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Who owns who?

Who owns who in the tech world – and why it might matter (and help to be aware of that).

Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):

  1. Introduction
  2. Newfold Digital (incorporated EIG) behemoth
    2.1. Hosting providers
    2.2. Domain registrars
    2.3. WordPress themes and plugins
  3. Oakley Capital, WebPros, CVC Fund VII – cPanel, SolusVM etc.
  4. GoDaddy
    4.1. Porkbun ownership?
  5. Automattic – the WordPress.com behemoth
  6. Elementor – another WordPress player
  7. Easy WP SMTP + AIO SEO bundle?
  8. group.one – WordPress RankMath, WP Rocket etc.
  9. Instead of a conclusion


1. Introduction

I’ve seen many merges during my IT career. The big ones are eating the small, usually not to the benefit of users and customers.

According to Marx, capital has the tendency for concentration and centralization in the hands of the richest capitalists. This always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hands of their conquerors, partly vanish.

This morning, I was surprised to see an advert for Elementor in my WordPress dashboard. Not because they refrain from advertising (it’s quite the countrary), but because I hadn’t installed any plugins or themes related to Elementor… at least I thought so.

Upon further inspection, it turned out that the “One Click Accessibility” plugin (WP.org page link) was the culprit. That inspired me to start writing this article, which I’ve been planning to write for some time now: noted/listed merges and acquisitions.

Why does this matter?
For me, I like to know when I’m switching companies that I’m not jumping into the same company, only with a different brand.
Also, I think it’s good to be aware of the (potential) monopoly trends.

Note/disclaimer:
Some of the companies listed in this article offer decent working conditions, pays, and offer good services. This article is not about naming & shaming any company. It’s about knowing, being aware of who owns what. Yes, my personal belief is that huge monopolies are harmful and dangerous in the long run. However, with capitalism working as it is, it is normal and reasonable for companies to try to grow bigger. Otherwise, they risk being destroyed by the competition.
Another popular misconception is that capitalist competition results in higher quality products, services and inovation. In the hosting industry, for example, when providers grow bigger, customer service quality usually drops. The principle is similar for all other industries, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

– T.O.C. –


2. Newfold Digital (incorporated EIG) behemoth

The Newfold Digital corporation owns many companies, and EIG is one of the giants swallowed by it too. When you do business with ND-owned companies, their websites (and invoices) don’t state the real owner’s identity.

Here, I wrote about the bad & ugly related to EIG.

– T.O.C. –


2.1. Hosting providers

Many hosting providers listed in “top 10” search results are Newfold Digital owned (thanks to shady marketing). To name a few:

BlueHost, HostGator, JustHost, iPage, Sitebuilder, A Small Orange, BigRock, eHost (shut down), FatCow, PowWeb, IX Web Hosting, MyDomain, NetFirms, Website Builder, Xeran, Reseller Club… and dozens of smaller hosting companies.

So, if you move from one poor-quality hosting provider, you are highly likely to end up with another one that’s just the same, but using a different brand.

– T.O.C. –


2.2. Domain registrars

Domain name registrars that I know to be owned by the Newfold Digital:

Domain.com, Buy Domains, NameJet, Snap[NAMES].

– T.O.C. –


2.3. WordPress themes and plugins

  • Yoast SEO plugin (my reveiw/test), a very popular (though bloated) WordPress SEO plugin.
    I use & recommend The SEO Framework, which is still independent and privately owned.
  • Yithemes WooCommerce plugins and extensions.

– T.O.C. –


3. Oakley Capital, WebPros, CVC Fund VII – cPanel, SolusVM etc.

While Newfold Digital owns a huge share of the hosting industry, a different (or is it, really?) investment fund owns most of the hosting industry software.

You see, unless you are a huge company, you are most likely to turn to a pre-built control panel (as opposed to coding your own and testing it for vulnerabilities) for running your business, configuring server, keeping track of payments, allowing your users/customers to configure stuff on their end without using CLI etc.

At the time of writing, by far the most hosting providers (and, hence, customers) are using the cPanel control panel, controlled via the WHM (Web Hosting Manager software). They took a huge market share thanks to their quality, but after almost two decades of great support, Oakley Capital bought it all, near the end of 2018. Right after that, in 2019, it hiked cPanel prices by 300 to 1,000% (depending on particular web hosting provider’s setup – for details see: 2019 cPanel price hike). This sudden price hike left few options besides paying, since moving the entire setup and infrastructure on a short notice would kill most businesses.

To make matters worse, the same corporation also owns the billing (invoicing) panel, WHMCS.

Did the price hike increase the service quality? Nope – it’s gone down the drain ever since. Issues being ignored, problems not being patched – you name it! It looks like a money grabbing scheme, by using the market position of practically a monopoly.

Now, for a bit of a hard-to-catch game:

  • Company WebPros is the titular owner of most large web-hosting software brands.
  • Oakley Capital owned WebPros.
  • Oakley Capital sold its share in WebPros to the CVC Fund VII.
  • CVC Fund VII is managed by CVC Capital Partners.

Here you can search what this investment fund owns (and is willing to disclose):
https://www.cvc.com/portfolio/our-portfolio/

They definitely own WebPros, and WebPros’ portfolio includes:

  • cPanel & WHM (Linux server control panel)
  • Plesk (Windows server control panel, basically)
  • SolusVM (VPS control panel)
  • WHMCS (billing panel)
  • Sitejet (CMS – like WordPress only worse 🙂 )
  • 360 Monitoring (server and site monitoring tool)
  • XOVI NOW (SEO tool)
  • Koality (performance monitoring and QA)

– T.O.C. –


4. GoDaddy

GoDaddy is probably the biggest domain name registrar, though they also offer web hosting services. They are known for cheap domain registration, but double the market costs for domain renewal – followed with powerful marketing.

The story of GoDaddy is a typical story of corporate growth. Here is a brief overview of the most notable purchases and sales regarding GoDaddy:

  • The GoDaddy company was founded by the Jomax Technologies company in 1999.
  • In 2011, KKR, Silver Lake, and Technology Crossover Ventures private equity funds bought 70% of the GoDaddy company.

Merges and sales didn’t stop there. Regarding the current GoDaddy ownership, its top shareholders are:

  • Blackrock Inc. holding approximately 11.88% of shares.
  • Vanguard Group Inc. with about 10.46%.
  • Capital International Investors with around 8.47%.

These figures represent significant portions of GoDaddy’s total shares as reported in September 2023. These major institutional investors play a key role in the ownership structure of GoDaddy, reflecting their significant investment and interest in the company.

Regarding the acquisitions done by GoDaddy, it owns a ton of companies, especially domain registrars. Here are just a few of the most notable:

  • In 2016, GoDaddy bought ManageWP, a WordPress hosting/site management platform.
  • Just a few months later, GoDaddy also bought Host Europe Group (which owns dozens of domain registrars including the UK’s largest 123-Reg), Domain Factory, and Heart Internet paying billions of dollars for those acquisitions (and gaining huge profits from them later on).
    Host Europe Group owned companies (Wiki link)
  • In 2017, GoDaddy bought the security platform (very popular with WordPress) Sucuri.

A short list of GoDaddy acquisitions (Wiki link).

Note:
In 2022/2023, GoDaddy hosting suffered a major security breach (article discussing the GoDaddy security breach). However, it is fair to note that GoDaddy domain registration service works OK (apart from the renewal price hike policies). Yes, I do like to joke by calling the company “GoBadly” because of the hosting-related problems, but, again, their domain registration service works.

– T.O.C. –


4.1. Porkbun ownership?

Here’s some interesting “Googling” I did on my favourite domain registrar, Porkbun (my review link).

  • According to Porkbun, it is “a fully owned subsidiary of Top Level Design LLC” (Porkbun site source link).
  • The Top Level Design is the domain name registry for the generic top-level domains .wiki, .ink, .design, and .gay. Ray King serves as its chief executive officer. Their domain is toplevel.design.
  • In April 2021, the .design domain management has been transferred to GoDaddy. Yes.
  • According to this Top Level Design website page, their “Mainland China Abuse Contact” is [email protected].
    Note that this does not prove that GoDaddy owns Porkbun.

Porkbun has also moved its expired domain names to GoDaddy Auctions. This means that domains registered through Porkbun that expire and are not renewed are then auctioned off through GoDaddy’s auction platform.
Note that this arrangement is a business decision related to the handling of expired domain names, but it does not prove that GoDaddy owns Porkbun.

– T.O.C. –


5. Automattic – the WordPress.com behemoth

There is a big difference between the self-hosted free open source WordPress.org, and the WordPress-As-A-Service version on WordPress.com (WP.org vs WP.com). WordPress.com is owned by the Automattic company. Matt Mullenweg is the CEO of Automattic.

Automattic company has bought the following:

  • Tumblr – a social network.
  • Gravatar – a service for providing globally unique avatars.
  • Pocket Casts – a podcast app.
  • Simplenote – a note taking app.
  • Simperium – an app-building data handling API.
  • Longreads – a site for publishing essays and other long-form articles.
  • IntenseDebate – a comment/discussion system for website platforms.
  • Lean Domain Search – a service for finding available domains to registerm, based on your desired terms.
  • Cloudup – file and video sharing service.

Automattic also owns a ton of WordPress-related stuff:

  • WooCommerce – practically the only relevant e-commerce platform/plugin for WordPress.
  • JetPack – a bundle of WordPress performance and security plugins.
  • Akismet – an anti-spam plugin.
  • Crowdsignal (formerly known as PollDaddy before Automattic bought it) – a plugin for polls, surveys etc.
  • Sensei LMS – a plugin for making and selling courses.

Here is a full list of Automattic’s plugins (WP.org link).

Automattic also makes a ton of free and paid WordPress themes. Here’s a full list of Automattic’s themes (WP.org link).

Many (most?) of the Automattic’s employees are basically remote-working (before it was cool) independent contractors (so they can be fired at any time, they aren’t actually officially employed). This lets them hire high-quality workers from all around the world.

It’s fair to say that, as far as I know, at the time of writing, Automattic pays are good (or the least bad if you’re a pessimist), and it’s an OK place to work at (as far as corporations go).

– T.O.C. –


6. Elementor – another WordPress player

At the time of writing, as far as I know, Elementor is a privately owned company, but it did receive a big investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners (not to be confused with LiteSpeed). Elementor has bought the following:

  • Strattic – static and headless WordPress solution.
  • Layers WP – WordPress theme building company (acquired and closed/assimilated).

Elementor has partnered with A2 Hosting to offer “The Perfect Pre-Installed Elementor Hosting Solution.”

– T.O.C. –


7. Easy WP SMTP + AIO SEO bundle?

My favourite plugin for sending mail from WordPress, Easy WP SMTP, has added All In One SEO plugin (WP.org link) with a new installation, on a new website (the installation process doesn’t clearly state that a new plugin will be installed).

Not sure if this is a combine ownership, or some lucrative (affiliate?) deal. But it sucks. I like & use The SEO Framework, and don’t like one plugin installing and activating other plugins without clear notice and explicite confirmation on my end.

But, that’s not all. It also installed the WPForms Lite plugin (WP.org link). Again, this was not clearly communicated in the install/setup procedure of the Easy WP SMTP plugin. I don’t like these kinds of “tricks.”

– T.O.C. –


8. group.one – WordPress RankMath, WP Rocket etc.

group.one” is a company that likes to spell its name without capital letters (as if one can ever have enough capital 🙂 ).

group.one has merged with the Dogado group in 2023.

They own a bunch of hosting providers, and digital marketing services (including some very popular WordPress plugins).

Hosting providers and hosting-related services:

  • Digital Garden (formerly UniWeb and FastName) – domain names, email services, etc.
  • AIXPRO – e-commerce company (now fully assimilated).
  • GratisDNS – domain registrar (fully assimilated).
  • Hostnet – a Dutch hosting provider.
  • Zoner Oy – hosting provider from Finland.
  • easyname – an Austrian hosting provider.
  • Emerion – an Austrian hosting provider (assimilated to the previously-purchased easyname – these guys really don’t like those capital letters in names 🙂 ).
  • WP.one – WordPress hosting.
  • one.com – another no-capitals brand that sells web hosting.
  • METANET – a Swiss hosting provider.
  • Webstyle (webstyle.ch) – another Swiss hosting provider (assimilated into the previously-purchased METANET).
  • Filoo (www.filoo.de) – a German hosting provider (now assimilated into dogado.pro).
  • Cionix – another German hosting provider.

WordPress-related acquisitions:

  • WP Media – the company that owns WP Rocket (a very popular high-quality & expensive WP caching plugin), Imagify (image optimization tool).
  • BackWPup – a decent WordPress backup plugin.
  • Adminimize – a free plugin for cleaning up and managing the WP admin area.
  • Search & Replace – a free plugin for auto, mass, link editing when changing domains and similar (seems to be abandoned now).
  • RocketCDN – this is a CDN that works with other CMS platforms too (not just WordPress).
  • RankMath – probably the most popular WordPress SEO plugin (alongside Yoast), with some very shady marketing and development strategies (but profits are made so who cares, right?!).

– T.O.C. –


Instead of a conclusion

I wanted to write an article like this since the time cPanel was bought, in 2018 (before its price hike). Better late than never, I suppose. 🙂

As with my other articles, I’ll try to keep this one up-to-date too.

If you have any comments, additions or you find any errors in this article, please post a comment on the BikeGremlin forum:
https://www.bikegremlin.net/

– T.O.C. –


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