Being in an extremely competitive market like the domain and ssl industry is not always easy. The only way to keep growing (and mán we are growing!) is to keep innovating.
We plant more and more domain and ssl flowers and they are growing fast. But letting them blossom and flourish into a field of beautiful flowers that give seeds for new future flowers is the game we are trying to play. Our new seeds Powerpanel and SMBinvoices are starting to grow, slowly but surely.
It all centers around people and innovation. Always People first…
Our support team in the beginning of 2016 had a lot of pressure and stress. We started personal development sessions, coaching and also invested a lot of resources in automating routine tasks and abuse, expanding our knowledge base and building our advanced SSLpanel where our resellers can let their end-customers manage ssl-certificate requests.
Our domain portfolio grew organically with almost 300000 domains to 1 million domains.
Our SSL portfolio more than doubled.
Because of our focus on people the amount of support tickets dropped with 15%. Our team scored a 8,97 in customer satisfaction and 99,5% of all questions were answered within 8 hours. These results make me really proud.
Our salesteam always sold a lot as the numbers above show you. But in 2016 we developed a so-called sales playbook like all USA sportteams use. All salespeople have weekly training and coaching sessions where we help them to train their skills and develop them further and further. The playbook defines the strategies they can deploy to overcome objections and win deals.
Sofar 2017 shows that we are on the right track with 34% growth in the first two months. I am very proud of our great team of people who make it all happen.
Every company has to deal with external factors that influence business decisions. Sometimes that is very hard to do and inconvenient. Sometimes it actually helps businesses to grow.
Both Google Chrome and Firefox are now marking websites as Secure and Not Secure depending on the fact that they have an SSL certificate on the domain name. Although the Secure and Not Secure claim is terribly misleading for websites that have a Domain Validated (DV) or Organisation Validated (OV) SSL certificate, because the website can still be run by criminals and do all kinds of malicious things. At least the connection to a website with SSL is secure. Only an Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificate can really make a claim of being more safe than a website without SSL.
Google Search also ranks websites that are fully protected by SSL (all pages) higher than non-ssl websites.
With DNSSEC and more or less enforced SSL encryption by the browsers small steps towards a safer internet are being done.
We see our business growing and our customers can also benefit from added trust and more vistors.
Also watch this video: browsers mark websites without SSL as Not Secure
Every company needs constant innovation to stay relevant. Even an industry needs innovation to stay relevant.
New business models, new technologies, new opportunities are all leading to better products and services for eventually the end-user.
In the domain industry this is currently not the case. ICANN has become a highly political organization that is governed by so many compliance rules that all competition is effectively killed.
Domain registrants have no idea why they get all these emails from organizations they do not know because they use hosting companies that are not registrars themselves but resellers of domain registrars. Resellers of registrars cannot move their portfolio to new and innovative companies without the consent of the registrant. I totally believe in regulation that prevents criminals to do their criminal actions. But current regulation kills all competition and locks domain portfolio’s at big players that only grow through acquisitions. In my opinion this is unacceptable.
The good news is that innovation brought Openprovider at least closer to the top of the domain world. Based on the amount of tlds implemented Openprovider is number 6 in the world. See http://domainincite.com/21171-guess-which-registrars-sell-the-most-gtlds. It is the main reason why ICANN uses Openprovider to test new gtlds.
Our innovation continues despite external obstacles.
We have built a very advanced white label solution for resellers that want their registrants to get ICANN emails from them instead of a registrar or spammer they do not know.
Another innovation we made is our SSL workflow manager that even allows end-users to understand what needs to be done in every step of the orderproces.
Our sister company Powerpanel has integrated both solutions in their billing software for hosters and it has been very successful.
Lets hope that all rules and regulations do not completely kill the competition like it does today. That is unacceptable and will eventually kill the industry. We already see that upcoming markets do not use domains and websites in the same way as more developed markets. Lack of competition will only increase prices, kill innovation and will lead to the end of the domain industry.
A famous quote by Bruce Lee says:
If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
It is all true but it hurts a lot when I reached a plateau and didn’t know exactly how to make the step to the next plateau which frustrated me again.
I do have some tips that have helped me to reach the current plateau I am on. I only have to figure out how to grow again.
1. Set BIG goals in the future for both your business (BHAG:Big Hairy Audacious Goal from the famous book Good to Great by Jim Collins) and personal life (Big 5 for Life by John Strelecky). When things got tough I reflected if I was doing stuff that at least contributed to reaching these goals. It helped to have these compasses.
2. Personal development. The biggest plateau I reached was the plateau where I found out that I was the biggest problem in developing myself and my company. Finding coaching and reflecting with peers helped me a lot.
3. Develop our people.
This picture says it all. Internal and external coaching of me and my colleagues, but also talking in a different way to my girlfriend has helped me to reach next plateaus.
4. Hire the right people. We always aim to hire A-players. But A-players are simply not so easy to get. The more and more I think about it we should focus on hiring good people and hope a few of them develop into A-players and avoid the mistakes. Basically hiring is the same as investing: An investor needs to do very few things right as long as he or she avoids big mistakes (quote by Warren Buffet). Therefor we see that when we hire slow and fire fast we avoid the damages mistakes can do and good people we can help to develop.
5. Listen more, ask more questions is something I am trying to learn. I am still very good in sending information and convincing people which ‘sucks big time’ as one coach learned me. But I will also conquer that plateau in the future. Hopefully that future is near.
Although there is much more to learn for me I do know this already: On every plateau I reached there is always a way to get to the next. The only one to blame when I get stuck is always me. It is never the economy, the competition, the product, the system, the price etc etc.
I control my own future…
Since I became an entrepreneur I started and sold several companies and bought out all my business partners. I learned over the years that focus was key to become more successful.
Amongst the companies I started and sold where a cosmetics company, a webdesign/seo company, several hosting companies and a communication agency/publisher.
When Openprovider was the only company I had left and I had bought out my last business partner I felt relieved and energised. Since 2010 Openprovider grew more than 500% because of the focus that I finally applied to it.
Because of my new found focus I resisted two interesting new ideas in 2014 and 2015. The first was an Internet of Things company and the other a Coaching platform. Both promising ideas but it simply would take to much energy and focus away from my fast growing core business.
But in the end I am an entrepreneur and cannot stop being creative and sometimes opportunistic. So when the opportunity came to invest in Powerpanel a little over a year ago I could not resist investing in it.
Powerpanel is a billing solution for hosters. There are quite a few of these companies around so why invest in a new one? Since Openprovider’s main customers are European hosting companies we know their ‘pains’ quite well. Many of them have inhouse developed billing solutions that are expensive to maintain or use an external solution that is simply not good enough and does not support all European rules for billing. Furthermore the demand for a fully integrated multi-tier reseller system is high and cannot be found in other products.
Powerpanel has it all and was developed by people that know the ‘pains’ of hosters because they were hosters themselves for many years. My own experience started in 1998 and my partners also have over 10 years of experience in hosting companies and have actively used several of the available existing billing solutions in the market.
Furthermore Openprovider has a very good name in the market and knows how to build a successful market for hosting products. Despite my focus I could not resist this opportunity to do something new so that we can help our customers grow!
Powerpanel is currently live in beta. There are free trials available. Check it out and give us feedback!
Today is international women’s day which for me is a strange day.
60% of my Management Team consists of women
66% of our Spanish office are women
50% of our Indian office are women
50% of our Dutch office are women.
Our Russian office is still catching up with less than 10% women. But they will also get up to even numbers over time.
Why is this day a strange day? For me women and men are completely different creatures but equality has never been a issue for me. Women and men are totally equal in my opinion. Not only today but everyday. So why celebrate today what should be normal every day?
In Netherlands we do not celebrate International Women’s day but maybe we should. The equality between men and women is far from even in most companies and definitely not in the leadership positions. So what is normal for Openprovider is not normal for the average company. I see that as a missed chance, because diversity leads to strength and growth.
But today my girlfriend pointed out to me that I should be more aware how my behaviour on this day can really make a difference. And after some reflection I realised she is right of course. Thank you Natalya Ten for being the love of my live. Thank you Mum for being my mother and for the upbringing I got. Thank you Jill for being a beautiful daughter. Thank you Mirja for being my sister. Thank you Iris van Ommeren, Marta Domenech and Aastha Budhiraja for being part of a great Management Team. Thank you Danitsja van der Hoeven, Yentl van Arkel, Marielle Hordijk, Sandra Roorda, Anna Carreras, Galina Nahim and Inna Avruneva for being great colleagues that make our company a great company to work for! Thank you to all my female friends and family for making me a better person. You know who you are.
As an entrepreneur you get used to the fact that everybody in your company eventually looks at you for solutions to problems. You are their beacon with the magic stick. You are supposed to know it all and guide them through the darkness towards the light. But you also have no idea sometimes. Most of the time you only have your experiences, values, intellect and commons sense to work with. But the world can be a scary place. How to deal with fear, uncertainty and other emotions when you build a fast growing company that is changing an industry?
- Aim High
Setting high goals and high standards is risky. Unrealistic goals and standards can become real demotivators and create fear. However aiming high is the only way for higher than average growth. This is true for personal development and company growth. Allow yourself and your people to fail and learn from it. Better to aim high and fail than to aim low and succeed.
- Reward Risk
Create a culture where taking risks is rewarded. Remember that there is no success without failure. And it is not the goal itself that is most important but the roads you take to get as close as possible. Enjoy the small steps of achievement and learn from the failures. Try something new, think about the customers, think about your colleagues. Take risks.
- Build Trust
If you are very ambitious and want to change the market you are in, building trust is essential. Your colleagues need to have the feeling that everything will be okay and your (potential) customers need to feel that you are doing the right thing for their business. I think this is the most difficult thing to do, especially when you have a revolutionary business model and your competitors warn your customers that your business model that saves them so much money is doomed to fail. The question here is: Do you rather stay with a company that does not innovate anymore or do you rather go to a company that invests all its profits (and sometimes more) into things that benefit you in the long run?
- Be Paranoid (at least a little)
I constantly try to challenge my own assumptions by talking to my colleagues, our customers, suppliers, peers and by reading a lot. I always try to create an environment of ‘sufficient discomfort’. Not too much but definitely not too little. Our industry has a lot of challenges and dangers, so we need to be sharp, on edge and aware of them.
- Put people first
One of the most important lessons I have learned is that the company is not about me. It is all about the people you work with. They make the difference between being average or excellent. The more I learned to put the people first, the better the company became. We try to be very open towards each-other about our fears, struggles, challenges and we try to match the company goals with their personal goals in life.
Being an entrepreneur is a great but scary experience!
In my last blogpost I described our unique position in the domain name industry. The question that arises next is if it makes sense to sell domains at cost price.
The short answer is YES.
Our goal is to save our customers time, money, give them an excellent customer experience and help them grow. Most of our customers are hosting companies and they operate in a very competitive environment where every penny counts. They cannot survive if they cannot save money in buying and selling products they need to sell but are not their core business. Domains fit this description. Our customers need domains to offer bundled promotions or do other aggressive marketing offerings. And there is no hosting without a domain name.
Our flat fee prices are setup in such a way that for every euro of flat fee we get paid, our customers save at least 2 euro/dollar. In practice we see many cases where it is in fact 3 or 4 euro. That is a lot of money. And then we are only talking about direct savings. The savings in indirect costs are less visible but probably more significant.
So for potential customers it is a no-brainer to buy a flat fee subscription and save money immediately. We even help in consolidating portfolios. In most cases for free.
So are we crazy? The short answer is NO
Domain margins in wholesale are slowly but certainly going to zero. Because registrars do not add value to domain names it is a simple economic law. Every industry where no value is added to a product sees margins going down to zero until another business model is invented and changes the game. Amazon did it with books and later again with electronic books. Costco did it in the supermarket business. Netflix does it in the TV and DVD world. Spotify and Pandora do it in the music world just like Apple did it before with I-Tunes. The domain registrar business is simply the next business that will change and we are the first to do it.
How do we make money?
We make money in several ways:
– we make money on subscription fees. The yearly flatfee is our margin and we make money with it. Basically you pay us for the use of our software platform.
– we make money in the long-tail. We offer all domain extensions in the world. But except in the Supreme package where we sell all domains at cost price, in all other packages only the 40 or so most common gTLDs and ccTLDs are sold at cost price. All other domains that have competitive margins.
– we make money in up-selling and cross-selling other products like SSL. Our Supreme customers help us with their volume to reduce cost prices and we can sell at higher margins to our smaller customers but still give them a better deal than anywhere else.
– we keep adding new products and services to our portfolio, where we use our combined buying power to get better deals than individual customers can get themselves
– we develop our own software that we can sell to our customers. Our roadmap contains several software products that we developed in-house and we can sell to our customers. Most of those products are focussed on optimising business processes and reducing overhead. We are very good at doing that and are getting ready to let our customers benefit from these products we developed for our own use.
We see demand in our model is increasing rapidly. We keep innovating to help your business grow.
What to do when your product is the same as with anybody else in the market?
What to do when you do not really add value to the products you sell?
What to do when margins are going down?
What to do when everybody is after your customers and you after theirs and the market is growing very slowly?
What to do when you have the ambition to be a large player in this kind of market?
What to do if many of your suppliers are monopolies and feel no competitive pressure at all?
Kind of challenging isn’t it?
Welcome to the domain registrar business….
Being a domain name registrar is not an easy business. The market is definitely a so-called Red Ocean with a lot of commoditisation.
What did we do to survive and grow and move from the Red to the Blue Ocean?
– We hired more software developers. Currently our software development team is one of the largest in the industry and growing. Innovation is essential and without maximising our investments in the future in order to serve our customers in the best possible way we cannot survive.
– We changed to a unique business model. We charge a yearly fixed fee for the usage of our platform and do not charge any margin on the most common domain names anymore. You get our registry costprice, which in many cases is much lower than you could get yourself. This is very unique and a revolutionary model where customers pay for the value we add and do not pay where we do not add value.
– Everything we do is focussed on saving our customers time and money and to help them grow their business by providing them tools for up-selling and cross-selling to their own customers.
– We invest a lot in our support. Currently we provide support in English, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan and Russian. Our support team gets on average more then a 9 out of 10 from our customers.
– We align our people’s personal goals in life with the company goals and make sure they have autonomy, mastery and purpose in everything they do. Give people the right motivation and they can change the world.
As you can see Openprovider is all about People and Software to help you grow combined with a Unique Businessmodel .
We only need to let the world know we exist ….
I am a member of Entrepreneurs Organization and as a member I can visit the Universities that EO is organising twice a year. The first university of 2015 was in New York and the theme was ‘Transform the Narrative’.
Being a week in New York with almost 1000 successful entrepreneurs from all over the world has given me enough inspiration to continue with transforming the narrative of of my company, the people I work with (my fellow travellers) and the industry we are in.
First the theme of the university explained in more detail (taken from the event website):
“We live in a world of narratives. Much like fish, unaware they are enveloped by water, we are surrounded by narratives. These are the stories that tell us how the world works and describe our place in it.
As entrepreneurs, we operate within the narratives of our time. But we are also the drivers of change. We create new story lines with every innovation and endeavour we pursue. The EO New York Global University will explore the fundamental narratives that dominate our entrepreneurial lives today. We will challenge our community of entrepreneurs to explore the issues most critical to their business, family and personal lives.
Today, we are approaching tipping points in the most consequential narratives of our lifetime:
- Technological advancements like the “internet of things” are driving the marginal costs of goods and services to near zero, while the collaborative commons and the rise of the sharing economy are challenging capitalism as the organizing framework of economic activity. What opportunities are being created during this shift? Who will capitalize on what comes next?
- Global population growth, income inequality, climate change and sectarian conflicts have been straining the current system of global governance, driving apocalyptic narratives. How can we transform these narratives to address the coming changes as opportunities rather than crises?”
Everybody has his or her own interpretation of these big changes the world is going through and how to adapt yourself and your company towards these changes. As entrepreneurs we are able to create our own stories of how we see the world and where it is going to. From a company that sells domains and SSL we are transforming into a company that gives opportunities to our customers and our fellow travellers to grow their businesses and pursue their personal goals in life. Innovation of our software platform and business model will be continuously going on and on and on. We have great respect for the different cultures and different ideas that our fellow travellers have. In life we have to realise that prejudice is everywhere but that we have to look at the whole story to know what is really going on in peoples life and why they do what they do and behave like they behave. There is a great Tedx video of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie – The danger of a single story that you should watch to understand what I mean and why it is important to think like this. The world is changing rapidly and so should you to stay relevant.
Sometimes you have to cannibalise your own business in order to stay relevant and we are not scared to do this. Making money is important to be able to make sure that the fellow travellers in my company can live a high quality life and succeed in achieving their personal goals and ambitions in life. Profit is for us a result of Why, What and How we do things but not a goal in itself. We follow and implement the ideas of the book The Big5 for Life by John Strelecky. The general idea is that the people in a company work there to achieve their personal goals in life. Those personal goals should be in synch with the company goals in order to have motivated fellow travellers. What is more motivating than working in a company that gives you the opportunity to work on your personal goals everyday because the company goals are in line with your own? And what is more demotivating than working in a company that just pays you to do something you do not like or does not contribute to your own goals in life? If you are in such a situation get out, change your own narrative and pursue your dreams elsewhere!
Change is scary, it is fun but above all it is necessary. Be creative, think different and transform the narrative!