With the team together, the four co-founders now had plenty of research to do to win that Colombia license — and their competitors included VeriSign, the huge public company behind .com. It would take them a full year to put together their application package. “1,165 pages, I will always remember that number,” Calle said.
“No one thought we would win against VeriSign,” said Bezsonoff, who was also born in Colombia. “When we went in and won, it was like, ‘all right, let’s go build a company.’ ”
With the business model based on registrations and renewals, volume is key as the vast majority of customers are paying an average of $20 a year for .co domain names (although some single-letter names have gone for upwards of $1 million). Over the next few months, the team would develop a massive marketing campaign.
Tech startups seemed to be a natural market because they are early adopters and naturally rebellious. “It’s the entrepreneur who is up at 4 in the morning with a great idea for his business and can’t find a domain name,“ said Calle, who launched his first business as a teen selling stereo systems out of his garage. “It’s us, we are the people. We’ve been through that process.”
Before launch, the team believed they needed to establish credibility by getting some big names to sign on. “Of all the two letter names, .co was literally perfect. It means company, community, commerce, communications, everything social,” said Wardi.
They knocked on a lot of doors and sent a lot of emails before they scored with a big one. Twitter would start using t.co. “That was huge for us and gave us instant credibility,” Calle said.
.CO Internet launched on July 20, 2010, Colombia’s Independence Day. Flying pigs, symbolizing anything is possible, flew across screens each time a new website signed up. That was a lot of flying pigs — 233,000 signed up the first day.
“We said we could do what everyone else has done or we can create an emotional connection with the domain,” said Bezsonoff.
Marquis names of the startup culture switched from .com to .co — beginning with AngelList ( Angel.co), the go-to site for connecting accredited investors with startups around the world.
AngelList, which signed on even before .CO’s official launch, was initially attracted by the availability of good domain names and the ability to have a compact name, said Naval Ravikant, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based company.
“But equally important, a lot of the new registries are used by squatters and spammers and Google doesn’t index them and end users don’t have a good impression of them,” explained Ravikant, citing .biz. “But the .CO domain registry has been really good about making sure there is not too much squatting going on, and as a result Google indexing has been strongly positive, engendering trust.”
Startup America ( s.co), Founder Institute ( fi.co), Launch Festival ( launch.co), and others followed suit. “CO is quickly becoming the hot new geeky TLD [top level domain] in Silicon Valley,” said 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, when announcing its change from 500startups.com to 500.co in 2011.