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MMX rejected three takeover bids before buying .xxx

MMX talked to three other domain name companies about potentially selling itself before deciding instead to go on the offensive, picking up ICM Registry for about $41 million.

The company came out of a year-long strategic review on Friday with the shock news that it had agreed to buy the .xxx, .adult, .porn and .sex registry, for $10 million cash and about $31 million in stock.

CEO Toby Hall told DI today that informal talks about MMX being sold or merged via reverse takeover had gone on with numerous companies over the last 11 months, but that they only proceeded to formal negotiations in three cases.

Hall said he’d been chatting to ICM president and majority owner Stuart Lawley about a possible combination for over two years.

ICM itself talked to four potential buyers before going with MMX’s offer, according to ICM.

Lawley, who’s quitting the company, will become MMX’s largest shareholder following the deal, with about 15% of the company’s shares. Five other senior managers, as well as ICM investor and back-end provider Afilias, will also get stock.

Combined, ICM-related entities will own roughly a quarter of MMX after the deal closes, Hall said.

ICM, with its high-price domains and pre-2012 early-mover advantage, is the much more profitable company.

It had sales of $7.3 million and net income of $3.5 million in 2017, on approximately 100,000 registrations.

Compared to MMX, that’s about the same amount of profit on about half the revenue. It just reported 2017 profit of $3.8 million on revenue of $14.3 million.

There’s doesn’t seem to be much need or desire to start swinging the cost-cutting axe at ICM, in other words. Jobs appear safe.

“This isn’t a business in any way that is in need of restructuring,” Hall said.

He added that he has no plans to ditch Afilias as back-end registry provider for the four gTLDs. MMX’s default back-end for the years since it ditched its self-hosted infrastructure has been Nominet.

The deal reduces MMX’s exposure to the volatile Chinese market, where its .vip TLD has proved popular, accounting for over half of the registry’s domains under management.

It also gives MMX ownership of ICM’s potentially lucrative portfolio of reserved premium names.

There are over 9,700 of these, with a combined buy-now price of just shy of $135 million.

I asked Hall whether he had any plans to get these names sold. He laughed, said “the answer is yes”, and declined to elaborate.

ICM currently has a sales staff of three people, he said.

“It’s a small team, but their track record is exceptional,” he said.

The company’s record, I believe, is sex.xxx, which sold for $3 million. It has many six-figure sales on record. Premiums renew at standard reg fee, around $60.

With the ICM deal, MMX has recast itself after a year of uncertainty as an acquirer rather than an acquisition target.

While many observers — including yours truly — had assumed a sale or merger were on the cards, MMX has gone the other route instead.

It’s secured a $3 million line of credit from its current largest shareholder, London and Capital Asset Management Ltd, “to support future innovation and acquisition orientated activity”.

That’s not a hell of a lot of money to run around snapping up rival gTLDs, but Hall said that it showed that investors are supportive of MMX’s new strategy.

So does this mean MMX is going to start devouring failing gTLDs for peanuts? Not necessarily, but Hall wouldn’t rule anything out.

“Our long-term strategy is ultimately based around being an annuity-based business,” he said. He’s looking at companies with a “strong recurring revenue model”.

About 78% of ICM’s revenue last year came from domain renewals. The remainder was premium sales. For MMX, renewal revenue doubled to $4.8 million in 2017, but that’s still only a third of its overall revenue (though MMX is of course a less-mature business).

So while Hall refused to rule out looking at buying up “struggling” gTLDs, I get the impression he’s not particularly interested in taking risks on unproven strings.

“You can never say never to any opportunity,” he said. “If we come across and asset and for whatever reason we believe we can monetize it, it could become an acquisition target.”

The acquisition is dependent on ICANN approving the handover of registry contracts, something that doesn’t usually present a problem in this kind of M&A.

MMX could announce acquisition this week

New gTLD registry MMX could announce plans to be acquired as early as this week.

The company told the markets last week that its delayed 2017 financial results would be announced in “early May”, along with the “conclusion of the strategic review” it has been teasing investors about for almost a year.

The “strategic review”, announced last May, is exploring “how MMX can participate in a broader industry consolidation” including acquisition or merger.

MMX said last week that “constructive discussions continue to progress”.

It has previously described the duration of the negotiations, initially slated to close last September, as “frustrating”.

Unlike AIM-listed rival CentralNic, which has confirmed it is in reverse-takeover talks with KeyDrive, MMX has not revealed which potential buyer(s) it has been talking to.

MMX, also listed on AIM, has a market cap of £69.3 million ($94.3 million) today.

In January, it informally reported that its 2017 billings are expected to be around the $15.6 million mark, allowing the company to hit operating profitability for the first time.

The company runs 25 new gTLDs solo and five more in partnerships with other companies, but by far and a way the best volume performer is .vip, which accounts for well over half of its registrations largely due to its resonance in China.

Radix says it’s profitable after making $12 million this year

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD stable Radix said today that it expects to top $12 million in revenue this year.

The company also told DI that it is currently profitable.

Radix, which counts the likes of .site and .store among its portfolio of nine active gTLDs, said revenue so far for the calendar year has been tallied at $11.7 million.

The company said that more than half of revenue came from “non-premium domain renewals”, an important metric when considering the long-term health of a domain business.

Recurring revenue of non-premiums was almost twice as much as new registrations, Radix said. Only $1.76 million of revenue came from premium sales (14%) and renewals (86%).

The US accounted for just under half of revenue, with Germany at 14.4% and China, where .site was fully active for the whole year and four other TLDs were approved in October, coming in at 7.7%.

Radix is a private company, part of the Directi Group, and has not previously disclosed its financials.

Assuming apples-to-apples comparisons are valid (which may not be the case), its figures compare favorably to public competitors such as MMX, which expects to report 2017 in the same ball-park despite having more than twice as many gTLDs under management.

CentralNic extends XYZ deal until 2032

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2017, Domain Registries

CentralNic and XYZ.com have extended their registry services pact for the next fifteen years, according to CentralNic.

Announcing its first-half 2017 financial results today, CentralNic said the back-end contract has been extended until 2032.

It’s an unusually long duration for a registry services contract, which are usually much more likely to run about five years.

It even lasts 10 years beyond the expiration of XYZ.com’s own ICANN contracts (though renewal of these is a near-certainty).

The deal covers all .xyz domains, as well as all of the other TLDs in XYZ.com’s portfolio. That currently includes the likes of .rent, .storage and .college.

CentralNic said it “will receive a fixed fee based on the volume of .xyz registrations and subscriptions managed” under the new deal.

In a statement to the markets, CEO Ben Crawford said the relationship “has been updated to normalise the Company’s revenues and profits going forward.”

I believe the previous contract contained a per-domain component, which exposed CentralNic’s revenue to .xyz’s erratic pricing-influenced growth trajectory.

.xyz’s zone file has shrunk by a whopping four million domains since this time last year, causing it to lose the crown of highest-volume new gTLD, due to it offering free or almost free domains that expired without renewing after a year.

However, CentralNic disclosed that the proportion of its own wholesale transaction volumes that were renewals (rather than adds and transfers, I assume) was 18% in the first half, up from 2% in the same 2016 period.

For the six months ended June 30, the company had overall revenue of £10.6 million ($13.9 million), up 18.5% year over year.

Its net loss after tax was £619,000 ($810,000), down from £1.3 million. At the EBITDA level, profit was £1.4 million ($1.8 million) compared to $900,000 in H1 2016.

While I still stubbornly think of CentralNic as primarily a registry play, in fact the company now gets about three quarters of its revenue today from its retail registrar division, which contributed just shy of £8 million to the total in H1.

Instra, the Australian registrar it acquired at the end of 2015, contributed £5.83 million.

The wholesale division, registry back-end services — contributed £1.82 million to revenue and £450,000 to EBITDA in the half.

That’s despite CentralNic being the back-end for six of the top 20 new gTLDs by volume — .website, .space, .tech, .site, .online, and .xyz

If we tally up the number of domains in only those six TLDs, we get to about 4.2 million, per their zone files.

The company’s third reporting unit, Enterprise, contributed £800,000 ($1 million) in the half, of which £360,000 ($471,000) came from premium domain sales.

Krueger removed as chair as M+M finally starts seeing some revenue

Minds + Machines co-founder Fred Krueger has been kicked out of his job as executive chairman of the company.

The news came as the new gTLD registry reported its first full year of results as a proper, revenue-generating company.

The company reported revenue of $1.9 million for 2014, compared to $56,000 in 2013.

Its report includes a “cash revenue” line of $5 million, to show off revenues that it has deferred to future periods due to standard domain industry accounting.

For accounting purposes, M+M was profitable to the tune of $22 million for the year, but almost none of that is from actually selling domains — $33.7 million of profit came from losing new gTLD auctions.

That’s not a sustainable or predictable part of the business — nobody knows exactly when or if ICANN will launch the next round of new gTLDs — but it did help M+M grow its cash pile to $45.7 million.

That pile may grow or shrink depending on how aggressive the company is in its 11 remaining new gTLD contention set auctions.

CEO Antony Van Couvering said that M+M is also eyeing acquisition opportunities as the new gTLD industry enters an early consolidation phase.

He said that M+M’s early priorities include a focus on selling premium domains that have higher than usual annual renewal fees.

At the same time as announcing its results, the company said Krueger, who founded M+M with Van Couvering in 2009 in anticipation of the new gTLD program, has quit.

While he’s technically resigned, he left no doubt in his unusually frank resignation letter that he’s actually been forced out by the M+M board of directors.

He wrote that the decision was “initiated by the board” and that his “decision” to leave “was unexpected – for me at least”.

He added that he was “OK with it, indeed supportive of it” and that he has no intention to sell off his substantial stake in the company.

Krueger will now focus on Mozart, a web site building software maker that he’s been leading for the last couple of years. M+M has a deal to offer Mozart to its registrants.

He’s been replaced, albeit in a non-executive capacity, by Keith Teare, an existing director.

Teare is a tech veteran perhaps best known in the domain industry for launching and running RealNames, which attempted to replicate AOL Keywords for the Internet Explorer browser at the turn of the century.

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