In September 2015, Rob Halliday-Stein forked out £600k for "gold.co.uk," making it the most expensive domain name in the UK. But it had taken him a whole seven years to lay claim to the website of his dreams.
Halliday-Stein is a British billionaire and entrepreneur who fell into the gold trading business back in 2008 when he was looking to buy a "modest amount" of the shiny stuff himself. It was at the height of the financial crisis, and Halliday-Stein—who was keeping an eye on emerging business models—was on the lookout for a new opportunity. While surfing the net for gold and silver, he soon became disillusioned by the subpar websites and customer services he encountered. So, he decided to set up his own bullion venture.
"Given what I knew about online marketing, ecommerce, and customer services, I thought that this [bullion trade in the UK] could be done better. So I contacted someone who ran the UK branch of a big European refinery, who offered to do the gold side of the business while I took care of the marketing and customer services," Halliday-Stein told me.
"My intention was to be the UK's number one online bullion dealer," said Halliday-Stein, who foresaw the profitability of selling bullion via e-commerce.
Halliday-Stein reckoned he'd need a top-notch domain name for his premium bullion brand, and he decided that "gold.co.uk" would be a great fit with his emerging bullion business.
Though Halliday-Stein didn't exactly wake up dreaming about buying "gold.co.uk" every day, he described his dealings with the domain name as "unfinished business"
There was, however, one hitch. Back in 2008, it already belonged to a guy named Jack Gold, who requested Halliday-Stein pay £50,000 for it. Unable to afford the asking price, Halliday-Stein organized a lease on the domain name, and splashed out a fair amount of money on the legal requirements of the deal. But disaster soon struck. Gold separated from his wife, reneged on Halliday-Stein's agreement, and sold the website to someone else for a quick cash fix.
"I'd always felt a bit annoyed that I hadn't got [the domain," said Halliday-Stein, who decided to go with "bullionbypost.co.uk" in the meantime.
Over the years, Halliday-Stein's business grew to be the UK's biggest online bullion trader. Today it's worth over £100 million a year. But throughout his meteoric rise to fortune, Halliday-Stein never forgot about "gold.co.uk", which kept changing hands, and growing more expensive each time. Though Halliday-Stein didn't exactly wake up dreaming about buying "gold.co.uk" every day, he described his dealings with the domain name as "unfinished business."
"Someone found me out for the purchase of the domain because we were now the biggest gold dealer. They offered a significantly increased price, but to be honest, I wanted the domain—there was a bit of ego at play," he said.
"I know someone who bought the number plate AU1 for hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pure vanity with no business value at all. In comparison, "gold.co.uk" is also being used as a brand," he added.
Halliday-Stein explained that he expected to make up the £600k he forked out for the domain over a ten-year period.
"It's a strong brand and it gives us significant SEO benefits of around £100k a year as well," he said. "The thing about the 'bullion by post' brand was that it wasn't right for higher net-worth individuals. It was always aimed at smaller to medium investors. Now our average order on gold is already about three times what our 'bullion by post' order is."
While Halliday-Stein now owns the domain name of his dreams, he advised other emerging entrepreneurs to avoid spending megabucks on a whim.
"It's more important to get the basics of the business right at first, then you can splash out on longer term investments," he said. "Seven years ago, £50,000 would have been a loss of marketing capital in the business, which would have had a detrimental effect. So in some ways, it was cheaper for me to buy [gold.co.uk] today than it was back then."
So how much is £600k in terms of gold bars anyway? According to Halliday-Stein, it's around 25 kg of gold, so "not quite his weight in gold."
"For me, owning 'gold.co.uk' is the luxury of having a successful business," he added.
Masters of their Domain is a column that investigates who owns popular or interesting domain names, and what they're doing with them.