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Web.com acquires dozens of registrars from Rightside

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2016, Domain Services

Web.com has acquired dozens of registrars from rival/partner Rightside, seemingly to boost the success rate of its SnapNames domain drop-catching business.

I’ve established that at least 44 registrars once managed by Rightside/eNom have moved to the Web.com stable in recent weeks, and that might not even be the half of it.

All of the registrars in question are shell companies used exclusively to register pre-ordered names as they are deleted by registries, usually Verisign.

The more registrars you have, the more EPP connections you have to the Verisign registry and the better your chance at catching a domain.

Web.com runs SnapNames, and is in a 50-50 partnership with Rightside on rival drop-catcher NameJet.

The two compete primarily with NameBright’s DropCatch.com, which obtained hundreds of fresh ICANN accreditations last year, bringing its total pool to over 750.

Web.com has fewer than 400 accreditations right now. Rightside has even fewer.

It’s usually quicker to buy a registrar than to obtain a new accreditation from ICANN.

If Web.com finds itself in need of more accreditations in order to compete, and Rightside is happy to let them go, it could be possible to infer that SnapNames is doing rather better in terms of customer acquisition than NameJet.

But the two services recently announced a partnership under which names grabbed by either network would be placed in an auction in which customers of either site could participate.

This would have the effect of increasing the number of caught names going to auction due to there being multiple bidders, and thus the eventual sales prices.

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”.

Rightside rejects Negari’s $5m new gTLD offer

Rightside has turned down Daniel Negari’s $5 million offer to acquire four of its new gTLDs, according to Negari.

The XYZ.com CEO told DI via email tonight:

I was looking forward to operating .Army, .Dance, .Dentist, and .Vet under the XYZ umbrella. I’m disappointed that Rightside didn’t entertain my offer, especially since I believe $5MM was more than fair. I believe these and other new TLDs are worth more to me than any other registry operator due to my growing enterprise. However, it’s understandable for Rightside to want to monetize on these assets.

Rightside has told him it had reviewed the offer and was not interested, he said.

The offer was made in a March 30 open letter to the company and Securities and Exchange Commission filing and expired last night, April 7.

There was some speculation about whether it was a genuine offer, just an attempt to boost Rightside’s share price, or both.

Negari and his COO, Mike Ambrose, own about 5% of Rightside between them, following an $8.5 million investment.

Rightside’s ability to grow revenue from its new gTLD portfolio has become the focus of attention due to the intervention of activist investor J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital, who reckons the company is paying too much attention to rubbish TLDs at the expense of its profitable registrar businesses.

Negari thinks he would be able to grow .army, .dance, .dentist, and .vet.

The largest of those gTLDs is .vet, with about 5,200 names in its zone file. It grew by 794 names in the last 90 days.

The other three are below 3,000 names, and are either shrinking or adding fewer than 10 names per day.

XYZ.com’s second-tier portfolio strings, such as .college, .rent and .theatre, are faring a little better, at least in terms of growth. But they are a little younger, and none are over 10,000 names.

Rightside offers $10 renewals on premium names

Rightside is to run a promotion that will discount renewals on premium names down to .com prices.

From May 16 to June 30, if you buy any of the domains that Rightside has marked as premium — except the super-premium “Platinum” names — the wholesale renewal fee will be just $10.

Registrars will mark this up according to their own pricing models.

Normally, the price you pay at the checkout is the price you pay every year after that.

The deal is overtly targeted at domainers.

Rightside said: “At these reduced prices, you’ll have more time to find the right buyer for any domains you register, and incur lower fees to transfer to them once you do. If you’re looking to add high-quality domains to your portfolio, this will be the time to do it.”

The reduced renewals only apply to names registered during the six-week window, but they do pass on to subsequent registrants if the domain is sold.

Rightside is calling it a “first-of-its-kind” promo, but in reality it’s just a temporary regression to the once-standard industry model.

Remember, prior to the 2012-round gTLDs, only exceptions like .tv charged premium rates for renewals.

Premium renewals are now very commonplace, but are by no means the rule, in the new gTLD industry.

For Rightside, the offer means the company may experience a brief cash windfall as domainers, who generally hate premium renewals, take a chance on the registry’s names.

There’s also a potential marketing benefit to be gained from having more domainers on board as unpaid salespeople.

But it does rather suggest the premiums are not flying off the shelves at the rate Rightside wants.

The company recently disclosed that in the first few months of the year it made revenue of $674,610 selling 1,820 premium names, leading to an average price of $372. Twelve five-figure names had been sold.

Over its portfolio of 39 gTLDs, Rightside has flagged over 964,000 as premium, or about 25,000 per TLD.

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.