It's a brave new world in the domain name marketplace, with a lot of changes due to the sudden proliferation of new, top level domains (gTLDs). To get some insight into how those names are changing--we caught up with Steve Banfield, SVP and GM of Registrar Services over at Rightside (www.rightside.co) -- which is in the midst of spinning out from Santa Monica-based Demand Media. Steve gave us some insight into that split, and how Rightside is focusing on the new world of gTLDs. (Editor's note: we're cross running this on our Pacific Northwest site, Northwest Innovation, since part of Rightside's operations are in Seattle.)
Talk about what's going on at Rightside, and what the business looks like now?
Steve Banfield: What will become Rightside has been part of Demand Media. We're right in the middle of that transition. It has been part of Demand Media since Demand originally bought the eNom business several years ago. They've always had two businesses--the content business, which is what people are familiar with, with eHow, Livestrong, and other brands--and then they had the domain services business. That business includes our main registrar platform, which supports 20,000 resellers around the world, and also includes such acquisition as we've done such as name.com, domain auctions with Namejet, and a bunch of other activities.
The decision was made over a year ago now, to break those two pieces into two separate companies. The content business will remain as Demand Media, and the separate domain services pieces will be named Rightside. What's also new, is we decided as a part of Rightside to create a new organization and business within domain, so we will have both the registrar and auction aftermarket, but that we'll also be offering up a registry business with the new TLDs and domain names which are being released through the ICANN process. Rightside has been an applicant, and is on track to have around 30 domain names right now which will be our TLDs which we'll be the registry for. We're also partnering with companies like Donuts to provide a platform to host their registry. We are now the biggest and completely integrated, vertical registrar and aftermarket domain company in the domain space.
Why the decision to split the businesses?
Steve Banfield: I am probably the worst person to talk about that, as I joined long after that decision was made. I joined what is now Rightside only last summer, so I can only tell you what I've been told after the fact. The thinking was that by splitting up the businesses, the inherent value of each of them would be more evident. That's especially true when you think about the investment we are putting into the domain side. Every application we have made for a new domain has been something like $200,000 or $185,000 to ICANN. That's just an example of the kind of investment which is needed to build out those new businesses. If you think about it, if you can spin that out to its own business, it makes those kinds of investments clearer. That's something we put into motion over a year ago, and we're now going through the long process of filings with the SEC and all of the legal and financial stuf fyou have to go through. We expect an actual separation this summer sometime, after which we'll be traded as separate, independent companies.
Do you have some key goals for the new company?
Steve Banfield: Our goal, is we want to be the biggest and best way for people to find and present their identity online. We're very focused on our new TLD program. Across the board, the whole company is very focused on the overall success of that program, to really drive the awareness and education in the market on those new TLDs, make it easier for people to get them, and not just letting them buy those TLDs, but helping them turn them into sites, blogs, and applications. I am specifically running the registrar business, and my focus is on enabling and building out our resellers. We have lots of companies like Namechief, Dreamhost, and Google, as well as lots of others, who use our APIs under the cover to provide domain names to their customers. We're now supporting lots of the new TLDs. There are about 140 new TLDs released to date, and we're supporting the vast majority of those, something like 130 to 135 of them.
With all those new releases, there are lots of new opportunities--you can preregister names, some people are holding back certain names as premium names, and there's a lot of complexity in price points. We're simplifying that process for people using our API, so that they can just plug it into their applications and make it work. Our focus is really making the new domain name process easy, both from the wholesale perspective and our APIs, as well as for all customers. It's interesting, because up until about a year ago, when you would go to any domain registrar and type in a string, you'd see all of the options in .com, .net, .org. biz, and all of those alternative choices. However, now, from a merchandising perspective, there might be 800 or more different potential domain name options for you. That's actually where we're spending a lot of time, focusing on innovation because of those issues. It's a very different experience today from a year ago.
Do you think there's some challenge to the domain industry today due to mobile?
Steve Banfield: That's a great question, and something I've been thinking about a lot. I don't know if it changes in too many ways. The idea is that a domain is an extension of your brand, and it's an extension of your name. That brand is important, and all of the successful apps have brands, and an identity. You can't just be one of the 300 flash light apps in the App Store. You have to have a unique identity, which is different and which you can be chosen in the crowd. The app store is crowded, and the web is also crowded too. I think what yuo're going to see, is that people will leverage those new domain names to express the brand of their service both through their native app or through the web. I don't think the HTML browser is going to change. I think, as you start seeing more HTML5 apps, and people realize that you're able to a lot more with a web app, compared with all of the challenges of what it means to go through an app store, to get your app approved. The fastest time to market is always putting it on the web. That gets you to every device, anywhere, whether it's a smart device, a tablet, a laptop, and every smartphone. You may decide the right solution may be a native app, but that will not eliminate the need for HTMl an dthe web, and it will not eliminate the value of a domain name and finding the right brand for your product. No matter what it is, if it's a dot com or do something else, whether that's .review, .actor, or whatever, I think people will continue to use search and will continue to use the web to find things. Because of that, as I think about how people are using search, I think it's going to be more like English, with people using things like ballet.dance, or hollywood.actor, and other things that can tie into voice interfaces on mobile and make them really compelling, and I think it will add another element we haven't seen yet.