Dot-com wheeler-dealer says he has something the nano biz needs

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June 24, 2003 — Got a few hundred thousand handy? How about a million? Ken Browne certainly hopes so. As the publisher of Technology Networks Ltd. (TNL) in the United Kingdom, it’s his job to sell what TNL sees as a soon-to-be prized commodity: the domain name

In a move reminiscent of cybersquatting (although it’s not, since no one has trademarked “nanotechnology”), Browne is looking for buyers to take over what his company purchased for “five figures” last year from its VW-driving owner in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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“He drove over in his beaten-up VW Golf and we had a beer in a little hostelry and I managed to persuade him to part with it,” Browne said. (Word has it the former owner has since bought a new car.)

Originally, TNL was to use the domain for its nanotech news portal but it soon acquired (for even more money) and decided the .com version was too valuable to keep under wraps.

“There’s so much value in having a good name,” Browne said. “It just says so much about you, about the company and how prestigious it is.”

Of course, value is relative, said Charles Harris, chairman and chief executive of Harris & Harris Group Inc., a New York-based small tech venture capital firm. Value, according to Harris, is in the eye of the beholder.

“I guess its like anything else, if there’s someone to whom that’s worthwhile … it’s a free market,” he said. “All it requires is two bidders: a bidder and an underbidder. It’s an amusing story. And I can’t wait to find out who buys it and for how much.”

Bidding starts at a cool million but Browne is hoping to get more, since he believes nanotechnology is the wave of the future and, as such, its .com namesake should reflect the value of what it will be worth … someday.

“That’s our target but we might compromise down to six figures,” he said. “Obviously, it’s too much for most people, but it’s finding the right person who can see the value in it. If you go forward into the next 10, 20, 30 years you own that domain permanently. So, the value of it, if you take the long term view, it’s enormous.”

So far, six bidders have come forward but not one willing to pay six figures.

This comes as no surprise to John Burdick, co-founder and vice president of corporate development for nanomaterials startup Inframat Corp.

“The word ‘nano,’ I mean, it has value, but if you’re betting on dot-com creating the value, then it’s pretty shallow,” said Burdick. “I’d spend a lot of time figuring out what else is out there that would be the next best thing (ie., .org, .biz, etc.) before I’d spend a million dollars.”

Is it worth a million? Burdick’s response: a simple “Na.”

Browne’s ideal buyer is a major corporation looking to get into nano in a big way or possibly a large governmental organization that wants to be unequivocally associated with nanotechnology. Or, perhaps, a Hollywood studio looking to boost visits to its nano-thriller movie Web site. is active today but only points to the ‘for sale’ sign TNL has up on the Web. Still, according to Browne, the domain gets about 10,000 hits per month.

As to how best to deploy such a high-priced signpost, Browne suggests using the name as a destination or, even better, as a pointer to another domain or group of domains a company wants visitors exposed to.

“I was expecting a lot of people to say we’re nuts — that’s for sure,” he said. So far many have, but Browne is undaunted. “I’m just relating the … intrinsic value of the field as an industry and saying, ‘Well, as a fraction of that industry, (the price) is pretty minimal.'”


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