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Van Couvering ousted from M+M, replaced by PR guy with channel focus

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2016, Domain Registries

Antony Van Couvering has been fired as CEO of Minds + Machines and replaced by someone who was until very recently the company’s agency PR guy.

Neither Van Couvering, the company, nor incoming CEO Toby Hall, have disclosed the reason for his ouster.

But I suspect the “differences and disagreements” that Van Couvering alluded to in his CircleID piece this morning may refer to M+M’s go-to-market strategy.

Hall told DI this morning that his focus as the company’s new leader is going to be on the registrar channel.

“It’s all about engaging with the outside world and recognizing we’re a business-to-business play,” Hall said. “It’s a fundamental shift in perspective.”

The strategy “has to be stacked in a way that makes our business partners make revenue”, he said.

“We’re not a consumer registrar,” he said.

M+M is a vertically integrated domain name company, acting as both registry and registrar.

Registrar sources tell us that Van Couvering wasn’t keen on working with third-party retailers, preferring to focus on its in-house registrar.

It seems that’s going to change under Hall.

M+M said in a press release (jarringly, emailed to reporters this morning as usual by Hall himself):

Mr Van Couvering was removed from office with immediate effect by means of a unanimous resolution of directors passed at a meeting of directors held on 19 February 2016.

The Group is currently making the transition from asset gatherer to monetisation of its leading portfolio of top-level domains; the Board believes a change of leadership will assist in this process.

Hall was appointed chief marketing officer last month.

Since the early 1990s, he’s been head of the London-based PR slash investor relations outfit GTH Communications, which focuses on small-cap businesses. M+M was a GTH client almost since it was founded, Hall said.

He said he’s going to be stepping back from GTH to focus on M+M.

Van Couvering founded Minds + Machines in 2008. It was soon acquired by the company that would be known as Top Level Domain Holdings, which later changed its name to Minds + Machines.

TLDH founder Fred Krueger got canned by the M+M board last year too.

Today, Van Couvering wrote:

It’s a story told a thousand times: founder of a company ousted by investors. It’s a story so common you can find it any day of the week as a minor headline in a tech blog. Not much of a story at all really, until it happened to me…

It sucked.

.vegas beats all six new M+M gTLDs combined

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2014, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines’ first day of general availability for its first six wholly owned new gTLDs has produced some very disappointing numbers.

The company managed to net just 1,694 new domains across .country, .cooking, .vodka, .rodeo, .horse and .fishing combined yesterday, according to this morning’s zone files.

It has fewer than 2,000 names across all six zones.

Meanwhile, .vegas, which also went to GA yesterday, managed to net 2,933 new domains, ending the day at 3,903.

Here’s a table of M+M’s performance over its first seven or eight hours of GA, which began at 1600 UTC yesterday.

Net GainTotal Domains
.vodka421469
.cooking378439
.fishing350388
.horse287327
.country182220
.rodeo76107
TOTAL16941950

Assuming the zone files are fresh, it’s a poor first day for the company whichever way you look at it, especially given that M+M has been accepting pre-registrations in its TLDs since November 2013.

As well as being vertically integrated, M+M has about 80 third-party registrars on board to sell its names, including the largest.

Afilias’ .organic, which also went to GA yesterday, shows just one new registration today.

However, this can be attributed to the fact that registrants need to submit credentials for manual verification before their new domains are allowed to go live in the zone file.

M+M profits by losing new gTLD auctions

Minds + Machines managed to make a profit in 2013, after years of losses, due to its participation in private new gTLD auctions, some of which it “lost”.

The company today reported operating profit of £776,000 for the year to December 31, compared to a £3.07 million loss in 2012, on revenue of £4.12 million. Profit after tax was £729,000.

“Profit was primarily a result from participating three private auctions,” CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement.

Chairman Fred Krueger added:

As we expected, private auctions have become the key method of settling contention between applications and we have benefited from this development, as it has enabled our cash to work on a leveraged basis: the domains we have lost in private auction (for example .property and .website) have helped finance new TLDs we have acquired such as .wedding and .garden.

Minds + Machines (then Top Level Domain Holdings) said last October that it had raised £2.97 million by losing the auctions for .lawyer and .website.

Excluding the auctions, it looks like the company made just £36,000 in revenue, all of which came from its registry back-end business.

Millions spent on new gTLDs as 11 auctions settled

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD portfolio applicants settled at least 11 new gTLD contention sets last week, sharing the spoils of a private auction that looks to have totaled seven figures in sales.

Applicant Auction carried out auctions for 13 contested strings last week, which I believe lasted at least three days.

I’ve been able to determine that Donuts won six sets, Uniregistry won three and Minds + Machines won two. Radix seems to have lost at least five auctions, walking away with a great big pile of cash instead.

.hosting — Uniregistry won after Radix (which owns .host) withdrew.

.click — Uniregistry beat Radix.

.property — Uniregistry won after withdrawals from M+M and Donuts.

.yoga — M+M won, beating Donuts and Uniregistry.

.garden — M+M beat Donuts and Uniregistry again.

.娱乐 — Donuts won this string (Chinese for “.entertainment”) after Morden Media withdrew.

.deals — Donuts beat M+M and Radix.

.city — Donuts beat TLD Registry and Radix.

.forsale — Donuts beat DERForsale.

.world — Donuts beat Radix.

.band — Donuts beat What Box?

Minds + Machines disclosed this morning that the four auctions in which it was involved cost it $5.97 million.

It’s not possible to work out how much .garden and .yoga cost the company; the $5.97 million figure is net of the money it won by losing .property and .deals, ICANN refunds and auctioneer commissions.

However, it seems reasonable to assume that the average price of a gTLD, even not particularly attractive ones (.garden? Really?), has sharply risen from the $1.33 million I calculated from the first 14 auctions.

In January, M+M raised roughly $33.6 million for auctions with a private share placement. The company is listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

The company said it now has an interest in 28 uncontested applications.

Also today, the Canadian Real Estate Association withdrew its Community application for .mls, but this is not believed to be related to the auctions. It has a non-Community application for the same string remaining.

Disappointing .sexy launch shows the importance of the channel

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2014, Domain Registries

.sexy not so sexy after all?

Uniregistry’s first new gTLDs to launch, .sexy and .tattoo, have showed a poor first-day performance after the company failed to secure Go Daddy as a registrar partner.

During the 60-day sunrise period and the first 30 hours of general availability, .sexy sold just shy of 2,700 domains, judging by zone files, while .tattoo racked up a pitiful 700 registrations.

This makes .sexy the 19th most popular new gTLD. On the DI PRO league table it’s sandwiched between .holdings and .camera, and .tattoo the 28th, between .voyage and .careers.

It’s not a completely terrible performance for .sexy — .camera and .holdings have been on the market for three and four weeks respectively — but one might have expected better sales for a string that isn’t tied to a particular vertical niche and is, arguably, just intrinsically attractive.

.sexy’s first-day performance is in the same ball park as Donuts’ .gallery and .estate, hardly strings to get excited about.

For .tattoo, the story is less gray — under 1,000 domains sold is not a success in anyone’s book.

I think there are a couple reasons for the poor showing.

First, the strings themselves. While I can see .sexy proving popular with regular buyers, it doesn’t easily lend itself to domain names that are instinctively attractive to domainers.

You can put pretty much any profession or product name in front of a .guru and it is meaningful as a brand or a rather grandiose self-appointed title. Not so with .sexy.

Ironically, this appears to be Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling’s “Toilet Paper Test” in action.

Schilling argues that the test of how generic, and by extension popular, a gTLD is should be whether toiletpaper.[tld] works. I think toiletpaper.guru works, but toiletpaper.sexy does not.

Second, Uniregistry lacked distribution.

While it had big registrars such as eNom and NameCheap (almost 50 in total) on its books, it lacked Go Daddy and 1&1 — the two companies that have been pushing pre-registrations more heavily than any other.

The reason Donuts’ gTLDs performed better in their first hours is that these companies, mainly Go Daddy, had been collecting pre-regs for weeks and spammed the registry with registration requests at the first second they were able. Day one registrations actually represent weeks of marketing and leads.

Uniregistry took an awfully big risk by demanding registrars hand over part of the customer relationship to the registry, and it seems to have impacted its sales.

The company plans to shortly launch its own registrar, and is betting hard of this being a successful sales channel.

I’m somewhat skeptical about this strategy, at least in the short term.

Go Daddy has spent tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars on marketing over the last decade or so. It has a lot of eyeballs already and it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to replicate that degree of success.

Uniregistry is not the only new gTLD portfolio registry enthusiastically embracing vertical integration.

The trail was blazed by Minds + Machines, which launched its own registrar last November. Today, it’s difficult to tell on the company’s web site where the registrar ends and the registry begins.

What’s M+M’s launch channel going to look like? We’re not going to know for sure until its first TLDs hit the market.

Are the big registrars going to make the vertically integrated business model difficult to carry off successfully? While registries are obliged to give access to any registrar that wants to sell their names, registrars have no obligations to carry any TLD they don’t want to.

.wedding and .green gTLD auctions raise millions

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLDs — .wedding and .green — have been auctioned off, with proceeds amounting to millions of dollars.

Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that it won .wedding and lost .green, which cost it a net $2.23 million.

That’s the amount it paid for .wedding, minus its share of the .green winning bid and its ICANN refund for withdrawing its .green application.

I don’t think we can infer the exact sale price of .wedding from that, other than to say that it was definitely over $2.2 million.

TLDH did not say who won the .green auction. The only other remaining applicants, after Dot Green’s withdrawal last year, were Rightside and Afilias. Neither has withdrawn their applications yet.

In the .wedding auction, conducted by Applicant Auction, it beat rival portfolio applicants Donuts and What Box?

TLDH raises $33.6m to fight new gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has raised £21 million with an institutional investor share placement to help it win some new gTLD contention set auctions.

Its total war chest following the $33.6 million-ish placement will be about $63 million, albeit with $15 million of that earmarked for a single, as-yet-unspecified auction.

The company is currently in 43 contention sets, most of which it apparently wants to resolve via private auction. TLDH said in a statement:

The Company believes private auctions provide a significant opportunity for the Company both to increase the number of high-value gTLDs within its portfolio and to generate cash from those gTLDs which it chooses to relinquish. Under the private auction process, the winning bid is divided equally and paid to the losing applicants net of the auctioneer’s fees.

As part of TLDH’s transition from a revenue-free penny stock to a trading company, it’s going to change its name to Minds + Machines Limited, via a reverse takeover of its subsidiary of the same name.

The company said the move will help with “stakeholder communications and branding”.

Finally, TLDH said that founding director Guy Elliott is to leave its board of directors and be replaced by new non-executive director Elliot Noss. Noss is of course CEO of rival registry/registrar Tucows.

Taryn Naidu is a *%@$! Rightside bans company “ridicule” in its new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2014, Domain Registries

If you register a domain name in one of Rightside Registry’s new gTLDs, you’ll be banned from using it to mock the company or any of its employees or shareholders.

That’s according to its Acceptable Use (Anti-Abuse) Policy (pdf) published by ICANN today.

As well as prohibiting the usual kinds of malicious hacking and spamming activity, child abuse material and so on, the policy bans:

Holding of [United TLD Holdings] (including its affiliates) or their employees or shareholders up to public scorn, ridicule, or defamation.

I can’t recall seeing that kind of clause in a domain name registration agreement before.

While “defamation” is obviously illegal in most places (as determined by a court), “scorn” seems to be a pretty broad term that could capture a lot of free speech commentary.

Rightside has applied for 26 new gTLDs. Several are the kinds of places you might expect to see some edgy discussion: .republican, .democrat, .army, .actor and .gay to name a few examples.

It seems the simplest route to getting a web site you don’t like shut down in any of these gTLDs would be to buy a single Rightside share and file an abuse complaint.

Also banned by the policy is:

Impersonating any person or entity, including, but not limited to, a UTLDH official, or falsely stating or otherwise misrepresenting your affiliation

Rightside, aka United TLD, is the Demand Media domain name retailer and new gTLD registry currently being spun off into a standalone company under CEO (and thoroughly nice bloke) Tayrn Naidu.

TLDH opens up list of 70,000 premium names for all new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2014, Domain Services

Top Level Domain Holdings has ramped up its new gTLD pre-registration effort with a new database service that enables registries to automatically collate and price their premium names.

The new OpenDB.co service builds on the Online Priority Enhanced Names system we reported on during the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires a couple months ago.

TLDH chairman Fred Krueger told DI today that new gTLD registry operators will be able to automatically generate a list of up to 70,000 premium names — with associated prices — for their TLD(s).

It works using a proprietary taxonomy of strings in 500 categories, put together by about 30 people working for TLDH, and baseline .com pricing estimates calculated by various online tools such as Estibot.

If you’re the registry for .web, for example, you might decide that all premium .web domains are worth 50% of the .com price, and you could create your premium names list accordingly with just a few clicks.

But if you’re the registry for a narrower, niche gTLD, you might want to assign values by category, subcategory or individual name.

If you’re .poker, you might decide that names in the OpenDB “gambling” category are worth 300% of .com, due to the affinity between the TLD and the second level, and that “sports” names are worth 50%, but everything else is worth just 1% of the corresponding .com name.

A possible drawback of the system might be that the algorithmic .com price estimates underlying it are just that — estimates, based on factors such as Google search volume and Adwords cost-per-click.

Online tools that do this kind of price estimation are quite often criticized or mocked for under- or over-pricing names in existing TLDs.

Another drawback might be that while 70,000 is certainly a lot of strings, it might not dive deeply enough into the potential premium pool for very niche gTLDs.

If the service catches on, I expect it will wind up competing with consultancies that offer expertise-based pricing, such as Right Of The Dot, and brokerage platforms such as Sedo.

So far only PeopleBrowsr (.ceo, .best) has openly committed to use the system.

TLDH says that it will start offering any names in OpenDB via its affiliated Minds + Machines registrar, with a 20% markup.

There’s also an OpenDB API that registrars can use to add these premium names to their own storefronts, Krueger said.

TLDH to invest in rival new gTLD names

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2014, Domain Services

Top Level Domain Holdings is to launch a new company, backed with a $2 million starting pot, devoted to investing in second-level names in rival registries’ new gTLDs.

TLDH chairman Fred Krueger told us today that the new company, which will be found at SecondLevel.co, will start buying up attractive names as soon as new gTLDs start going into general availability.

The move is one of several announcements TLDH is making — focusing on the registry, registrar and buyer levels — at the NamesCon conference here in Las Vegas this week.

SecondLevel.co will take money from institutional investors, buy up new gTLD second-levels, and return 70% of the profits to its investors on a quarterly basis if and when the names are flipped, Krueger said.

There are no plans to monetize the names in other ways yet, Krueger said. He doesn’t think new gTLD domains are going to get enough type-in traffic to exploit, for example.

It sounds like there’s going to be a bit of bargain-hunting going on here.

Other new gTLD registries have of course already slapped premium pricing, and in many cases premium renewal fees, on the names they consider most attractive.

When TLDH buys up such a name it will effectively be saying that it reckons its competitor undervalued the name.

That said, rivals such as Donuts have claimed that they’ve priced their premium names at levels that will still allow flippers to make a profit, so maybe there’s an opportunity here.