Grandseeds

The domain journey of a drone maker


April 20, 2019 (Sat). A good domain is worth millions of dollars. This is illustrated in the recent sale of XA.com for 12 million yuan. It also tells a story of how vital domains are to the growth of a company.

In 2007, Bin PENG (彭斌) and his friend were on a business trip. I guess they must be touring rural China and saw farmers working large tracts of land. Their aha moment came, so they set up a company to develop unmanned aircrafts to help farmers become more productive.

They named their company Ji Fei (极飞 = extreme flying) in Chinese and X Aircraft in English. They managed to register the domain XAircraft.com but apparently was out of luck with Jifei.com. So, XAircraft.com became their corporate domain both locally and overseas. Compared with global brands such as Baidu (Baidu.com) and Alibaba (Alibaba.com), Jifei and XAircraft.com are not related directly so it takes some efforts for local customers to remember the digital address.

The business took off and soon XAircraft became a leading maker of commercial drones. Expansion into overseas markets followed. However, a problem arose. According to the founders, "'XAircraft' is unable to carry the dreams and future of flying". In other words, the name does not lead potential customers to think of drones. So, they took away the keyword "aircraft" and simply rebranded to XAG (from X Aircraft Group?).

Rebranding requires a new domain. As most global players from China have found out, a brand-matching .com domain is a must. For XAG to be global, the company needs XAG.com but apparently could not secure it. Instead, they settled on XAG.cn. I think they knew they had a lingering problem with the domain.

Finally, XAG went one step further and invested heavily to acquire the even shorter domain XA.com early this year. Th domain is already operating as their corporate domain, with both XAircraft.com and XAG.cn forwarding visitors to XA.com. This is a good practice because existing users will not be lost in the transition.

I think the next step for the company is to rebrand again from XAG to XA so that their brand matches their corporate domain. Soon, when you think of drones, you'll remember the two startups from China XA and DJI. Both companies have invested heavily in domains (the latter shelling out $300,000 in 2013 to acquire DJI.com).

What have we learned from this story? First, including product keyword in your brand limits your growth, as shown in the example of "XAircraft". Also, you need to own your brand-matching .com domain if you want to be a global player. Finally, short domains are expensive, and their prices will continue rise. There are only 676 letter-letter .com domains after all.

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