Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO at Hubspot and chief blogger at, laid out some gems of advice at this week’s annual Mozcon conference in downtown Seattle.

Since Shah has managed to raise over $100 million for Hubspot, scale the company to over 500 employees and still manages to code while writing viral blog posts, everyone perks up when he speaks.

Here are a few of his startup tips.

#1 Don’t buy a $10 domain

Companies should spend more time thinking about their domain name before launching and invest in the name just like companies invest in everything else, Shah says. For something as valuable as the brand associated with your entire company, he thinks it is odd that so many companies choose to go with what is currently available for $10. To pick something, Shah suggests going for a simple name, which is easy to remember.

#2 Negotiate for a domain properly

Domain squatters are savvy people and you need to approach them in the right way if you want to have any chance of getting a domain for a reasonable price. Rather than just sending a blanket email asking if the person is interested in selling, he suggests getting the upper hand in the negotiation by being transparent with the registrant. Inform them that you are considering it along with other options. Also, give an outright offer to ensure the greatest chance of 1) getting a response and 2) anchoring the conversation with a number you can work with.

He suggests using some of the following words in the introductory email: “I am working on a project for which the domain name which you own is interesting to me including others, I would like to give you an offer of $XXXX.XX to buy your domain.”

#3 Good Marketing Is About Being Innovative

Maptia team with Johnny
Johnny with the Maptia team

Any good marketing tactic goes down in value with time as more and more marketers start to use it, Shah says. Facebook was amazing to market on in 2006, as were infographics back in 2006.

To combat against this trend, good marketers need to really brainstorm and go in places which others don’t think about.

As an example, he was impressed by the marketing tactic which the Maptia team (a TechStars Seattle grad) used to get buzz around their brand. Rather than just creating another blog post, Maptia stalked him to see the questions that he was asking on Quora.

When he asked the question “What are the coolest startup culture hacks you’ve heard of,” Johnny Miller of Maptia decided to create the most comprehensive amazing answer possible, suggesting to move your startup to a developing country like Morocco – where they are currently based. It currently has been viewed 167,832 times.

#4 Be 1st on a Fast Moving Platform

There is an inherent advantage to being the first. The first people on Twitter naturally have more followers today because the company promoted those users early-on.

Good marekters should keep their eyes on new publishing platforms. For example, Shah was one of the first 50 people invited to start blogging on LinkedIn. Now, he says that his LinkedIn blog posts are read an average of 10X more than the average post which he posts to OnStartups.

#5 Be Uncomfortably Transparent

In a world of increasing choices and decreasing trust, brands which create humanizing experiences which will be the ones which gain our loyalty, he says. Most brands are constantly presenting the sunny side of their brand. But in order to really humanize something, he says that it must feel slightly uncomfortable to share information in order to make a connection. Only by being vulnerable will strangers feel a connection.

Embracing transparency hardly comes easy to most people. It requires a willingness to speak about problems as willingly as we regularly highlight our successes. Moz has wholeheartedly embraced this practice — leading CEO Rand Fishkin to talk about marital problems on his personal blog and post their annual financial performance.

These are the slides from Shah’s talk.

Naysawn Naderi is in the process of founding a new company.  He previously founded and was a Program Manager at Microsoft. 

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  • John Mauriello

    Its better to use a domain brokerage and acquisitions company like moniker
    that does this everyday (operating in stealth) to help you build a hit list and acquire names at the best negotiated prices using comps, data, concessions, sales agreements etc. Domain owners, both corporate and individuals, can inflate the price and cause drag out when dealing with you transparently.

  • Guest

    I respectfully disagree. Buy a $10 domain to get started and build your shit.

    I think that last clause is important, so I’ll repeat it. BUILD. YOUR. SHIT.

    If your investors want you to spend millions to buy out a domain speculator (“domainer”), use _their_ millions.

    Remember a little company called “Twttr”? Until they earned enough money to buy a respectable name, this company focused on its technology and infrastructure. Today, many are speculating that this is the next trillion-dollar co.

    • singingmanjam

      This is probably the most important post here. If you business has the worst name in the world but provides a great service, you can still succeed with a bad name. You absolutely can’t succeed with a great name and no product. Remember

      Anyway, even with a $10 domain name, there’s still a lot of great domain names out there, you just have to use the tools that are out there to find the available ones. You’re not going to find an exact match for some specific keywords, but you can find some good and memorable and fresh brand names for $10.

      It’s worth trying to negotiate if you think of a perfect name and it’s not currently being used, but a lot of times people have overinflated views of what their domain names are worth and even when you sneak into 4-5 figures they’re still acting offended at the price. If the seller of your perfect domain name is balking at reason, I think you’re better off finding something else. I think good marketing is really about what he said, being open and offering people something of value. There are way too many companies out there that think they can find a shortcut to effort and do something like buy fans (see how many companies there are at to see how common this practice is) when the reality is that breaking through without doing a large amount of expensive advertising is not guaranteed. The easiest way to reach out to people is creating quality content and offering people something of real value.

  • Lewis Lin

    Good reminders from Dharmesh on picking a good name. Just read recently that Jeff Bezos was close to naming Amazon something else. Just imagine if he had stuck with that name. I also like Dharmesh’s negotiation tips.

    Lewis was very nearly called “Cadabra,” as in “abracadabra.” Founder Jeff Bezos rapidly re-conceptualized the name when his lawyer misheard the word as “cadaver.”


  • adhelper – cheri carroll

    I just broke down and bought the .com version of my name. I started out blogging as, and the .com version cost me a bundle — but at least I knew I liked the name and would stick with the blogging.

  • David Sandy

    Interesting. I actually have a business selling domain names for startups. . I got started selling some cool domains I had on another site and sort of went from there. I think the point below about building something is probably the best point. If you only have a limited budget then just get to work. A good strategy can be to pick a domain name that looks like it won’t be used in the .com in a less desirable extension. You’ll pay more than buying it before you get big but sometimes those are them apples.

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