I Interview Abdalla Omari, CEO of kenic (.ke registry).
Joe Alagna, Director of Business Development at Afilias (Registry Services) Interviews Abdalla Omari, CEO of kenic (.ke)
JA: You’re one of the first people I’m interviewing for the Country Code People series. I’m very excited about it. I remember coming to Nairobi for an ICANN meeting, it seems like five or more years ago. Do you remember what year that was?
AO: It was in about 2010.
JA: When ICANN has a meeting they usually have a Gala evening and I recall the one in Nairobi as one of the most fun I’ve attended. It was outside and you had a big tent, music and a lot of fun.
AO: That’s good.
JA: This is an important time in the history of .KE and I’d like to discuss that in a few minutes but let’s start by learning a little bit about the history of .KE, how you’re doing, and I’d like to learn a little more about you as well. How did you get involved in .ke and KENic.
AO: Before joining KeNIc, I was working in the ICT industry, but not at KENic. They were looking for someone to come in and to stabilize the registry, so I joined in the last three years. When I joined there were about 36,000 domains. Now we are at about 68,000 and approaching 70,000 domains in a few months. Our initiatives are working, if you look at the recent Africa DNS Study, .KE is now technically as well as market-wise the second largest registry in Africa besides .ZA and South Africa.
JA: Yes, if you look at that study, you can see that .KE is a part of that. Would you agree?
AO: Yes, I agree. If you see most of the government services are now online, you can now do your drivers license online and passport applications are now online. Most of our government services are online and they use the .KE domain. I think that is a major factor in us becoming number two in Africa. It is not just about selling domains but is more about utilization. Use of the .KE domain in the country is strong for the country at large.
JA: I’d be curious, is the typical user of the .KE domain within the country or are there more users outside of Kenya?
AO: A big pool of customers are within the country. I believe that the typical user is within the country and we are similar to most ccTLDs, the usual percent of any country is about 92% or so companies using .co.ke who want to identify with the country.
JA: So it is predominantly business or corporate users using .KE that you find?
AO: Yes, because they want to use .KE to identify with the country. If you are business and using .ke it shows you are part of the country. If you look across most ccTLDs this business usage statistic is generally about 90% so it is a percentage that is expected across the board.
JA: Is .KE allowed to be registered outside of the country or are there nexus rules that restrict registrations outside of the country?
AO: We are a three-R model, Registry, Registrar, Registrant. The current registration system we are working on to do this in an organized way is to accredit registrars only who have a presence in the country. However registrars can do business anywhere in the world.
JA: So in other words, you only accredit registrars that are within Kenya but you don’t restrict them from dealing with registrants around the world. In other words they can do business with registrants throughout the world. Is that correct?
AO: Yes, that is correct Joe.
JA: So that brings up something I’m always curious about and every registrar thinks about this differently. In the US and in the English language a lot of words end with the letters, KE. I recently learned that you are going to begin allowing second-level registrations (whereas before you only allowed registrations only at the third-level. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
AO: Yes we will be accepting second-level registrations on the 23rd of this month. We will have the usual Sunrise Period that will last about three months. It’s a little bit long because in August we are having elections within the country and we realized that if we restricted it to one or two months, the elections period is going to take a whole month. The debate is mostly about elections right now. We are having elections on the 8th of August. So the Sunrise Period will last for three months, then a Landrush Period for one month, a Cooling Period and General Availability after that.
JA: So now someone can register right at the second level they will no longer have to use .co.ke or .or.ke for organizations, etc, right? However I’m sure that those types of third-level domains will still be available, correct?
AO: Yes, they will still be available but for example, governments will still be under .go.ke. It will be common for governments. We are working around a policy where second levels will not be available because for example, if someone registers tertiary.go.ke and then someone else registers tertiary.ke, it becomes a little challenging. So for governments, I don’t see them moving because they have to be recognized as governments online. But, from the 23rd, if you want, after Sunrise, you can go ahead and get Jo.ke as an example.
JA: Wow, that would be a great domain. Yeah, that’s kind of where I was leading. There are a lot of domain hacks around the world where people would want to find words that end in KE and build a domain out of it. So do you guys have any problem with that or do you charge extra for those?
AO: What we have done, we have taken a middle approach as far as pricing is concerned is we have put out recommended retail prices. Of course registrars can charge more or less. The reason we put out recommended retail pricing is that when we were doing our restructuring one and a half years ago, we noticed that the registrants didn’t know what was a fair price for .KE. So we gave out recommended retail prices and it had a positive effect on the growth of .KE. So we have taken the same approach on the second level. We have three recommended retail prices. During the Sunrise, the recommended price will be the equivalent of about +- $100 US. During Landrush, it will be about $900 KR Shillings (+- $90.00 US), then during the General Availability it will be about $70.00 US give or take after currency conversions.
JA: Of course then the registrars can choose their pricing?
AO: OK, well that is what we expect the registrant or end users to pay. So if you had a trademark during Sunrise for Joe and you went to a registrar, our recommended retail price states you would pay about ten thousand Kenyan Shillings (or about $100 US).
JA: You don’t force it but you have a recommended price, in other words?
AO: Yes, we recommend it because we want to prevent the prices from going crazy. It helped during our third-level phases and we want it to go for around those amounts in the second level as well.
JA: Great, that seems reasonable. Now you mentioned earlier that most end users of .KE are business users. Do you have any ideas on how you can help to promote .ke use amongst consumers, and personal users, for example people who want a personal website or a hobby website, or even non-profits?
AO: Yes, we have segmented our marketing approach. We mainly deal through ministries for governments through their policies for example, so we’re happy to say that governments should officially communicate using the country code domain, so that is happening. When it comes to the business community, we are dealing with business associations whom we partner with to get the business community. When it comes to non-profit making organizations, we partner with the regulators. For example within our country we have an organization called the NGO Board, who reach out to non-profit making organizations, so that is how we reach them. For schools and academia, we usually have small hubs and programs within the ICT students and sometimes business students who love ICT because you’ll find that most students who use .ke are business students. So we encourage them. They may not be the end-consumers per se, but we encourage them to be resellers of the domain. So we attach them to registrars to be resellers and that is how we get to the future ICT players within the country. As to academic institutions, the good thing is that all Kenyan universities are on .ke including private universities as well as government so there we have done very well. All of them have the country code domain. Secondary schools, we usually deal with an association that exists for principals of schools. We partner with them and also there is an association for principals of primary schools. Some are called headmasters, some are called principals depending on their seniority. So those are some of the variants of our marketing approach. I must say “Yes, we have not met deep entry to individual usage”. We are having an upcoming training for lawyers on the first of September. We’ll be training the lawyers through their associations and they’ll be earning professional points for that and this will be the first training of its kind for lawyers to understand the domain industry. There is an practice that legal professionals usually give the first advice when a company is forming so we want them to have the knowledge of domains and of arbitration practices too.
JA: It sounds like you’re making some progress and it is probably a similar situation across Africa. It may be more a problem of Internet access than it is of usage of the domain names. Would you think so?
AO: I have a different view. If you see in Africa, Kenya leads in Internet access usage. We lead in Africa. Look at the records. Now if you look at domain acquisition, South Africa leads by a big margin. They are over a million domains whereas we have about 68 to 69 thousand right now. So I think that is my own opinion; I have not done the research but it is an area where if I can get funding, we need to do some research to find a correlation between Internet access and the usage of domains. The disparity is huge. If their was a direct correlation, Kenya would be leading in domains in Africa.
JA: I understand that primarily, in Africa, that the Internet is accessed through mobile phones. But I would think that when it comes to people building website, it would be difficult to do so using a mobile phone. They would kind of have to have some kind of computer access to build a website. Or is there another way? What do you think?
AO: I think your hunch is right. I should put a disclaimer; I’ve not done any research, but you’re right because the Kenyan access to the Internet is primarily through the mobile phone. The cheap mobile phones which have now come into the market. As you say, developing a domain requires more than just a phone. It will require upgrading. Now, affordability of laptops and desktops come into play.
JA: Yeah, that makes sense. So what is your vision of .ke moving forward in terms of growth and the general Internet in Kenya?
AO: My vision and aspiration is to change the business and professional approach and to bring more awareness to the online presence. For example, a professional like me and you, whereby, a CV, as a document, is no longer enough to a personal presentation. You may need a custom website to give all your works on that website because someone just having a two or three page CV may not consolidate your twenty years of experience. But within a website, it may. So that appreciation is what is now part of our program at KENic. We are pushing that, it’s in early stages but we are doing it. The acceptance is pretty good. From the business perspective, my aspiration is to inform businesses, “Look here, you don’t have to have a second physical presence to expand”. Currently a majority of shops, if they are on Street A, and want to expand, they think they need to go to Street C for a second location. We want to give an appreciation that you can still be on Street A and have an online presence rather than having three or four shops across town. So that appreciation is a small journey, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I can see quite a lot of growth in that. Basically I’m talking of growth in ecommerce.
JA: Right, well that is a wonderful idea. I especially like the idea of helping people put their CV or resume online. I think that is really going to go somewhere I hope you can make it happen. Do you have anything you’d like to add on your mind?
AO: Yes, if you can get people who can fund us in that research that would be good so we can get proper data instead of relying on our hunches and feelings.
JA: That makes sense, I know that the recent study on Africa’s DNS was good and I enjoyed reading it. I hope that it will help many African companies to build their online presences and to build their ccTLDs. I’m looking forward to seeing you again. I wish you and KENic the best of luck in growing and continuing to grow your ccTLD. Thank you.
AO: What time is it over there?
JA: It’s very early but I don’t mind and I appreciate you taking the time to join us on our Country Code People interview.