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Chinese investor pumps $7 million into M+M as .vip pushes firm into profit

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2016, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines made a profit, kinda, in the first half of the year, due to the popularity of .vip in China.

The company today announced a loss of $1.9 million for the six months to June 30, compared to a $1.6 million loss in the comparable 2015 period, on revenue that was up 115% at $7.4 million.

But factoring out discontinued operations — M+M started to close its registrar and registry back-end businesses during the half — it actually managed to sneak a profit of $56,000.

Its revenue was also unaffected by one-time gains from gTLD auction losses, something which had pumped up its top line regularly for the last few years.

Chairman Guy Elliot said in a statement to the markets that M+M “has successfully been navigated out of troubled waters”.

The turnaround is due in no small part to the success of .vip, which racked up over 400,000 registrations in its first month (back in May), the large majority of which were sold to Chinese investors.

The company said that $5.5 million of the $8 million in H1 billings were made in the first 21 days of .vip’s availability.

Having started 2016 with no sales in Asia whatsoever, it expects 45% of its revenue to come from China by the end of the year.

As a direct consequence of .vip’s sales, M+M has received a £5.5 million ($7.2 million) investment from Goldstream Capital Master Fund I, a Cayman Islands shell company owned by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital.

Hony, which manages $10 billion in assets, is perhaps best known for owning the pizza restaurant chain Pizza Express, which it acquired for $1.54 billion in 2014.

According to its web site, Hony’s own investors include three large Chinese state-owned investment vehicles.

The investment deal includes clauses preventing Hony from trying to get a director on M+M’s board and/or launching a hostile takeover bid.

It will own 7.17% of M+M after buying 50 million shares at £0.13 each, assuming M+M’s simultaneously announced £13 million ($17 million) share buyback is fully subscribed.

M+M opened a subsidiary in China (a Wholly-Owned Foreign Enterprise) during the half, in order to better serve the Chinese market and comply with Chinese government regulations.

It simultaneously laid off 44% of its staff in the US — engineers no longer needed due to the shift into an almost entirely marketing-focused business — and expects to end the year with only 13 employees there.

M+M billings quadruple on China .vip surge

Minds + Machines this morning said that its billings increased to $8.05 million in the first half of 2016.

That’s a 300% increase on the comparable year-ago period, the company said in a preliminary statement to the markets.

It added that its domains under management grew from 217,200 at the end of June 2015 to 728,940 a year later.

While the statement did not elaborate on the reasons behind the growth, the recently launched .vip gTLD seems to be the main factor.

It went to general availability a little over two months ago and quickly topped 400,000 registrations.

Just a few weeks before the end of the reporting period, M+M said its billings and orders for .vip alone had already hit $5.5 million.

That’s due to interest from Chinese domain investors, who were courted by M+M during a conference in Beijing.

M+M will report its full interims on September 20.

CentralNic doing okay out of new gTLDs

Local former rival Minds + Machines may be struggling to turn a profit, but CentralNic seems to be doing quite well out of this new gTLD malarkey.

But not as well as you might expect. Large growth at its clients does not appear to have translated to a whole lot more revenue for CentralNic itself.

The company yesterday reported 2015 profit before tax of £1.45 million ($2.13 million), compared to £520,000 in 2014, on revenue up 71% at £10.39 million ($15.28 million).

While it may be best known nowadays as a back-end registry provider, its revenue is now fairly evenly split over its three reporting segments.

CentralNic runs the back-end registry for volume gTLDs including .xyz and Radix’s .site, .online, .website, and .space.

The company calls this “wholesale domain sales”, and it brought in £3.12 million last year, compared to £2.82 million in 2014.

You might think that the volume success of .xyz, which added about a million names in 2015, might have translated into a bigger boost, but it didn’t.

Its registrar business, which it got into through the acquisitions of Internet.bs and Instra, brought in £3.4 million, compared to £1.55 million in 2014.

Its third segment, “Enterprise including Premium Domain Name Sales” saw revenue of £3.85 million, compared to $1.69 million.

The enterprise business, which also included two software licenses and revenue from dot-brand clients, is easily the most profitable segment, with a 67% EBITDA margin. For wholesale, it’s 44%.

The £3.8 million of enterprise revenue included £3.22 million premium name sales, of which over £3 million came from a single buyer.

It’s not clear whether this was a single domain deal or a package of premiums, but it represents the most volatile element of CentralNic’s revenue.

Update (May 30) — This article originally misidentified “Company A” and “Company B” in CentralNic’s accounts as registry clients. In fact, according to CEO Ben Crawford, they’re registrar channel partners.

Rightside to modernize eNom, predicts $75m new gTLD revs

Rightside used its first quarter earnings call yesterday to address, albeit indirectly, some of the criticisms recently leveled at it by activist investors and competitors.

CEO Taryn Naidu revealed for the first time how the company sees the new gTLD market playing out in the longer term.

He said than in three to five years, Rightside expects annual revenue from its registry business to come it at $50 million to $75 million.

That’s a hell of a lot more than it makes today.

In the first quarter, registry revenue was $2.6 million, compared to $1.6 million a year ago. Annualized, that’s a shade over $10 million.

On the back of an envelope, Rightside seems to need roughly 50% growth per year over five years to hit the low end of its target.

Naidu told analysts that one factor built into this projection is that third-party registrars will start to sell just as many new gTLD domains as Rightside’s registrars do.

Currently, Rightside sees 15% to 20% new gTLD, but with others it’s 3% to 5%, he said.

Naidu said he expects margins to be 20% at the EBITDA level.

The revelation of these targets may go some way to address investor concerns that Rightside is putting too much effort into its new gTLD business at the expense of its cash-generating registrars.

J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital expressed these views and others in March, and was supported by fellow investor Frank Schilling, CEO of Uniregistry.

Naidu last night also addressed concerns about eNom, which Cannell had called a “time capsule” due to its aging user experience.

He admitted that eNom is “encumbered by some older technology” but said it was being fixed.

“Later this quarter we will be rolling out the first phase of our development efforts, which include a dramatically revamped user interface, a new suite of software development tools and a new developer hub to help our partners learn, develop and test faster,” he said.

The registrar business brought in $44 million in the quarter, up from $41.9 million. Aftermarket revenue was $9.3 million compared to $7.3 million.

Overall, revenue was up 9% at $55.1 million, with a net loss of $5.1 million. That compared to income of $1.9 million a year ago.

Naidu also seemed to obliquely address the criticism that a lot of Rightside’s new gTLDs are shit — .democrat, .dance, .army, .navy, and .airforce have been singled out by Cannell and others — by talking about how the company doesn’t necessarily put the same amount of effort into marketing its whole stable.

Some gTLDs will be marketed more heavily later, he said, comparing it to a real estate owner holding on to parcels of land for later development.

Naidu also talked up Rightside’s prospects in China, where apparently .pub is doing quite well because registrants think it means “public” rather than “drinking establishment”.

GoDaddy grows domain revs 10% in Q1

GoDaddy reported its first quarter numbers last night, which including an almost 10% increase in revenue from domain names.

The market-leading registrar reported a net loss of $18.3 million, smaller than the $43.4 million a year ago, on total revenue of $433.7 million, up 15.3%.

It broke out its revenue from domain names as $218.9 million, up 9.9% on Q1 2015.

Hosting-related services and business applications grew 14.4% and 47.4% respectively, to $160.4 million and $54.4 million.

The company raised its revenue expectations for the year to a range of $1.83 billion to $1.845 billion.