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CEO lost millions on Manhattan apartment deal just days before AlpNames went dark

The CEO of AlpNames lost his $2.1 million deposit on a $10.6 million Manhattan apartment just days before his company went belly-up earlier this year, DI can reveal.

ApartmentsA New York District Court judge in February found in favor of property developer Highline Associates, which had sued Iain Roache for his deposit after he failed to pay the balance of the luxury residence’s purchase price in 2017.

The ruling appears to have been published February 25 this year. By March 7, just 10 days later, ICANN had already started compliance proceedings against AlpNames.

The timing could just be a coincidence. Or it might not.

According to Judge Robert Sweet (in what appears to be one of his final decisions before his death at 96 in March this year), Roache agreed in December 2015 to buy a condo, parking space and storage unit at 520 West 28th St, a then under-development luxury apartment complex designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea district.

The purchase price of the one-bedroom apartment was an eye-watering $9.8 million. Another $770,000 for the parking space and storage unit brought the total agreed price to $10,565,000. Roache plunked $2,113,000 of that into escrow as a deposit.

At that time, AlpNames, majority-owned by Roache, was quite a young company.

It was on the cusp of selling its millionth domain, and had got to that milestone in just over a year in business. Earlier in 2015, it had been bragging about how it was second only to GoDaddy in terms of new gTLD domains sold.

Famous Four Media, the new gTLD registry that Roache also led (also no longer a going concern), had already launched 10 of its eventual 16 TLDs. In total, the portfolio had roughly 1.5 million domains under management. It was one of the leaders, volume-wise, of the new gTLD industry.

When the apartment was finally ready to move into, in June 2017, Highline approached Roach to close the deal.

According to the court’s findings, Roache declined to immediately pay and seems to have given the developer the runaround for several months, requesting and receiving multiple extensions to the closing date.

It wasn’t until early 2018 that Highline, apparently determining that it was never going to see the money, terminated the contract and attempted to take ownership of the $2.1 million deposit.

But Roache’s lawyers instructed the escrow agent not to release the funds without a court order. Obligingly, Highline sued in February 2018.

During the case, Roache argued among other things that he had been verbally duped into signing the purchase agreement, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

He noted that Roache is a “sophisticated businessman” who had hired an experienced New York real estate lawyer to advise him on the purchase.

He also noted that the contract specifically said that the buyer is buying based on the contents of the agreement and specifically not any prior verbal representations (nice clause for all those bullshit-happy real estate agents out there, I reckon).

The judge finally decided that Highline, and not Roache, was rightfully owed the $2.1 million deposit.

It wasn’t long after the ruling that AlpNames customers started experiencing issues.

I first reported that the web site was offline, and had been offline for at least a few days, on March 12 this year. A NamePros thread first mentioned the downtime March 10.

It later emerged (pdf) that ICANN had already started calling AlpNames on March 7, after receiving complaints from AlpNames’ customers that the site was down.

On March 15, after receiving no response from Roache, ICANN made the decision to immediately terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

A couple of weeks later, CentralNic took over AlpNames’ customer base and around 600,000 domain names, under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

That’s the timeline of events.

Am I saying that there was a causal link between Roache’s real estate deal going south and AlpNames going AWOL within a couple of weeks? Nope. I don’t have any evidence for that.

Am I saying it’s possible? Yup. The timing sure does look fishy, doesn’t it?

CentralNic boosts reseller biz with $11.3 million Hexonet buy

CentralNic is to acquire rival reseller-based registrar Hexonet for up to €10 million ($11.3 million), its fourth acquisition in the last 12 months.

Hexonet has over 3.8 million domains under management, according to CentralNic, sold either directly or via one of its over 1,000 resellers.

Hexonet’s primary ICANN accreditation, 1API.net, was responsible for roughly 760,000 gTLD domains at the last count, but appeared to be on the decline.

CentralNic said its reseller business will grow by about 28% in terms of domains due to the deal.

Hexonet had revenue last year of about €16.5 million ($19.4 million) and EBIDTDA of about €0.8 million ($0.9 million), and will immediately contribute to the bottom line, CentralNic said.

But it’s probably not great news for everyone — in order to receive the full €10 million Hexonet had to slash €300,000 from its budget.

CentralNic is paying €7 million in cash now, covered by the €50 million bond it recently issued, and will pay another €3 million in either cash or shares (its choice) on the one-year anniversary of the deal closing, expected this month.

Hexonet has offices in Canada and close to CentralNic’s recently acquired Germany operations.

Hexonet also acts as the de facto exclusive registrar for a handful of dot-brands, including .audi, .volskwagen and .bugatti, relationships that one imagines CentralNic’s registry back-end business could try to leverage.

In the last year, CentralNic has acquired KeyDrive, TPP Wholesale and GlobeHosting.

CentralNic grabs more of the reseller market with $16.5 million acquisition

CentralNic is living up to its self-described role as an industry “consolidator” with the acquisition of Australian domain wholesaler TPP Wholesale.

The company, assuming it manages to find the financial backing, will pay AUD 24 million ($16.5 million) for the business, currently a unit of ARQ Group (formerly known as Melbourne IT).

TPP has 14,000 resellers and 840,000 domains under management, including 19% of all .com.au registrations, according to CentralNic.

The company reckons the unit had revenue of AUD 17 million ($11.7 million) and EBITDA of AUD 3.9 million ($2.7 million) in 2018, which makes the purchase look like a bit of a bargain when compared to its acquisition of Instra a few years ago.

CentralNic gets 680,000 AlpNames domains for free, kinda

CentralNic has emerged as the gaining registrar for AlpNames’ entire portfolio of gTLD domains.

The company announced late last week that three registrars in its stable — Moniker, Key-Systems LLC and Key-Systems GmbH — will take over roughly 680,000 domains that were left stranded when AlpNames management went AWOL.

US-based Key-Systems LLC appears to be the biggest gainer. It will be taking over domains in every gTLD except .biz, .com, .info, .net, .org, which are going to Moniker, and .pro, which are going to the German Key-Systems division.

While most registrars see their domains under management concentrated in these legacy gTLDs, by volume AlpNames had far more registrations in new 2012-round gTLDs.

It had just 19,000 .com DUM at the last count, compared to hundreds of thousands in new gTLDs such as .top and .gdn.

CentralNic said in a press release that ICANN selected its registrars after a competitive bidding process, which I’ve previously outlined here, but that it did not pay for the names. So AlpNames, presumably, won’t be getting the payday it could have received under the rules.

The transfer won’t be entirely cost-free, of course. CentralNic is going to have to provide support to its incoming customers — who will all be emailed with the details of their new Moniker accounts — for starters.

There’s also the issue of abuse. AlpNames was notorious as a haven for spammers and the like, due to its cheap prices and bulk-registration tools, so CentralNic may find itself having to deal with this legacy.

But CentralNic said it expects these incidental costs to be “minimal”.

The transfers are a big boost for CentralNic’s registrar volume, at least in the short term. The three selected registrars had a combined total of roughly two million gTLD domains at the last count. CentralNic says it acts as registrar for over seven million domains across its 13 accreditations.

For every AlpNames domain that gets renewed, CentralNic gets paid. But if AlpNames’ own track record is any guide, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of drops over the coming year.

Ironic eight-figure deal marks more Euro-registrar consolidation

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registrars

Slovakian registrar WebSupport, which is run by a local politician, has been acquired in a reported eight-figure deal.

The acquirer is Loopia, a Swedish registrar backed by Danish private equity firm Axcel.

The deal seems to have closed around the same time as Loopia’s acquisition of .SE Direkt from Swedish registry IIS, though news only broke today.

WebSupport reportedly hosts around 173,000 domains, though it’s not clear whether it acts as registrar for all. It’s not ICANN-accredited, but it does resell domains in a wide range of gTLDs.

It reportedly has annual revenue approaching €4 million and sold for “a two-digit figure in millions of euros”.

According to Vladimir Vano, Slovakian comms chief at CentralNic, which acquired .sk registry SK-NIC last year, WebSupport is the largest .sk registrar.

There’s a certain irony with WebSupport being sold into foreign hands.

The co-founder and majority owner of the company is Michel Truban, an entrepreneur-turned-politician who was closely associated with a campaign to have UK-based CentralNic’s acquisition of .sk blocked.

It was alleged (and denied) at the time that the campaign was party-political, though its main concern appeared to be that CentralNic would bastardize .sk into some kind of horrible domain hack.

Today, Truban wrote on his blog “I’m selling WebSupport and I’m going into politics”. In 2017, he co-founded the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

He said the money from the deal would free him from inappropriate influence by “oligarchs and patrons”.

Google Translate says Truban wrote: “I had an offer that was about a million euros higher, but I declined it. Because it was from people with bad history and at the same time I wanted WS to get an international story.”