Master of his domain Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

When Lawrence Ng founded Oversee.net with Fred Hsu nine years ago, he was 21 years old and saw domain names on the Internet as virtual real estate — empty lots at prime locations.

Since then, Ng’s company has purchased more than 800,000 domain names, which he compares to properties in areas with little foot traffic.

“There are tremendous parallels,” Ng says. “If you have a piece of land in a great area and you do not want to develop it, you turn it into a parking lot or storage facility or so forth. But today, we decided to develop it into a full-fledged property.”

When Internet users bypass search engines and type what they want directly into their browser’s address bar, Oversee’s technology takes over. By driving search-based traffic to advertisers, Oversee has grown by leaps and bounds, posting 2007 revenue of $206.7 million — up from $124.6 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Ng about how to make your company’s own domain a place employees want to be and how a foosball table can improve employee retention.

Delegate. The key to being a good entrepreneur is knowing when to delegate and when to hire the right people. The classic entrepreneurial trap is the ‘do everything yourself’ approach. You can’t do it all, and you don’t get any more credit for doing it all yourself.

My feeling has always been that there is a lot of stuff to do, and there is only so much a single person can tackle. Especially in our space, there really are a lot of different things that anyone in our space could be doing — and there is only so much one person can do.

Deciding what to keep and what to delegate — that is a combination between things I enjoy doing more and the things that are critical, for instance, maintaining relationships with some of our largest domain publishers. That is an area where it is critical to the business, and it is also something I enjoy.

Take care of your employees. Employees like us because we are stable. The Internet is a big part of the equation — how much of your own assets do you really own? For us, we have a large portfolio, about 800,000 domain names. From a stability standpoint and from a standpoint of scale, we are one of the largest in our space and still with a lot of opportunity.

We do a good job of taking care of our employees.

Here, actually in all the offices every Friday, we do lunches. We make sure that we have the stuff employees want that is nonwork.

While we grew the company, we always had a game room in our old office. We sort of grew up shooting a lot of pool. We started hiring a couple of employees who came from companies that played foosball.

They asked us, ‘Gee ... we don’t really shoot pool. Would it be possible to get a foosball table?’ We said, ‘Absolutely.’ There’s actually a foosball table here in L.A., there’s another one in Florida. Our office in Portland, Ore., has air hockey and foosball.

My view is that folks spend a lot of hours at work. If you look at any company and take the ratio of hours in the office compared to waking hours or hours not at the office, it is a pretty large ratio. My view has always been just make sure the right balance is achieved while you are in the office.

We always have a summer outing; we have holiday parties. We try to keep it light.

Talk to your customers. What’s next? That’s a tough one for anyone. The path isn’t fully laid out. A big part of it is listening to our customers. We are constantly talking to our publishers and figuring out what they want to do to grow their business. That is one way we think about it — develop the assets.

There is a lot of thought that goes into that, in terms of what we want to develop, what categories we want to be in, what is too crowded, what is too competitive, what will support a large enough business for us to make sense.

It comes down to the classic questions, ‘Is the market big enough? Is it too crowded? Is there an opportunity for us based on our own track record?’

Another thing we do is we try to hire the best and brightest. We look for industry experience. If not, we look for if they are coming from a good background. We definitely look for people who are sharp, who are hungry.

We want folks who have a little bit of passion, who are looking to achieve and accomplish more and more.

HOW TO REACH: Oversee.net, (213) 408-0080 or www.oversee.net