Like Steve Jobs, Juan Diego Calle started his first business — an online advertising network company based in Latin America, TeRespondo — with his brother, and no money, from their garage. Today, he is the owner of his second online company — .CO — an internet domain company which provides the domain extension “.co,” a shorter version of the popular “.com.” This time, however he has an office in Miami with 20 employees.
Since the company’s launch in July 2010, more than 1.5 million .co domain names have been registered in more than 200 countries. The .co domain is also attracting emerging, innovative brands such as vine.co, good.co, brit.co, Virgin Media, American Express and Starbucks. Twitter even has a shorter .co option — t.co.
“Back in 2005 and 2006, it was difficult to find a domain name,” says Calle, 35. “The biggest contribution we made is bring a new alternative to the Web.”
Calle emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was 16 and sold his first startup, TeRespondo, to Yahoo! in 2005. He was only 27, and a college dropout. However, due to the success of his first company, Calle was accepted into Harvard’s Owner/President Management Program for the CEOs of companies.
“I was the youngest one in the class,” says Calle, who had been studying industrial engineering at the University of Miami while he launched TeRespondo. “TeRespondo gave me some credibility, and they wanted me in the program.”
After graduating from Harvard, Calle thought about how he could start a venture which would also give back to his native country. Since .co is also the country code extension of Colombia, when he launched .Co, he made sure with each new domain registry, the country of Colombia would get a royalty averaging about 25 percent, and the money generated would be reinvested in initiatives to promote digital literacy and Internet usage throughout the country.
“I was born in Colombia, so it’s cool to contribute to my country,” says Calle, explaining he learned more about Colombia than his parents thanks to access to information on the internet. “There’s a plan in place in Colombia and our funding contributes to initiatives.”
He says one of the greatest moments in his life was getting caught in the “internet bubble.”
“I’ve been in love in with the internet since 1998,” says Calle.
He says after selling TeRespondo, he started buying Web domain names.
“In 2005, domain names were sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars, and we started buying many of them. Domain names are like real estate — a scarce resource — so they increase in value,” says Calle. “That’s where the concept of .Co popped up. Around the world, ‘co’ is short for company — it just made a lot of sense to introduce it as an alternative.”
One user of the domain extension .co is Brit Morin, founder and CEO of Brit.co — an online platform and e-commerce company, based in San Francisco. She says she was drawn to this alternative at first because Brit.com was already taken, and she thought .co matched her brand better, but she also sees the success of domain alternatives only growing with time.
“With mobile phones overtaking PCs so rapidly, to me TLDs (Top Level Domains) will become less important over time,” says Morin. “People will care more about the name of the app, not the website address. Additionally, on the web front, new TLDs like .lol and .map will be out on the market soon, expanding the market of websites available and making .com URLs less popular in the future.”
One key differentiator of .Co, according to Calle, is that every single customer gets a membership to promotional and networking opportunities, as well as resources that can help them in their business — like free business cards.
“We have a lot of growth ahead of us in .Co — we’re just getting the business running,” says Calle about his 3-year-old company. “The vision remains — we want to change the fabric of the internet. I can’t imagine being any good at anything else.”