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Fasten Your Seatbelts! New CEO Matthias Conrad Is Getting Ready to Step on the Accelerator at Sedo 

2019 began with a historic change at the top of the management team at domain industry powerhouse Sedo, a pioneering company known for its global domain sales platform and monetization services. In the 20 years since Sedo was founded in 1999, only two people had served as the company's CEO before Matthias Conrad made it three on January 1. 

Sedo was launched two decades ago by three German college students, Tim Schumacher (the first CEO) and schoolmates Ulrich Priesner and Marius Wuerzner, with the company based on a business idea Schumacher had detailed in his Master’s Degree thesis at the University of Cologne (we published a full account of the company's early history in a 2004 DN Journal Cover Story). Schumacher, a serial entrepreneur who now leads Eyeo GmbH, spent 12 years guiding Sedo through a period of explosive growth  before turning the reins over to Tobias Flaitz in January 2012. Flaitz, in turn, had a successful seven-year run, near the start of which European conglomerate United Internet bought out the remaining shares held by Sedo's founders.

When it was time to choose a successor to Flaitz, United didn't have to look far to find a person they felt comfortable entrusting Sedo's legacy and their future growth to. Conrad was

Matthias Conrad

already part of the United "family" having served as a VP at hosting and cloud services giant 1&1 IONOS for over seven years. 

Having followed Sedo closely since launching DNJournal over 16 years ago, I've seen both Schumacher and Flaitz promote a culture of transparency, teamwork and positivity that has made covering the company a pleasure. They were the first to begin sharing sales data with us so we could begin, in 2003, the popular weekly domain sales report that so many rely on to spot industry trends. I also found that, like their CEOs, everyone I encountered on the Sedo team (then and now) had an attitude of doing whatever they could to help. I attribute that to a culture that has flowed directly from the top, so I was very much looking forward to meeting Conrad in person for the first time at the 2019 NamesCon conference in Las Vegas. It quickly became obvious to me that Matthias was a leader intent on upholding the Sedo tradition while, at the same, exploring new ways to expand the business through an obsessive customer-centric approach.

On the night before the 2019 NamesCon Global Conference began in Las Vegas (Saturday, January 26, 2019), Sedo hosted some of those arriving early for the show at a party held at local German restaurant, The Hofbrauhaus. Many in the crowd met new Sedo CEO Matthias Conrad for the first time that night. Left to right are Ron Jackson (DNJournal.com), Matthias Conrad and Sedo Senior Broker Dave Evanson.

When we sat down for an interview, Conrad had been on his new job for just three weeks, so he was still examining Sedo processes and the industry at large before formulating the precise strategies he will employ to reach his goals. Even so, Matthias provided us with a good sense of what he is personally all about and how he plans to keep Sedo at the forefront of the industry's service providers. 

"If you look at my career so far I have always been someone who took on new challenges to develop businesses and to accelerate them," Conrad began. " I will always go to something that challenges me. The same was true with the web hosting business at United Internet. I have been driving that internationally and always looking left and right, beyond my own experience. I've learned that getting into something with "fresh eyes" sometimes helps. I hope, and I think, that this is a great opportunity for both sides - for me to personally challenge myself and prove myself by moving into a CEO role and developing the business with full responsibility - but also for the business to take advantage of my fresh ideas and views, and perhaps some of the different kind of questions that I'm asking as someone who is not deep in the business, that could help accelerate the business to the next level. That is basically my ambition."

Sedo CEO Matthias Conrad and Sedo Chief Sales Officer Matthias Meyer-Schönherr catching up in Sedo's booth at the 2019 NamesCon Global conference in Las Vegas.

Domain investors have a different mindset about the product they are buying or investing in than a lot of other customers do. Where most things people buy are viewed as commodities, domain people tend to be passionate about the domains they buy. It's said that everyone thinks their names are worth a fortune (probably because they have such an emotional attachment to their personal choices). That often leads to unrealistic price expectations when trying to sell names through brokerage services or an aftermarket platform (Sedo provides both). We wondered if this different kind of customer would be more difficult for Conrad to deal with.

"I'm just starting to explore it, but in the end the customer counts and this is the same in every business. Being a product guy and a customer centric person I don't think that is something that depends upon the industry. Really understanding what the customer wants, then what it is about the product that the customer is willing to pay for and how you can solve their problem and that produces a win-win situation. That's why I am concentrating on how we can add value, not only for the domain investment customer but for an SMB (small to midsized business) or enterprise customer - all of the different kinds of customers that are dealing with domains. That is something that, from my previous experience, I can bring to the table while also learning how that fits with the perception of the industry insiders who love domains. I am really open to this, learning about it and seeing how to add value with my ideas."

Of course, for sellers fortunate enough to hold truly great domains, sales prices can go sky high. Seeing names sell for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars has drawn many into this business even though most aftermarket sales are measured in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.  Conrad is coming into this world from a business where prices tended to be much more predictable, so we had to wonder what he thought about the volatile nature of the domain market, especially when his own platform produces a lot of the home runs that have caught people's attention.

"I find that pretty exciting, right?!," Conrad exclaimed. "However, I'm still not sure where the majority of the future business lies - whether that is in the big deals or in the broader market of things like the SMB sector. I'm really at the beginning of exploring that 

Matthias Conrad off duty but always looking ahead!

- that's very different from my previous experience, coming from what has been a subscription business throughout my career into one that is really a trade business, where it is deal by deal by deal. I am ready to listen and learn and I feel prepared for this and looking forward to the personal challenge. I still need to find out for myself and for Sedo where the future business flows will come from."

Conrad noted that he is all about finding ways to add value and he is, of course, not alone in that quest.  One big current trend, especially at registrars, has been incorporating website building options into offerings. Some basic ones are free with more advanced solutions offered at an affordable cost so the customer can get everything they need -  a domain, a hosting package and website builder in one stop. We haven't seen that approach adopted by a lot of aftermarket sales platforms even though their sales prices are much higher than the cost of new domain registrations and many of their buyers are SMBs that could be looking for help on the website development front as well. That would seem to be an opportunity that an aftermarket giant like Sedo could take advantage of.

"It is!," Conrad declared, adding, "and to a certain extent that is the direction we are headed with the Sedo MLS platform and product. Now a lot of SMBs probably don't think of going to Sedo to buy a domain but going to a registrar because they think "I need a domain and an email account and a website and they provide a one-stop shop."  Being in that channel would be a great opportunity for Sedo, not just with our own product, but with a combination of registrar and other services, providing this one stop experience for the customer and bringing our big asset of premium domains to the table. At the same time we could provide the educational part of explaining the value of the asset to the customer - that is a valuable asset that gives you a real advantage compared to just a randomly chosen unregistered domain."

Sedo & sister company InterNetX (a leading provider of domain registration, cloud server and SSL certificate services) had a major presence at NamesCon Global 2019. Team members from both companies took the opportunity to get together for dinner at the show. New Sedo CEO Matthias Conrad is 4th from the left. (Photo courtesy of InterNetX Founder Hakan Ali, seated 3rd from left).

Before letting Matthias go, I had to ask him about the Sedo culture I referred to earlier. As someone coming from another part of United Internet group, he was already familiar with much of the Sedo story and the legacy that it will be his job to uphold and take in an innovative direction that will insure the company continues to prosper.

"I'm really excited about coming to Sedo where there is probably more of an entrepreneurial spirit. Leveraging a global platform while maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit and being very agile, very close to customer demand and faster than other companies are the advantages that really made me want to be a part of it. I want to maintain that and leverage that because I am a strong believer in the power of the team and the culture of doing things. Strategy is nothing without execution and you can only do that with your team and the team is driven by the culture. I want to deliver on that and provide outstanding customer value. That's what I want to achieve!"


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