5 With… Alex Tabibi, CEO of TABcom
Alexander A. Tabibi is the founder and CEO of TABcom, the multi-divisional internet company that focuses on the pet, equine, garden and green spaces, and uses ultra premium generic domain names to do so. Now among the 200 largest e-tailers in the United States (Internet Retailer – 2008), TABcom develops and maintains ‘conscious lifestyle’ websites that offer products, community and interactive content for enthusiasts with an interest in a variety of leisure activities.
Alex Tabibi grew up in Manchester, England and moved to the United States when he was 19 to escape going to medical school. However, a few years later, he ended up going anyway. “Tabibi – my family name – means doctor,” he says, “so there was quite a bit of pressure in the family to become a physician.”
Tabibi is a board certified physician and began his career as an oncologist. He earned his medical degree from the USC School of Medicine, where he graduated with Highest Distinction. However, at the age of 30, he made the difficult decision to leave medicine when he realized it wasn’t fulfilling his true calling – his entrepreneurial spirit and desire to build a business.
After leaving medicine, Tabibi and his brother Carlo, launched the privately held investment firm ZCapital and developed a specialty in technology companies that use new media to deliver a range of new services and/or old services more efficiently.
One of the companies in which they invested was a canine catalog company called Dog’s Outfitter. When that company went out of business in 2002, the Tabibis bought it out of foreclosure and changed its focus to e-commerce. This led to the founding of PetsUnited and soon they had added Dog.com, Horse.com, Fish.com, Garden.com and Ferret.com, among other sites to the organization’s portfolio.
“Dog products are as different from horse products as solar products are from garden products – but the processes that need to work efficiently to do one correctly are the same for almost any vertical,” Tabibi comments. “So my brother and I targeted verticals that we felt were economically sound and were either developing or very fragmented.”
In 2008, Tabibi brought in an entirely new management team and led a complete transformation of the company. Under his leadership, the company fully integrated its IT, marketing and operational infrastructure. By moving from multiple platforms that were a result of legacy systems from disparate acquired companies, they have successfully unified and upgraded the look and feel of the sites and have also improved navigation and search capabilities.
This re-engineering of the company led to its subsequent rebranding as TABcom in 2010. Now, TABcom is poised to strengthen its position as a leading destination for end users with a variety of lifestyle and leisure interests.
“TABcom is much more than just a random list of great domains,” says Tabibi. “We offer our users a one-stop interactive online experience that holistically integrates community, commerce and content. Most importantly, we have a deep understanding of the interests of our consumers because we share the same passions as those who visit our sites.”
I’ve had the opportunity to speak on the phone with Alex, exchange many emails, and do some business with his company. I am appreciative of his willingness to share information with readers of my blog in this interview below, and I hope you enjoy learning more about Alex and his company. You might also find his interview in Forbes and INC to be interesting as well.
EJS: Your company owns the best collection of developed animal/pet related generic domain names. How do these brands help your business, and would you have the same success without them? How would your strategy change without them?
They are sitting on the side – waiting for our platform to be developed. As for how these generic domains brand our business – I cannot sufficiently emphasize their importance. From bounce rates to SEO and business development – they have helped tremendously. Our success is definitely based on them in part – but at the end of the day – it is just one of hundreds of
elements that have to be executed well.
Our strategy – being in effect based this number of generic domains would be entirely different without them. I do not consider TABcom as an “e-commerce” company. We are really building a factory that can build online ecosystems integrating commerce with content and community. The intelligence and platforms are built to work in many different areas. Our technology and processes therefore have to be scalable to a degree – which is unmatched in its breadth. Some companies have the e-commerce part down very well. But integrating all of these – dozens of times – making sites relevant to their niches – is no easy task.
EJS: Although generic domain names are valuable to a company, having several different ones doesn’t necessarily help a company build its brand. What challenges do owning different generic domain names pose on your business, and how do you overcome them?
AT: The TABcom brand is not what we are trying to push. Recognizing that there is a common company delivering this level of experience across many domains is more valuable to me from a b2b experience.
The experience is what will brand us. The idea is to brand the e.g. Horse.com domain such that the equine world will think of us for all their online needs. So we will overcome the issue – simply by delivering on our goal of delivering an outstanding experience throughout all TABcom powered properties.
EJS: What advice can you give to owners of generic domain names who are interested in building a business on them?
AT: Call us. We now have the infrastructure to allow you to monetize them using a best of breed technology. Our technology is designed to be product/niche agnostic and we will save you millions of dollars in cash and years of heartache.
But seriously – outsource what you can. Anything you can think of is already being done. Find good partners, keep your costs low and be as efficient as possible. It’s all about cash-flow at the end of the day.
If you can afford it – buy secondary domains around the first to increase the SEO value of your domains. SEO is key.
But don’t think that just because the domain is strong that it will overcome everything. That is far from the case. Again – e-commerce is complex as so many things have to work together to give the consumer the experience they expect. From page loading times to product delivery – everything still has to be optimized.
EJS: In your interview in Forbes in 2007, you disclosed that about 10% of your company’s revenue was from self-branded products which I assume are more profitable and can help build your brand to consumers. How has this number changed since 2007, and what is your goal for this in the coming years?
AT: Our sales in our existing brands in the private branded segments do remain – but as we cast a wider net of products – e.g. Entering the garden category – we were not going to do private labeling.
We are actually moving to e.g. Dog.com branded products rather than having “private labels” under other brands. This has not helped our branding until now – so that is part of the reason for the change.
EJS: How is your company coping with the difficult economic conditions?
AT: We believe that the problems we are facing in our company – while excacerbated by the economy – are at the end of the day our problem to have solved. E-commerce is still growing – and our niches are relatively unscathed. Again – I hate to blame the economy for anything as I feel that given our breadth of products and number of domains -we should be able to grow through it.
That said – we have reduced the less profitable marketing spend and have accelerated the introduction of new sites so we have a larger pool to monetize.
An extra drink or two – now and then – does some good to0 – mind you
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