Interview: Sandeep Ramchandani on 10 years of Radix and new gTLDs
It’s over a decade since ICANN’s last new gTLD application round, and naturally enough many companies in the industry are celebrating their 10th anniversaries too. Radix has been putting a lot of effort into promoting its own birthday, so a couple months ago I had a long chat with CEO Sandeep Ramchandani about the last decade and what the future holds.
We discussed Radix’s business model, rivalries, performance, blockchain-based alt-root gTLDs, the company’s plans for the next application round, and the TLDs he wishes the company had bought.
Radix is based in Dubai but has most of its 75-person headcount located in Mumbai, India. It also has satellites, mainly focused on registrar relations and marketing, in the US, South America (where it markets .uno) and Asia.
Across 10 gTLDs, it has amassed over 5.6 million registrations, according to its web site. If you exclude pre-2012 TLD .info, that’s more than Identity Digital, which has more than 20 times as many TLDs in its stable.
“Donuts went for the long tail, category-specific names,” Ramchandani said. “Our idea was to launch TLDs that had mass-market potential.”
More than half of the regs to date have been concentrated in two TLDs — .online and .site, each of which measure their volumes in seven figures. The TLD .store is approaching a million names also.
More than half of the company’s sales are coming from the US, with 20% to 30% from Europe. It’s pretty much the same mix across premium sales and basic regs, he said.
Radix has been focusing most of its marketing effort on .store, .tech and .online, but Ramchandani says he thinks .site, currently at around 1.2 million domains and the company’s second-biggest seller, has a lot of untapped potential.
“We have about six million domains right now, but I don’t think that’s the best metric, as you can easily spike volumes by selling cheap,” Ramchandani said.
“The real metric is domains that are renewing every year,” he said. “Our first year registration price is still fairly low, but we optimize it to maximize our renewals.”
There’s also the matter of live web sites, of course. Radix estimates there are over 725,000 live sites on its domains, according to its web site.
On premium renewals
If you’re a domain investor, imagine you have a portfolio of tens of thousands of domains that you price at between $100 and $10,000, and you get to sell them not once, but every single year.
That’s Radix’s “high-high” business model, where domains in premium tiers are priced for users and renew at premium prices.
Ramchandani says that between 10% and 15% of Radix’s revenue comes from premiums, but it’s growing faster than regular-price regs. So far, it’s sold about 5% to 6% of its premium inventory. Many thousands of domains remain.
But the problem with premiums is of course whether or not they will renew at all, particularly if they’ve been sold to a domain investor who failed to secure the quick flip.
Ramchandani said premium renewals have been running at about 55% for the first renew, 75% for the second and above 90% for the third. The second and third-time figures are very respectable indeed for any TLD.
Premiums are typically held by end-user registrants rather than investors, he said. Probably lower the one in 10 premiums are owned by domainers, he guessed.
“We don’t have a lot of domainer interest, because the holding cost is too high,” he said. “A lot of the best web sites we see on our TLDs are on premiums.”
On industry consolidation
One of Ramchandani’s regrets over that last decade is that Radix didn’t manage to pick up some of the gTLDs that changed hands as the industry began to consolidate.
“We could have gone a bit harder to acquire some of the larger TLDs that did sell over the last few years,” he said. He would have to loved to have gobbled up .club or .design, he said, but these were bought by deeper-pocketed GoDaddy.
He said Radix sees itself as a buyer rather than a seller “for sure”, but the problem is: “We are interested in buying, but there aren’t so many out there that are really good TLDs.”
The company is not interested in the business model of buying up a dormant dot-brand and repurposing it to mean something other than its original meaning, which other registries have tried.
Ironically, that was where Radix started out, selling Palau’s .pw ccTLD as a domain for the “professional web”, which was a hard sell.
On the next round and alt-root TLDs
The long-touted next application round has been in policy development hell at ICANN for a decade, and Ramchandani agrees that “it’s a couple years away at this point and could very well be longer than that”.
“We will participate,” he confirms, adding “we’ll have to look at which TLDs we think are worth going for.”
“I think the best ones are already on the market, but there may be a few — based on recent trends — that make really good TLDs that qualify to have the scale and global impact that we look for,” he says.
“But honestly if we end up with none I think we still think have a very, very exciting business opportunity ahead of us for the next 10 years at least with the TLDs we already have, so it’s not something we’re betting the business on,” he says.
But how big will the next round be? There were 1,930 applications in the 2012 round, and plenty of anecdotal evidence today about pent-up demand, particularly from brands. That said, many say the first round wasn’t as successful as some had anticipated, which could lower turnout.
“A lot depends on the barrier to entry,” Ramchandani says. “Last time there was an investment of $185,000 for an application so there was a decent barrier to entry, but there are talks about potentially reducing that spectacularly. If that happens, I think the floodgates will open.”
(I should note that our conversation took place before ICANN announced that applications fees will likely be closer to $250,000 in the next round.)
“Last time this process ran there was less confidence that there was a sustainable business around new gTLDS, but given how some of the domainers in that round have performed — there are a bunch of TLDs that have done substantially better than everyone’s expectations — there might a lot more coming in to fight for those in contention with us in the next round,” he said.
He’s expecting to see “really high numbers” in dollar terms when strings come up for auction, but “a dozen, max, that will be really highly contested”.
One factor that could push down applications are blockchain-based alt-roots, where the likes of Unstoppable Domains throwing its legal weight around to prevent versions its TLDs appearing in other roots.
That said, Ramchandani would not rule out applying for TLDs that exist in alt-roots.
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