Lori Anne is widely known for her work with .CO Internet S.A.S., where she worked with CEO Juan Diego Calle to transform the re-purposed .CO extension from a long shot startup into a prized asset that Neustar paid $109 million to acquire in 2014. However, her journey to success started long before that and in the worst possible circumstances.
After leaving the corporate world (Goldman Sachs) to start her own business consulting firm in New York City, one of the most infamous events in American history – the 9/11 terror attack in 2001 – set a string of events in motion that derailed Lori Anne’s business and personal life.
How Lori Anne rebounded from that low point should inspire and encourage anyone who is facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. We will detail how it happened for her and how it proves that when one door closes, being forced to go through a new one can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. The door to domains was not the first new one Wardi had to walk through. She had been testing “new doors” her entire life on a circuitous journey aimed at finding her place in the world.
“I was born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn – you know, the neighborhood made famous by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever,” Wardi began. “Where I grew up, people were very traditional. The Dads worked, the Moms stayed home with the kids.” The youngest of three children, I was blessed to have a very happy childhood. My parents have been happily married now for close to 60 years!”
I went to a very strict all girls Catholic grade school taught by nuns. And while I absolutely loved going to school every morning; practically every afternoon the nuns would send me home with the equivalent of a demerit slip for my parents to sign due to my bad behavior – it was called a “YOU DO NOT LISTEN.” On the front of the slip was a picture of an OSTRICH with its head in the sand,” Lori Anne recalled.
“The nuns were totally right. I really did not listen. While I somehow still managed to get good grades – I was a kid who was brimming with energy; constantly fidgeting; easily bored and almost always distracted. As I got older and my life grew more complicated – my impulsivity and distraction only got worse. And that made life harder and harder as my responsibilities grew,” Wardi said.
“Luckily, there was no ADD diagnosis available back in those days, or I might have thought I was incapable of achieving a lot of the things I ended up doing. Instead, to overcompensate for my challenges, I think I must have just quietly resolved to work harder than everyone else simply to keep up. I suspect that’s where my workaholic roots were born.
As much as ADD impacted Lori Anne’s early years, an equally important influence in her life and the kind of person she would became was her father. “My Dad owned a nightclub – which turned out to be one of the largest and longest running night-clubs in Brooklyn’s history with a lifetime spanning over 50 years,” Wardi said. “For decade after decade my Dad’s club was “the” place to go in Brooklyn. And in a true case of art imitating life – it was actually the disco that inspired Saturday Night Fever in the first place!”
“So, my Dad has been an incredible role model for me. In addition to being a great entrepreneur – he is a great human being. And as simple as it sounds – that was the secret to his business success. I have always wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps – not by owning a nightclub of course – but by having control over my own livelihood – and how I treat people along the way. The lessons he taught me have served me well through the years –and have helped shape every aspect of my career and life journey,” Wardi said.
After high school Lori Anne went off to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania where she graduated with a major in International Relations. “While I would like to tell you that my course of study was chosen due to a deep interest in foreign policy, politics, and geopolitical dynamics – the reality is, at the time, I simply wanted a good excuse to allow me to travel the world,” Wardi said.
“Likewise, I wish I could say that my next career step, going to law school, was made with any real forethought or planning. It most definitely was not. I was a straight A student who was bad at math and science, and utterly clueless about what career path I wanted to take – so law school seemed to be the obvious choice. As lame as it sounds, I bet half of my law school class was there for the same pathetic reason. Perhaps that’s why there are so many unhappy lawyers in this world!” Lori Anne laughed.
Though law would prove to be the wrong door in Lori Anne’s quest for a fulfilling career, she excelled at it and graduated magna cum laude from Brooklyn Law School. “That opened the door for me to join Proskauer Rose, one of the country’s leading law firms, based in New York City,” Wardi recalled. “I practiced ERISA (pension) law for five very long and very miserable years. While I loved the people I worked with, and the firm treated me very well – I was simply never meant to be an attorney.”
“I worked all the time. And when I wasn’t working, I was devouring every self-help book I could on how to manage my time; how to become more organized; how to be more productive; and generally how to “fix” what I perceived to be my faulty brain. How was it that I could do the most complex legal analyses, but managing my time-sheets, keeping my calendar, paying my bills and managing my giant piles of paperwork were virtually impossible feats?” a perplexed Wardi wondered.
“Chronically anxious and constantly overwhelmed – I don’t think I slept more than 3 or 4 hours a night during my entire five years practicing law. It was on the eve of my 30th birthday that I finally quit. I was sick and tired of hating my work – and my life – and didn’t want to live with the same stress and strife in my 30s that plagued my 20s. I knew there was something better out there for me – but I couldn’t imagine what it was,” Lori Anne said.
“Again, without any real plan in mind, I did the only respectable thing I could think of. I packed my bags and went back to school. Cornell University had a one-year Master’s Program in Human Resource Management for people who already had a JD degree – and so I moved to Ithaca, New York. It was essentially a “stop the world, I want to get off” moment. I was there not so much because I had a plan for what to do with my new degree, but rather, because I was clearly traveling at a 100mph down the wrong life path and I needed an exit strategy that would help me to course correct – without humiliating myself too much in the process!,” Wardi smiled.
“Within a week at Cornell, I stumbled upon a “Learning Skills Center” for students. With nothing to lose – and what seemed like all the time in the world on my hands – I decided to go there to see if they could help me figure out what was wrong with my “broken brain.” I took a series of tests, and met with a clinician – and that’s when I was diagnosed with ADD. It was 1998 and I’d never heard of that term before.
“This may sound strange – but getting the ADD diagnosis was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I understood what was going on in my head. And I understood why – despite the outward appearance of great success – I always felt like that Ostrich with her head in the sand! Once I let go of the fantasy that I could somehow will myself into becoming that hyper organized, detail oriented, corporate robot I thought I was supposed to be – everything else in my life started to open up,” Wardi said.
When Lori Anne finished her Masters at Cornell, she was recruited by Goldman Sachs and accepted a job in their global technology division. “I was given the opportunity to manage corporate learning and development for technology executives around the world. My job was all about helping people to be their very best at work – team building, leadership development, success coaching, etc. I loved it all right from the start. It was all about personal development and maximizing human potential,” Wardi said.
“To go so quickly from doing work I hated to work I loved was incredible. Even though I was making less money, work went from being drudgery to being a joy. I was fueled by passion and purpose – as opposed to panic and fear. And I was totally addicted.”
The only thing Lori Anne thought would make life even better would be owning her own business. “Inspired by the .com boom in 2000, I left Goldman Sachs to start my own consulting firm (Pebble Alley LLC) to help other Wall Street firms maximize the potential of their employees” Wardi said. “I couldn’t have been happier. For about a year, things were literally perfect. I had great “big-brand” clients, I was doing work that I loved—and I was making more money than ever before.”
That’s when her – and America’s – world was suddenly turned upside down. “Then the 9/11 attack happened – and right alongside of the World Trade Center, my business crumbled, too. “Now what? I thought long and hard. But no clear answers emerged. Instead, a million ideas for businesses I could start, products or services I could sell, websites I could create and more flooded my brain. For each idea I had, I bought the related Web address. Before I knew it, I owned more than a hundred domain names,” Wardi said.
“One day, someone called me and wanted to buy one of my domains. That day changed my life, because I learned that domain names are like digital real estate and can potentially be extremely valuable. What a concept!” Wardi marveled.
“My domain addiction only grew from there. Hundreds of domains turned into thousands. When I realized I was spending far more time on domain names than I was on my consulting practice, I decided to turn it into a full time business in 2004. That’s when I launched Dream Big Media with a good friend of mine. We called it Dream Big Media because we were both extremely inspired by all the promise and potential of the Internet – and how with enough grit and determination, any seed of an idea could be brought to life in a big way online.”
“During the Dream Big Media days, it’s fair to say I was a full-fledged domain junky,” Wardi said. “I was working around the clock to learn how to find high value domain names, how to sell and trade domain names, develop websites, blog, use Google Adwords and Adsense, write Web copy and more. There were definitely highs and lows. Since domain investing is something of a junky sport, you spend a lot of time feeling “high.” Most domain investors have probably experienced the euphoria that comes along with nabbing a great domain name that you just know in your heart is valuable – one that everyone else seems to have missed.”
“Generally, the biggest highs would come when we would sell a domain name for a great profit. Our best was selling a name that we bought for $1,200 for $84,000 a few months later. You can see how that kind of result can become addictive! Unfortunately, that was a one-time deal – and none of our future sales ever came close.”
“The lows came at renewal time each year. When you have thousands of domain names to manage, it can become a pretty expensive endeavor. In those days, my spending typically outpaced my earnings by a pretty good margin. It was pretty depressing, actually. My friends and family were really worried that my career still hadn’t gotten back “on track.” When I would excitedly brag about my latest domain name conquests and Internet marketing exploits, they could only roll their eyes and admonish me to “get a job,” Wardi remembered.
“While my income during much of my 30s was wildly inconsistent, I somehow knew I was on the right path. A path to where, I still didn’t know. All I knew was that I loved what I was doing, I loved what I was learning and I loved all the ideas, opportunities and possibilities I was exploring every day. I was happy and confident that one day it would all make sense. And then one day it finally did.”
“I met Juan Diego Calle between 2007-2008. We hit it off right away. He had this big idea about turning Colombia’s .CO domain extension into the world’s next great Web address – the first true rival to the .com dynasty,” Lori Anne recalled.
“Although I’d never held a marketing job in my life, and had no idea how to run a Domain Registry – I convinced him that I could get the job done – even though secretly I was not so sure!,” Lori Anne laughed. “Not to sound hokey, but I think it was a role I was born to do.”
“Launching and building .CO was truly a blessing. I loved what I was doing and gave it everything I had. My heart, my soul – my every waking hour. But the amazing thing was – I was not alone. Every member of our phenomenal team had the same level of absolute love and dedication. We launched the .CO domain to the world in 2010. Since then, people in more than 200 countries have registered millions of .CO domain names – including some of the world’s biggest brands and most innovative startups.”
“We had a big vision for .CO – we wanted to change the fabric of the Internet; to turn the letters to the right of the dot from just being a commodity – into being a community – and to create the world’s first TLD “brand.” We wanted to become the domain of choice for the world’s movers, shakers, dreamers, innovators and entrepreneurs. By and large, we did what we set out to do. Today .CO remains one of the top domain extensions in the world – used by some of the coolest companies on the planet,” Wardi said.
“As for how we did it – I am certain that the secret sauce was the magic of the team. It all started at the top, with the leadership of Juan Diego Calle, who is someone I respect beyond measure. Wise beyond his years, he was an exceptional and inspirational leader with a knack for putting the right people in the right roles – and trusting his team to get the job done without micro-managing the details. Nicolai Bezsonoff, Eduardo Santoyo, Crystal Peterson, Jose Rasco, Linda Koritkoski – and many others – each were mission critical to the success of .CO.”
“What I was most grateful for was that, for the first time in my life, I was able to fully tap into the power of my ADD brain. Thanks, in part, to some of my crazy ideas, impulsiveness, and willingness to take risks – .CO was able to strike big deals with companies like Twitter, Overstock, Google, Amazon, and 500 Startups; to create dozens of strategic partnerships with tech companies, incubators, accelerators and startup communities; and to create a thriving community of .CO-ers around the globe who love and identify with the .CO brand.” Wardi said.
“I truly believe that ADD is what allowed me to think differently and approach domain marketing differently than it had been done in the past. And that has taught me that sometimes, the things you think are your greatest deficits in life, might just turn out to be your greatest gifts. I truly believe that any success I have had is distinctly because of my ADD diagnosis, not in spite of it. For that reason, I’m always preaching to people who have kids with ADD to treat it as a blessing – instead of a curse. For me, it certainly has been.”
When Neustar acquired the .CO Registry in 2014 they wanted Wardi, as well as the domain extension and in her new role as a VP there she is still immersed in domains. “Neustar has been at the forefront of shaping the Internet’s infrastructure for nearly two decades industry in launching, managing and growing Internet name spaces for over 250 of the world’s biggest brands (like .Barclays, .Chase, .IBM, etc.), some of the most innovative entrepreneurs (like .CLUB, Famous Four Media, etc.), and most esteemed world governments (like .US, .AU, .NYC and others).”, and I am so proud to be a part of this company,” Wardi said. “Neustar has never been one to toot its own horn, so forgive me for shamelessly bragging about the fact that we are now the world’s largest registry services provider.
Today .CO is widely regarded as the textbook example of how to launch and gain recognition for a new TLD and several new TLDs like .CLUB seem to have been following the .CO playbook and making inroads with the same techniques.
In closing, Lori Anne added, “The Internet is and will continue to grow every year. As more people come online in every corner of the world, the need for digital branding options will only continue to grow. The new gTLDs that provide consumers with meaningful, memorable branding options at the right time, at the right price and through the right channels, will succeed.”
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