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…
Minds + Machines is still pulling in most of its cash from one-time new gTLD auction defeats, according to its latest trading update.
The company yesterday reported billings for 2015 of $7.92 million, up from $5.03 million in 2013.
But the company brought in $9.15 million by pulling out of private new gTLD auctions, where the winning bid is shared among the losers. That’s down from $37.5 million in 2014.
“Billings” is the money make at the point of sale, rather than audited revenue which is recognized over the life of the registration. Revenue numbers will come in April.
For the fourth quarter, sales of both premium and standard-fee names were up.
Premium names were up 215% at $1.52 million, which standard name billings were up 184% at $2.66 million.
The company said its registry business ended the year with 278,523 names under management, a 158% increase on year-ago numbers.
M+M met or beat its “key performance indicator” targets in terms of average revenue per name (both standard and premium) and sales growth.
However, the Chinese market boom caused it to miss its market share KPI.
It blamed missing the low end of its 3% to 5% new gTLD market share target by half a percentage point on the rapid growth of China.
The money being pumped into domain names from China in the second half of last year tends to favor the budget end of the new gTLD market, where names can be picked up for cents, whereas M+M’s TLD mix is skewed a little higher.
M+M said last week that it plans to open an office in China soon.
The Boston Globe newspaper decided to offload the gTLD after its new owners decided it was a “distraction”.
That’s according to a report yesterday in the newspaper itself.
Last week, it was announced that Minds + Machines, which already runs a handful of geo-gTLDs, is acquiring the .boston contract for an undisclosed sum.
Today, the Globe reports that its owners thought .boston would be “a distraction from the Globe’s central business of providing information through its print and online outlets”.
“The .boston domain business was inherited by the current management team and is not perceived as core to the mission of supporting the highest quality journalism in the region,” it quotes the Globe’s VP of marketing as saying.
The newspaper was acquired by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in 2013, a year after the .boston application was filed, according to the report.
The acquisition, which sees M+M buy 99% the Globe subsidiary in control of the gTLD registry agreement, is subject to ICANN approving the contract reassignment.
Minds + Machines has added .boston to its stable of geo-gTLDs, buying the contract from the publisher of the Boston Globe newspaper.
The company said today that it has acquired 99% of Boston TLD Management, a new company into which the Globe plans to sign over its .boston ICANN contract.
The deal is contingent on ICANN approving the contract reassignment.
The ink is still moist on the .boston Registry Agreement, which was signed December 10.
The gTLD is officially in pre-delegation testing right now.
But the acquisition also means M+M will take over back-end duties for .boston. Originally, the Globe had intended to use OpenRegistry.
The gTLD was officially a “geographic” string under ICANN rules, and needed support from the local government in Boston.
.boston would become M+M’s fifth geographic gTLD — sixth if you include .london.
The company said it plans to launch the TLD later this year.