For the millions of people who equate the Web with .com, . CO Internet is out to change that mindset.
The Miami company that manages and markets the .co domain is already making impressive gains — more than 1.4 million in 200 countries have hung their businesses, blogs, personal projects or dreams on a .co virtual shingle. Still, that’s just a tiny fraction of industry titan VeriSign’s 105 million .com registrants.
“We want to change the fabric of the Internet,” Juan Diego Calle, founder and CEO of .CO Internet, said during an interview in .CO’s Brickell office. “We can only make that happen not by changing what happened in the last 25 years of the Web, which is owned by .com. We want to change the next 25.”
About 2½ years after the launch of .CO Internet, .co — the country code of Colombia — continues to be one of the fastest-growing Internet domains in the world and grew by 24 percent in 2012. .CO Internet is profitable and is projecting to bring in more than $25 million in revenues this year, the company said. The early success of .CO Internet, with operations in Miami and Colombia, is powered by passion and perseverance.
Calle moved to Miami from Colombia at age 15 with his family. He started several businesses, including one he sold in 2005 providing seed capital for what would come next. “I can’t say I ever sat still.” When he learned Colombia would be commercializing the country's .co domain extension in late 2006, he said it hit him like a lightning bolt.
With the right strategy and by “marketing the hell out of it,” the entrepreneur believed .co could solve a huge problem in the market — vanishing Internet domain names. If you’ve tried to nab a new .com address lately, you can relate — it’s difficult to find one that hasn’t been snatched up.
Calle thought that by appealing to the hearts and minds of the entrepreneur, .co could go where .info, .biz, .net or .me had never gone before. But first he needed the right team.
One of this first stops: The Big Apple, to visit Nicolai Bezsonoff, who had been an advisor and shareholder in Calle’s TeRespondo.com, a sort of Ask Jeeves for the Latin American market that was sold to Yahoo in 2005. At the time, Bezsonoff was the director of technology and operations at Citigroup.
“We went out for coffee, he started pitching me on a napkin. I said ‘really dude you want me to leave a big job at Citigroup for this?’ ” said Bezsonoff. “But he kept showing me the numbers … Later, that napkin was on my desk and it was one of those boring days and I kept looking at it and thought maybe I should.” He would become .CO’s chief operating officer.
Lori Anne Wardi, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur who was working at a venture capital firm at the time, became vice president in charge of brand strategy, business development and global communications. “She’s the heart and soul of the company,” said Calle. Eduardo Santoyo, based in Bogota, would become corporate vice president over policy and be the liaison with the Colombian government. “Some would say it was overkill talent but I needed the best. ... When you have a big dream, you have to think big and hire the right people,” Calle said.