As the dot-com bubble was just starting to form in 1995, an enterprising 24-year-old named Bryan Liew saw an opportunity: internet real estate. His plan, which he achieved, was to sit on a Bunyanesque portfolio of internet domains. Wrestling.com? Liew owned it. Perfume.com? Liew’s. Brazil.com? Better make Liew an offer. The domain for any common word that could fall off a tongue was already bought and paid for by Liew, who started an e-commerce network called Communicate.com to govern his domain hoarding.
“The guy who founded [Communicate.com] had bought […] all of these domains, like vietnam.com and brazil.com, makeup.com and perfume.com,” Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Slack, explained on a recent episode of NPR’s podcast How I Built This. “The way that we thought back then was we would develop one universal e-commerce backend and then have all these domain names be the front end.”
All 400 of the domains Liew initially registered would funnel to his e-commerce site, where consumers could purchase goods or services related to the word they typed in. For example, tickets to Brazil on brazil.com or wrestling lessons on wrestling.com. “If a customer is interested in purchasing makeup, they can intuitively go to makeup.com,” Liew explained to the National Post in October 2000.
His idea was good, but only 10 of the domains had been fully developed by 2000. The business also doubled as a go-to for other businesses looking to purchase one of the URLs that Liew owned. In 2004, automobile.com, exercise.com, call.com and makeup.com sold for six figures to Manhattan Assets Corp.
The Singapore-born, Montreal-raised entrepreneur has since passed away, but Liew’s early dot-com legacy is still only talked about in tech circles. His dream, as his company name stated, was to communicate with customers and partners. He leveraged it well. “One day,” he told the Post, “We can be meeting with Sugar Ray Leonard and the next day conference calling ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage or Jennifer Lopez, because our sites include boxing.com, wrestling.com and dance.com respectively. That’s very exciting.”