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How Park.io Found a Niche in Expired Domain Auctions

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

How Park.io Found a Niche in Expired Domain Auctions

In this interview, we speak with Steve Webb, co-founder of Park.io, a domain auction platform that specializes in ccTLDs and expired domain auctions. Alongside his business partner Mike Carson, Steve has carved out a niche in the competitive domain name market, focusing on providing a seamless experience for acquiring coveted digital real estate.

You will learn about the origins of Park.io, the challenges and triumphs encountered along the way, and valuable advice for entrepreneurs looking to secure the perfect domain name for their business ventures. Join us as we delve into the dynamics of the domain auction industry and explore future trends with the minds behind Park.io.

Inspiration for Starting Park.io

SBS – What inspired you to start Park.io and focus specifically on ccTLDs and expired domain auctions?

Steve – More than a decade ago, my business partner (Mike Carson) wanted to register an expired .io domain for a project he was working on. He knew it would be available soon, but he didn’t know the exact timing. To avoid repeatedly checking it himself, he wrote a script that would check the domain’s availability every second and email him when it became available.

One day, he was sitting down to dinner with his wife and he got an email that the domain had become available less than a minute ago. He rushed to his computer to register it, but someone else had already registered it before him.

That experience was very frustrating, and it motivated Mike to learn more about domain life cycles. He started improving his scripts, and eventually, they were very efficient. Once they were always able to get the domains he wanted, he decided to sell his software as a service so other people could register the domains they wanted, and that’s how Park.io was born.

Mike started with .io domains because there wasn’t a reliable service that offered backorders for .io domains at the time. He personally wanted the service, and he knew others would want it too because .io domains were getting more and more popular, especially with tech companies (.io is a country code top-level domain [ccTLD], but people were beginning to treat it like an acronym for “input-output”).

After .io, Mike added support for .ly, .to, and .me domains because of cool domain hacks (e.g., friend.ly, happybirthday.to, btc.me, etc.) and because most of those TLDs were not available elsewhere. In 2019, I became Mike’s business partner, and we started adding more TLDs to the site based on user demand.

Identifying the Market Need

SBS – How did you identify a market need for a service like Park.io?

Steve – Mike initially created the service because he wanted it for himself. Then, after the service was consistently registering domains, he opened it up to the public. The site received orders on the first day it launched, and it continued to receive orders every day after that.

Developers love registering domain names for their projects (and their project ideas) so it’s not surprising that the service was an instant success. Plus, Mike timed the market perfectly. When he launched the service in June 2014, only ~150K .io domains had been registered. Two years later, there were 400K+ registered .io domains. At launch, there were ~3K monthly .io registrations. Two years later, there were 10K+ monthly .io registrations.

Early Challenges and Solutions

SBS – Can you describe the initial challenges you faced while setting up the business and how you overcame them?

Steve – The domain name ecosystem consists of many TLDs (far more than most people realize). Almost everyone is familiar with .com, but as I’m writing this, there are roughly 1,500 TLDs.

Most of these TLDs are governed by a common set of rules and policies that are enforced by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). However, ccTLDs are somewhat unique because they typically have their own rules and policies (and aren’t officially governed by ICANN), and the underlying technical infrastructure used to manage these ccTLDs varies significantly from one TLD to the next.

All of these different policies and technical systems represent distinct challenges that we’ve had to overcome (and continue to navigate as they evolve over time).

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a silver bullet to overcome these challenges. On the technical side, we developed robust systems that could interface with each registry’s unique configuration. On the policy side, we developed strong relationships with the people managing each TLD.

What Sets Park.io Apart from Competitors

SBS – How does Park.io differentiate itself from other domain auction platforms?

Steve – Historically, our primary differentiator was the fact that we focused on ccTLDs exclusively. As previously mentioned, we spent a lot of time developing relationships and creating technical solutions to register and manage ccTLDs for our customers (so that the underlying complexities are completely hidden).

Another differentiator is that we have a smaller number of auctions on any given day, and the value of the auctioned domains tends to be consistently higher than most other platforms.

All of the domains that appear in our auctions were ordered by at least two users so there’s already some level of demand for each auction. Some of the other platforms auction hundreds (or even thousands of domains) each day, and there’s no guarantee that any of them will be valuable, which makes the experience much more challenging for users.

Strategies for Sourcing Attractive Domain Names

SBS – What strategies do you employ to ensure a steady supply of attractive domain names for auction?

Steve – The specific answer to this question would be different for every year our business has been in existence because our industry is always changing. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say we’ve had to navigate at least one extinction-level event every single year.

For example, in the past 10 years, the .io TLD has been managed by three completely different companies, and the process used to handle expired .io domains has changed fundamentally at least five times over that same time period (not to mention the daily changes caused by competitors, network conditions, etc.).

Our specific tactics are constantly evolving to remain competitive, and as a result, our core strategy is to remain dynamic so we can always make necessary changes and take advantage of any new opportunities that arise.

One of those opportunities that has allowed us to maintain consistent inventory is strategic partnerships. Over the years, we’ve been able to partner with individuals and registries to offer our customers domains that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

A very notable partnership is with the registry that manages .ai domains. We’ve helped them auction their expired domains for many years (on the fourth Friday of every month), and the explosive expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) usage has made those domains more and more valuable over time.

Ensuring Fairness in Domain Bidding and Acquisition

SBS – How do you ensure the process of bidding and acquiring domains is fair and transparent?

Steve – We maintain a high level of transparency by logging everything on our site and making that information available to users (e.g., every bid in every auction is easily accessible to every user).

One of the biggest fraud-related issues on other auction platforms is shill bidding (i.e. when someone uses multiple accounts to artificially increase the price of an auction). We don’t have this problem on our site because we don’t allow users to auction their own domains on our platform.

Every domain that appears in our auctions has been registered by us and is under our control at the corresponding registry. Additionally, in the rare situations where a user doesn’t pay for a domain that was won at auction, we ban that user and reopen the auction (with the banned user’s bids removed).

Handling Domain Squatting and Ownership Disputes

SBS – How does Park.io handle issues like domain squatting or disputes over domain ownership?

Steve – Park.io provides a very valuable service for domain investors, and it’s important to understand the distinction between investing and squatting.

In many ways, domain investing is similar to real estate investing. Investors spend a lot of time researching, evaluating, and ultimately purchasing pieces of digital real estate. Then, they can choose to develop that real estate (e.g., create a website on it) or sell it to another investor or an end user.

Domain squatting is actually quite rare, and it involves purchasing domains that deliberately violate another party’s trademark rights.

As for handling disputes related to domain squatting, all registrars must follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP). This policy governs these disputes, and registrars are obligated to abide by the rulings of the corresponding dispute resolution process.

Common Mistakes in Domain Auctions

SBS – What are some common mistakes you see buyers make in the domain auction process?

Steve – The most common mistake (especially by new buyers) is not knowing the specific rules of a given auction platform. There are a number of different platforms, and they all have slightly different rules and procedures.

Some of the most notable differences include bid increment rules (i.e. how the minimum bid changes as a specific auction progresses), auction durations, proxy bidding rules, auction extensions, etc.

Every platform is unique, and it’s the buyer’s responsibility to know the rules of the game before playing.

Another common mistake is not taking advantage of proxy bidding functionality (particularly if you can’t monitor an auction when it’s ending). Most auction platforms allow buyers to place a maximum bid. Then, when other buyers place bids that are below the maximum, the platform bids automatically up to that maximum (these automatic bids are called proxy bids).

Far too often, a buyer will place a minimum bid (i.e., the smallest amount necessary to become the highest bidder). Then, the buyer will get distracted by something else and ultimately lose the auction. If the buyer had placed a maximum bid, the auction platform would have added the necessary proxy bids (and saved the buyer from having to monitor the auction).

Entrepreneurial Advice on Purchasing Domain Names

SBS – What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to purchase a domain name for their new business?

Steve – Your company’s name is one of the most important components of your marketing strategy because it is the first thing every one of your potential customers will learn about your business.

Similarly, if you have an online presence, your domain name is literally the front door of your company, and it’s the first thing potential customers will see.

With that in mind, my advice is to purchase the best domain name you can afford for your business. In most cases, you should begin your search with a .com domain because it’s still the most popular and most recognizable TLD.

Then, based on availability and pricing, you can explore your options with alternative TLDs (e.g., ccTLDs).

Don’t step over dollars to save pennies. A quality domain name will make all of your marketing activities easier (and a subpar one will make all of your marketing activities more difficult).

Success Story Highlight from a Park.io User

SBS – Could you share a success story of a business that significantly benefited from acquiring a domain through Park.io?

Steve – In one way or another, we’ve been responsible for most of the all-time highest publicly disclosed .io domain sales (as the actual seller or the wholesaler for the actual seller).

A few of these domains include auction.io, avatar.io, factory.io, swipe.io, and gate.io. It’s very exciting to see innovative companies building on domains that we sold (retail or wholesale), but I’m much more interested in the success of our customers.

A very recent example is girlfriend.ai. A Park.io user acquired the domain for $450 in 2018 and sold it for $170,000 in 2024. Another user purchased links.to for $900 in 2015 and sold it for $30,000 in 2021. Yet another user bought bare.ly for $99 in 2018 and sold it for $28,980 in 2022. And my personal favorite: a user got dc.ag for $135 in 2020, and three months later, he sold it for $14,174.

As these examples illustrate, our users have been extremely successful with a wide range of different ccTLDs.

Current Trends in the Domain Market

SBS – What trends are you currently observing in the domain name market?

Steve – The biggest trend right now is the meteoric rise of .ai domain names.

As mentioned above, we’ve been helping the .ai registry with their expired domain auctions for more than five years. Initially, those auctions were popular and provided a consistent source of revenue for the registry.

Then, after ChatGPT launched on November 30, 2022, interest in the auctions increased exponentially, and the number of .ai domain registrations exploded.

Future of Domain Trading and ccTLDs

SBS – How do you see the future of domain name trading, particularly for ccTLDs?

Steve – As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

I see the future of domain name trading being very similar to the present and the past. At any given moment in time, there’s a “hot” TLD (i.e., a TLD that is growing much faster than the rest). Right now, that TLD is .ai. In the past few years, .xyz, .club, and .io have all worn that crown.

I expect the popularity (and value) of .ai domains to continue increasing as the global adoption and usage of AI continue to accelerate. However, another TLD will eventually displace .ai as the “hot” TLD at some point in the future (either because interest in .ai finally levels off or because another TLD’s growth rate outpaces it).

The relative popularity of various TLDs will continue to fluctuate over time, but I don’t expect .com to lose the top spot as the most popular and most valuable TLD. As long as domain names are used to identify online locations, .com domains will continue to be among the most valuable digital assets.

Similarly, the value of some phrases (e.g., popular one-word keywords) will continue to grow over time, primarily due to the scarcity of popular words in the English language. Stated differently, the demand for quality domain names will continue to outpace the supply of those domain names.

Future Plans and Evolution of Park.io

SBS – Finally, what are your future plans for Park.io, and how do you plan to evolve the platform?

Steve – Our company was actually acquired by Dynadot in 2023. As part of the acquisition, I have continued running Park.io and helping the .ai registry run their expired domain auctions.

My first significant project post-acquisition was to integrate the .ai auctions with DAX, which is a distributed auctioning system that allows multiple partnering registrars to show and manage a consistent collection of auctions on their sites.

We already have a number of registrars using that system, and we’re actively onboarding more partners so we can generate even more exposure for all of the auctions that are available in the system.

In addition to expanding that partner network, we’re also planning to support more TLDs at Park.io and give our users access to even more inventory.

The first decade of Park.io’s existence was extremely successful, and I fully expect the next decade to be equally rewarding for the site and its users.


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How Park.io Found a Niche in Expired Domain Auctions