Q&A: Marc Ostrofsky on How He Got Rich … ‘Click’

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The Internet has been good to Marc Ostrofsky. He has made more than $50 million in the past 20 years as an online entrepreneur, and his current online companies net over $75 million annually. You might suppose that someone with that track record would guard his digital methods zealously. But instead, Ostrofsky is driven to spread the message that money is there to be made online by anyone. In his new book, Get Rich Click! The Ultimate Guide to Making Money on the Internet, Ostrofsky insists that there are still big bucks to be made sitting at your computer. TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs met with Ostrofsky during the author’s recent business trip to Manhattan.

Do I have to be a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg to make money online?

Absolutely not. In fact, it’s the one in a million, or one in 50 million, that becomes that person. I like to say the riches are in the niches. Cufflinks. Cufflinks. That’s as niche as it gets. And we do $5 million a year in cufflink sales, and the majority of our sales are through cufflinks.com.

What was your first online venture?

I started buying domain [names] that I thought would be business opportunities. I ended up buying business.com for $150,000 because I wanted to make it a magazine. It would have been a TIME-type magazine: how to do business on the Internet. And I was offered a lot of money for that domain. I played two buyers against each other. And on one day I sold business.com for $7.5 million and ebusiness.com for $10 million. I had paid $75 for that.

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Say that I’m sitting at home depressed because I just lost my job and I look at the cover of your book and it sounds encouraging. What am I supposed to do next?

Number one, you can sell before you buy. I call it reverse e-commerce. You take a picture, you list it for sale, you sell it, you collect the revenue, then you go buy it and send it to the customer. Now, you may only make 20 bucks, [but] you can do that over and over and over and over with no risk.

Is that legal?

Yes. An example of that with me is blinds.com. Blinds.com is the largest website in the world for mini-blinds and window coverings. The site does $70 million a year. We have no blinds. We have no inventory. We have no warehouse. We have no product at all. It is 100% photos, outsourced, drop ship. Meaning, I’ll tell you the order, you make and send it to the client. I don’t touch it. All I do is get the order. Now that philosophy is what I broke down to this, because anyone can do this.

Ninety-nine percent of the flowers sold online are sold by third parties, which brings us to the second way to make money. It’s called affiliate marketing. To be an affiliate you go to a website where you want to sell their product. It can be office supplies, pens, flowers, computers, watches. It doesn’t matter. Most websites have an affiliate model. The concept is in the world of the Internet you can sell someone else’s product, just like you did off a photo. It’s not complicated. You say, I’m willing to give 70% commission. For every $20 book, I’ll give $14 to people who sell it. Because it’s a digital product, there’s no cost. They can go sell it on their Facebook, on their Twitter, on their YouTube. They can go sell it wherever they have people.

Do I need an MBA or a computer degree to do this?

No. You need a phone, or a smart phone, or an iPad. I have a story in the book about a kid who works off his phone. Travels the world, works off his smart phone. All he has is an iPhone. He can take pictures with it. He can do video with it. He can do audio. He can record. He can send it to other people. He can upload it. And he can get a check. Those are simple ways to make money.

There are a lot of people with blogs now. Any way to monetize that?

Once I have whatever product I want, now how [would] I sell it? I sell it through what I call “word of mouse.” You can sell it through a blog. You can sell it through an email to your friends. You can sell it through a Twitter feed. You can sell it through a Facebook listing. It’s basically anywhere you have people listening to you. You can sell it to those people by saying, “I found this really, really cool pen, and I bought it and it works like a charm. It’s really amazing and here’s a link to go look at it.” And then someone clicks on it and they see a video of how the pen was made, and it’s amazing, and it says click here to buy. If that person buys it, you make a commission.

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Aren’t all the domain names gone?

Everyone asks me that. The answer is yes and no. The million-dollar, I-found-it-on-the-floor days are over. You won’t find a million-dollar name sitting there, waiting to be bought. There are thousands of domain name speculators. They’re called domainers. There are 50 sites for domainers just so they can communicate with each other. There’s a marketplace where domainers buy and sell domains. There are websites where you buy secondary pieces of this Internet real estate.

Are people still buying domain names of companies? Forcing companies to buy them?

My advice to readers is don’t buy someone else’s name. Don’t buy something that’s a trademark, a copyright, or a patent. Stick with generics. So coffeecup is good. Starbuckscoffee is bad. You can’t buy the Starbucks name.

Correction: In an earlier version, the story incorrectly stated that Ostrofsky paid $100,000 for business.com. He paid $150,000. The earlier version also said Ostrofsky sold business.com and ebusiness.com for $17.5 million and $10 million, respectively. He sold business.com for $7.5 million and ebusiness for $10 million, totaling $17.5 million.