EXCLUSIVE: Juan Diego Calle, CEO of .CO talks strategy with EuroDNS

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In 2010 the .CO domain registry relaunched itself as the global domain shorthand for company, and in three short years has grown spectacularly to over 1.5 million domain registrations. We caught up with the CEO of .CO, Juan Diego Calle, to discuss the secret of .CO’s success, the future of domain names and more.

Chatting with Juan Diego Calle from .CO

The .CO relaunch has been phenomenally successful but not all domain registries have fared so well. What’s the secret to your success and what separates the winners from the losers? It takes more than having a good string, right?

Before .CO, TLDs have typically been treated as utilities. We took an entirely different approach. Our strategy has had 3 key pieces:

  1. To build a global brand that is synonymous with innovation.
  2. To target early adopters and tech startups (which helps us to accomplish the first point).
  3. To build a global community of customers, partners and friends that help to propel the brand forward.

Our Membership Program, which we launched in November 2012, has helped us support the global community we’re building by offering .CO users free benefits like SEO consultations, promotional support, tickets to coveted events, and much more. Apart from being a major differentiator for us, there is nothing more rewarding than supporting the individuals who are building the future on .CO.

Another secret to the success we’ve had to date is that we’ve built a phenomenal team. A company’s growth potential is limited or propelled by the talent of its people. We knew we wanted to build something big, so we hired the brightest stars to work with us.

Oh, and having a great string definitely doesn’t hurt!

.CO domains are priced higher than most other TLDs; in a market that is so price-driven isn’t this counter-intuitive? Why did you choose to buck this trend?

The price is intended to help keep the domain largely free from mass speculation. Our vision is to create the coolest neighbourhood online for the world’s next generation of businesses and brands. We want people to build their great ideas on .CO – and to avoid creating a domain ghetto, filled with landing pages and parking sites.

To our target market – the entrepreneur, innovator or small business owner – the $25 - $30 price tag is still very reasonable. They are simply looking for the best domain name to brand themselves online, and are willing to pay a slightly higher price for the perfect short and brandable domain name.

We would probably have many more registrations if we charged less, but in the end, we care far more about building a great brand for the long term, than maximizing every dollar earned in the short term.

I guess one of your biggest challenges (& successes) has been to change customers’ perception of .CO into a global domain name and a true alternative to .COM. Would you agree with this, and what was your strategy for transitioning .CO into a gTLD?

As with any new technology, there is a long adoption curve. In our case we are dealing with 25+ years of .COM domination, and an industry with a history of little innovation. We are working hard to change public perception, and to help people see that there’s more to life than .COM. As I mentioned, one part of our strategy has been to target early adopters and tech startups. As our customers reach higher levels of success with the companies, products and services they are building on .CO, it helps to increase awareness of .CO and change the public perception.

The launch of a service like Vine.co, by Twitter, for example, has done wonders to help spread awareness of the .CO extension on a global scale. And earlier this year we saw nine .COs with feature stories on TechCrunch over the course of a single week, including TinyPost.co, Simpler.co, ShopInterest.co, Fosbury.co, Mailstrom.co, Deliv.co, 500.co, Vine.co and Angel.co - proof positive that awareness is increasing and perception is changing!

To some domain nerds .CO is and will always be the country code domain extension for Colombia. In our rapidly changing domain marketplace, do you think country code domain names are still relevant?

For as long as there are countries, country code domains will remain relevant. Country code domain names signal to the world that a business, brand, event or organization hails from or relates to a particular country. Historically, the .COM.CO domain has always been used to identify businesses or interests inside of Colombia – and we continue to actively promote and sell .COM.CO domain names worldwide to represent Colombia on the Internet.

On the other hand, .CO didn’t exist as an independent string until 2010, when we launched to the world. While some people may recognize .CO’s roots in the ccTLD of Colombia, the fact is that it is now a decidedly global domain extension. In fact, Google and other key search engines treat .CO exactly the same way as they treat legacy gTLDs like .COM, .NET and .ORG.

It’s interesting to note that of the more than 1.5 million domain names registered on .CO, over 94% come from outside of Colombia, and are registered by individuals and businesses from over 200+ countries and territories worldwide.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming launch of the new gTLDs? Will it be good for the Internet, consumers and competition?

We’re excited about the upcoming launch of new gTLDs because it reinforces our message that businesses don’t need to be built on a .COM to be viable. The more people get used to seeing alternative endings to the right of the dot, the better for us. We have a strong domain extension. I think it will be extremely exciting to compete in this new environment. After all, with greater competition comes greater innovation – and you can never have too much of that!

& what about for the established domain registries? Should they be worried?

Well, worrying never did anyone any good! As with all things in business, established registries will have to innovate and adapt to the changing landscape to remain competitive.

And do you think the general public are ready for it? Do you get a feeling that there is a real appetite for new domain names, or do you think it's being driven by the registries?

For the past two decades we have had a false sense of scarcity around .COM domain names that drove prices up and limited innovation. There is no question that there is a true demand for new domain options. .CO is living proof of that. In fact, in the first 24 hours after our launch we sold over 200,000 domain names!

The real question is not if there is demand, but how much demand there is. And how well each registry will do in defining and executing on a solid business plan to meet that demand. I’m sure we will see some big winners and big losers in the space.

As for the public, I don’t think they are ready just yet. But I suspect they will adapt quickly once things start to shift. It was hard to gain acceptance for .CO at first, but here we are only three years since the launch, and we’re amazed by the number of high quality sites that are being built on .CO every single day.

With the proliferation of new TLDs, I think we’ll see people increasingly using search to sort through their options and find what they need. My plan is to make sure that .CO consistently comes out on top!

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