Trust


Trust is a strange thing. How does it work? Why do people trust you or don’t trust you or your company? In my 23 years as an entrepreneur I have always found it very hard to relate to why some people trust us and some not.

Being honest, straightforward and reliable does not necessarily build trust is my experience. They seem to build trust when you are becoming a bigger company. All of a sudden people start to trust you, just because you have a certain size. Also in my experience people do not necessarily like it when you are honest. I always have the feeling that people who are about 80% of the “truth and nothing but the truth” are more trusted than people who tell the 100% truth.

One of my closest friends called me “dumb honest” at some point in my life and he was probably right. I used to be very open and very critical about others, myself and my company. And I had to find out that that does not really let people trust me more. Maybe they liked (or disliked) me more but not necessarily trust me more.

So how does trust work then? I have still no real idea but probably the fact that after 23 years (of which 20 in internet related business) we still have a business that grows faster than most is one of the main drivers for trust. Staying in the game all these years seems to build trust.

What in my opinion should be more important are the 4 principles our business is build on:

  1. A business model that is aggressive and different than our competitors.
  2. Constant innovation in technology (and our business models).
  3. High quality support (everybody says that, but ‘trust’ me it is true).
  4. People first.

When we changed our business model to memberships and started to sell domains and ssl at cost price I got a lot of questions like: “how do you make money?” , “how can we trust that you are still there tomorrow?” etc etc. Tough questions with quite simple answers.

ADD VALUE, BE DIFFERENT

If you don’t add value to a product or service the margins will go to zero. This is happening in the domain registrar world and any other commoditizing industry. Charging a fee for the platform and not for the product is much more sustainable. Combined with investing in constant innovation, 60% of our people are in software development, creates a long-term advantage. It is all about adding value. And we have build a superior set of tools that really add value.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU ARE, IT MATTERS WHERE YOU WANT TO GO

We were small when we started the membership model. Most memberships are from new customers. Meaning from business we did not have before. So we made more profit from the first year we changed and we grew much faster than before. We did not focus on what we had, but decided to go for the huge market that was out there to get.

SUPPORT is PROFIT not COSTS

Many companies treat their support team as a cost center. We treat support as a profit center. That different mindset is one of the reasons why we can grow so fast because it apparently builds trust.

TO GOOD TO BE TRUE?

People think that when something is cheap, probably the service is crap. And in many cases that is true. We are not cheap at all. We charge good money for a great product and give highly rated support on top of that. There are not many Cloud companies that can charge 10.000 euro per year for an administrative backend like ours. The fact that you pay much more than that by paying 30 cents or even several dollars on top of a domain registration is very expensive. Basically we are not cheap but our competitors are too expensive.

PEOPLE FIRST

One of the things I like most about our business is that we really have started to put our people first. It is a quite well known principle and we did not treat our people bad at all in the past. But nowadays we really focus on people stress and happiness and try to solve the issues where people have simply too much work, do too many routine tasks, or do things that can simply be automated. Most of our projects are related to solving internal bottlenecks. And the cool thing is that by solving these internal bottlenecks the customers benefit as well. Our people can take better care of them because the work that we do is more fun and has more purpose. And the challenge of solving stuff that is bothering your colleagues is really cool!

 

Is Google abusing its power in SSL war with Symantec?


Google and Symantec are in a big fight which basically drills down to the fact that Google does not believe that SSL certificates have a future. They found a lot of irregularities in certificates that Symantec has issued.

Since Google controls the biggest browser Chrome they have the power to decide how a website is shown. Marking a website as unsafe is one of these ways.

Symantec obviously did not do a good enough job. However could any CA ever do a good enough job? The validation process is manual work and where people have to validate data they will make mistakes. In that sense any CA including Lets Encrypt that only validates automatically based on whois data is vulnerable to mistakes. Google might be right that SSL in its current form has no future.

So why is Google abusing its power? It is abusing its power because the majority and I mean higher than 99 percent of all SSL certificates are validated correctly. Valid companies have valid SSL certificates and Google is deliberately hurting these companies by forcing Symantec to reissue these SSL certificates. Which means that all these companies with 100 percent valid certificates have to do a lot of work to replace already good certificates by new ones just because Google wants to make a point. Up till now SSL is the best way to validate companies and assure website vistors they are really on the website of the company they think they are. There is no mature alternative.

And since Google is by far the largest browser company they have the power and are abusing this power to deliberately hurt websites that are completely legal, of high reputation and with correctly validated certificates.

There are many other ways to change an industry and its security. Abusing your power in the way Google does in the fight with Symantec is not the way.

Growing and Flourishing, People first


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.

Flower Power

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.

How External Factors Influence Strategy


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

Innovation requires competition


img_9667Every 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.

Reaching a plateau


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.
08939f8This 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…

How a new company was started: Powerpanel


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!

International Women’s day


Today is international women’s day which for me is a strange day.

Some facts:
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.

How to handle fear, uncertainty and other emotions. 5 Tips


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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Domains at cost price. Does it make sense?


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.