Tech Talk

Launched, grown, sold: What’s next for .CO co-founders?

 
 
Juan Diego Calle, founder and former CEO of .CO Internet, talks about what’s next after the sale of his company.
Juan Diego Calle, founder and former CEO of .CO Internet, talks about what’s next after the sale of his company.
MARICE COHN BAND / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Champagne popped and bonuses flowed after .CO Internet closed its chapter as an independent company and became part of the publicly traded Neustar last week.

Neustar, the Sterling, Va.-based provider of real-time analytics and Internet registry services, maintains the .biz and .us top-level domains and will be providing services for up to 350 new domain extensions as a result of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ ongoing global domain name expansion. Launched globally in 2010, .CO Internet was the exclusive operator of the “.co” domain, and had grown to managing 1.7 million names under management in more than 200 countries and territories. .CO sold for $109 million, according to the SEC filing.

Juan Diego Calle, co-founder and former CEO of .CO, said that last year the co-founders began to explore raising a significant round of financing to expand into many more product lines. “In the process of discussions with private equity firms, VC firms and strategic players like Neustar, we very quickly realized what was driving the interest of these companies was not the grander vision but it was .CO itself,” Calle said. “We were soon getting offers for the entire business.”

Calle said the timing was right for both sides. “We are going from a very regulated environment where there are a limited number of domain extensions into a world where there is essentially an unlimited number of options for consumers,” said Calle, referring to the thousands of new domain name options coming into the marketplace. “There’s this movement by the larger players in the industry to consolidate their positions of power and be market leaders in the new paradigm, and here we are, .CO, the most appealing of the new alternatives, so you can grab that asset and make it your flagship brand.

“And for us, we were a small company with limited resources, we were profitable, we were growing. In that paradigm with thousands of alternatives, having a public company behind us owning the asset is a huge competitive advantage.”

Calle said Neustar’s plan is to keep the offices — and the jobs — in Miami and Colombia. There are 20 full-time employees going to Neustar, plus a few consultants.

“All of our employees are getting better jobs than they had at .CO, better benefits ... and everyone got a sizable bonus. Letting them know they were getting the money and celebrating the transaction with them was the highlight of my career from an entrepreneurial standpoint — really very cool,” said Calle, who has been an outspoken proponent of launching and growing companies in Miami.

Of the co-founders, Calle and Nicolai Bezsonoff, the former COO, will serve as strategic advisors, managing the integration of the companies. Lori Anne Wardi will remain in the role of vice president, and will continue overseeing the evolution of the .CO brand, as well as help Neustar with the soon-to-be-launched .NYC extension. José Rasco will continue as managing director of STRAAT Investments, independent of Neustar. Eduardo Santoyo will continue to lead the Colombia office and all matters relating to government relations and Internet policy.

“I’m over the moon,” said Wardi after the closing. “This has been our baby, we saw such potential in these two letters and what they would become. . . I feel so proud every time I see a .co.”

So what’s next? STRAAT and the co-founders had been planning to open a headquarters and co-working center in the West Brickell area that they call Building, and that will still open in September, Calle said. Building will house the Neustar team as well as other ventures. “The idea of Building is to attract companies in a similar life cycle as .CO. We want to fill the later-stage niche instead of going after the pure startup plays. We are considering whether to expand the concept and to take it to other cities like San Francisco, New York and London. That is a business plan we are going to be actively developing now that we have sold .CO,” he said.

Neustar didn’t acquire the subsidiary Pop.co, which allows consumers to set up a domain name, email account and website in 60 seconds. Said Calle: “You will see more push from us to build that out. Our goal is to make it one of the leading retail sites. We have a couple of other interesting things brewing.”

Getting smart about cities

Smart City Startups 2014, a global gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, foundations and urban leaders, will convene Thursday and Friday in Miami to explore how to help startups build smart cities. Hosted by Miami startup Urban.Us, the inaugural event will explore how to best support startups working on problems such as mobility, sustainable building, governance, service delivery and resilience and will showcase promising startups in these areas.

“As cities become increasingly crowded, local governments are being asked to do more with less, making an already-complex situation more difficult. Smart City Startups 2014 is a response to such challenges, aiming to understand how we can best support startups that are creating promising solutions to our biggest urban challenges,” said Shaun Abrahamson, CEO of Urban.Us, an angel investor and author of Crowdstorm.

The mission of the gathering: To share perspectives on what is working and what else can be done to support smart city startups, particularly in the areas of partnerships, procurement and funding. Strategies will be shared and participants will be encouraged to continue working together after the event.

Co-founded by Shaun Abrahamson and Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us helps startups that help cities by organizing a network of promising startups, early stage investors, advisors, urban leaders, foundations and academic institutions. It is also working with Miami-Dade County leaders to help the city evolve into an innovation-driven tech hub.

While much of the conference is by invitation, on Thursday evening startups from all over the world will showcase their solutions for how cities and startups can work together to solve urban challenges. The demo night will be at 7:30 p.m. at The Light Box in Wynwood and is open to the public.

Startups participating in Smart City Startups Demos include:  Architizer (New York),  BikeSpike (Chicago),  Birdi (San Francisco),  BRCK (Nairobi, Kenya),  Citymart (Barcelona),  Dash (New York),  HandUp (San Francisco),  Greater Places (Arlington, Va.),   Kairos (Miami),   Kiwi.ki (Berlin),  Learner Nation (Miami),  Loveland Technologies (Detroit),  Neighbor.ly (Kansas City, Mo.),   Placemeter (New York),   Public Stuff (New York),   PWRStation (Miami),  Rach.io (Denver),  Republic Bikes (Dania Beach), SeeClickFix (New Haven, Conn.),  SeamlessDocs (New York),  SmartProcure (Deerfield Beach),  Social Bicycles (New York),  Sprav (Cleveland),  The TransitApp (Montreal), WhatUpBridge (Miami).

Hackathon for the Americas

  eMerge Americas Techweek will host hundreds of developers, designers and technology enthusiasts vying for $30,000 in prizes at the eMerge Americas Techweek Hackathon.  The hackathon will bring together competitors from across the Americas from May 2-4 at the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park’s Miami Innovation Center.

More than 100 developers have already signed up to participate, and organizers are expecting up to 300 competitors, said Xavier Gonzalez, executive director of the Technology Foundation of the Americas.

The challenge for the hackathon will be  Doing  Social Good: Using Technology to Solve Problems in Communities in Emerging Markets. The applications developed will be judged based on presentation, sophistication and functionality. "This will be a truly unique opportunity for the top developers in South Florida to compete against peers from Latin America and the Caribbean," said Brian Breslin, co-director of the Refresh Miami tech organization.

With support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), .CO and Wexford Science and Technology, a $20,000 cash prize will be awarded to the first place team, $7,500 to the second place team and $2,500 to third place team.  In addition, $100 in AWS Activate Credits will be provided to each participant.

For more information on the hackathon, visit emergeamericas.org/experience/exhibitions/hackathon.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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