For Namecheap’s 17th birthday, we sat down with Richard Kirkendall, CEO of Namecheap. In our interview, we picked his brain about Namecheap and how it started, how his values shaped our company and a glimpse of some of the cool things on the horizon.
Why did you start Namecheap?
I wanted to solve problems for people and help them build on their ideas and their dreams.
In the early days, I fell in love with domain names and the power they represented. A domain name was the doorway to the internet that had the power to change the world. I didn’t see domains as static entry points but as a dynamic naming system that allowed you to be or brand yourself or your business into almost anything online. You could create a cool email address at You@Cool.com, name your website after your passion at surfing.com, start a hobby site on modeltrains.com or start a movement at changetheworld.org and gain instant credibility. The possibilities were limitless and domain names were the engines that empowered these ideas, I wanted to share that power with everyone.
Buying and managing your domains back then was a slow and complicated process, not to mention expensive. Given the difficulties I was having managing my own domains and not looking forward to those high renewal fees, I noticed a clear opportunity for a different kind of company. A company that could deliver a great user experience and great value backed by top-notch customer support that could help you easily get online. I knew if we could solve the same problems I was experiencing, there would be a market for our product.
So in 2000 Namecheap.com was born. It was one of the first companies to make domain registration and management easier as well as more affordable. We also included most of the extra features others charged for, free. It turned out to be a winning combination.
Was Namecheap your first venture, or was there something before? If so, what was it?
I’ve always been inventive and entrepreneurial, even as a kid. I used to re-sell old magazines in the local market when I was 8 years old and then I switched to re-selling candy when I was 10-12. I always had some idea or gimmick up my sleeve.
That continued all the way through my teen years when I started to work in retail. Helping customers on the front lines, I learned to deeply understand customers and their problems and how critical they were to the success of any business.
In my early adult years, I tried my hand at importing/exporting furniture and did ok with it but it was very long hours with minimal returns and I missed interacting with customers on a daily basis and trying to solve problems for them.
When I first made the connection that you could start a business online and reach an entire world of internet users the first thing I did was an attempt to register the domain name that matched my idea and that got me hooked.
Even today my mother wonders what motivated me all those years ago and to be honest, I’ve always just enjoyed bringing an idea to life and trying to create and deliver something of value to people.
Can you recall a powerful moment for you in the early days of the company?
I’ll never forget seeing that first domain registration come through after all our hard work launching the site. I had a big smile on my face from ear to ear. Helping that first customer simply fascinated and motivated me to try to get more customers through our door. Having them interact with the product we built made it all worthwhile, especially when we started receiving positive feedback.
What do you think helped Namecheap’s business growth the past several years?
Without a doubt, it’s our customer support and our attention to making the customer the most important part of our business.
We’ve never been a company that simply sits back and watches the numbers. While profits are an important consideration to building a sustainable business, we’ve always believed it is more important to solve customer problems first and foremost. If you can do that and provide great customer service on top of it, the profits will naturally follow.
It’s this absolute dedication to our customers that has helped us create a great reputation. We didn’t spend money on ads, and we didn’t do things like Super Bowl commercials. All of our business was organic, driven by our customers who were happy with the way we took care of them and told all of their friends about us. It was that kind of engagement and commitment to customers that really propelled Namecheap forward and encouraged customer loyalty.
You’ve already told us you love domains. Where do you think the future of domains is heading?
Several years ago,the trend was to establish your Internet presence on Facebook or other social media platforms rather than have a separate address and website. If you watched super bowl commercials you would have seen a steady stream of hashtags and facebook links littering the ads instead of a company domain name
Over time, companies started to realize that being exclusively on these social platforms meant you didn’t have control of your own destiny and you were pretty much advertising their product instead of yours and paying them for that privilege on top it.
In the past couple of years, I’ve seen the trend shift back to domain names. Companies have again realized that using your own domain name and website allows you to control how you choose to engage with your customers on your terms.
So if anything, I believe domains will become even more powerful. You will have a multitude of useful services built on top of domain names via applications that will allow you to quickly serve up instances of anything you need to expand on your online presence. If you need a resume, you’ll simply choose your domain, click on a resume app, fill out your info and it will be instantly online and connected to your domain without ever having to touch DNS. Domains will take the place of phone numbers, they will be your calling card, your personal brand and your communication id across all spectrums and it will all happen in a very seamless way.
Being a domain investor yourself, what tips do you have for identifying the next million-dollar domain name?
Most generic and popular domains are already registered. The best way to do that now is to stay ahead of the curve.
Follow the news, read about new technologies, sciences and popular trends and try to register anything that sounds like it has a future. It could end up being a billion dollar industry and someone would be more than willing to pay you 1 million dollars for a category defining domain name that described that industry.
At one point in time a “blog” wasn’t a thing, if you managed to register blog.com the first time you heard it, you’d probably be sitting on a million dollar domain right now.
Lastly, I’d say stick with .com for now until proven otherwise.
Whose leadership do you most admire?
For me, it’s a trifecta of leaders with different qualities that I admire.
Steve Jobs was one of my greatest heroes, because of his attention to detail and his focus on beautiful design.
Elon Musk, for his vision and what he aspires to do. He wants to change the world, and to me, his approach to achieving that is one of the most fascinating things to watch.
I also really admire Jeff Bezos because of his absolute commitment to the customer. He’s built a business that’s efficient and achieves amazing things, and it all comes back to his firm commitment to doing everything for the customer.
I try to aspire to each of those qualities in my own approach to leadership as well as integrate them into our company. I believe it’s possible for us to deliver on all three.
How important are Namecheap’s values to you personally, and are there still significant steps you want to take in keeping a free and open Internet?
Everything we stand for and believe in as a company is based on my own personal principles of honesty, commitment and a view that doing what is right for people and the community as a whole should supersede any personal or selfish gain.
I also believe firmly in the ideals that the US constitution was founded on and the rights granted within that guarantee equality, privacy, freedom of speech, due process and protection from unjust persecution—all of which feed into the ideals of a free and open internet, and the principles of Net Neutrality.
To that end, I’m very proud of big moments in our history, such as when we opposed The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and our continuing commitment to organizations such as Fight for the Future and Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Let’s dig a little deeper as we start to wrap this up. Do you have a defining characteristic?
I don’t ever give up and I don’t get put off by failure or risk.
The biggest failure to me is not learning from your mistakes and even worse, not trying at all.
Under these circumstances, ask how exactly did you fail again—and why aren’t you going for more?
Tell me about your perfect activity when you need to get away from everything.
Taking a walk with no destination in mind and simply viewing my surroundings and photographing things that I find interesting. I can spend hours doing it.
What’s the quirkiest domain name you own?
Monochrome.com. My other passion is photography and if you are into photography you will understand it.
What is it about photography that inspires you? What do you particularly like to photograph?
There’s something special to capturing a moment that can inspire a feeling or take you away to a far-off place. I try to capture natural moments in life when the subject is in its most natural state of being. Whether it’s street photography or landscape, I want the viewer to feel what I felt being a witness to whatever it is I captured.
What tips or advice do you have for people who want to start their business today?
1. Always believe in yourself. Self-doubt is the biggest source of failure for new entrepreneurs.
2. Become a part of online communities that are associated with the business you want to get into. Not only will you learn a lot from others but you will build a great network as a resource.
3. Focus on one thing in business and nothing else. Most people will start a business and then give up at the first sign of adversity. Success in any business means breaking through perceived failures and roadblocks. It’s the people that persist and remain focused that become successful because 99% of their competition is not willing to.
4. Always put yourself in the customer’s shoes and when in doubt look at the problem through your customer’s eyes. If you make your decisions around doing what is best for the customer you will never be wrong.
If you could fast-forward 20 years, what do you think Namecheap will be doing?
I expect us to remain at the forefront of and upholding the ideals of a free and open internet as well continuing to solve age-old customer problems. This will never stop.
I believe we have an even bigger and brighter future in front of us and we are still at an early stage in the evolution of this company. We’ll know when we’ve arrived when we can help any customer get their business or website online quickly, seamlessly and efficiently—without having to understand technology. That is the true barometer of success for us.
How about a personal motto?
“The power of two.”
What this means is that you should prioritize two things in your life above all else and dedicate yourself to them every day. It will keep your life simple and focused, and give you the best chance to affect the most important things in your life on a daily basis.
For me, those two things are my family and this company (in that order) but they could be anything for someone else as long as they find them important.
Our birthday is over but you can still read some fantastic customer stories.