There are 2 things to know and 1 thing to do "first".
What you should know
- We need a date. Even the ICANN has no clue when the next round will start and if it does, you should know that the first round has to be finished prior for the next one to start. This is what the previous applicant guidebook says. Read it if you feel like entering our strange world. No exact definition of "first round has to be finished prior for the next one starts" so clearly...it is really up to the ICANN to give us a date but according to what I read, some cases are not yet ended and the .AMAZON new gTLD is a good example to give. I read that the ICANN would announce a date in the Marrakesh meeting...great. Note that without an official announcement from the ICANN with a firm date of the next round...nothing happens.
- We need the latest applicant guidebook. This one is a long story and a long document to write. Many groups are working on it for the ICANN but...you have to participate to them and "attend webinars" to follow-up with this. Note that once the applicant guidebook has been revealed, it is the same for all and there is no "passe droit" at the ICANN to have your application submitted first before your competitor. I would even suggest not to deal with ICANN insiders (who can also be new gTLD service providers) too much because no one knows if conflict of interests could be revealed, putting the submission of your application in danger. Without the official - and final - applicant guidebook announced and published by the ICANN...nothing happens. ICANN decides.
What you should do "first"
There is one obvious thing to do FIRST: what do you want to do with your domain name extension?
- If you want to sell domain names becoming a registry, you have to know if there is a market and you should study numbers too: if neither a market nor numbers are there, you will waste your money and fail your project. Think that Premium domain names will save your project? Good luck to you then but it is a risky decision. Note that if your TLD is any good (.DRONE - .SEO - .TRANSLATE - .WHATEVER...)...but not so good in the end, there could be someone (a backend-registry service providers, entrepreneur, etc...) to buy it from you to help you get rid of it...or not. But is that what you want to achieve? There are failed projects and some keep failing still because...demand is not there.
Before you take the decision to invest in a new gTLD, put some imagination in your business model and don't focus on selling domain names only, there are other things to do with a new gTLD...unless you have the right market.
- If you want to apply for your .BRAND domain name extension, you should watch what's being done and wonder if it is worth it to do the same financially because operating your .BRAND means that you have access to all domain names in your TLD: ALL OF THEM. Isn't it interesting to be able to operate a generic domain name such as www.yourservice.brand or www.yourproduct.brand? What about www.pizza.brand when you sell pizzas? It is and that is what .BRAND new gTLDs are for. But at what price?
A good question to have is: how much is it going to cost me to register one single domain name in my extension when any domain name from another public domain name extension would cost you $10 to 20$ per year to renew?
Is it worth it for my image, or project, to pay a high price per personalized domain name? Many existing .BRANDs never had these questions and just secured their extension at an extremely high price...to do nothing with it (note that securing a .BRAND TLD for no purpose can be a project).
I personally believe that it is worth it to pay a higher price per domain name per year for a .BRAND but this calculation should be done on the global price per year to maintain your TLD at the backend registry level (and other service providers); and ensure that you understood this pricing: you don't want to find out that it cost you an average of $800 per year (and sometimes much more) for one single domain name registered, do you?
What you should do first is simple and very basic actually: don't repeat failures from the first round of the ICANN new gTLD program. Want to ask the right person on what works and what does not work? Don't hire a new gTLD service provider, talk to the operator of a registry ;-)
Follow-up with new gTLDs
Now you read "what you should know", you'll probably want to know where to go to be informed and I created a place just for this. Also, be sure that such announcements will be made on CircleId by most service providers.