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March 02, 2020

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The Lowdown Subscribe to our RSS Feed
Here's the The Lowdown from DN Journal,
updated daily
to fill you in on the latest buzz going around the domain name industry. 

The Lowdown is compiled by DN Journal Editor & Publisher Ron Jackson.

An Inside Look at the Fabulous/Directnic Offices in Florida and Alexander Schubert's Plan for .Tampa  

I had an opportunity to connect with two long-time friends and industry veterans this week and didn't even have to leave our home base in Tampa to do it, even though both come from different continents! It made for a most interesting day that gave me some fresh insight into the world of domain registrars, as well as new approaches to running future new gTLD registries. Before I get to that, a little bit of their back stories will explain what led to the get together with two guys who work in different sectors of the industry, but whose fields (registrars vs. registries) rely greatly on each other for success.

One, Mike Robertson, is from Australia but has been living and working in Tampa for almost six years now. Mike, as most of our readers know, is the Director of Business Development for popular registrars Fabulous.com and Directnic.com, sister companies that share a suite of spacious offices at the Tampa International Airport. The two registrars have long been favorites with domain investors. DirectNic, founded in 2001, was known more for its small to medium size business clientele but the quality of their platform also attracted high end investors who held large portfolios, like "Domain King" Rick Schwartz. Fabulous was launched a year later, specifically for the purpose of meeting the unique needs of domain investors.

Directnic's home base is actually in New Orleans but they've long maintained offices in 

 

Mike Robertson
Director of Business Development
Fabulous.com & Directnic.com

Tampa as well, with some of their top managers and backend operations staff working in Florida. Soon after Directnic acquired Fabulous in 2017, they put the two registrars together in ultra-convenient new digs at the airport where their offices in the Marriott Hotel connect directly to the main terminal. 

I had visited Mike (whom I've know for over 15 years) in the old offices when he first moved to Tampa in 2014 to work for Directnic's parent company, DNC Holdings (and wrote a Cover Story about how and why that union came about). However, since I see Mike at every conference,  including the most recent NamesCon Global held in Austin, Texas just last month, I still had not visited the new airport offices. It suddenly became a priority when Mike told me that he will be moving back to Australia in August (his job with Fabulous/Directnic will not change, he'll just be doing it from his homeland, closer to family and friends he has missed seeing as much in recent years). 

Alexander Schubert
Project Lead, dotTAMPA

Coincidentally, at the same time I got that news from Mike, I had been planning to get together with another old friend (also dating back over 15 years) who had recently moved to Tampa to lay the groundwork for a .Tampa new gTLD he plans to apply for when ICANN opens a second round of new gTLD applications (when that will happen is currently unknown). Alexander Schubert, a native of Germany, who has been living in Riga, Latvia much of the last decade (and previously lived in the Tampa Bay area for nearly two years), has already proven his ability to get a major city domain into the root. Along with Dirk Krischenowski, Alexander co-founded the first one ever delegated, .berlin. He and Dirk launched the effort in 2005 and never gave up the dream. The TLD was finally approved by ICANN and went live in March 2014.

With registrars Fabulous and Directnic offering dozens of new gTLDs, I felt Mike Robertson and his company's razor sharp COO, Rob Alfonso, would be as interested in what Schubert was doing with .tampa as I was, so getting together with everyone at once was a no brainer and it proved to be every bit as enlightening and enjoyable as I thought it would.

Above: My wife Diana has known Alexander and Mike as long as I have and they are her friends too, so she was looking forward to the visit as much as I was. Here, shortly after we arrived, she and Alexander started catching up in the lounge area at the Fabulous/Directnic offices at the Tampa International Airport Thursday, February 27, 2020. 

Above (left to right): Ron Jackson and Alexander Schubert kick off a visit to Director of Business Development Mike Robertson in the conference room at the Fabulous/Directnic offices in Tampa.

Below: Mike Robertson reviewing the Fabulous.com website on his office computer as monorail trams at the Tampa International Airport zoom by his window.

Above: Fabulous.com/Directnic Chief Operating Officer Rob Alfonso (left) and Director of Business Development Mike Robertson in front of one of the large hallway murals in their offices that feature the dozens of TLDs the domain registrars offer their clients around the world.

When Mike, Alexander and I popped into Rob's office I wasn't expecting to take too much time away from his busy schedule, but the four of us wound up talking off the cuff for a full hour about the symbiotic but sometimes rocky relationship between domain registrars and domain registries. The registries own and operate the various TLDs (top level domains like .com, .net, .org and .xyz, for example) and wholesale them to registrars that make up the global retail channel . Having Alexander, a TLD registry founder and expert on that part of the industry in the room, gave registrar operators Rob and Mike a chance to discuss a lot of mutual issues in a forthright way that helped all of us come away better informed and in general agreement about why many new TLDs have had trouble gaining traction.

A lot of new TLD operators expected new extensions to essentially sell themselves (after all, new domain possibilities, like home.loans and vacation.rentals look great on paper and could reasonably be expected to draw a lot of attention). However, the general public isn't nearly as familiar with even the simplest domain concepts that those of us in the industry take for granted. The "build it and they will come" approach has largely fallen far short of expectations. Many registries hoped registrars would take on the expensive marketing burden for the new names, while registrars, already operating on thin margins, saw that as one of several unrealistic expectations the new TLD operators came to the table with. That doesn't mean the tide won't be turned over time, especially now that it has become obvious that it will take more marketing muscle and innovative ideas from everyone with skin in the game to break through the clutter of hundreds of new gTLDS so the rest of the world will recognize and want them.

Alexander Schubert certainly seems to have learned from experience. His strategy for both .tampa and his other major project, a future .airport (an interesting coincidence since we were all meeting in an airport!) are the exact opposite of those most registries have used. For .tampa he set up a non-profit organization and has spent months getting community leaders (including Tampa Mayor Jane Castor) interested in backing the idea, showing them how the new TLD would simplify online branding of everything related to Tampa, from tourism to basic city services. For example, the Tampa Police Department's 

current website is at the highly forgettable www.tampagov.net/police. Ms. Castor, a former Tampa Police Chief herself, quickly recognized that www.police.tampa would be a vast improvement. 

At one meeting Schubert found himself between Mayor Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. If you know anything about the Tampa Bay area, you know there has long been a friendly rivalry between the two cities. When Alexander showed Mayor Kriseman his .tampa business card, the Mayor himself inquired about the possibility of getting a .stpete domain and put Schubert in contact with a city communications official to get more information. With formal backing from cities, local Chambers of Commerce, etc., Schubert believes a new extension can be organically grown and firmly established as a highly desirable, universal online community identity and resource. He is leaving nothing to chance, tirelessly attending every conceivable local public meeting and pounding the pavement to make contacts and find funding so he can once again turn one of his "TLD dreams" into a reality.

Above: Back on the office tour, we noticed that Fabulous/Directnic firmly believes in the "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" proverb. When Alexander spotted the original Pac-Man console in the office, he promptly accepted Mike's challenge to do battle. Spoiler alert - someone gotten eaten alive!

Above: They say "an Army marches on its stomach". Well, so do the troops at Internet companies! Mike Robertson proudly showed us the Fabulous/Directnic kitchen and its wide variety of healthy fruits and vegetables (this was right after he hid the bowl of candy bars on top of the compact ovens at the right)! 

Above: Speaking of food, after two hours in the office talking about domains (and playing video games) we took the short walk into the Tampa International Airport terminal to wrap up the visit with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. It was great way to end a memorable get together good people. 

One of the most attractive things about our business is that you could go to virtually any big city in the world and enjoy a similar outing with industry friends. We just happened to be able to do it in our own town this week, but as always, it was the company that mattered, not the location!

(Posted February 29, 2020) 

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