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MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.

MMX revenue slips despite domain growth

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Registries

MMX today posted a smaller loss for the first half of the year, despite managing to grow domains under management and hit some important financial milestones.

The new gTLD registry formerly known as Mind + Machines, which announced a few months ago that it’s looking to be acquired, reported an H1 loss of $526,000 compared to a loss of $1.9 million a year earlier.

Revenue and billings were both down due to the lack of any big launches in the period; H1 2016 had benefited from the strong launch of .vip in China.

Revenue, which is recognized over the duration of the domain registrations, was $5.3 million compared to $7.4 million in 2016. Billings, a measure of cash sales, were $5.6 million compared to $8.1 million.

Despite these dips, MMX is happy enough that the “quality” of its revenue is getting better.

The company said that revenue from domain renewals more than doubled to $2.4 million and represented 45% of revenue. A year ago, it was 15%.

As another measure of the health of its business, it also said that its renewal billings was greater than its operating expenditure for the first time, after cost-cutting.

Domains under management went into seven figures for the first time, to 1.1 million. That was up from 821,000 at the start of the year.

It processed 318,000 new registrations in the six months, compared to 452,000 a year earlier (when .vip’s launch provided a boost).

MMX sells 7,000 domains for $3.4 million

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry MMX said it has sold $3.4 million in “premium” .vip domains names to Chinese domainers in the last few months.

In what is believed to be a small number of deals to a limited number of investors, “over 7,000” domains changed hands since they became available in late June.

MMX said that $2.8 million of the deals closed in the last 10 days.

While we don’t have the exact number of domains, it looks to work out in the ball-park of $485 per domain.

As $3.4 million is a materially significant number — the company’s entire revenue for 2016 was $15.6 million — it was disclosed to the financial markets this morning.

.vip has been MMX’s cash cow, so far amassing a zone file with more than 600,000 domains names in it.

For some reason it has been hugely popular in China — the vast majority of its registrations have been through Chinese registrars and 59% of its overall revenue was from China in 2016.

In April, the company sold 200,000 .vip names to a single Chinese investor for $1.3 million.

MMX has also said that renewal rates for .vip, which only launched last year, have been over 75%.

MMX: three gTLDs approved for sale in Beijing

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registries

Three foreign new gTLDs have been approved for sale and resolution in Chinese capital Beijing, according to MMX.

The portfolio registry said today that its .vip is among the first to receive approval from the Beijing Communications Administration, one of China’s many regional authorities.

According to MMX, while many gTLDs have managed to pass through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s stringent vetting process, the Beijing local authority has so far been slow to follow the national regulator’s lead.

But BCA approved .vip, along with GMO’s .shop and Donuts’ .ltd on August 16, the registry said in a market update.

This gives .vip national coverage in China, adding Beijing’s 22 million inhabitants.

MMX added that 188,764 different .vip sites, of the over 600,000 in its zone file, are currently indexed by Chinese search engine Baidu.

It also said that it plans to start selling Chinese-script internationalized domain names in .vip (in IDN.ascii format) in November.

MMX says .vip renewals running at 75%

MMX has revealed that its renewal rate for first-month .vip registrations in China were over 75%.

The portfolio gTLD registry, also known as Minds + Machines, said that 317,000 domains that were registered during .vip’s first month of availability have now been renewed.

The news follows a June announcement that the renewal rate would be over 70%.

The large majority of .vip names registered are registered via Chinese registrars, where prices can be around the $3 to $4 mark.

MMX CEO Toby Hall said in a statement that the company now plans to release some of its reserved “premium” .vip names.

He added that the company is confident that its recurring revenue from renewals will soon be high enough to cover its fixed overhead costs, one of its key performance benchmarks.

MMX says .vip renewals to be at 70%+

MMX believes the biggest money-spinner in its new gTLD portfolio, .vip, will see first-year renewals in excess of 70%.

The company said this morning that it is projecting renewals towards the top end of industry norms based on manual renewals to date.

.vip was a bit of a hit in China, topping a quarter-million domains in its first month of general availability a year ago. It peaked at around 750,000 domains a month ago.

MMX said in a statement:

To date, actual deletions for the first 31 days of registrations for .vip from China are currently less than 1%, with manually confirmed renewals for the same period already at over 60%, with the remainder being placed on auto-renew by registrars on behalf of their customers.

Whilst not all of those placed on auto-renew will be renewed, MMX expects the overall renewal rate for the first month of .vip registrations, which will be published in late July, to place .vip in-line with the best-in-class renewal rates of leading western facing top-level domains (i.e. c. 70% and above).

While MMX has made much of the fact that it has not sold .vip names for almost nothing, unlike some competitors, they’re still pretty cheap in China.

.vip names sell for the CNY equivalent of $3 to $4 at the major Chinese registrars. GoDaddy prices them at $20.

CEO Toby Hall said that there had been some volume-based discounts available to registrars, but “nothing which took the pricing below our general availability pricing”.

Its actual renewal rate will become clear at the end of July, MMX said.

MMX billings double even as some volumes slide

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2017, Domain Registries

MMX has reported a 100% increase in billings for 2016, despite its number of domains under management dropping in some TLDs.

The company, until recently known as Minds + Machines, said billing were $15.8 million in the year to December 31, compared to $7.9 million for in 2015.

Billings is an up-front measure of sales growth that does not take into account the way domain revenue is recognized over the life of the registration.

The company said, in a trading update to the London markets today, that billings and domains under management do not necessarily correlate. The former can be up even if the latter is down:

For example, in 2016 .work generated $392,000 off 81,000 registrations compared to $206,000 off 102,000 registrations in 2015 reflecting the use of a promotional initiative to drive registrations that year.

MMX also disclosed that China now accounts for more than half of its billings: 59%, compared to 24% for the US and 17% for Europe.

That’s largely based on its launch of .vip, which launched last May and has half a million names mainly because of the resonance of the string in China.

The company said it intends to imitate its focus on .vip in 2016 by only launching two TLDs — .boston and one other — in 2017.

MMX’s formal, audited 2016 financial results will be published in April.

.xyz, .club and .vip get the nod to sell in China

Kevin Murphy, December 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The Chinese government has granted licenses to operate in the country to its first tranche of new gTLDs — .vip, .club and .xyz.

The agreements mean that Chinese registrars will be able to give their Chinese customers the ability to actually use their domains for web sites.

It also means the companies will be obliged to censor domains the government does not like, but only those domains registered via Chinese registrars.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the licenses, given to the Chinese subsidiaries of Minds + Machines, .CLUB Domains and XYZ.com respectively, today.

M+M CEO Toby Hall told DI that it’s “a great moment of support for Chinese registrars”, giving them a “very clear signal about which TLDs they can focus on”.

XYZ.com said in a blog post that some of its Chinese registrars (its biggest channel) are planning on offering discounts to celebrate the approval.

It’s always been possible for Chinese people to register new gTLD domains via Chinese registrars — it’s estimated that 42% of the 27 million new gTLD domains in existence today are Chinese-owned.

However, Chinese citizens need a government license if they want to launch a web site, and the government only issues licenses for domains in approved TLDs.

In addition to .cn and China-based gTLDs, which were the first to be given the nod, Verisign was approved earlier this year for .com.

Hall said that while .vip has been popular with Chinese domainers, the MIIT license means it can start to tap the small business market there too.

Obtaining the license means that the three registries, which are all based in the US or Europe, will have to comply with Chinese regulations when it comes to Chinese customers.

That basically means the Chinese government gets to censor pretty much anything it doesn’t like, up to and including sites that “spread rumors”.

Hall said that there’s no chance of this censorship bleeding out to affect non-Chinese customers.

M+M, along with XYZ and .CLUB, are using Chinese registry gateway ZDNS to act as a proxy between their own back-ends (Nominet for .vip, Neustar for .club and CentralNic for .xyz) and Chinese registrars.

“All of our Chinese web sites go through ZDNS, so only web sites going through ZDNS would be affected,” Hall said, referring to the censorship rules.

Hall added that he was “not aware” of there being a blocklist of politically sensitive strings that Chinese customers are not allowed to register.

Chinese investor pumps $7 million into M+M as .vip pushes firm into profit

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2016, Domain Registries

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.

China conference leads to 49% .vip spike

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.

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.

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