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Antony Van Couvering fired as CEO of Minds + Machines

Van Couvering out, Hall in as CEO.

Minds + MachinesMinds + Machines co-founder Antony Van Couvering has been ousted as CEO of the company by its board. He will be replaced by Toby Hall, who was named Chief Marketing Officer of the company just last month after working as a marketing consultant for the company.

Hall was worked for years with companies publicly traded on the London AIM exchange. Minds + Machines trades as MMX on the AIM.

In a press release issued today, the company wrote:

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.

In a blog post on CircleID, Van Couvering wrote about the firing and dropped hints about what his difference of opinion with the company might have been. I also spoke with Hall this morning. A big difference seems to have been Van Couvering’s goal of going direct to consumers instead of through registrars.

“We are a registry business and we have to work in partnership with our distribution partners, which are our registrars primarily,” said Hall.

“When everyone is whiteboarding business plans, everyone has good visions. But if your vision alienates your distributions partners, that’s not great business. What we’re about now is being a great business.”

Both Van Couvering and co-founder Fred Kreuger wanted to bring new TLDs direct-to-consumers. Krueger even wanted to offer website development tools to end users. Krueger was ousted from the company last year. Starting late last year, Minds + Machines started changing its messaging about going direct to consumers, and at least paid lip service to working more through the registrar channel. You can listen to Van Couvering discussing this on DNW Podcast #54.

“We are recognizing who our customers are,” Hall said. “It’s not the end user. Our customers are the registrars, and we need to understand everything we need to do to best help our partners reach the end consumer.”

Update: Van Couvering submitted this response to this story:

In case anyone is interested, I definitely did and do not propose that any new gTLD alienate its registrars or any other part of its channel. The opposite is the case; I’ve been pushing for stronger engagement with the channel since early last year. A quick poll of major registrars, aftermarket partners, and other players will confirm that. I did say, once, more than a year ago, that if registrars wouldn’t sell names then we would find other ways, but that’s very different from spurning them — more like frustration at our traction at the time. I won’t re-hash the whys and wherefores of my getting fired, but that particular story line needs to be corrected.

Hall also discussed Minds + Machines’ need to be global.

“We have to recognize we’re in a global industry, we’re very keen on being global and that’s not just about having geo domains,” he said. “It’s recognizing that the market for our existing portfolio is global in scope and setting ourselves up to best service them.”

Based on Van Couvering’s blog post, a secondary difference might have been his desire to continue acquiring top level domains as opposed to shorter-term monetization of the existing portfolio.

Van Couvering has been a proponent of new top level domain names for well over a decade and has been personally working on pushing them to reality for just as long. He has been one of the most passionate people I’ve met when it comes to believing in the promise of new top level domain names and grinding out the long delays at ICANN as they came to reality. I recall meeting with him in 2009 as the SedoPro Partner Forum in Key West. At the time, he was already a frustrated new TLD applicant, hopeful that ICANN would soon push new TLDs forward. He had to wait much longer. Depending on his non-compete agreements, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved with a new TLD registry in some way in the future.

This story was updated with additional information after speaking with Toby Hall.

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  1. Colin

    Anthony and Fred are great entrepreneurs. I also noticed Elliot from Tucows also left the board a few months ago. Another great entrepreneur. I don’t really know what the guys at M&M are doing. Will sell my stock sooner than later.

    Colin

      • Tony

        I too was/am a fan of Elliot Noss and saw him as a great addition to the board. He has a history of success and also overseen aggressive buy backs in Tucows.

        I did at want point think he may lead a takeover as Tucows have does have a history of acquisitions and perhaps leaving the board allows potential for this to happen. It certainly looks like a buyout is part of the MMX road map.

  2. Antony Van Couvering

    Colin, thanks for the kind words, coming from someone of your stature they are particularly gratifying.

    In case anyone is interested, I definitely did and do not propose that any new gTLD alienate its registrars or any other part of its channel. The opposite is the case; I’ve been pushing for stronger engagement with the channel since early last year. A quick poll of major registrars, aftermarket partners, and other players will confirm that. I did say, once, more than a year ago, that if registrars wouldn’t sell names then we would find other ways, but that’s very different from spurning them — more like frustration at our traction at the time. I won’t re-hash the whys and wherefores of my getting fired, but that particular story line needs to be corrected.

    Antony

  3. Steve

    The death spiral of the new gtld’s begins. Huge cash to keep these babies going. Without real adoption you have a major cash bleed trying to keep them alive.

  4. Ryan

    Anthony,

    I will not sugar coat this, I am not an old friend, I am not here to stroke your ego, or hold your hand, I will tell you how it really is:

    You totally F’ed up the .London launch, with .co.uk, .uk, you had one chance to get it right, and you FAILED miserably.

    I have never seen such a misaligned launch with registration failures, pricing issues, blah STRIKE 1

    .com is dead, what stupid PR, .com has never been stronger, while your extensions are not performing at all STRIKE 2

    Failing to get aligned with companies to sell your domains, Fun.Fishing for $5400 a year, get serious STRIKE 3

    YOUR OUT!

    Even Thought You Do Not Agree, The Board Made The Right Call, Shareholders Will Benefit Going Forward

    • Juan

      Very well said. Apparently, investors wanted to protect their money. Anthony failed big time. .com is stronger than ever but Antony Van Couvering is out of the game.

  5. Joseph Peterson

    I suppose a less recriminatory way to look at this management shakeup would be to acknowledge that companies go through a series of stages, which might require different people at different times.

    Minds+Machines’s board may be in the mood this season for a “wartime consigliere” … or perhaps the opposite.

  6. Observer with Respect

    Colleagues,

    I am really very surprised by the venom and commentary put forth since the termination of Antony by Minds & Machines. This is a very small industry and even when we are competing with one another in the most aggressive fashion, we typically remain collegiate.

    The employment relationship between Antony and Minds & Machines is between them, and if its going to be “duked out”, then let it be done by them. There is a not single one among us who has not gone through an exceptional trial or tribulation in the work environment. It is part of any given career path.

    To delight in or celebrate the trials of another is simply in bad taste and immature. I have yet to be in a work environment where today’s star doesn’t become tomorrow’s devil or tomorrow’s scapegoat. The difference between someone with “power” and someone who is a leader, is that the leader, celebrates the success of another and QUIETLY learns from their perceived errors, while the person with power thinks they either got vengeance or a little stronger. —- The next time you open your mouth, ask yourself, “Do I sound like Donald Trump?”

    • Andrew Allemann

      @ Observer –

      Keep in mind there are people coming from several angles here:

      1. Investors in M+M. I’ve found some of the stock boosters to jump on all news as good news for the company.
      2. People who hate new TLDs and jump on this to say they’re doing poorly.
      3. People who invested in certain new TLDs and wish they were doing better/worth more.

  7. Matt

    I can understand gTLD investors growing impatient, but casting off one of the smartest leaders in the industry at the moment it starts to become clear you’re in it for the long haul seems a bit cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. I guess sometimes the desire to take action overwhelms consideration for right action.

    I hope Antony is willing and able to get back on the horse; this industry would be a lesser place without him.

    • Rubens Kuhl

      It’s curious that other registry CEOs have been praised to acquire registrars and get more vertically-integrated while AVC is been questioned for it… I don’t see registrars avoiding TLDs from Afilias, Centralnic or Rightside, so whatever beef they have with M+M seems to come from something else.

      That said, it’s curious that you mentioned “to get back on the horse”, since the .horse strategy was not one of AVC’s finest moments at M+M, IMHO…

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