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Has the world’s biggest new gTLD registry gone bankrupt?

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2018, 11:51:00 (UTC), Domain Registries

Has Famous Four Media, by some measures the largest new gTLD registry, gone bankrupt?

There’s some startling evidence that this may be the case, but the company and others concerned are maintaining radio silence.

Last week, IANA’s administrative contact for all of the company’s 16 TLDs changed from its CEO, Geir Rasmussen, to someone called Edgar Lavarello. Here’s an example.

Lavarello, it turns out, is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Gibraltar who specializes in insolvency and liquidation.

Here he is in a three-year-old interview explaining why my headline today technically really should have used the word “insolvent” rather than “bankrupt”.

On Wednesday, I reached out for comment to Rasmussen and Lavarello, along with others known to work at FFM (at least recently) but have not received any responses.

Absence of a reply is not proof of anything of course — FFM has never been the most communicative company in the world and nobody is under any obligation to respond to inquiries from a humble blogger.

But I suspect that if I posed the straightforward if slightly cheeky question “Has your company gone bankrupt?” to almost any other member of the domain name industry, I’d usually expect to receive a denial in short order.

Sadly, insolvency records in laissez-faire British tax haven Gibraltar, where FFM is based, do not appear to be a matter of public record.

Even if FFM has not gone insolvent, I think there are clear signs it is having problems.

Its primary web site at famousfourmedia.com has been stripped back to be little more than a privacy policy and a contact form. Gone are all the sales pitches, press releases and TLD-specific pages. It’s now basically a one-pager.

The web site of its parent company, Domain Venture Partners, no longer resolves.

Reaching out to industry sources who have business relationships with FFM, I was unable to find anyone who’d talked to the company recently, though there were rumors of departing staff.

Earlier this year, company chair Iain Roache spent £3.9 million ($5.4 million) to buy out former FFM COO Charles Melvin, after Melvin filed a lawsuit against him and Rasmussen.

The nature of the suit is not particularly clear from public records, but at one point Gibraltar’s top judge ruled that the defendants had filed inaccurate — technically “forged” — documents to the court.

These documents included 10 invoices between FFM and AlpNames, its affiliated registrar.

Famous Four runs 16 new gTLDs — the largest among them .loan, .win and .men — and has arguably shifted more domains than any other portfolio registry.

Group volume currently runs at about 4.5 million names according to ntldstats, compared to 3.9 million for Donuts with its far larger portfolio of 241 strings.

It’s achieved this impressive scale largely by selling domains super cheap, often at or below cost and often via AlpNames.

This has resulted in huge numbers of domains being acquired by spammers. FFM strings are routinely listed in the SpamHaus top-ten list of dirtiest TLDs.

AlpNames is also regularly fingered as one of the most spam-friendly registrars.

The company’s chosen business model means that renewals, where you’d expect to make your actual revenue, are on the low side. If you take its .science as a representative example, the TLD peaked at 350,000 domains under management in April 2016 but stood at around 63,000 this February.

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Comments (6)

  1. Snoopy says:

    If this proves correct can just about bet whoever buys the strings will put prices up dramatically. This is going to be a painful one.

  2. Michael says:

    The support chat on the Alpnames website is also offline. OK, it’s Saturday, fair enough. But not reassuring either.

  3. Fake news says:

    Kevin

    Despite the user name I chose, actually I have no idea whether the IANA contact has changed and you are right that Mr Lavarello is an administrator/liquidator but i’d Just like to point out:

    1. Gibraltar is the least laissez faire place I know to do business, much less so than London where you live

    2. Insolvency proceedings are at least as public as the UK: get yourself down to the Supreme Court and do an insolvency search if you fancy it. It’s a beautiful time of year to visit.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Awesome!

      There’s a search engine for UK insolvencies. The Gibraltar one is…?

      • Fake News says:

        Point me to the free uk Government site that publishes administration orders please. Oh that’s right, there isn’t one. You have to pay. Pay me and I’ll pop down to the Supreme Court for you.

  4. pump & dump new gtlds, a scam

    ICANN complicit

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