CIRA, the Canadian ccTLD manager, has become the first new registry back-end provider to enter the gTLD market since the 2012 application round closed.
The company today announced that it has signed Dot Kiwi, operator of .kiwi, as its first client.
.kiwi will become the first non-.ca TLD that CIRA runs the back-end for, according to VP of product development Dave Chiswell.
CIRA has already completed pre-delegation testing and technical evaluation with ICANN, he told DI today.
It is believed to be the first back-end provider not attached to any 2012-round application to go through the PDT process.
That would make CIRA essentially the first company to officially enter the gTLD back-end market since 2012, in other words.
The .kiwi contract was up for grabs due to the fact that Minds + Machines, its original supplier, decided to get out of the back-end business earlier this year.
All of M+M’s own stable of gTLDs are being moved to Nominet right now, but customers such as Dot Kiwi were not obliged to follow.
Chiswell said that CIRA’s system, which is called Fury, has some patent-pending “tagging” technology that cannot be found at rival providers.
He said that registry operator clients get a GUI through which they can manage pricing tiers and promotions based on criteria such as substrings and registration dates without having to fill out a ticket and get CIRA staff involved, which he said is a unique selling point.
CIRA’s goals now are to try to sign up more TLDs (cc’s or g’s) to Fury, and to attempt to get Canadian brands and cities to apply for gTLDs in the next round, whenever that may be.
The company also intends to migrate .ca over to Fury from its legacy infrastructure at some point, he said.
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.
The Global Domain Industry Conference, held in China over the weekend, has led to a huge boost in .vip domain sales.
Registry Minds + Machines told the markets this morning that the recently launched gTLD hit 404,892 as of 1600 UTC yesterday, up 49% from Friday.
CEO Toby Hall confirmed to DI that China is very much behind the spike, and that the conference helped raise the profile of .vip.
Billings and orders have now hit $5.5 million, up from $3.2 million on May 22, M+M said. That number includes sunrise and premium sales.
At GDS, M+M sold eight .vip domains auction for a total of $232,000 before auction commissions, which very likely inspired the spike in base-fee registrations.
Photos of GDS published on social media yesterday show a packed auditorium, with hundreds of attendees.
— 西部数码 (@westdotcn) June 6, 2016
While M+M makes much of the fact that it has not used a “freenium” strategy for .vip — which it says may lead to better renewal rates than competitors — retail prices are still pretty damn cheap.
At West.cn, its leading Chinese registrar, a .vip can be had today for about $3. It’s closer to $10 at GoDaddy.
Today’s batch of zone files have not yet been published by ICANN for verification, but yesterday there were 245,872 names in .vip.
Minds + Machines is to get out of the registrar and back-end registry services markets in separate deals with Nominet and Uniregistry.
The cost-saving shake-up will lead to about 10 job losses, or about 25% to 30% of its current headcount, CEO Toby Hall told DI this morning.
Under the Nominet deal, M+M will outsource the back-end registry functions for 28 new gTLDs, currently managed in-house, to the .uk ccTLD manager.
The deal covers all the gTLDs for which M+M is the contracted party (such as .law, .cooking and .fashion), as well as the four it runs in partnership (eg .london) and the five where it currently acts as back-end for a third party registry (eg .broadway).
The company also plans to dump its “unprofitable” registrar entirely, migrating its existing customers to Uniregistry’s Uniregistrar business.
About 49,000 domains will be affected by this move, Hall said.
Uniregistry will pay M+M a commission over the lifetime of the accounts.
Focusing on the registry business was the plan from the moment Hall took over M+M, following a shareholder coup that kicked out founding CEO Antony Van Couvering in January.
Hall told DI:
It [previously] had a very ambitious plan. It wanted to be vertically integrated, but the considered view is there are people out there who are far better able to run parts of the exercise than ourselves, both on the RSP piece and likewise the registrar piece. The strategy from day one was to rapidly evolve into becoming a business-to-business marketing-led registry business and radically overhauling our cost structure at the same time.
The company is currently in a financial quiet period and will not yet disclose the amount of savings it expects to reap, Hall said. He added:
Reducing cost isn’t a strategy for growth, and as a business that will be where we will be judged. Growing our portfolio, growing our domains under management, growing our revenue within those domains. That’s what the business has to be focused on. We see within the industry that the highest value is in the [TLD] ownership part.
The job losses are expected to be largely on the technical side of the house.
The RSP outsourcing means that Nominet significantly boosts its stable of managed TLDs. While it’s in the top five back-ends in terms of DUM (due to the 11 million in .uk) its portfolio of clients there is relatively small, largely limited to a handful of dot-brands.
Nominet CEO Russell Haworth said in a statement:
This partnership takes us into the top tier of registry operators globally by volume of TLDs and compliments the brands we currently manage, such as .BBC, .Bentley and .Comcast. It also underlines our long-term strategy to provide a more diversified range of services to gTLDs and registrars.”
With the Uniregistry registrar deal, Hall said that competing with its own channel “was just not right for us”.
It might be worth noting that Uniregistry is actually a vertically integrated triple-play along the lines of M+M, also, managing its own back-end, registry and registrar businesses.
Hall said that the M+M registrar had sold mainly to domain investors with little interest in buying value-added services such as email and hosting, which is often where much of the profit lies.
Both deals are subject to ICANN approvals, and client approval in case of the back-end transition, will be phased in over many months, and are expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
UPDATE: M+M said later this morning that it is changing its official company domain to mmx.co from mindsandmachines.com.
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…