.CO Internet is a company cool enough for Brooklyn hipsters

by Paul Sloan as seen on CNET

Suddenly, the outfit behind the .co domain is everywhere, even if many people barely notice.

It's all part of Juan Diego Calle's shrewd strategy. 
Juan Diego Calle of .CO Internet at SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas --If you haven't heard of Juan Diego Calle's company quite yet, consider yourself not among the in-the-know here over the last few days.

Yes, the buzz at this year's South by Southwest Interactive has been around social apps like Highlight and Glancee hoping for a Twitter-like breakout. But there's another hot startup here that gets little press and yet is everywhere.

I'm referring to .CO Internet, the Miami company that fought hard to land a contract with the government of Colombia so it could commercialize the country's top-level-domain, or TLD. At last year's SXSW, founder and CEO Calle could barely get a party invite. 

This year, he was hobnobbing and sharing stages with the likes of Reid Hoffman, Steve Case, and big-time angel investor Dave McClure of 500Startups. More importantly to Calle is that evidence of his efforts are everywhere: Case has rebranded his Startup America Partnership to S.co, and a slew of startups here--Bumpercrop.co, Tailored.co, Gourmair.co, Cardflick.co--are proudly displaying their .co brand.

"Someone came up to me and said, 'You guys are like Brooklyn,'" Calle told me during a packed SXSW party that he was sponsoring with Tech Cocktail to showcase startups. "'You're like where the cool guys in N.Y. want to be.'"

Taking advantage of the domain shortage

There's one obvious reason that so many startups are building their Web sites on .co domains: the good .com names are long gone. Coming up with a company name is hard enough. Finding an available domain nearly impossible. They're either in use or, more likely, have been snapped up by domain investors (let's save the term cybersquatter for those going after trademark names) betting that a deep-pocketed buyer would come along. 
Juan Diego Calle, with Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh and LeanStartup guru Eric Ries at SXSW Startup America Live

That issue alone--domain holders demanding huge prices--helped fuel the trend of offbeat and often odd names of many of the Web 2.0 startups. It's why Digg had an extra "g" and Flickr was missing an "e."

Yet the domain shortage is only part of the explanation for .co's success. Calle has made an concerted effort to define .co as a place that new startups would want to hang their virtual shingle--if not Brooklyn cool, certainly Silicon Valley cool.

Early on, for instance, he gave "T.co" to Twitter to use as it's URL shortener, which the folks at Twitter were eager to do. He did a deal with AngelList, a thriving service for connecting startup founders and investors that now uses Angel.co. McClure's 500Startups runs on 500.co, Jason Calcanis's Launch runs on Launch.co, and on and on. These are influential places to spread your message.

Startups get discounted .CO domains as one of the many benefits of your Startup America membership. Join here: s.co/join