Charity Begins At Work

As I explained recently, iwantmyname has just completed a decade in business. Like most tech companies, we had our ups and downs. But one thing we never lost sight of was that we wanted to do social good, once the company was in a position to help others.

Clean Water

Our initial strategy simply involved showing up to tech meet ups and hackathons around town and volunteering our time to help out. I was a mentor at the very first Startup Weekend ever held in New Zealand and have helped organise many events since then. Our co-founder Lenz has been a facilitator at Startup Weekends for a few years now and has become somewhat of a startup midwife, helping to give birth to a bunch of new ventures. We also provided funding to get Startup Weekends launched in Bali.

Eventually we were in a position to provide sponsorships more widely. So we started thinking about how we could help support social enterprises around the world that aligned with our values. This led us to declare that we would set aside 10 cents from every domain registration and renewal annually. That figure added up over the years, I’m pleased to say.

One of the areas we have been especially active in involves supporting charities assisting with tropical cyclone disaster recovery in the Pacific Ocean region. With the impact of climate change, there seems no let up in storm disasters and often it is children that are impacted the most. We have also placed a heavy focus on projects involving water sanitation and security, because access to clean water is one of the most basic human rights. This led us to support some amazing water projects in Bali as well as in Vanuatu.

We were most interested to receive news from our friends at UNICEF recently about progress with the upgrading of water and sanitation across schools in Vanuatu, an initiative we backed in 2017. As the programme was about to get underway, there was a huge volcanic eruption forcing the entire population of the island of Ambae to be relocated. Suddenly the more immediate problem for UNICEF aid workers became how to address water and sanitation for displaced people now living in tent villages on neighbouring islands. Fortunately considerable progress has been made with improving the water infrastructure. Now a health education programme is underway to ingrain good hygiene habits and reduce the incidence of communicable diseases.

Sometimes other important opportunities randomly crossed our path. For example we’ve assisted with funding Orca research after our team visit to Vancouver Island and this month we backed a campaign to support an individual in need of assistance after a shocking accident that led to a burn injury. There was also the workshop aimed at lifting skill levels among Bangladeshi women developers to help them secure better incomes.

In case you think this is about blowing our trumpet - yes it is! But let me explain why. At iwantmyname we firmly believe corporations of all shapes and sizes have a responsibility to their shareholders and employees to do good in the world. Although we are not a huge company, we like to think that in some small way, we set an example for others to follow.

Photo credit: UNICEF New Zealand

10 years of changing the industry

iwantmyname founders Lenz, Paul & Timo

When we started iwantmyname 10 years ago we sat down and defined an impact statement first. It is still up on our about page under the “domain ethics” heading.

We launched into an industry that was focussed on the customer in a value extracting mode, monetizing every aspect of a customer as effectively as possible. We added a product that had a value adding mindset to that industry, we did not see competition but an opportunity to help customers be more effective.

We started with an impact statement and optimized for impact rather than shareholder value or market share. This fundamental difference in focus made it possible to set us apart from the rest of the industry and made us successful enough to build a sustainable business.

We could have stopped there but we were interested in the long term impact and looking back we did have a significant impact on our industry. As an industry we moved towards a more customer centric view and help customers achieve their goals rather than just clip the ticket and hold more tickets in front of them.

With our impact view we also defined the startup community in New Zealand as one of our focus points and helped shape a very successful community here. Further to that we picked other impact areas like clean water in Bali and decided to set aside a part of every domain registration for those secondary impact goals.

After 10 years of focussing on adding value we made it to a point where not only our industry is aware of what we do and follows but also our customers have gained as the industry shifts. I have thought a lot about abundance mentality recently and looking back am happy to report that it actually works.

Hiring and Culture: from the other side

Before I joined iwantmyname earlier this year, I spent nine years in government or corporate environments. I wound up on a hiring committee a fair few times in those nine years, and was often a strident voice for hiring for culture fit and soft skills over technical nous. Obviously this doesn’t work for all jobs — I don’t recommend hiring a neurosurgeon because they get on well with the rest of the team and teaching them how to slice brains open on the job — but for the roles I was hiring for, I could teach most people how to do the job if they were willing to learn. It was important to me to enjoy spending time with the people I was in an office with for a quarter of my week.

(Incidentally, twice I was talked into hiring someone who was technically proficient but with a not-great attitude that came across in the interview. Both times proved my point perfectly.)

team members with puzzle pieces

Which is why, when going through the interview process for iwantmyname, I was delighted that there was a lot of focus on fit, culture, and getting to know me as an individual rather than just a set of skills on a resume. Questions about my knowledge of DNS and my approach to customer service were interspersed with such hard-hitting questions as “What’s your Hogwarts house?” (Slytherin, represent!) And “If the whole team died in a plane crash your second day on the job, what would you do?” (I’m not sure my immediate answer of “Cry” was really the correct one, but hey, I got hired, so…)

‘Culture fit’ is one of those things that can be used for good or ill. There are horror stories all over the internet of it being used as a proxy for discrimination: “Well, our team are all X, Y, and Z, so if you’re not also X, Y, and Z, you just won’t fit into our culture, sorry.” But when done well — to bring together a mishmash of different cultures, personalities, and lifestyles who can nonetheless have a great time working together, as opposed to forming a homogenous unit — it can work wonders.

Apart from a monthly team meeting our communication is almost all via chat, and mostly asynchronous, which can start feeling impersonal fast if you don’t maintain the social connections as well as the work ones. But our #social channel on Slack is the busiest by far, where team pet pictures, ridiculous gifs, and general watercooler chats abound. I have never felt so immediately part of a team as I did when joining iwantmyname — no mean feat, considering my nearest colleague is over 400km from me, and the two people I work most closely with are 14,000km and 18,000km away respectively. I knew I was joining a team that would get my dry, sarcastic Kiwi humour; the kind of people I’d like to have a beer with whenever we’re all in the same city. If you actively look forward to spending time with your colleagues, I think it’s safe to say your company has built a fabulous team culture.

Introducing new iwantmynamer - afronski

It is usually hard to write something about yourself in the third person, that would not look like a compilation of clique and cringe. But, I will try anyway.

As a funny icebreaker, he was fated to be a programmer and nerd - as he had the first PC (368DX, no coprocessor) when he was 3 years old (yes, my parents were working in IT).

afronski

He’s a bookworm (with a particular urge to buy physical ones), and old-school vinyl records collector and listener (although he is deaf enough not to appreciate golden cables and other audiophile-related equipment).

No cats, no dogs - due to allergies, no fancy car. Pretty dull, like the stereotypical IT geek. That changed after discovering the joy of sharing the knowledge with others - to not be a knowledge hoarder, he organizes IT-related technology meetups, presents at the IT conferences and organizes/conducts workshops (including countries outside Europe) about programming and topics related to IT.

Outside of work related-stuff (yes, it’s hard when you love what are you doing at work), he enjoys hiking and appreciates being offline from time to time (not too often tho, that’s dangerous for my cyber alter ego - https://github.com/afronski.

Introducing new iwantmynamer MJ

MJ’s fun icebreaker fact about herself is that she grew up on an airfield in the middle of a river. Growing up very rural, she taught herself HTML and website design as a bored teenager, just for something to do, and so has come to us with a hotchpotch of knowledge of domain management, DNS, FTP, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

MJ Brodie

She’s a social media junkie (particularly Instagram and Twitter), like any good millennial, though she insists that five Instagram accounts is totally normal.

MJ is also our resident pinup — she owns at least 20 petticoats and can often be found at car shows, vintage expos, etc. around Christchurch and throughout New Zealand.

In her spare time, she volunteers with Good Bitches Baking, who bake and deliver home-cooked treats to people having a tough time. (We’re trying to figure out how “bring baking in to share with your colleagues, please” works for a fully remote team.) She also mentors at Startup Weekends, particularly coaching teams on their pitches, and transcribes a podcast or two.

MJ has a bit of a menagerie at home, with three cats (one of whom is a tripod) and a Swedish Vallhund puppy all running around.

Ten Years And Crafty Beers



In early December 2008 a couple of Germans and a Kiwi were huddled around a laptop on a tiny table in a windowless proto co-working space in Wellington, a city famously known as the craft beer capital of New Zealand. We were about to witness the first customer transaction on our newly launched iwantmyname domain registrar website. Who would have thought that those same three founders would be celebrating a decade in business together this week, having satisfied over 100,000 happy customers globally?

Starting a technology company from scratch with zero capital is a hugely daunting task. But it is a task made easier when you identify a product-market fit that strikes a chord with your users. We began with the outrageous goal of "unfucking the domain industry" and hence relieving our customers of the ongoing pain of spammy upsells and ugly interfaces that had blighted the domain registrar industry for decades beforehand.

We often hear about the "overnight successes" of the sometimes over-hyped tech startup scene. The reality is somewhat different. Most success stories have a basis in years of hard work that the public never sees. Think thousands of hours coding and trouble-shooting late at night, experimenting with marketing content and initiatives through to writing up hundreds of pages of documentation and legal materials. All of which culminate in that exciting first customer.

But the most rewarding aspect of this ten year journey has been helping others. In particular we set aside a portion of any profits for supporting global aid initiatives and hardly a month went by without us fronting at a Startup Weekend or some other tech or startup meetup around town. We shouted a lot of local craft beer and pizza in those days! So early adopters from our local community really helped us get traction and for that we are eternally grateful. Although we are now a fully remote working company, Wellington remains our spiritual home and we still have a bunch of team members based in the region. So to say thanks, we stepped up to support this week's WellyTech community awards . I daresay there will be the usual lineup of craft beers and slices of pizza on the night.

Just like our favourite local craft beer brand - we turned our garage project into a global success story, with the help of our local fanbase. Thanks for supporting iwantmyname for ten years everyone!