Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

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

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.

Architelos files bankruptcy after Afilias lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2016, Domain Services

Afilias has managed to bury domain security software provider Architelos, which filed for bankrupcty today.

Architelos filed Chapter 7, which basically means the company will close and its assets will be liquidated to pay off creditors.

Its only major creditor is Afilias, which won a patent lawsuit against it last August.

The jury in the case set damages at $10 million, finding that Architelos had misappropriated Afilias trade secrets, but the trial judge recently indicated her intention of reducing the award to $2 million.

Even that was a bit too rich for the company, which floated the idea of operating NameSentry on a revenue share with Afilias until its debt was paid.

Clearly, that’s no longer going to happen.

Architelos was founded by Alexa Raad in 2011, to exploit the new gTLD opportunity as a consulting and software tools provider.

It made seven figures in its first year, mainly through gTLD application consulting fees, but saw modest adoption of its subsequent security offering, NameSentry.

The flagship service only made $300,000 in revenue, according to court documents. After the August verdict, Architelos’ sales pipeline dried up.

The software and the US patents covering them are the company’s key assets, though Afilias is expected to be awarded at least partial ownership rights of the patents.

The company had about 10 employees at its peak, but has been operating on a skeleton crew of two or three for the last few months.

Architelos said in a blog post that NameSentry customers will be able to continue to use the service in the short term, but what happens to it in future depends on how the bankruptcy court appointed trustee does with it.

Afilias also has an outstanding lawsuit against Architelos and Raad in Canada.