.CO Internet take on industry titans .com

What’s in a name? A lot, as .CO Internet S.A.S., will tell you. By taking on internet industry titans this plucky company has sold more than one million unique .CO domain names across 200 countries in less than a year. World Finance speaks to Lori Anne Wardi, .CO’s VP


Can’t get the domain name you want for your business, brand or blog? It’s a common dilemma for major companies and budding entrepreneurs alike. Unless you can afford to simply throw money at the problem (and a lot of it), you’re forced to either settle for a sub-par domain name – or to look beyond the legacy .com extension for better online branding options.

Until now, the list of credible alternatives to .com was rather short. But starting later this year, after ICANN opens the door for potentially hundreds of new domain extensions, companies are going to have more to consider than ever before when choosing a digital brand.

One visionary entrepreneur recognised early on the need for a credible, generic alternative to .com, and petitioned the Colombian government to open its .CO domain to the world. Now, in just over a year since its debut, .CO has more than one million individuals and companies signed up in every corner of the world.

Why the great interest in .CO? To start, the letters “C-O” are recognised across the globe to mean “company” – which makes the extension instantly familiar and meaningful. Add to this the fact that the company waged a global marketing campaign of unprecedented scope for the industry; and that .CO is a whole character shorter than .com – clearly a critical point in this age of social and mobile media – and the rationale behind the company’s meteoric growth starts to become clear.

Behind .CO Internet S.A.S. is a smart, serial entrepreneur, Juan Diego Calle, who started his company with very little cash but quickly attracted $5m in funding. It wasn’t long before global brand names like Twitter, Amazon and Google – and a rash of Silicon Valley big wigs – started to adopt the .CO domain extension. And with a marketing partnership with domain retailer GoDaddy that has featured the .CO domain in their Super Bowl commercials for two years in a row – consumers are now starting to follow suit.

Big brand adoption
According to .CO Internet Vice President, Lori Anne Wardi, the company realised from the beginning that to be successful, it would need the support and adoption of the world’s biggest and most respected brands. As such, the company made a concerted effort to engage big brands early on, offering special early registration rights to help them to protect their brand names from squatters and opportunists. As a result, .CO Internet has been consistently praised by industry leaders as a role model for companies seeking to launch domain extensions in the future.

But big brands are not simply registering .CO domain names to protect their intellectual property. Instead, they are finding innovative ways to use .CO domains to build unique strategies for customer acquisition and engagement. Take retail giant, Overstock, for example. The company is in the process of rebranding itself from Overstock.com to the short, memorable O.co – hoping to appeal to a more global audience.

According to a recent Overstock press release, “the introduction of O.co highlights Overstock.com’s growth into a globally recognised brand that is synonymous with the ‘O’ and is a natural transition of the company’s brand to a universally understandable and relevant domain.”

Twitter offers another prime example of big brand adoption. The company launched T.co as a branded url shortener for Twitter.com, and embedded sophisticated security and analytics features into the url. Today T.co receives upwards of 100 million impressions every day by individuals and businesses the world over – and is the source of rich data that Twitter is using to build new site features and monetisation opportunities.

Beyond “T” and “O”, other single character .CO domain names have been acquired by Internet behemoths like Google, which recently purchased G.co, and Amazon, which acquired A.co, Z.co and K.co for its Amazon, Zappos and Kindle brands. The price for single character .CO domain names is currently around two million dollars each – offering brands “the rarest, shortest and coolest digital real estate in the world,” according to Wardi.

Silicon Valley startups
While the big brands have certainly helped .CO domains to garner the world’s attention, the company’s greatest success has come from the startup community in Silicon Valley, which has embraced the .CO extension with open arms. According to Wardi, “Our company ‘was built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs,’ and its raison d’etre is to support and inspire startups to build their new products, services, businesses and brands on the .CO platform.”

Thanks to a bevy of noted venture capitalists and tech bloggers, .CO was able to gain some great early traction that has garnered the attention of aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide. One of the earliest uses of .CO was the launch of Angel.co, which has since grown to be the world’s leading marketplace matching startups in need of funding with angel investors seeking investment opportunities.

According to Dave McClure, renowned Silicon Valley luminary, “.CO is quickly becoming the hot new geek [domain extension]” for startups. In fact, well-known incubator funds, like the Founder Institute and McClure’s own, 500 Startups, have even rebranded their own digital brands from longer .com urls to FI.co and 500.co, respectively – and are increasingly recommending .CO as the domain of choice to all of their portfolio companies.

With .CO, entrepreneurs can now launch their businesses and brands on a short, cool, credible domain name – without having to shell out hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars to do it. The goal, says Wardi, is for “.CO to be the online home for the world’s next great companies – the next Twitters, Facebooks and Googles.”

Global appeal
The appeal of .CO is clearly a global phenomenon, with registrations in more than 200 countries worldwide. While North America is the number-one hotspot for .CO, accounting for just over 50 percent of registrations, Europe comes in second place, with the UK alone accounting for about 12 percent of all .CO registrations.

As it turns out, .CO is a welcome complement to companies throughout Europe (and elsewhere) who seek to have a global footprint online. Many companies have built their online presence on country or region specific domain names that help them to define a presence in their own country or region – but actually inhibit them from expanding worldwide.

“If you’re somewhere in Asia, you’re not likely to buy something from an ecommerce site built on a domain name specific to another country,” says Wardi, “But with .CO, companies can complement their existing country-specific domain name, or even replace it, with a more globally relevant .CO web address.” For the UK, the case is even more compelling since people are used to the letters “CO”, which are already built into the .co.uk domain extension. “To expand globally, get a .CO and you’re off to the races.”

Unseating the incumbent
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is clearly .com. “It’s really the only other global domain extension that’s generic in nature,” says Wardi. Many of the other domain extensions, she says, mean something to the right of the dot that’s limiting in nature – they may relate to specific types of content, like mobile or adult, or have country or region specific meanings.

Recognising the perceived competition with .com, Wardi says that her team doesn’t think of themselves as competing directly with .com. “.Com has been around for over 25 years and has nearly 100 million domain names registered. It has served us all well – but there’s simply nothing good left for new businesses seeking to get started. .CO is simply picking up where .com has left off.”

The reality is that the reservoir of meaningful, brandable .com domains is largely depleted – and .CO is enthusiastically stepping in to fill the void. “Last year we spent close to 40 percent of our revenue on marketing,” says Wardi, “approximately $10m – and this year we expect to do the same.” Obviously this is a significant investment, and a piece of competitive intelligence that every aspiring new domain registry might want to consider when drafting that business plan.

The swarm of new domain extensions that are expected to launch in the next couple of years does not worry .CO Internet. In fact, the company believes that it will only help consumers to see that there is life beyond .com – and that the landscape of the Internet is changing for the better. About the increased competition, Wardi says – as only an entrepreneur would – “bring it on.”