March 11th 2021
TLDR; I bought 300 emoji domain names from Kazakhstan and built an emoji email address service. In the process I went viral on TikTok, made $1000 in a week, hired a Japanese voice actor, and learnt about the weird world of emoji domains.
Not long ago I decided it would be a brilliant idea to buy the domain name netflix.soy.
Whilst arguably there are better ways to spend £17, I did learn a lot about domain names, including that it's possible to have emoji domains like 😊.ws.
It's pretty hard to go a day without seeing an emoji somewhere on the internet. Yet, I'd never seen an emoji domain name before.
Could I buy an emoji domain name?
My goal was to buy a single character emoji domain name, like 💡 or 🍰. I didn't know what I'd do with it, I just wanted to see if I could get one.
I found a website that showed every available emoji domain for 4 different extensions.
Sadly, nearly every single one had been registered. I was late to the party.
A simple mailbox emoji with a .ws extension was still available though, so I bought it.
📪.ws was now mine. Mission complete.
I set up a website and felt rather accomplished with my tiny mailbox.
I could've stopped there and called it a day. But, then I had another thought:
Could I use my little mailbox emoji domain in an email address?
That'd be pretty cute.
I gave it a go. I setup an email forwarder to route all email sent to 📪.ws to my regular email address.
Eagerly I typed ben@📪.ws into the "to" field of gmail and hit send.
The email never hit my inbox. It was lost forever in cyberspace.
Turns out emoji domain names score very highly for spam and were going to be blocked to high heaven.
But, it was interesting that I could send mail towards an emoji email address.
So I wondered:
If a normal .com email address doesn't get blocked for spam, could I route my emoji mail through that?
It would work like this:
I cobbled together something using AWS, and tried my experiment again.
At this point I was inclined to stop and write a post about emoji email addresses. I'd had a good run.
But then I wondered:
My mailbox emoji email address is great and all, but do you know what would be better? ben@⭐
Now how do I get one of those?
Only 13 TLDs in the world accept registrations of emoji domain names: .cf, .ga, .gq, .la, .ml, .tk, .st, .fm, .to, .je, .gg, .kz, and .ws.
The website I had used to purchase 📪.ws only showed 4 TLDs: .fm, .ws, .to and .ml. These are considered the gold standard of emoji domain name registrars.
Every emoji had been taken on these though. You could of course get multi-character emoji domains like 🎉🐢.ws, but I wanted single character emoji domains only.
So I wondered:
Do any of those other TLDs have any emoji domains left?
I already had some code that performed WHOIS lookups to see if a domain name is available for a list of TLDs.
Previously I'd used this code to buy facebook.网站, only for Marky Z to snatch it back from me. Cheeky bugger.
I booted up the code and loaded in some A-tier emojis (e.g. ⭐,😂,❤️) and the 13 TLDs that accepted them.
>node search.js [ENTER]
Instantly I was seeing results! .la, .ga, .gq, .je. There were plenty of emojis still out there on these alternative extensions.
An extension that stood out to me straight away was .gg, for the Island of Guernsey. "GG" is an acronym for "Good Game", and I say it often when I lose at online games. It was perfect.
⭐.gg was available for €29. I hit purchase.
The next day Guernsey sent me an email.
Long story short, although you could register emoji domain names with them, they didn't actually work.
Good game Guernsey. Back to the drawing board.
With every other extension I kept hitting walls. A lot of the registrars wouldn't even let me search for emoji domains. Nothing was working.
One extension that kept cropping up was .kz of Kazakhstan. But, I headed over to their registar website and it was entirely in Russian.
I do not speak Russian.
Using Google Translate, I tried to navigate the website and buy a .kz emoji domain.
It was a long, painful process. But, after phoning my bank to confirm I was indeed trying to make a purchase using Kazakhstani tenge, ⭐.kz was sitting in my account.
I plugged it into my email system and ben@⭐.kz worked.
Something excited me. Nearly all single character emojis were available on .kz, and they were only $8 each.
So, I wondered:
What if you could get an email address with any emoji you wanted?
I pictured email addresses like bob@🚀, alice@🌸, melvin@🍆.
All I'd need to do is buy every emoji domain to build a service like this.
It was insane, but it was possible.
I decided I was going to do it.
If I was chuffed with my mailbox emoji email address, perhaps others would be too.
I got out my debit card, and, one by one, started buying Kazakhstan emoji domains.
💡.kz, 👑.kz, 🌈.kz, 😎.kz. Buy, buy, buy, buy.
It was slightly painful watching my bank account going down, and the number of emoji domains go up.
80 emojis in, forking over money for a goat emoji domain name, you seriously start to question what you're doing.
$1200 later, 150 emoji domains were mine.
Finally, I needed a website where you could register an emoji email address and it would forward mail like ben@📪.ws did.
Using vanilla HTML, JS and CSS, plus Stripe's API for payments, I cobbled together an MVP over a few weeks.
Once it was done, I bought one last domain name: mailoji.com. My new emoji email address service Mailoji was ready. Get your emoji email addresses.
I'd gone from being curious about emoji domain names to now owning 150 of Kazakhstan's finest.
The next step was to convince someone else to buy an emoji email address.
TikTok seemed like a good place to start given its demographic. So, I recorded a short video advert and started a "TikTok for business" application to publish it.
On the final page of the application I was asked for a VAT registration number. Mailoji was not a proper business yet, so there was no way I could publish my ad.
Screw it, I'll post the video normally.
Here is the advert if you're interested.
The video sat at 0 views for about 5 hours before the TikTok algorithm started to work its magic.
Slowly, the views started ramping up. 500 views, to 5k views, to 50k views. It was incredible to witness.
People were loving emoji email addresses, people were hating emoji email addresses.
It was like Marmite, a talking point. None of it mattered though because emoji email addresses were selling! @🚀, @📷 & @💻 addresses were the most popular.
Over 2 days the TikTok video reached 200k+ views, and 60 emoji email addresses had been sold netting ~$300/yr in revenue.
I took this as a fantastic indicator. So guess what I did?
I decided to purchase 100 more emoji domains.
I cried into my keyboard forking out yet more money for a llama emoji that I probably didn't need.
In the end I had 250 emoji domains. If there was ever a moat into the emoji email address world, this was it.
I figured the more people with emoji email addresses, the more people who would see them, and the more people who would buy them. A beautiful cycle.
My next goal was a Product Hunt launch to get exposure for Mailoji, and kickstart this cycle.
I prepped my launch post, carefully choosing each word and image.
I even created this over-hyped promotional video, complete with Japanese voice actor saying the words "Mailoji".
Mailoji was ready for launch.
At 12:03 AM PST Mailoji went live on Product Hunt. We had come a long way from that little mailbox emoji.
It was 8:03 AM UK time. Bleary eyed, with a cup of tea in hand, I watched as Mailoji did battle.
I had chosen to launch on a Wednesday against some stiff competition, but Mailoji really held its own.
At the end of the day it finished in 5th place. Here were the end of day stats:
Over 150 emoji email addresses were sold in a day, and I received some fantastic feedback from the Product Hunt community.
It was done, Mailoji had officially launched.
I wish this story ended with Mailoji blowing up and the queen registering an emoji email address or something (I'll reserve Liz@👑.kz just in case).
But, currently Mailoji is sitting at ~$1440/year in revenue. There's now 300 emoji domains to choose from though.
Even though I still haven't made the money back on all the emoji domains I bought, creating an emoji email address service was so much fun.
It was an adventure. A rabbit hole containing multiple rabbit holes.
This project started out as an exploration into emoji domain names; a weird, forgotten about internet feature that I've now become quite fond of.
Yes emoji domains are hard to type on desktop, yes there's too many variations, and yes, most form validations hate them.
But they're fun, and I think tech should be more fun.
Thanks for reading. If you want to get in touch, I've got a brand new email address at the bottom of this website.