The Three Letter Domain

As we were debating in our monday meeting yesterday about our brand, USV vs Union Square Ventures, I made the point that our URL is our brand and we use

I am a fan of the three letter domain. Two is too short for me. Four is too long for me. I like three.I feel the same way about kids, but I do digress.

My mind started to wander in our monday meeting and I started thinking about how many three letter .com domains there are. I thought 26^3 = 17,576. But what I missed what that you can't repeat, so the correct answer is 15,600.

In either case, there are a finite and relatively small number of three letter .com domains. And I own one of them ( and our firm owns one of them (

The story behind is about a team member taking initiative and doing an amazing thing without being asked to. Eric Friedman worked at USV for a few years at the tail end of the last decade. One monday he came in and told us that he had bought over the weekend for $10k. He didn't ask permission, he just did it. We were ecstatic and thought it was a steal. And it was. I have thanked Eric for that a few times, but I feel like thanking him again. Thanks Eric.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Wow. <—-3 letters; see what I did there.

    1. Niall

      Cool (3 letter interjections all sold out by this point 🙂

      1. JimHirshfield

        I’ll sell you my WOW for $4000

    2. William Mougayar

      Sorry it’s taken, but wow.ah is available 🙂

  2. LIAD

    I’m not sure 3 letter domains are all gravy. most end up being 3 syllables.I’d rather a 1 syllable 4 letter domain than a 3 syllable 3 letter one.

    1. William Mougayar

      I agree. 4 & 5 letter domains are pretty good too especially if they form a memorable word, eg Path, Daze, etc.I will take a 1 or 2 meaningful syllables names anytime because the meaning will be in the name, whereas most 3-letter words have no meaning & you have to work on branding

    2. Richard


    3. kidmercury

      true, but both are awesome.


      I think you may be right. It all boils down to wanting people to remember your domain name. Some company catch phrases are longer than others but more easily remembered.

  3. Anne Libby

    Thanks for the a great reminder: the impact of what we do today might matter more than we know.

  4. bsoist

    Why can’t you repeat? ?

    1. Jason Novack

      Agreed. You had it right the first time: 26^3

      1. JimHirshfield


        1. falicon

          It should be 17,576…26*26*26…you can repeat letters.

          1. Sebastian Wain

            And we are lucky not discussing how many unicode three letter domains exists…

          2. ShanaC

            is that allowed yet

          3. ShanaC


          4. JimHirshfield

            No…I think there’s a misinterpretation of what Fred means when he says you can’t repeat. Just take my 3 letters: W, O, and W. If I use the first W to spell WOW, it’s the same word (or domain name) as if I were to use the 2nd W first to spell WOW. Got it?

          5. falicon

            doh – yep. You are correct…and once again, I am an idiot. ;-)Thanks for explaining though – I was *totally* missing that concept…

          6. kidmercury

            these types of questions always confuse me, and i resent them deeply for it. but my gut tells me to side with jim in this beef.

          7. falicon

            Agree…usually when I get stuck on these sorts of things, I will write a program that will just go through all the variations and calculate the answer for me…here is a quick hack version in Python (disqus won’t let me put the proper spacing in, so adjust formatting for proper indents if you actually want to run this):combos = []for x in xrange(ord(‘a’), ord(‘z’)): let1 = chr(x) for y in xrange(ord(‘a’), ord(‘z’)): let2 = chr(y) for z in xrange(ord(‘a’), ord(‘z’)): let3 = chr(z) slot = “%s%s%s” % (let1, let2, let3) if slot not in combos: combos.append(slot)print len(combos)…and the answer is…15,625

          8. fredwilson

            Yesssss. I got it right in the post. Phew

          9. falicon

            OK – it’s too early for me today I guess (sorry)…my code didn’t include the letter Z…so here is an updated version, and I tested it by actually printing out the array to visually check the answers this time….and so it turns out that 17,576 actually *is* the answer…The reason is that you are only doing one letter in every slot via the 26 * 26 * 26…and so the repeat in the example of ‘wow’ doesn’t actually happen (you only put the ones that start with W together once…so WAA, WAB, WAC, etc…you go through that 26 times for the 2nd letter, and another 26 times for the 3rd letter).So the mental hurdle is that you aren’t actually moving letters from one slot to another (ie. it’s not W from slot one now moved to slot two and so on)…Crazy how easily confusing this can be!# chr(97) == a, chr(123) == {combos = []for x in xrange(97, 123):let1 = chr(x)for y in xrange(97, 123):let2 = chr(y)for z in xrange(97, 123):let3 = chr(z)slot = “%s%s%s” % (let1, let2, let3)if slot not in combos:combos.append(slot)for c in combos:print cprint len(combos)

          10. Sprugman

            The question’s been settled, and code is a good way to do that, but I like to simplify the question to something I can count in these sort of situations. So if there we only two letters in the alphabet, it should be 2^3 or 8 combos:aaaaabababaaabbbbababbbbJust as a way to think about it next time…P.S. Disqus is still unbearable on the iPad.

          11. falicon

            Such a smart way to think about it!My brain always goes the hard route first and then I have to work it backwards to the simple or easier solution…I like how your brain works better! 😉

          12. andyidsinga

            Oh phew!! …I got same with JS above 🙂

          13. bsoist

            from string import lowercaseprint len(set([i+j+k for j in lowercase for i in lowercase for k in lowercase]))I couldn’t resist. 🙂

          14. falicon


          15. andyidsinga

            I wrote a bit of javascript code …got 17576 .. must be missing something here…var chars = [‘a’,’b’,’c’,’d’,’e’,’f’,’g’,’h’,’i’,’j’, ‘k’,’l’,’m’,’n’,’o’,’p’,’q’,’r’,’s’,’t’, ‘u’,’v’,’w’,’x’,’y’,’z’];var domains = {};var output;//make emfor (letter1 in chars) { for (letter2 in chars){ for (letter3 in chars){ output = chars[letter1] + chars[letter2] + chars[letter3]; domains[output] = 1; //sticking all these in a hash to avoid dupes } } }//output countconsole.log(“number of entries: ” + Object.keys(domains).length);//number of entries: 17576

          16. Cam MacRae

            Yours is right. @falicon:disqus is using 25 letters as xrange uses the interval (n1, n2].

          17. Dale Allyn


          18. falicon

            yeah – not sure what compelled me to use xrange this time around (have never used it in my ‘real’ code)…it’s Tuesday, but I still blame it on a case of the ‘Mondays’ 😉

          19. Cam MacRae

            A moment of cinematic genius.

          20. LE

            Actually a variation of the following is what I used to find available 3 letter .com’s back when I got so many in the 90’s:for i in {a..z} do for y in {a..z} do for z in {a..z}doecho ${i}${y}${z}.comdonedonedoneAnd if you do this on a command line you will see the last iteration:for i in {a..z}; do for y in {a..z}; do for z in {a..z}; do echo ${i}${y}${z}.com; done; done; done | nl | tail

          21. andyidsinga

            nice ..i did something similar to test my js output …but use sort -u | wc -l ;)i bet you’ve added an nslookup command to that same script 😉

          22. LE

            Actually back in the day the problem was there were to many that were available and the price was $70 for 2 years through NSI lowered from $100 and before it was $0. (This is prior to becoming a registrar ).So you had to choose wisely with what you bought.So the process involved finding the available ones (first) and then figuring out the probability of which ones would be most desirable. [1]That involved checking yahoo but also other strategies.One was an assumption that the letter “x” was sort of a wild card and had more value in certain positions. Another was certain letters in certain positions or sequences would be more valuable even if they weren’t commonly used for some reason.Later the above strategy came in really helpful with 4 letter .com’s which obviously there were even more possibilities. For example I did state names starting, state names ending, “na” [2] “inc”, “llc” etc etc. Anything that seemed to make sense. So it was no random exercise and I spent many hours thinking about this.[1] Speed wasn’t the issue so you could also bang away at whois even.[2] One of the names from this series was “” which I sold to the Washington Nationals many years later.

          23. andyidsinga

            right on. yeah, sorry, I shouldn’t have implied that it would be so random 🙂

          24. fredwilson

            Genius on many levels

          25. LE

            Having watched business since I was a kid (even understanding the value of a good phone number which I got from working for my dad’s small wholesale company) all played into this (similar to you with blogging and twitter connection). Being able to sell and negotiate sales came from going door to door doing car waxing, photography in college and many things like that. The computer skills came from buying a 10 terminal Unix system (faking that I was a computer dealer a skill I learned working for my dad so I could cut out the middleman) for my first business and writing an estimating program using only “awk” and “sh” that actually worked. All because it was fun. Without any of that I wouldn’t have had the skills or knowledge to do any of this. And a bunch of other things to numerous to mention.That’s why it’s upsetting when people think I just got lucky (which of course I was lucky not doubting that) but plenty of things had to come in advance for me to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.There was also the tenacity to fight off the ex wife who constantly whinned that I was not helping her with the kids down by the pool I was up in the room by modem on a wyse terminal. And that was the weekends I was even down the shore at all. Most of the time I was in the office.

          26. falicon

            Js ftw – you rock and it is correct!


            “usually when I get stuck on these sorts of things, I will write a program that will just go through all the variations and calculate the answer for me”.What a geek! Excellent.

          28. Jason Novack

            The first letter choice does not reduce the number of options for the second letter, and likewise for the third letter. So, there are 26 possibilities for each of the three letters, meaning there are 26*26*26 possible combinations. 26*25*24 would be correct if using a letter more than once was prohibited, as there would then be only 25 options for the second letter and 24 for the third.

          29. falicon

            You are correct.

          30. mattspitz

            You absolutely can re-use letters. Consider it this way:- You have three slots that you can use.- 26 letters (capitalization is irrelevant) are eligible for each of those slots- Order matters. OWW is not the same as WOW.So, you have 26 choices for the first slot, 26 choices for the second slot, 26 choices for the third slot. There’s no repeat you describe because you used one of your 26 choices for the first slot to choose the first W and one of your 26 choices for the third slot to choose the last W. Filling the first, second, and third slots are all independent.26^3 = 17,576Long time reader, first time commenter!

          31. fredwilson


          32. falicon

            Great, and correct, explanation…thanks!

          33. LIAD

            +1——-however.. – you need to chuck in 10 numbers and a middle dash to compute the total number of available 3 ‘letter’ chris does above, the answer is – 36 * 37 * 36 = 47,952

          34. JimHirshfield

            I think I stand corrected!! Thanks.Happy to be wrong if it spurs such active conversations and new commenters. 🙂

          35. ShanaC

            normally I would ask a question, but your math is good.But you should come back 🙂

          36. Guest

            By my calculations the true answer is…36 * 37 * 35 = 4662036 = all letters and numbers37 = all letters and numbers and a dash35 = all letters and numbers except the one used for the first characterThat last point requires a bit of explanation. Creating a palindrome would lead to a duplicate domain but this restriction on repetition only applies to the first and third characters.i.e.xyX and Xyx creates a duplicate butxxy and yxx does not

          37. dave

            There are no duplicates.In the same way that000 to 999 is 10^3 = 1000,AAA through ZZZ is 26^3 = 17576.With A-Z and 0-9 it’s 36^3 = 46656.With A-Z and 0-9 and a hyphen in the middle,36^3 + 36^2 = 47952 is the correct answer.It can also be found from37^3 – ((37^2) * 2) + 37 = 47952.

      2. fredwilson


        1. JimHirshfield

          But he’s wrong. So…not so great. See below….

          1. fredwilson


          2. ShanaC

            I’m so confused

          3. testtest

            without looking it up, I think it’s 26^3. in combinatorics this is a combination rather than a permutation.permutations are when you can only use each member of the set once — a vote for different positions on a board is a classic example. so once a selection has been made it can’t be made, we have the set {A … Z} at each selection, with nothing removed.

          4. fredwilson

            We need Kid to settle this beef

          5. kidmercury

            lol i saw a beef emerging and quickly chimed in on jim hirshfield’s side. jim said you are originally right and you need to de-dupe which i think is correct. though i am the worst at these types of questions, so confusing. i am definitely more verbal than mathematical.

          6. Sebastian Wain

            I recommend to learn combinatorics and probability using code because computers count and check faster than humans.You can check the solution yourself with this JS Bin shared code

          7. Vineeth Kariappa

            Domains possible should b around 17k x 200 (approx) (TLD’s). No1 said anything about multiple TLDs, did I miss something?

          8. JimHirshfield

            Now I’m wrong. It happens….ha ha ha

          9. Donna Brewington White

            When Fred first posted and the math geeks began commenting I ran. But then the problem got stuck in my head and I had to come back for resolution and it was gratifying that I could actually follow along even if it gave me a bit of a headache. Also further down the stream people started using numbers with dollar signs in front of them. Those I understand.

          10. kidmercury

            lol yeah i do always perk up when there is a dollar sign before the numbers! 🙂

          11. Robert Holtz

            You made precisely the right point, Donna.While the math on the possible permutations of three-letter domain names might be an amusing thought exercise, in actuality it serves no purpose at all.Firstly, the math will always fall down because there are hidden permutations (not just repeated letters but letters that form real words and terms, especially if you broaden your consideration to multiple languages).The overarching truth is beyond any reliable calculus of prediction or probability. The only numbers that really matter are the ones with dollar signs in front of them.The hard fact is, the price of any one domain name over another has less to do with scarcity of supply and more to do with the utterly unique combination of motives and constraints that gets the deal done between buyer and seller.

          12. ShanaC

            ok, I think we solved the math problem of how many domains that are three letteredNow how do we figure out how many are in use and are not parked for investment reasons

          13. falicon

            hrm…I could write a quick hack for that too…after all it would only need to spider 15,625 sites… 🙂

          14. ShanaC

            that actually would be interesting, because my guess is that the assumed value is much higher than actuality since most three letter domains are probably unused.

          15. falicon

            I think a lot are prob. unused…but owned…I would be pretty surprised to find any that are avail./open to be registered…

          16. testtest

            it would be if it was just letters, but it’s numbers and a dash in the middle position, as well.10 numbers 0-9.26 letters.36 total.36 * 37 * 36 = 47,952the 37 is for the dash.

          17. LIAD

            looks good to me

          18. Cam MacRae

            It’s a partial permutation with repetition.

          19. testtest

            yeah. and for the “permutations”, i was describing permutations without repetition — i think.need to either use some combinatorics, or do some more.

          20. JimHirshfield

            Right. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.

          21. testtest

            iteration of ideas

          22. Richard


        2. ramzr

          what about digits and “-“? it’s really 36*37*36 = 47952. not to mention unicode, which would at least bring the total into 6 digits…

          1. LE

            Domains with digits (2 or 3 digits) have become extremely valuable. They are being bought up by the Chinese. Some digits are considered lucky and are even more valuable (8 being one of them) sold for $310,000 last year.

    2. Dan vs. vs.

      1. LE

        Case doesn’t matter with domains.

  5. Barry Nolan

    The limiting factor is the TLD. The .coms are all gone, or too expensive to buy. There’s a healthy auction market in old domains – whose added advantage is that they have history with Google, and you can rank better, earlier. Lots of startups today using the .io, or .ly domains. But when there’s regime change in .ly land (aka Libya), that’s precarious.

    1. falicon

      I’ve always been too cheap to buy pre-registered domains…I usually just spend the extra effort to find some other combination or name that will work and roll with that instead (though I do agree that there are some really good benefits to old domains if you can afford them).My approach has nabbed me a few short domains though ( and are prob. my shortest)…even though I’m not really using them for much right now, I can’t find it in myself to part with them either…

      1. awaldstein

        You have a great knack for naming!A native skill of yours.

          1. Dale Allyn

            I like that approach, too, Kevin. I’ve spent many a night with glass of wine and a thesaurus (usually online) looking for domain names. 😉

          2. pointsnfigures

            Latin and greek language can work too, since they are the root of a lot of words.

          3. Dale Allyn

            Agreed. Last year I spent some time using Google Translator to develop a business and domain name. Latin, Greek, Swahili, and others were evaluated.

      2. kidmercury

        i agree. if you live in a world where 10k+ is a significant sum of money (the world i live in) you are better off going with the $10 domain name. there are still lots of good ones, even dot coms, if you are clever enough.

        1. awaldstein

          Names are what you make of them.

          1. btrautsc

            For us, the decision is spend $10k spinning up a project to see if anyone is interested (which where I live is 1 month*2 devs + designer)…is an easy decision… better to have a ‘less-than-ideal’ domain with something interesting for users/ customers to love on it.I’m putting my lot in with this side of the thread. we’ve put all our chips on short domains… before all of those.Then, of course you see some traction and add the “getXYZ dot com”

          2. awaldstein

            No right answer.You will pitch and sell this name a zillion times. Pick something you can learn to love is my advice.My thoughts in detail on this the link I shared earlier.

          3. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            So true – with kWIQly (energy Intelligence fast) – we first tried to introduce a round of beers penalty for anyone consciously using it as an adverb.After the mother of all hangovers we are now getting used to it, but when anyone sees it followed by GmbH (German for limited company) a glazed expression ensues which can easily be corrected by a rather stiff scotch !It works for us !

          4. LE

            I strongly advise against pretty much anything but .com. This comes from being in this business since 1996 and being a registrar. I won’t even sell those tld’s to customers even though we can and could make money from them.

          5. dtobias

            If your site is noncommercial, .org makes more sense.

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Why is that, LE? I’ve heard this argument but would appreciate your take given your expertise.

          7. CJ

            Your brand ultimately drives it. If you buy and you become a hit then that url becomes a brand that’s worth something. I think we’ve passed the point where you have to have a dotcom or short domain name, I mean, when I click via Google or or Twitter or Facebook it doesn’t distinguish, does it?

          8. awaldstein

            Yup….as I went into in my post, no names are born great. Some are better than others by gut but you make them what they are.Apps and the pure fact that most of viral spread is referred links and most repeat visits bookmarks, there are brands I use all the time that I don’t have any idea what their URL is.

          9. LE

            Look with enough effort anything can be made to look good. The idea is to put in the initial effort to have something that has advantages not something that you have to spend time overcoming disadvantages.

          10. awaldstein

            There are good names that the market deems as great.There are bad names that you can work with.There are none that are so good or so bad that they stigmatize your future trajectory.You better be able to love it cause it takes lifetimes of passion and repetition to make it even have a chance as the emblem of something remarkable.

          11. Donna Brewington White

            Not even Marissa at the helm can redeem the name “yahoo” for me.

          12. awaldstein

            As a brand, Yahoo of old honestly never drew me in and I was never a big user or fan.Yahoo of today or even the idea of a Yahoo of tomorrow, I have no idea what it is.Some names of brands of a gone era just never have the chutzpah to change.

          13. Aaron Klein

            What’s fascinating to me are the people who don’t even use domain names. For these folks, Google is the Internet. They open up Internet Explorer 6, their cursor is in a Google search box and they type where they want to go.The power users click “I’m Feeling Lucky.”Address bar? What is that? And you better not reset my start page, or I’ll have to call a technician out to bring Google back.

          14. awaldstein

            Huge slice of the world…but changing.Been doing some work with populations in their mid to late 20s. The fluidity and comfort of these mobile natives is eye opening and inspiring. They are consuming the world through a mobile screen almost exclusively.I learn over and over again that generalizations outside of the context your customers play in is not very useful.

        2. Barry Nolan

          Apparently color paid $350k for their domain. I’d say that there’s a direct correlation between the amount you pay for a domain, and the success of your startup.

          1. LE

            In the 90’s I sold to a KPCB funded startup (think it was a Vinod Khosla investment) that told me “we have enough money we can buy your whole company just to get the domain” very confidently. They felt they needed it for what they were doing (they had a long version of the three letters. The idea they had (even with an extensive tie in and major real estate developers as partners) went bust:…Had they succeeded the domain would have been well worth the price they paid for it.A case in point is BroadBand Office Inc., the San Mateo broadband service provider, launched in 1999 by the pedigreed venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and some of the country’s largest real estate companies, filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

    2. ShanaC

      all this reminds me that I still need to re-register my name.Not all domains are bought – if you have an uncommon name like mine, you usually can buy it.

      1. awaldstein

        i can guarantee that no one else wanted!But surprisingly someone wanted to buy and discovered that indeed, there are other Waldsteins out there that are unrelated, but very few.

        1. ShanaC

          it is why I am never going to get – probably already bought.I do wonder if the problem of domain names and name names is ever going to pop up – at some point there are only so many socially acceptable unique names


            Shana, it crops up all the time. That’s a big part of why ICANN has approved and is in the process of introducing hundreds of new TLDs, or domain name extensions.

        2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

          Sadly I applied for it but it was gone 😉

        3. LE

          In a true case of the shoemakers kids going shoeless I actually neglected to get one of my daughters first and last name which is equally as unique as your name.And by the time she was old enough that it mattered someone else had grabbed it! Now she wants it and it’s being used.Funny thing is I just checked and there is exactly one other person in the US with her name combo (the person who got the name) and the same is true for your name. Difference is with your name the other person is 88 years old and with her name the other person is in their 40’s. [1][1] While this could be a false positive it’s a really good indication of the end result.

          1. ShanaC

            wait – there is another Shana Carp – why can’t i find her on the internet? The only 88 year old that comes up with my name attached to it is Beatrice Carp, who I believe is one of my great aunts, now niftar

        4. Aaron Klein

          I had a deal in hand to sell for $75K.The year was 2000. The other guy was doing a new online TV dotcom startup funded with millions in VC money and thought it was imperative that he own his own name as the founder of this game changing startup.Then the bottom fell out, and based on what he told me, so did the yet-to-be-closed funding for his startup, which I never heard from again.And that’s why I wasn’t able to put 50% down on my first house. 😉

          1. awaldstein

            Ahh–the deals that didn’t happen!Quite a story Aaron.We all have them. They all seem to carry a lot of drama with them for certain.Generally, I’ve learned never to build a plan that depends on the big deal closing. They usually don’t.

      2. fredwilson

        I bought my three kids their full names as .com domains about ten years ago. One of my better parenting moves

        1. falicon

          Good call…I had to go with .me names by the time my kids were born…

        2. Guest

          fredwilson — ah….but…did you TRADEMARK their names?Like Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, the Beckhams etcetcetc who earn $millions from licensing their trademarks for inclusion on everything from T-shirts to cars (see Picasso from Citroën).If I recall the other day you mentioned one of your kids is an artist?Trademark would mean she can monetize in the same way as Damien Hirst, Pollack, Banksy, etcetcetc._______________________________@everyone — who’s going to bet that Fred will contact trademark lawyers on behalf of his kids in…3…2…1…if he hasn’t already covered this!:*).

        3. LE

          In the 90’s I bought one of your kids first names.Actually a bought a bunch of first names including my own, both singular and plural. I’m probably one of the few people that own singular and plural versions of my first and last name.

        4. Eric Friedman

          This is my move to friends who have kids – I have done it a few times, and its a gift that keeps on giving. Unless the domain is taken 🙂

          1. ShanaC

            if the name is popular though….taken

    3. Aaron Klein

      Libya domains are something to be nervous about, but I assume we can rest easy about regime change in Iowa any time soon.

  6. William Mougayar

    I think it might easier to pull a rabbit out of a hat than finding a new un-used 3-letter domain in 2013…unless you have lots of money to buy a parked domain.There are 987 english words, so that leaves 14,613 as acronyms and un-branded words (and I didn’t count other languages).

    1. awaldstein

      i hear everyone saying domain. I hear naming and branding. They are the same at the end of the process not the beginning.

      1. jarid

        From a branding standpoint, a short domain name, besides being membrable, also helps lend credibility. Same thing with “generic” domain names like and also don’t have to worry about unintentional mis-interpretations of word combinations. I remember an article with some examples, and these few stuck with me:penisland.netwhorepresents.comgotahoenorth.comAt a glance, those domains bring to mind other brands than what was intended (a pen store, an talent agent lookup and a Lake Tahoe tourism site, repestively).Lastly, on a somewhat unrelated note, I own the made-up word (from an abandoned venture) if anyone wants to take it off my hands. 🙂

        1. awaldstein

          Jarid….Nothing is objective at its core. So sure, text book wise, in abstract what you say has some logic.But to state that short domains lend credibility in the real world is simply not a market reality.

  7. Conrad Ross Schulman

    $10k is a steal..I spent $5k on my very 1st domain name for my 1st start up when i was in college- I paid the woman in installments cause I couldn’t afford the whole price tag in one shot!Considering co’s are paying millions (, of dollars for suitable domain names, $10k is an absolute steal- way2go eric!

    1. William Mougayar

      I know of a company who is in the process of buying a 4-letter domain for $400K. The seller started at $600K.There comes a point where the price of the domain is not worth the asking price when you consider the cost of re-branding.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      My first big domain purchase cost $10k, repaid $1k to backer for 12 months. Within weeks I had offers from others for $50k. I sold the domain many years later for $30k.

  8. William Mougayar

    I wonder if LE can tell us how many 3-letter domains are just parked, waiting to be sold.

    1. LE

      Depends what you mean by “parked”. There are many 3 letter .com’s that are being used but the owner is using them in a way that says “I will sell this domain if the offer is high enough”.While you could put together a scraping routine to determine “parked” domains the true number would almost certainly be higher. And there are people that are pointing certain names to an existing site under a different domain so how do you count that?The other side to this is that there are domains that I sold years ago that they have still not been used yet. So if you went to the page it would appear to be “parked” but in fact they are waiting for something to happen before they put the name into play. (Just checked and the one I am thinking of was sold in Feb 2011 and is still going nowhere.)People also assume that domains are only used for web sites and lack of a website indicates non-usage. This is not the case. A domain can be used for, say, email so you’d have to check that as well. (Which you can’t you can only see if there is an MX record. Or could be used for other internet services although I agree this is normally unlikely.)

      1. William Mougayar

        Wow. Thanks. Your knowledge on domains never ceases to impress. I had meant to imply ‘available for sale & not locked to a brand.”

      2. William Mougayar

        Trivia I just found out about. is a parked forwards to cnet.comgood examples to back up what you just said.

  9. takingpitches

    Fred, how did you snag avc?

    1. fredwilson

      My memory is hazier but I think my friend Marty Schwimmer was involved. That was $60k

      1. takingpitches

        that was steep

    1. fredwilson

      Monty Python!!!!!

      1. reece

        and everything—reece

        1. pointsnfigures

          That could be fun on Friday.

      2. reece

        such a classic scene—reece

      3. reece

        and movie—reece

      4. reece

        [just realized that my signature isn’t being stripped out when i reply on mobile. maybe because i’m using Mailbox or something. either way, sorry for the shelby link spam.] cc @ro

      5. raycote

        Humour aside your point is well taken.As a dyslexic who has a hard time with words and spelling I like URLs that are short to type and easy to remember.I can get to AVC quick and easy on anyone’s device even with my faulty memory.When you take all the 2-letter 3-letter and 4-letter words available in english and use any combination of two of those words you end up with a very large selection of topically focused URLs that are meaningfully easy to remember and require less than 8 characters of typing.Example –

    2. Barry Nolan

      God bless you sir. Good work

      1. reece

        haha. thanks man—reece

    3. raycote

      Very funny – up there with Monty Python’s”what did the Romans ever do for us” skit

  10. awaldstein

    Naming is a gut wrenching process. One of my favorite things to do.Two things to think about:1. The name, the URL means nothing till you make it have meaning. Brands are not there from the name or the URL alone. 2. In an app world, the value and game changes. As how things sound may be just as important as spelling for locating on your phone.Wrote this post for a client a while back:Naming your company…self discovery as word play

    1. falicon

      I think the app name situation makes it even harder…when I put together an app, I still always try to make sure that I own the domain first, because I want people who hear about the app be able to look up info on the app (without having to rely on any specific app store)…and also because 99% of any app I build is usually powered by an API in the backend…and I think it’s just cleaner if that API is hosted at the domain matching the app…In the end, it’s always all about the branding…

      1. awaldstein

        Great way to think of this. If you get a sec later, put that in a comment on the post above. Surprisingly some two years later it is still getting read.

        1. falicon

          Will do.Good conversations never die, they only pause for short breaks and to let fresh blood find them. 🙂

      2. LE

        ” I still always try to make sure that I own the domain first, because I want people who hear about the app”Absolutely amazes me how many people don’t do that. I think it comes from a new generation that reads only and has a lack of understanding of why things are the way they are. As a result they follow rote internet examples without understanding the nuance behind the reasons for the advice that they read. JLM will tell you “location location location” but sometimes that isn’t the case (you know a highway will be built in 5 years or whatever).People tend to put much emphasis on information that they are exposed to in the beginning when they know very little. (I call this a “lever”. So if you are 14 years old and you see a bunch of sites that end in .ly .io etc you will draw a conclusion that “that’s ok to use those” tld’s others are doing it.I had a .com that I sold to a startup (by a 18 year old) that had used .me. For a few years founder had no interest in the .com, he inquired and offered some trivial amount saying that he didn’t need the domain. And then went away. (He was already funded at that point and didn’t even know enough to hide his identity normally you have to actually figure this stuff out with clues). He eventually came around and offered $15,000 saying things like “I’m giving you instant liquidity” and other cliches thinking he could close the deal. In the end he payed of course considerable more.He could have avoided all this (the domain really wasn’t worth what he paid for it) if he had simply tried to buy it or at least option it at the start (which is what I tell people to do in some cases.) But he didn’t know enough to know that, he probably read some blog posts, saw others using .me and thought he knew it all. At the age of 18.

        1. testtest

          if was available I would have registered that.

      3. Matt A. Myers

        Also copyright issues potentially exist. The internet / selling internationally makes it a much tougher situation too.

  11. Richard

    Three letter domain is nice. The three letter exit, nicer.

    1. ShanaC

      where did you find that?

      1. pointsnfigures

        @howardlindzon’s house.

        1. ShanaC


        2. Aaron Klein

          That was my first thought. “Oh look, it’s StockTwits 1.0!”

    2. Matt A. Myers


  12. pointsnfigures

    when i got my badge on the trading floor, I had to come up with initials to put on it. I guess trading badges were the first domain names. People sometimes put their initials, or something about them, or something about what they traded. I took into account people had to write this acronym down several times a day-and that if it was too long I’d be subject to a lot of out trades. So, I picked CR. Had two initials in my name-and it stands for “credit” which is a lot better than “debit” when you are on the trading floor. If you survive, your badge becomes your brand. To this day, there are people that don’t know me as anything other than CR-kind of like a Twitter handle. If someone asks if I knew someone on the trading floor, most of the time I don’t know their name-I know their badge.The interesting part of this post is that the person felt empowered to go ahead and act on their own to do something they thought was good for the organization. Suppose it was an adverse outcome, what’s the cost within USV?

  13. kidmercury

    short domains will appreciate in value, but i’m not sure for how much longer. if i had to guess, i’d say we have about 8 more years left. as the internet continues to fracture, it’ll be more about having the right name in the right internet. i.e. is worth a lot more in the version of the internet outside of iran than in the iranian internet.

  14. kirklove

    1) Length doesn’t matter nearly as much as clarity of brand. 2) Liar. You would totally take (4 letters)3) You know how I feel about just USV. #ballsy.

    1. fredwilson

      You were in the room yesterday in spirit

      1. LE

        What happened in the room yesterday is why I tell people that it is extremely difficult to outbound sell [1] most domain names. The buyer has to come to you.Part of the reason for this is that unlike in some other businesses there is not much social proof surrounding domain names and the value of them, and even then that value totally depends on the situation, company etc. It’s not like with real estate where it is well known as far as the benefits of a good location with established players who all understand how things work.[1] To add to this point when outbound selling you can’t even get in front of all the decision makers. If you sell you always want to be in front of the decision maker you don’t want to convince someone who then needs to convince 3 other people who might not fully understand all the features and benefits. (Ask any home improvement salesman about this.)

  15. Kirsten Lambertsen

    That’s one of my favorite things to do with people in the biz (especially long-timers), compare lists of domains we own. Why has no one ever offered me $10k for one of mine? Dammit.

  16. John Revay

    I did a search the other day on AVC – and came across the post from a little over two years ago – ” Finding And Buying A Domain Name” – it was a great read.What stuck me was a comment Fred made in the post …”A good domain name is short and memorable. It doesn’t need to mean anything. Etsy is a good example of this. The word etsy doesn’t have any meaning in the english language. But it is short, memorable, and fits well for a handmade marketplace. As a marketing person once told me “find a name that means nothing and inject your meaning and brand into it.” “It got me thinking a lot about coming up w/ a name for a product – I am thinking about.

  17. John Revay

    I bought a three letter domain as well – EZM – back in the 2001 time frame we launched a suite of online services for mobile computing users – think notebooks – pre smartphone and tablets.EZM unofficially stood EZ Mobile – although the company brand and legal name were clearly EZM.We paid $10K for it in 2001 – The domain as well as the company is currently dormant – I get several emails a year from people offering to buy it – must go away after I tell them that we paid $10K for it. We currently have an offer for around $6k. – I have talked w/ LE about formally marketing it for us -Side note – We also purchased – as we talked about marketing these services under the ThinkPad brand – before Lenovo bought the PC biz from IBM.

    1. LE

      Probability of selling a three letter .com in any given good year is 1 to 2% if you want to get big dollars that is. So you can either sit on it or take the wholesale price and the domain person will hold it and wait. He also has an interest because it increases the size of his portfolio of like names (similar to how the real estate locations of 100 store chain is worth more than 2 stores maybe.) Also he has buyers coming to him so he can push the name to them as an alternative.The “ez” makes it a good name better than average definitely. That said the right buyer has to want it and have the money to buy it.Another alternative is to donate it and take the tax deduction. You could make a case that the domain is worth much more in this market and then claim the deduction which results in your marginal tax savings. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case that the domain is worth, say, $50k and have a leg to stand on. So the upside is a big tax deduction the down side[1] is you loose the $6000 cash you can get.[1] Downside if the tax deduction is disallowed that is.

        1. LE

          It’s a small fund.By comparison axp (84 billion) and rax (5 billion), both stock symbols were not of interest at all to those companies – American Express and Rackspace hosting.

  18. Jason Novack

    In USV’s case, the 3-letter domain worked out, but when it doesn’t, what is it worth to you? In other words, as a matter of strategy, how far out of your way would you go to change your branding in support of a 3-letter domain?

  19. John Revay

    http://www.networksolutions…Looks like the Registrar is Tucows – interesting and that you use Contact Privacy Inc to help administer / hide registrant.Same setup for AVC

  20. Nick Grossman

    A little color on the story:Turns out it was an adult video chat room before it was union square ventures; see… (warning: there are a few bonus popus!)I found this out one day a few years ago when the amtrak web filter blocked me from; see

    1. fredwilson

      i always wondered why was blocked on amtracknow i knowthanks Nick

  21. roykaller

    While they seldom provide a useful acronym for a corporate name, domains with embedded numbers can also convey a message or brand. as an example….my seldom updated blog “A Nice Round Number”.

  22. Adrian Bye

    nice post and congrats on a great deal.may i ask how much you paid for

    1. fredwilson


      1. Adrian Bye

        also a nice deal. i remember when you first got the domain, i was impressed a NYC VC would do that.

  23. LIAD

    never felt as weak in a negotiation as buying a premium’re after a one of a kind item. seller invariably isn’t in a rush to sell. getting to agreement is always protractedbuckets of subterfuge + lashings of self restraint required


    That’s one heck of an employee. An excellent move on his part and good on you for recognizing what a gem he got for you. It would have worked out just fine for him even if you didn’t want it – he could have resold it on the open market and made a tidy profit.

  25. Guest

    It’s definitely 26^3 because each of the 3 letters in Position 1 is independent and doesn’t affect the incidence of their occurrence in Positions 2 and 3.Not sure why the need to remove palindromes like WOW, MOM, POP, PIP, AAA.

  26. Tom Labus

    I still like different names like Red Hat.Brands are built around your culture and name.Spurs win one more

  27. Matt A. Myers

    The length of 3 and 7 for whatever reasons in our brains are easiest to remember – are most fluid with our thinking. It just seems to allow for a good cadence.

    1. JamesHRH

      the current neuroscience model for the structure of a human thought is tertiary.In essence, 2 data points (e.g., ‘Matt”, ‘coffee’) are not enough to form a human thought. The thought forms when it is associated with a 3rd datapoint (‘today’).4 also feels very natural because the model also allows for a label for the thought.7 is routinely noted as the upper limit for most people’s List Memory. Try it with something like URLs or preferred authors. Came across it in cable TV research (number of channels people surfed through).7 is likely also a cognitive structural limit. No one has ID it yet, I believe.


    Hmm….”…$10K.” “…it was a steal.” lesson from the genius of Fred. Thanks Fred.

  29. andyswan

    We spent $60,000 on when our balance sheet had $96,000. It just felt right. Looking back, it was pretty stupid, because then we didn’t have enough money to actually build the site.Long story short we figured it out…and it actually turned out to be a significant portion of the value of our business when we sold it. I’m probably not allowed to say numbers like almost 7 figures but I doubt anyone cares anymore.Summary: You can be a dumbass as long as you are inconsistent

    1. fredwilson

      I am a dumbass daily. But I have a bias for action

      1. andyswan


      2. testtest

        for investing in the future, being narrowly smart isn’t much does someone who spends all their time on one thing learn about new waves of innovation:droidscrypto-currencywearablespersonal cloudsbio-hackingit’s possible to be good at a bunch of things. but perfect at everything? i think not. not with exabytes of information knocking around.


          You only need to be good at monetizing things. Let someone else do the rest of the work.

      3. JamesHRH

        Another Tshirt slogan.

    2. Aaron Klein

      I love this comment.

  30. Will Fitzgerald

    According to…, the first character in a label must be [a-z]. That’s 26 letters. Subsequent characters can be [a-z], [0-9] or a hyphen. that’s 26+10+1, or 37 possibilities. Therefore, the total number of 3-letter .com domains is: 26 * 37 * 37 = 35,594.

  31. marcoliver

    I am glad you brought that topic up, Fred. Years ago we did some user testing, challenging a large group of people with memorizing URLs. Three letter URLs performed poorly, since the majority of the user had an easy time remembering the name of multiple companies but got confused with the shortcuts. My advice: DON’T MAKE THEM THINK.

  32. Joe Lazarus

    I snagged for ten bucks the day .me domains opened up. Sadly, .me is no .com, so is probably not valuable to other people, but it’s certainly worth the $10 to .meWhy can’t you repeat letters? 26^3 was correct assuming you only use letters, not numbers or symbols. No?

  33. Semil Shah

    There’s a great story about how @joefernandez found the guy who owned, stalked him, and paid him $5k cash in an envelope for it.

  34. John Revay

    Eric Friedman – He didn’t ask permission, he just did it.#ballsy

  35. LE

    I’ve mentioned this before but you should remove whois privacy on the record for and

    1. ShanaC

      that would get rid of my favorite how to get in touch with people hack

    2. Matt A. Myers


      1. LE

        Because you are an operating business and there is no reason you want that info private. Especially if you are financial firm. The scrapes of the info come up all over the web with weird foreign locations. Not everyone knows what it means.Why would you not want your location known and your contact info?Not only that but it’s easier to loose your domain if it is protected by privacy in theory at least. (Comon fud is that it’s the opposite that some hacker can get your domain if the info isn’t private.)Registrars want privacy because a) it makes it hard for competitors to contact you b) they can charge you and/or make you think they are giving you something of value(This is advice for business obviously with business addresses.)Here is what network solutions has to say, all of it ending in “see the price is a bargain”http://www.networksolutions…

        1. Matt A. Myers

          :)It’s certainly a way to gain additional revenues..

  36. Esayas Gebremedhin

    Would suggest to extend the latin alphabet to 260 so we can register more domain names. Like 10 variable ways to write a letter. In AE there were more than 7 letters for M.

  37. Eric Friedman

    The “tail end of the last decade” sounds like a long time ago! Thanks really goes to Fred and the rest of USV for the opportunity.

  38. andrewparker

    My memory is rotting, but I thought it was an email from Rikki Tahta that kicked off the idea of buying He said something like “it’s available for sale, you guys should own this.” and we tended to agree and Eric executed it brilliantly.I remember about a year before Rikki’s email, suggesting something similar about buying It was up for sale on Sedo. The idea was shot down because at the time, saying something like “I’m talking to USV about my Series A” evoked the firm USVP (US Venture Partners) in people’s mind and we wanted to avoid brand confusion. I specifically remember an email from Paul Graham where he had tripped over the mental association of USV = USVP, and so we decided to stick with the long form “Union Square Ventures” instead.

  39. jason wright

    in 2005 i did manual whois lookups on all 17,576 pure three letter domain names, cross referencing any incorporated registrants for dissolution, and ended up bagging 50 domains.MAD, but it did hack off the drop catcher cartel 😉

  40. John Revay

    “As we were debating in our monday meeting yesterday about our brand”Fred- any update on when we will see the new – my recollection was that you blogged that USV was working on a new redesign.I think I commented here before that Benchmark got rid of their site and just put up a page that points to a twitter feed about their portfolio companies…..

  41. JamesHRH

    Personally, I have had enough of TLA’s.

  42. Sean Hull

    I registered my domain back in 1999. At the time all these products were being named “i” something and I thought it would be a good name for a services company. Over time I realized it confuses people a bit. On the flip side it’s (a) easy to pronounce and (b) easy to type.I also found out by digging deeper into SEO over the years that domain name matters less and less. Google is able to figure out what your site is about by all sorts of other means, and inbound links + title & article indexing gives it more information. Domain name can help, but not without good content and the other SEO stuff in place.

  43. Robert Holtz

    Three-letter domain names ROCK.Fred, you should definitely adopt the USV brand. You own it. Maximize that ownership for all the reasons you stated.Eons ago, pre-Internet, I was working on credit card processing over the telephone. Worked on original Moviefone and other such projects in a category now known as IVR (interactive Voice Response). In many ways, automated menus over the telephone with electronic payment processing was the very first iteration of ecommerce. We were doing ecommerce before there was a commercial Internet.Here’s why I mention that…As part of that work, I met Jim McCann, founder and still-CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS. His company was one of the first to set up 24/7 service by toll-free telephone and also one of the first to do electronic payment processing WITHOUT a physical swipe of the card. There were a lot of visionary things about that company and setting up the system but what made the biggest impression on me is the efforts and considerable costs he endured to make sure he got that phone number… 1-800-FLOWERS. 1-800 was the dot com of the day and FLOWERS said his line of business in precisely the number of characters that equal a phone number. He explained that the entire mission was to shorten as much as possible the point between knowing the name of the company and being able to make contact. He said the name and the call-to-action should be the shortest possible distance from each other. The masterstroke of it all was the company’s original slogan “JUST CALL OUR NAME.” It was magic.When the Internet started and the dot-com boom was just beginning, I always thought about the 1-800-FLOWERS experience. The power of the Internet, particularly the web, is that the domain name and the call-to-action are one and the same thing. So if you can brand your company to your domain name, that is a huge benefit.There is no question that .com is the Boardwalk and Park Place of the Web. And three-letters really equals the penthouse suite. Thank Eric again for his vision.Fred, embrace USV as your full identity and make full use of that sexy domain name.

  44. John Revay

    I hopped over the the GothamGal site this AM site as I often do…. I got thinking about this post and how you were able to acquire that vanity domain.

  45. fredwilson

    That’s the counter argument i was arguing against yesterday

  46. falicon

    I’m more on Fred’s side for this one…I think using the domain as the guiding brand name is better…and anyway, as @awaldstein:disqus mentions, I think branding is really just what you make of it…

  47. kidmercury


  48. awaldstein


  49. karen_e


  50. fredwilson

    Yup. Jets too

  51. John Revay

    Interesting – I went to their page…oddly at the bottom / footer nav – there was a link to “Other ICSs” which pointed to a Wikedia page

  52. falicon

    well when it was just 15,625 I might have…but now that I’ve convinced myself it’s really 17,576…that’s just too many to crawl… 😉

  53. Anne Libby

    The Jello #FML campaign is an interesting branding experiment, speaking of 3 letters…

  54. Dale Allyn

    she said: “do you want people to find you or do you want to be cute?”More people should listen to your sister. 🙂

  55. LE

    People also sometimes forget that there is more prestige in the business world with a short name (at least for certain purposes for example where trust is involved).ibm.comabc.comcbs.comnbc.comatt.comgs.comI sold a three letter to a small real estate company that used it in all their branding and landed some big deals as a result.Now people may argue that this doesn’t mean anything because they don’t think that way and it wouldn’t alter their perception or work on them. [1] But you don’t do something in business because it works 100% of the time you do it because it makes sense generally and improves the odds. [2][1] An example is men buying expensive watches which apparently impresses some women. Along the same lines having a nice car tends to help in business deals with men. Not all men but enough that it can make a difference in some fields.[2] Another example is back in the day a phone number ending with 3 zeros would improve your chances of being taken seriously when trying to land an order. Because big companies always had phone numbers like that.

  56. ShanaC

    art degree?