-add to the domain industry. It’s afforded me and others the opportunity to meet and forge relationships in a way that technology could never capture.

Special thank you to Howard & Barbara Neu, Ray Neu, Jothan Frakes and supporting cast for their tireless efforts to make MERGE! what it is and will become!

Too, MERGE! is an opportunity for meeting throughout a given year that would likely be controlled by the annual NamesCon event held at the beginning of each year.

By focusing their efforts on the list below, I’m certain MERGE! can turn the corner and become a powerhouse event:

  • Executing a sound digital strategy for the event earlier and more often
  • Subscribe to less is more with topic choice and conference length
  • Strategic use of live streaming and recording
  • Investing in additional video and audio for breakout sessions
  • Hosting or sponsoring local meetups to drive contribution and attendance

While MERGE! ties up the loose ends and looks forward to setting the stage for MERGE! 2019, I look forward to attending both NameSummit and NamesCon in the coming weeks and months. Will I see you there?

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.