How we acquired HEY.com

Back on June 9, 2018, I cold emailed help@hey.com:

Hey there

Curious… Would you entertain an offer to sell hey.com? I'd like to use it for something I'm working on, and willing to make you a strong offer.

Let me know. Thanks!

-Jason

And that’s where it all began.

For the 25+ years I’ve been emailing, I’d say close to 95% of those email began with some variation of “Hey [Name]”. So when it came time to think about a name for a new email system we’d be building, HEY was a natural.

Further, the “Hey!” menu in Basecamp 3 holds your notifications for new messages, chats, to-do assignments, automatic check-in prompts, boost summaries, and the like. So we already had some prior art on Hey being a place for communication.

But hey.com – that would be an amazing email address, and, we rightly assumed, hard to get. But what the hell – if you don’t ask you don’t get, so I sent the email, crossed my fingers, and waited.

The same day I emailed, June 9, 2018, he replied. Turns out we’d actually talked before on This Week in Tech, way back when. This was his first email back to me:

Hi Jason:

Thanks for reaching out, I've always respected your business accomplishments and your writing. You may not remember but we spoke briefly a couple of times when I was at TWiT.

As you might imagine, I've gotten a number of offers and inquiries about HEY.com over the years. Usually I ignore them, but very happy to chat with you about this or any other topic. I'm on cell at ###-###-####.

Thanks!

Dane

So we set up a call and had a nice chat. Really nice guy. A few days later, I made an offer.

He said no.

So I countered.

He said no.

We were clearly way off. And the momentum went cold. He decided he wasn’t ready to sell. I thanked him for the opportunity and said let’s stay in touch.

Then on August 19, 2019, well over a year after my initial outreach, he wrote me back.

Hi Jason:

Not sure if you're still interested in Hey.com, but I'm in the process of vetting what appears to be a serious inquiry to buy it. The numbers being discussed are notably higher than what you mentioned previously. Given your previous offer I'm thinking you probably won't be interested, but I appreciated your approach and also what you've done for the industry, so I thought I'd let you know as a courtesy.

We caught up via Zoom a few days later, discussed again, and I made another offer. This time significantly higher than our original offer. It was a nervous amount of money.

Things were beginning to heat up, but there was no deal yet. I completely understood – he owned this domain for a long time, and he wasn’t a squatter. Dane used hey.com for his business. It was part of his identity. It was a valuable asset. He needed time to think it through.

We traded a number of other emails, and then I upped the offer a little bit more on September 18, 2019.

A few days later we’d verbally agreed to move forward on an all-cash deal with a number of stipulations, conditions, etc. All were perfectly reasonable, so we asked him to prepare a contract.

There were a few small back and forths, but we essentially accepted his contract and terms as is. We wired the money into escrow, we waited for some Google mail transfer stuff to finish up, and on November 20th, 2019 the domain was officially transferred over into our ownership. Funds were released to escrow, and the deal was done.

This was a long 18 month process, and there was uncertainty at every step. We’d never bought a domain like this, he’d never sold a domain like this. There’s a lot of trust required on all sides. And more than money, hey.com was important to him. And who he sold it to was important to him as well.

But it was truly a pleasure to work with him. Dane was fair, thoughtful, patient, and accommodating. And for that we’re grateful. Business deals like this can get messy, but this one was clean and straightforward. Kudos to him and his lawyer for their diligence and clear communication.

All in we traded 60+ emails over the course of the deal. Toss in a few zoom calls as well.

So that’s the story of how we acquired hey.com. One cold email to kick it off, no domain brokers or middlemen, and a lot of patience and understanding on both sides.

Wait how much was it? I know everyone wants to know, but we can’t say. Both sides are bound by a non-disclosure around the final purchase price. You’ll just have to guess.

As for Dane, he relaunched his brand under a new name. You can check him out at VidiUp.tv.

As for us, this April we’ll be launching our brand new email serviced called HEY at hey.com.

Note: This post was cleared with Dane prior to publishing, so he’s cool with me sharing his name, the story, and the name of his new company.

36 thoughts on “How we acquired HEY.com

  1. I understand a non-disclosure agreement is usual for these type of deals.

    If the seller agreed, would you have considered making the price public? Why or why not? Curious to hear your reasoning.

    Thanks for the write-up and looking forward to the launch!

    1. Hey Marc. Don’t know if we would or we wouldn’t. I tend not to think about things that aren’t going to happen. If Dane changed his mind then we’d think about it, but I don’t see a lot of upside on either side to sharing the price.

    1. Nope! In fact, I just decided to write this a few days ago because so many people have asked (and I was tired of not having an answer to point to). Out of common courtesy I ran it by Dane to see if he was cool with it, but I wasn’t asked/required to write the post or get his permission. No mention of anything like this in the contract or in emails between us during negotiation either. The only thing we both agreed to for sure was not to share the price.

  2. Great story,

    I would love to know how much more was the final price compared to the first offer, relatively of course.

    + how many % or times how much?

  3. Are you allowed to say if it was 6 or 7 figures? 🙂

    Question about a trademark for something like this: my assumption is that a trademark for hey would never happen because it’s not trademarkable as it’s too much of a general term. Is that true?

    Great name, congrats!

    1. Can’t say anything about price, sorry.

      Trademarks can be granted on all sorts of general terms, but like any trademark, it has to be specifically defined. Take Apple, for example. But you’d have to talk to an IP lawyer for specifics, it’s definitely not my expertise.

    1. haystack.com is a domain we own, and Haystack was the working name before HEY. We also considered Volley for a brief time. Volley’s a good name for an email/communication app (since you volley information back and forth). A number of other names were tossed around too, but given that I can’t remember any of them, they really didn’t stick.

  4. Thanks for the write-up.

    Curious if you made any attempts at hay.com — so you could redirect people when they make a mistake with the name.

    1. Nope, Dave. HAY is owned by a furniture company owned by Design Within Reach – pretty sure that domain isn’t for sale. Also not worried about people getting the address wrong. It’s short, so people tend to spell it for other people.

  5. Hey Jason, would this be an email app alone or a complete email service? Are you able to share this already?

    1. Complete email service. It’s not a client that requires Gmail or anything like that. An alternative to Gmail.

  6. Jason,
    How will the new service focus on Privacy? Many email services are far from private and I am concerned about IP and leaks.

    1. Big privacy push on a variety of angles. We’ll be sharing plenty about this when we launch. But for one we don’t sell ads so we don’t mine/use personal/email data in any way. We’ll also block spy pixel trackers so external services can’t see if/when you opened emails, how often you’ve opened them, where you were when you opened them, etc. All blocked (as best we can).

  7. I’m curious to know how 37signals/Basecamp prices Hey.

    The industry standard for email services is a User based pricing model. Yet countless times over the years, Jason & DHH have written about how User based pricing is toxic.

    1. They might say it in some day but they also might change their mind. Jason said they considered to charge Basecamp Personal into seat based since a company with only 3-4 persons will have a lot of cheaper price than 99 bucks a month.

      Listen to 00:08:11 on Jason’s interview in Rework podcast, titled BASECAMP: THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL.

  8. Hey Jason,

    Can I use hey.com to host email on my own domain like myname@mydomain. com hosted through HEY?

  9. Are you able to talk about the stipulations & conditions in the contract?
    Interested to see what they are for a domain name! Assuming things like you mustn’t start an adult site with it..

    1. Nothing major. He wanted a few email addresses forwarded for a while, some previous pages redirected, wanted to make sure all his email was moved over prior to transferring the domain, etc. All very reasonable things. There may have been a few more, but I can’t remember, and if there were, they were also reasonable and nbd. Plus we both agreed not to reveal the sale price.

  10. Shifting from my regular 5-year-old email address which is kind of my online address right now, how feasible is that? This feels like accepting a new religion. Leaving my old identity behind…

    1. You can always just forward emails from your current/old address into HEY. You won’t miss anything that way.

  11. Looking forward to checking it out. I remember a pretty good email service launching in April a (fair) few years ago.

    BTW – might be a typo with ‘serviced’?

  12. Viewing source on hey.com make it seem like the original name was haystack.com. Can you share the story of that name?

    1. @Philip Thomas, see above. We own the domain and it had been the working name of the product for quite some time.

  13. Hey old friend, I Love this story! Thanks for sharing it! And congrats on such a cool acquisition!

  14. Hey Jason,

    Thanks for sharing this story. I am always curious to learn details like these but often times there is not a good path to find out. I am in the early stages of building a bootstrapped business, much to learn. Thanks for this and your other writing.

    Best,
    Bhumi

  15. Great story – perseverance and being nice (for a long time) does pay off. So nice of Dane to inquire with you again when another offer became a reality.

    You were already thinking about a new email service (possibly to be named Hey.com) in June 2018?

  16. @Jason & DHH

    FYI – my corp web filter won’t allow me to access hey.com


    Web Page Blocked
    Restricted Access
    URL: hey.com/
    Category: games
    Application: web-browsing

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