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New Sedo CEO Michael Robrock Recounts His 20-Year Rise from College Kid to Leader of a Domain Industry Giant

By Ron Jackson

Ever since Michael Robrock was named the new CEO at domain sales and monetization giant Sedo in September 2020, I have been looking forward to connecting with him for an in-depth interview. Michael is only the 4th person to hold that position since the industry giant was founded over two decades ago. Since Robrock (and Sedo's Managing Directors) will determine the direction of a company that almost every professional domain buyer and seller has utilized at one time or another, there is widespread interest in his plans.

Robrock had already compiled a long and successful track record in domain investing, monetization and affiliate marketing when he first joined Sedo as Chief Operating Officer in August 2019. He made his mark there very quickly, ascending to CEO just a year later. As you would expect, the past few months have been very busy ones for him as Sedo went through the final quarter of one of the most turbulent years the world has ever seen. Now, in this interview, Robrock, recounts a 20-year journey that took the former Munich college kid to the top of  one of the best-known companies in the global domain space.

A decade ago! Sedo CEO Michael Robrock (left) with 
Sedo Managing Director Hakan Ali
, at the 2011 
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Michael Robrock: Thank you, Ron for taking the time to interview me and for sharing my insights with your readers. I was honored and excited to accept the role of Sedo’s CEO in September of 2020. It’s a great company and I’m very much looking forward to leading us to develop even more products and solutions for our customers. But I can only achieve a high level success and customer satisfaction with the support of my awesome team across various departments which we will continue to grow and seek to recruit more talent in the areas of brokers, tech and more.

My career spans many years and includes a variety of companies where I held various roles in the domain and marketing space. In these roles, for example I dealt with monetizing traffic from different sources as well as the trading of single domains and portfolios worldwide including appraising these domains and calculation the best ROI. During the last 20 years I can say that I have worked with more or less all of the key players at least in the domain and affiliate space testing and utilizing most of their products. That’s a never ending task because the markets and products are challenging, innovative and always improving. My professional aspirations are focused on the pursuit of excellence in the leadership roles that I hold including my current role of CEO where I strive to provide clients with a superior customer experience while supporting the Sedo team to achieve great things.  

Future Sedo CEO Michael Robrock (in the outlined box) with a Who's Who of domain industry stars at the 2011 Domainerwiesn ("Domainer Oktoberfest") in Munich, Germany. Too many to name everyone in the photo, but most of you will recognize many domain pioneers in the crowd, including Monte Cahn, Hakan Ali, Michael Berkens, Nico Zeifang and current Internet Commerce Association Executive Director Kamila Sekiewicz.

DN Journal: You have witnessed a lot of changes in the industry – everything from the .com boom and subsequent “bust” around 2000, the huge comeback that followed, largely driven by new ways to monetize domain traffic. Then there was the introduction of new gTLDs, the China boom and now a global pandemic that, according to many, has actually increased demand for domains as businesses have been forced to build or strengthen their online presence.  Even though domains have proven to be resilient and perhaps more important than ever, it would take a pretty strong stomach for any executive to handle that kind of roller coaster ride! What are some of the key things you have learned about the domain business through all of these ups and downs?  

Michael Robrock: Actually you already called it, our industry has gone through so many changes, ups, downs, new ideas and improvements – that’s what makes the industry and environment so interesting and exciting to be a part of. But you have to keep learning, absorbing information and soaking up trends or you will not evolve and be successful.

As you mentioned, the domain industry as a whole tends to react and be correlated with current events and trends. But not even the most highly regarded expert could have predicted the global health crisis of 2020. Fortunately Sedo’s sales continued to grow and our marketplace remained stable throughout this difficult time which also saw an increased demand for domains. The global pandemic greatly influenced consumer behavior and actions of companies and organizations worldwide. We saw domain sales aligned with behavioral shifts, such as people working from home, spending more time and money online, plus adapting to new ways of life. Those businesses who recognized the need to increase their online exposure greatly benefited during this time.  

Through all the industry's ups and downs Michael Robrock has managed to fly through the turbulence. Literally in this case when a group of attendees at the 2010 Domainfest Conference in Prague climbed on board an air cargo plane for a flight over the city. Left to right are Marco Witte, Franky Tong, Markus Schnermann, Thorsten Weigl, Sam Tseng, Michael Robrock and Gregg McNair. Photo taken by Trellian Founder David Warmuz.

DN Journal: With respect to Sedo specifically, one thing that has always amazed me about the company is Sedo’s overwhelming dominance in the ccTLD aftermarket space. For 20 years, Sedo has essentially “owned it”. There have been a number of times when Sedo has swept all 20 positions on the Top 20 ccTD Sales Chart in our bi-weekly domain sales reports. It would be like a sports dynasty winning the World Cup, World Series or Super Bowl 20 years in a row – basically unheard of, especially in a highly competitive industry like this. How has Sedo managed to do this with country code domains (many of which, like Germany’s .de, are more popular in their home countries than .com)?

Michael Robrock: We have always maintained a very strong international presence backed by our corporate headquarters in Europe and having offices in multiple countries. Sedo also consistently recruits a very diverse staff that can support domain buyers and sellers in 25 different languages making it easy for customers from all over to do business with us. It is this customized support and international business model that lends itself our accolades in the ccTLD space.

Reflecting on 2020 specifically, we experienced a ccTLD sales growth of around 20%. But keep in mind that each ccTLD grows at varying rates – some are weaker and some are stronger than others at different points in time. But having the right staff in place, knowing the language along with understanding cultural norms and last but not least having the best inventory paired with an AI supported algorithm has lead us to be consistently successful in this sector and beyond.

DN Journal:  Now let’s zero in your 16 months at Sedo as COO and now CEO. What has been the biggest difference between the two jobs and what have you concentrated on in your first four months as CEO?  

Michael Robrock: In my previous position as COO I worked very closely alongside Sedo’s management team, so in many ways the transition to my new position has been fairly seamless. Sedo by nature is a very flat organization management-wise with a good support system among our team leads and the team as a whole, so my goal is to maintain that structure and further encourage collaboration company-wide. The biggest difference I have experienced in being CEO is that I have more responsibilities and a heavier workload overseeing every aspect of our business.  I am responsible for our overall strategy and driving the pursuit of excellence within all departments which is certainly challenging but it is my personal goal in my new role.  

Domain industry leaders from around the world gathered in Munich for the 2010 Domainerwiesn ("Domainer Oktoberfest"). Left to right are Michael Robrock, Jasmin Carillo, NameCheap Founder Rick Kirkendall and Mario Witte.

DN Journal: The entire world has been dealing with Covid-19 almost a year now and it will continue to be an issue for at least the first half or 2021.  What effect has the pandemic had on Sedo’s business and how do you think it will impact the industry in the new year?

Michael Robrock: Sedo has ultimately been able to grow our business and remain a very stable company during this unforeseen crisis. We experienced a slight downturn during Q2 when the pandemic first began but we rebounded nicely and ended up having one of our best years performance-wise. Our staff was well prepared to shift to working from home and we were without major interruptions to our day to day work flows as a result of the past year’s challenges.

Even assuming we cross over to the other side of the pandemic sometime this year, I still foresee domains in line with the new normal continuing to be in high demand. This will center on virtualization, workplace automation and remote work options, online shopping and delivery services and stricter air travel and public transportation precautions.  Furthermore, many of the domain verticals that are productive right now will remain strong throughout 2021. 

In 2020 we saw more of an emergence globally of retail systems and businesses delving deeper into the local markets, i.e. purchasing missing ccTLDs for their company name, products and categories. This was not too surprising but again: with a solid inventory, strong database and diverse cultural skills our business has thrived.

Consolidation in the domain space has been very prevalent industry-wide in the last few years and I feel strongly that this will continue and may even accelerate in the future.  This trend is consistent with dynamics from the old economical atmosphere and will be supported more as the flow of private equity gets even stronger from Fintech investment firms and startup arenas.

DN Journal: I know you are always working on improving services and developing innovative new ones. A lot of those remain under wraps until they are rolled out but can you share some insight into what Sedo is offering today and your road map going forward?

Michael Robrock: Mainly, I want to refocus on what we already have available to our customers and make it even better. While improving our existing product portfolio is a massive undertaking, it’s part of striving for excellence in all areas. We have many tasks mapped out on our roadmap to achieve best-in-class of trading domains and it will be more profitable to monetize domain traffic. Another goal we’re working towards is to provide domain sellers a more efficient service and customer experience. Additionally, we’re working towards bringing on more partners to broaden our worldwide buyer and seller network SedoMLS. But stay tuned for what’s to come within the next months – I personally can’t wait to see this all come to fruition.

On the U.S. side of the pond, Michael Robrock and friends at the 2017 MERGE conference in Orlando, Florida. Left to right are Jim Grace, Robrock, Oliver Elste and Sam Tseng.

DN Journal: Let’s close with the broad view – How do you see the business environment for domains in general over the next few years – what are things that make you optimistic and those that we, as an industry, should be concerned about to keep things on track?

Michael Robrock: Once things return to a more “normal” state post-pandemic, I see domain sales ramping up higher in the coming years as the need to develop better and more engaging online footprints will only be emphasized more. I also see the domain parking business especially the referral traffic line expanding more with customers coming into this space now that it has proven to be very lucrative. During 2020, we outperformed some of our parking competitors, regaining clients back, acquiring new clients in the affiliate and performance marketing sectors as we developed our parking business further.

I also believe more risks will be taken on investing in premium domains as global financial markets stabilize. This means more domain investors will be investing in higher quality premium domains, building domain portfolios at exceedingly high values.

The AI and technology spaces along with bitcoin and alternative currencies will continue trending in domain sales. And as more time passes we will also be able to better assess the success and sustainability of the new gTLDs that have to come to the market in the last decade. Some will thrive and survive the test of time while others will inevitably fade away.  

DN Journal: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your insight Mchael and best of luck to you and everyone on the Sedo team as we head into another new year.

Michael Robrock: It’s my pleasure, Ron and we appreciate all of the support you provide to the domain industry. Happy New Year to you and all of your readers!


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