An Interview with Arno Vis, CEO, Openprovider
What would you think of a company that sells domains and products licenses at cost? Some might call it crazy, but Arno Vis of Openprovider calls it innovative. Arno, who has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, is not only trying to revolutionize domain wholesalers, but he is also trying to revolutionize and modernize hosting company software with another company he owns.
I had the opportunity to chat with Arno for a while and he shared his very definite opinions on the state and future of the domain and hosting markets as well as his thoughts on the new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains).
HostAdvice: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started.
I am currently 49 years old and have been an entrepreneur for over 20 years. I started as an organizer of Rhythm and Blues concerts and then in 1994 I started a graphic design company with a partner. In 1996, as I saw the Internet starting to take off, we transformed the graphic design company into a web design and SEO company. In 1998 I wanted to have a subscription business in addition to my hourly work, so I bought a small hosting company. In 2010 I bought out my partner and sold the company, but kept the hosting company. I sold the hosting company in 2012, but kept a part of it – which is today’s Openprovider company.
HostAdvice: You are currently involved in a few different companies – correct? Can you give me a quick overview of each of them?
Sure. We’ll start with Openprovider, of which I am the sole owner and CEO. Openprovider is a wholesaler of Internet services and products with a unique platform from which you can find and manage all of the products that you need: Domains, new gTLDs, SSL certificates, licenses for Plesk and Virtuozzo, spam filters, and more.
We operate on a very unique business model. At Openprovider we sell domains and licenses at cost. We add no margin to the cost of the supplied products. In addition, we cooperate with domain registries to get further discounts – when they lower their prices, we lower yours. The way we make our money is through the membership plans that you must join in order to take advantage of our products and pricing.
I am also a partner in another startup company, PowerPanel, although I am less involved in the day to day operations of that company. PowerPanel is a complete cloud-based automation and billing solution for hosting providers. The reason we built PowerPanel is because most hosting companies are stuck on a platform or environment that is very old and not changing or innovating. With PowerPanel, our core focus is more on billing than on provisioning. For provisioning and other advanced features, we offer a very wide selection of plugins, many of which are free, to integrate with other systems.
HostAdvice: How closely related are the target markets/audiences of those two companies?
The target market for both Openprovider and PowerPanel is hosting companies, so there is a lot of collaboration between the two companies.
HostAdvice: How do you define your market(s)? Who is your specific target audience within that market?
Although both companies pursue hosting companies, they are targeting different segments of the market.
For Openprovider, we are mainly targeting companies with between 50,000 and 500,000 domains under management, although we do have a lot of smaller clients today.
With PowerPanel, we are focusing on hosting companies with between 1,000 and 10,000 domains being hosted and who are using management systems that were developed in-house and are now hard to maintain and extend. Such companies would be looking to upgrade to a more modern and flexible platform to grow their business. We also target domain resellers of larger companies who are stuck on older platforms.
HostAdvice: How many active customers do you have today? Where are they mainly located?
Openprovider currently has between 5,000 and 6,000 customers, mainly in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain. India is also growing very quickly for us, especially now that we recently become the official distributor of Plesk in India.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not involved in the daily activities of PowerPanel, but I would guess that we have about 100,000 domains under management there, mainly from Belgium and the Netherlands.
HostAdvice: Who are some of your biggest customers?
Openprovider’s customers include SiteGround and PC Extreme (Netherlands).
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your main competitors?
Openprovider competes with all of the big domain wholesalers, such as OpenSRS, Enom, Hexonet, and Key-Systems.
PowerPanel competes with other hosting billing systems, such as WHMCS and WeFact.
HostAdvice: How do you see your tools as different and/or better than theirs?
Openprovider works on a completely different business model than other domain wholesalers. Domain wholesalers typically make their money by marking up the price of domains that they sell. We believe that the wholesaler doesn’t add any value to the actual product (i.e. domain names or SSL certificates) so why should they add a profit margin to that? What we do instead is to offer our customers different membership plans and then sell them the products at our cost.
I’ll point out that we do still offer traditional tiered pricing for domains and SSL certificates, but our “at cost” subscription plans are growing very quickly. Currently, about 65% of our sales are from these plans.
HostAdvice: How do you see domain registration and the registrar market evolving in the coming years?
This is quickly becoming a commodity market. It is also a very interesting time for domainers, as companies like GoDaddy are buying up large portfolios of domains and then reselling them. Most companies in this market don’t grow organically like we do, but rather by acquisitions. In the registrar space, most companies are just not innovating.
In terms of the new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains), my opinion is that nobody really needed them and we are seeing that reflected in their sales volume (which is actually better than I expected). There might be a long-term future for a few generic and a few niche gTLDs, but overall I do not see a great future for them.
Having said that, I will admit that at this point in time the sales of new gTLDs are still a profitable addition to our portfolio.
HostAdvice: How do you see the web hosting market evolving in the coming years?
This is a difficult and crowded market that is also suffering from a lot of commoditization and price pressures. We are seeing a lot of consolidation and takeovers as the market continues to mature. As a whole, the market is moving towards having a few very large players and then a lot of small, niche players.
HostAdvice: What are your future plans for OpenProvider and Powerpanel?
Our goal for Openprovider is to reach a total of 25 million domains by 2023 (we just recently sold our 1 millionth domain). To reach that goal, we know that we need to keep innovating and to increase our global exposure.
Our first goal for PowerPanel is to become profitable in 2017. This is a business that is slow, but steady. I don’t mind – I have time.
HostAdvice: How many employees do you have today? Where are they located?
PowerPanel is still in early startup mode, but Openprovider currently has 35 employees, of which 20 are in software development. That is a high percentage of developers for this industry, but we invest a lot in development in order to add more value for our customers and to lower their need for support.
The developers are located in Siberia and we have 10 support and sales employees in the Netherlands, with a few more sales people in our Spain and India offices.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I try not to work too many hours, but as a business owner, I don’t always have a choice…
When I am not working I am usually eating! I love to eat and I also love to cook. But I do also like to go out to eat as well, especially when I travel. I also like to read a lot and love to watch and invest in the stock market.
HostAdvice: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I just want to say that I want to keep doing what I love and to keep having fun. I want to keep working until I die - creating a company that survives me. You can read about me and my thoughts on my personal blog at https://arnovis.com/