Van Couvering out, Hall in as CEO.
Minds + 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.