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Schilling agrees with activist Rightside investor

Uniregistry boss Frank Schilling agrees to a large extent with the fellow Rightside investor who was revealed today to be threatening a boardroom coup at Rightside.

Schilling, who is believed to have paid $8.4 million for 6.1% of Rightside, told DI tonight that he believes Rightside’s management has not done a good job over the last few years.

He said he agrees with 7.32% shareholder J Carlo Cannell, who says that Rightside should get rid of some of its weaker new gTLDs.

Cannell, of Cannell Capital, is demanding Rightside lay off one in five of its staff, dump its weakest new gTLDs, and refocus the company on its eNom registrar business.

He’s threatening to launch a proxy fight at the company in order to replace the Rightside board of directors with his own slate if management does not do what he wants.

Cannell’s letter called out .democrat, .dance, .army, .navy, and .airforce as “irrelevant” or “garbage” gTLDs in Rightside’s portfolio that should be sold or simply “abandoned” in order to focus on its better gTLDs, such as .news, and its cash-generating registrar business.

Schilling told DI tonight that he agrees with Cannell, at least partly.

He said that if Cannell’s proposal for the company is good for shareholders and the company he would support it.

It may sound counter-intuitive for Schilling, one of the most ardent proponents of new gTLDs, to support somebody encouraging Rightside to invest less in marketing its new gTLD portfolio.

After all, Uniregistry has a couple dozen new gTLDs — including .sexy, .christmas, .pics and .link — in its stable

But Schilling has form when it comes to advocating portfolio rationalization.

Today he pointed to comments he made on a DI article in December

“Operators may make the decision to give away or sunset unprofitable strings,” he said in those comments. “I don’t view that as such a bad thing.”

Schilling said that weaker strings should be “bootstrapped” rather than aggressively invested in.

One of Cannell’s beefs with Rightside is that the company is focusing too much on new gTLDs. He’s not opposed to new gTLDs in general — in fact, he likes them — but he wants Rightside to put money only into those gTLDs he considers worthwhile.

Cannell also wants Name.com rebranded to eNom and moved to Rightside’s Seattle headquarters, for two of its directors to be replaced and for 20% of Rightside’s “weakest” staff to be laid off.

I asked Schilling whether he agreed with Cannell that that 20% of Rightside’s staff should be let go.

He said: “I do not think it is healthy to name arbitrary numbers but I do think some wrong people are in the wrong seats.”

Schilling also said that he believes Rightside has been “subservient” to Donuts, and has given Donuts too much for too little.

Donuts is the portfolio gTLD registry play that uses Rightside as its back-end registry provider.

Donuts has a much better portfolio, in my irrelevant opinion.

Another notable investor in Rightside is XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari and his COO Michael Ambrose, who collectively invested roughly $8.5 million in Rightside at around the same time as Schilling and Cannell bought their stakes.

Like Schilling, they’re an obviously pro-new-gTLD play. I’ve asked Negari for his opinion on Cannell’s letter and will update should I ever receive a response.

Activist investor slams Rightside over “garbage” new gTLDs, looking for blood

A hedge fund manager known for causing trouble at the companies he invests in has savaged Rightside, saying its focus on new gTLDs at the expense of its registrar business is ruining the company.

J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital is looking for some serious bloodletting.

He wants Rightside to cut 20% of its staff, close offices, unify its products under the eNom brand and replace two of its directors.

He’s threatening to wage a proxy war to replace the Rightside board if he doesn’t get what he wants.

He wrote a scathing letter to Rightside chair Dave Panos last month, which was published in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing today.

NAME’s registrar has become like a crazy aunt kept in the basement, one that you refuse to adequately clothe or feed, but who steadfastly spins straw into gold used to subsidize a stable of largely substandard new GTLDs such as .democrat, .dance, .army, .navy, and .airforce. Most of these new GTLDs are irrelevant and will never be sold in material volumes. NAME is holding back the growth potential of your registrar by pushing garbage extensions to a user base that quietly knows better.

NAME is Rightside’s Nasdaq ticker symbol.

Cannell revealed he owned a 7% share of Rightside last month — paying reportedly just shy of $11 million for 1,389,953 shares.

He wants Rightside to sell off “or even abandon” some of its weaker gTLDs, which “should not consume all the resources of our Company at the expense of the assets that are currently profitable”, while keeping “gems” such as .news.

His letter doesn’t pull any punches.

Cannell is perhaps best known for his widely publicized tussle with Jim Cramer, TV show host and co-founder of financial news site TheStreet.

Registrars object to “unreasonable” .bank demands

Registrars are upset with fTLD Registry Services for trying to impose new rules on selling .bank domains that they say are “unreasonable”.

The Registrar Stakeholder Group formally relayed its concerns about a proposed revision of the .bank Registry-Registrar Agreement to ICANN at the weekend.

A key sticking point is fTLD’s demand that each registrar selling .bank domains have a dedicated .bank-branded web page.

Some registrars are not happy about this, saying it will “require extensive changes to the normal operation of the registrar.”

“Registrars should not be required to establish or maintain a “branded webpage” for any extension in order to offer said extension to its clients,” they told ICANN.

i gather that registrars without a full retail presence, such as corporate registrars that sell mainly offline, have a problem with this.

There’s also a slippery slope argument — if every gTLD required a branded web page, registrars would have hundreds of new storefronts to develop and maintain.

fTLD also wants registrars to more closely align their sales practices with its own, by submitting all registration requests from a single client in a single day via a bulk registration form, rather than live, or pay an extra $125 per-name fee.

This is to cut down on duplicate verification work at the registry, but registrars say it would put a “severe operational strain” on them.

There’s also a worry about a proposed change that would make registrars police the .bank namespace.

The new RRA says: “Registrar shall not enable, contribute to or willing aid any third party in violating Registry Operator’s standards, policies, procedures, or practices, and shall notify Registry Operator immediately upon becoming aware of any such violation.”

But registrars say this “will create a high liability risk for registrars” due to the possibility of accidentally overlooking abuse reports they receive.

The registrars’ complaints have been submitted to ICANN, which will have to decide whether fTLD is allowed to impose its new RRA or not.

The RrSG’s submission is not unanimously backed, however. One niche-specializing registrar, EnCirca, expressed strong support for the changes.

In a letter also sent to ICANN, it said that none of the proposed changes are “burdensome”, writing:

EnCirca fully supports the .BANK Registry’s efforts to ensure potential registrants are fully informed by Registrars of their obligations and limitations for .BANK.  This helps avoid confusion and mis‐use by registrants, which can cause a loss of trust in the Registry’s stated mission and commitments to the banking community.

fTLD says the proposed changes would bring the .bank RRA in line with the RRA for .insurance, which it also operates.

The .insurance contract has already been signed by several registrars, it told ICANN.

First new gTLD deleted from the net

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2016, Domain Registries

.doosan today became the first new gTLD to be removed from the domain name system.

It’s no longer showing up in the DNS root zone file, and IANA’s record lists it as “retired”.

.doosan was a dot-brand managed by Korean conglomerate Doosan Group. The company never did anything with it before deciding to kill the TLD off last September.

A month ago, ICANN used the pending deletion to test its Emergency Back-End Registry Operator safety net.

If memory serves, it’s the only gTLD to be ever be removed from the root zone, excluding test internationalized TLDs previously operated by ICANN.

ccTLDs are removed somewhat regularly, when international borders are redrawn.

Van Couvering ousted from M+M, replaced by PR guy with channel focus

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2016, Domain Registries

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…

It sucked.