With the LandRush for the .Co just a little over a month away, we got this exclusive interview with Juan Diego Calle who is the CEO of .CO Internet S.A.S., the company which is operating the registry for the ccTLD.
Juan, thanks for taking the time to educate myself and my readers on the .CO extension.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your career background.
A: I was born in Columbia and come from a very entrepreneurial family. We moved to the US when I was fairly young and by the time I got to high school, it was clear I was going to follow the entrepreneurial path myself. My first real business was installing stereos from the garage of my parents’ house for friends from school who wanted 10, 12 or 15 inch speakers installed in their cars. The work was fun — and some of the projects so complex that they helped to get me into engineering school for college. At the age of 22, I started my first Internet company – a search-advertising network for Latin America called TeRespondo. We had a wild ride – with incredible ups and downs and we managed to survive the bubble by the skin of our teeth! The company started growing fairly quickly in 2003 and we sold it to Yahoo in early 2005. PPC had become the big thing for Yahoo and Google so it felt like the right time for us to exit. After that, I went back to business school and started contemplating my next career move. It wasn’t long before I started to focus my time and energy on investments in domain-related ventures. Through my new company, STRAAT Investments, I began acquiring and developing valuable “virtual real estate” — like FederatedTravel.com, which is a lead generator in the travel industry, where the underlying asset is a beautiful portfolio of generic geo-targeted hotel booking domain names. I guess you could say that I’ve been in love with the domain industry ever since.
2. How did you get started with the .CO registry and how did the new rollout evolve from the previous handling of the TLD.
A: Given my background and skills, I suppose I was the right person in the right place, at the right time.
Although the process to change the administration and liberalize the policies of the TLD started 10 years ago, I didn’t get fully involved until 2006. During that year a new law passed giving the Ministry of Communications regulatory oversight of the TLD and paving the way for a change in administration.
Seeing that things would soon change, I started investing in a small portfolio of .COM.CO domains with significant development value. However, in the process of doing that I learned a lot about the process and it became clear that we could add significant value if awarded the registry contract. While large industry players from around the world were hovering around the terrain, we happened to have a strong local presence, domain industry experience, investment capital, and a proven track record of running a multi-national Internet company.
Between 2006 and 2008, the Ministry held several public forums to determine the fate of the TLD and the outcome was a new Administration Policy, finally approved in July 2008. To implement it, the government published an extensive RFP in early 2009. We responded to it with Neustar under a new joint-venture called .CO Internet S.A.S. Neustar would run the technical operations and we would administer and market the TLD.
In August of 2009, after presenting a 1,165 page bid, .CO Internet S.A.S. was awarded the contract to serve as the designated Administrator for the .CO ccTLD for the next ten years. While we were up against formidable adversaries, our competitive advantage came from the strong sense of national pride that fueled our team to work 24×7 for months on end to make it happen.
On February 7th, 2010, the transition from the previous administrator was completed – safely, securely. I’m very proud of how smooth the transition was – and I think it’s a great testament to the technical and operational capacity of our team.
3. In your marketing of this extension, some are calling this “the biggest launch since .com”… What are your thoughts and the reasoning why you think .CO will be huge.
A: It’s exciting to see those comments and judging by pre-registrations, it is shaping up to be very significant. I’m not sure .CO will be the biggest considering we are working hard to keep the space clean (the irony!), but we are marketing it to a much broader audience as compared to previous TLD launches. You may have seen our marketing at domain related events and websites – that group represents only 5% of our total media spend in 2010.
As to why it will be big: I think there’s tangible demand for a global, recognizable, and credible TLD. A decent domain, critical to online success, is nonexistent – or simply too expensive for today’s entrepreneurs to afford. This is where we believe .CO will thrive – in this new era of the Internet that millions of new Internet users around the world are flocking to daily. We like to call this “The .CO Era”.
4. What do you say to those who think that .CO’s value is just as a typo?
A: I certainly appreciate the interest we have from people that know what a “typo” is. But, those are not the customers that will make this extension successful in the long term.
In the offline world, the two simple letters “CO” are recognized the world over to mean company and/or corporation. In the online world, more than 20 countries currently use .CO in their third level TLD designation (e.g., .co.uk, .co.il, .co.jp, etc.). In essence, before investing a single dollar in marketing, .CO is already meaningful and recognizable – in multiple languages and cultures.
With that in mind, our customers are the millions of people around the world coming online for the first time that need a global, recognizable, and credible branding option for their online presence. Or those who have had to settle for sub-par domain names and are excited to get a second chance to get the names of their choice.
Long term, we are targeting people with dreams, ideas or content they want to share with the world – whether based in the US, India, Brazil, China, Russia – or anywhere else – that need a global TLD instead of something local. We’re also interested in the companies that already have a local ccTLD presence, but now want to extend their brand to have a global footprint. For them – .CO is a great complement to their existing local website.
If you add these up, you have a tremendous market – “typo” or not.
5. What do you say to those who think that .co is just .cm all over again?
A: I’d say the facts tell a different story. Other than both starting with the letter “C” – there is really nothing in common between .CO and .CM.
Product, team, technology, marketing, distribution; there really isn’t much to compare.
6. Some legitimate domainers might look for typo traffic from generic, non trademark terms say eduction.co or insurance.co for example what are your thoughts ?
A: As long as the rights of brand owners are not being infringed, we do not have an opinion on the factors that investors should or shouldn’t consider when buying .CO domains.
As a personal note, I would encourage domain investors to go after names that have development or branding value way beyond their traffic potential. I believe registering names from the primary market for purposes of traffic is the equivalent of playing poker with your eyes closed. Only a few individuals out there have access to the data necessary to make the right acquisitions during a launch. Publicly available data is largely inaccurate. Hence, I can’t stress this enough: Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t waste your money!
7. What measures is the registry taking to protect large trademark holders from having their domains squatted on such as Verizon.co, Dell.co and Google.co?
A: Essentially, we are implementing most things ICANN and the IRT have been debating for years in its new gTLD process. As a ccTLD we have the benefit of being able to cherry pick and modify to our specific needs – keeping the interests of the TM community, legitimate investors, and those of end users aligned. Obviously, the end goal is to deter security threats such as phishing and pharming, making the space safer and more valuable to all those involved.
If you’re a TM attorney and want to learn more, visit us during INTA – http://www.cointernet.co/INTA
8. What about “country risk? What’s the risk of the new policy changing, the government changing, the government passing rules or restrictions on the extension?
A: I’d encourage anyone who is concerned about “country risk” to read up on Colombia and its history over the last 50 years. There is no doubt that in the past we’ve had our share of security threats due to the drug war – but that issue is largely behind us and the risk today is minimal. In fact, the investment and political climate are incredibly strong! Today, Colombia is thriving thanks to international trade, innovation and strong democratic leadership. The US, Israel, and the UK, are all countries facing significant security threats (albeit for different reasons) — yet they all enjoy strong government institutions. Colombia today is absolutely the same.
The decision to make .CO available as a global TLD was not taken lightly. The government conducted a thorough review process in its decision to provide the .CO ccTLD to the global community as an “open-ccTLD”. Actually, the question was considered and debated for more than ten years – reflecting the government’s intention to make the move thoughtfully and in a sustainable way.
As an added level of protection, an Advisory Committee that is comprised of international, government and business leaders will oversee all policy matters relating to the .CO domain. The initial concession contract to .CO Internet SAS will last for 10 years, expiring in 2020, with an option to renew for another 10.
Michael, I hope you will invite me back for another interview 10 years from now, as we are getting ready to complete our first successful term as the administrator of .CO!
9. What makes this different than .biz, .info, .mobi .me, .tel or any other TLD?
A: The TLDs you mentioned all enjoy specific niche markets – which is great if that’s what you need for your online branding. .CO is different in that it is more general in meaning and is not niche specific. It’s a globally meaningful, memorable and broadly applicable domain platform.
Beyond having a good product, we are also launching a multi-million dollar global marketing and communications campaign to help drive demand by educating small business owners, web developers and entrepreneurs about leveraging .CO to build their business or brand online. For example, check out: Pitch.co
These aspects, coupled with broad distribution through the largest and most well respected registrars are significant points of distinction.
10. Can you briefly talk about the domains that existed in the prior TLD administration.
A: We inherited 28,000 domains from the previous administration. All were third level domains such as domain.com.co and domain.net.co. Given the policy restrictions of the past, most were company names or trademarks.
We will continue operating and marketing these names to a local audience. However, as was done in other countries, the new policy gave existing 3rd level registrants (prior to July 2008) priority to register the 2nd level equivalent. Because of this, about 4,000 names were “grandfathered” during March of 2010.
11. Some domainers have raised the issue that some valuable generics have already been registered. How is that?
A: After the new law passed in 2006 a new administration policy was clearly imminent and people started registering third level domains hoping to one day get the second level version. From that point until July of 2008, there was a speculative “landrush” where approximately 1,500 valuable generic terms were registered. It’s a small number because the policy restrictions were extremely complex and the registrations costs very high. Specifically, you could register generic terms if you had a trademark or matching company name.
As I mentioned in your second question, that is in fact how I became involved in this process.
12. Can you talk briefly about the rollout. You have Sunrise that is opened now, how can one apply for it and what documentation do they need. Then comes Landrush which is pretty much a priority service. If you’re the only applicant during Landrush you get the domain. What happens if there is more than one Landrush application for the domain?
A: We put in place a very structured Launch Plan in an effort to make sure there is a stable and orderly distribution of domain names. The plan starts with a comprehensive Sunrise period for trademark holders, a Landrush period for those interested in names of high commercial value, and finally General Availability.
Global Sunrise began on April 23rd and continues through June 10th. Trademark holders within valid jurisdictions can apply for exact match domain names. Trademark applications will be validated by Deloitte and multiple applications for the same domain name will be resolved at auction. To apply for a domain name during Sunrise, you need to submit evidence of ownership of a trademark of national effect from any country in the world. Evidentiary requirements are higher for generic terms and dictionary words.
Then, Landrush will be held from June 21st through July 10th. Anyone can apply for a domain name of high commercial value during this time. Single applications will be awarded at the end of the Landrush period and matching applications will be resolved at auction.
General availability will begin on July 20th, 2010 on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’re interested in all the rules, you can download the Launch & Registration Rules here.
13. Those who have pre-reserved general registration domains will be out of luck if someone puts a landrush application on the name correct?
14. On pre-registrations each registrar seems to be only accepting one application per domain is this correct?
A: Every registrar has its’ own business practices and procedures. I can’t say for certain whether this is true with every registrar – although I do know for many registrars it seems to be the case. It certainly makes good sense to manage the process in this way.
15. Which registrars are currently taking pre registrations?
A: We are working with ten core accredited .CO registrars, and their respective reseller networks. Our ten core partners include: GoDaddy.com, Register.com, NetworkSolutions.com, Dotster.com, eNomCentral.com, Tucows (OpenSRS.com), MelbourneIT.com, United Internet (1and1.com & InternetX.com), and two local registrars in Colombia – Mi.com.co and ClickPanda.com.co. These Registrars have committed to following international best practices to ensure the integrity and value of the name space for all who participate.
Some of the registrars that are reselling .CO domain names in our extended network are Mark Monitor, CSC, DomainMonster, Key-Systems and Moniker, to name just a few.
Most are taking pre-registrations already and aggressively marketing .CO domains – including featuring .CO on their homepages.
16. What’s your vision for .CO? What should we expect to see in 5, 10, 20 years?
A: In the long term, I’m confident that it will become the world’s leading domain extension in terms of new registrations.
Keep in mind that during the next decade, most Internet growth will come from outside the US and .CO is perfectly positioned for that because of its global significance.
From a marketing standpoint, we’ll be working hard to position .CO amongst the fastest growing Internet markets around the world as a platform for secure Internet commerce and 21st century innovation.
17. Finally, this is a topic of particular interest to domain investors: Will .CO’s be treated differently by Google/Yahoo in the SERPS?
A: There is a lot of misinformation about this subject matter so I’m glad you’ve brought it up.
It boils down to this: Google/Yahoo and search engines in general, do not determine the policy aspects or intended use of a specific TLD. The governing body that has oversight for the TLD determines it.
Therefore, if there are in fact algorithmic weights applied towards extension types (whatever they may be), we’ll be working with the relevant parties so that they are not in conflict with the intended use for .CO. We are certainly not the first ones to face this issue and are working to ensure our registrants don’t face issues here.
Juan we wish you the best of luck for a successful launch and operation of the registry.