.CO Internet: One Founder’s Surprising Recovery After Going Belly Up

How does a founder whose company goes belly up, recover and launch a business that powers over a million Web sites?

Juan Diego Calle is the founder of .CO Internet, the registry operator for the .CO top level domain.

His company is behind Twitter’s URL shortener, T.co, and Overstock’s new URL, O.co, and over a million other URLs that end in .co.

Juan Diego Calle

Juan Diego Calle

.CO Internet S.A.S.

Juan Diego Calle is the founder of .CO Internet S.A.S., the registry operator for the .CO top level domain.



Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: In this interview you’re going to see how a upstart made a $1.5

billion company. If you still think that the little guy can’t win, wait

till you hear that part. And you’re going to see how a three stage launch

helped generate excitement. You probably were swept up in this excitement

in this interview you’re going to find out why and how you got that swept

up so that when you’re trying to launch something you can do something

equally massive to create that kind of buzz for your launch and I hope

we’re going to get to hear the story of how Playboy Magazine helped today’s

entrepreneur become an entrepreneur back when he was in catholic school. I

don’t know if he even knows I’m going to ask him that question. All that

and so much more in this interview, stay tuned.

Three messages before we get started. If you’re a tech entrepreneur don’t

you have unique legal needs that the average lawyer can’t help you with?

That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you

read his articles on Venture Beat you know that he can help you with issues

like raising money or issuing stock options or even decided whether to form

a corporation. Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. See him at


And do you remember when I interviewed Sarah Sutton Fell about how

thousands of people pay for her job site? Look at the biggest point she

made. She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site

because, and here’s the stat, 95% of the people who call end up buying.

Most people though don’t call her but seeing a real number increases their

confidence in her and they buy. So try this, go do Grasshopper.com and get

a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to

your site and see what happens, Grasshopper.com.

And remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for

an iPad case. He built a store to sell it and in a few months he generated

about $1 million in sales. Well the platform he used is Shopify. If you

have an idea to sell anything, set up your store or Shopify.com because

Shopify stores are designed to increase sales plus Shopify makes it easy to

set up a beautiful store and manage it, Shopify.com.

Here’s the program.

Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the found of Mixergy.com home

of the ambitious upstart. How does a founder whose company goes belly up,

recover and launch a business that today powers over a million websites?

Juan Diego Kaya is the founder of .co Internet, the registry operator for

the .co top level domain. His company is behind Twitter’s URL shortner t.co

and Overstock.com’s URL o.co and over a million other URLs that end in .co.

Juan, welcome.

Juan: How you doing, Andrew?

Andrew: Good. Do you have a favorite; do you have one that’s especially fun

story to tell that’s someone who you saw that’s using .co?

Juan: Fun stories, I think well the coolest things that, the most enriching

moments for us as entrepreneurs in running the company is to actually be

out on the street and see .co in use or hearing about a .co in use. I was

in San Francisco the other day and some guys were telling me about the

Oakland Coliseum, how their using O.co because Overstock is promoting their

brand through O.co for the coliseum and there’s actually on the highway, as

you’re driving through the highway there are signs that say huge state

signs that say O.co coliseum turn right. That is probably the coolest thing

ever and just seeing .co’s out there and we call it seeing .co’s in the

wild and running into them and taking a picture of them and sending them

around to everyone on the team is when you start realizing we’re having an

impact on the Internet which is a great sight.

Andrew: You guys saw a shoe shine person, do you remember that experience?

Juan: Yes, so Linda, our marketing director, landed in London the other day

and she was walking through the airport and yeah, she ran into a shoeshine

stand and it was shoeshine.co or something along those lines, I don’t

remember exactly, sent it around to the entire team and we probably see

high fives all around. So, it’s obviously the ones we celebrate the most

are some of the big ones like Twitter and 500 startups, etcetera that some

of those big, big endorsements that we’ve been able to get but when we see

the little guys, right, using .co it’s very exciting because it means we’re

having an impact.

Andrew: All right. And I want to find out exactly how you did this and how

long has it been since the dotco launched?

Juan: We launched July 20th of 2010, so it’s a little less than 2 years

ago. It’s been a great ride.

Andrew: Yeah. It feels to me like this is so out of reach when you talk

about top level domains, to have control of dotco, which is from what

country? Colombia?

Juan: It originates from the country of Colombia.

Andrew: Right. To me, to the average person, it feels like that’s so out of

reach to get a foreign country to give me control of their top level

domain, to trust me with it and then to get all these other companies to do

it, and I’m feeling that the audience is going to think the same thing

about you. You know what, this guy is probably some bureaucrat or some guy

who has a friend of a friend who got him in there.

I can’t do this business. I’m going to check out of this interview because

I can’t relate. Let’s go back and help people understand that you’re an

entrepreneur like them, a hustler in the good sense of the word, an upstart

in the good sense of the word, who had a setback. Before we even get into

the setback, this is before dotco ever existed in your life, there was a

vision. What was that vision for the company? You know the one I’m talking


Juan: Yeah, are you referring to the vision for dotco or prior?

Andrew: The previous company, the one that ran into a lot of trouble in the


Juan: Sure. So funny enough it’s actually somewhat related to what we’re

doing today, which is empowering small to medium sized businesses and start-

ups to get online and be successful online at the end of the day. That’s

what a domain is, it’s that basic element. The previous company started in

1999 more or less. I had fallen in love with the Internet.

I was still in school. A project that I was working on back then related to

search and how you could use search to answer questions online, so very

similar to Ask Jeeves, I think you probably remember Ask Jeeves the butler.

We built the company, or it wasn’t even a company, it started as a school

project, and the goal was to answer Spanish language questions for

countries in Latin America obviously, so Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and I’m

including Portuguese in there as well.

In 1999 it was the middle of the bubble, everyone is very excited about the

Internet, but with a different mindset. You kind of go into it thinking

you’re going to become an instant billionaire and fly a private plane, that

sort of thing.

Andrew: Did you go into it thinking that?

Juan: Yeah, I think we were so caught up in the bubble and I was very

young, so definitely we did it for the wrong reasons and I think

structurally that showed itself as we built the company, so we raised

money, we hired a bunch of people, we got the cool office in South Beach in

Miami, which at the time was Silicon Beach and made all those mistakes.

Of course, when the bubble burst we had to shut down in a pretty dramatic

way, so fired all of our employees. Keep in mind I was 21, 22 back in the

time, so it was a pretty dramatic point, at least in my career, a bit

setback. My first big venture sort of blowing up in that way.

Andrew: How much money did you raise?

Juan: We raised at the time about $3-4 million.

Andrew: OK.

Juan: Not a gigantic amount of money, but for us it was everything. A lot

of money from friends and family and that sort of thing.

Andrew: I want to talk a little bit about what you learned from it and what

you could’ve done better, but what did you do right at the time? I don’t

want to overlook the things that you did right and learn from them.

Juan: The execution was misguided because again, we were trying to grow the

company for the wrong reasons, but we did have a pretty clear idea. We

identified a need at that time, which was search advertising. Businesses

needed to advertise within search and this was back in 2001, 2000, the time

before Google AdWords existed, so we identified the problem correctly, we

just executed on it totally for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.

Andrew: And the wrong reasons were to build a big company, to get a jet,

have the big exit.

Juan: Exactly. To go public very quickly and that sort of thing. Yeah, but

just motivated by the wrong things. At least, we had a good product in

mind, which ties in nicely with the rest of the story. We did one thing

smart, we left our servers running and we had built this meta-search


I don’t know if you remember meta-search engines back then, so we pulled up

results from all the different search engines, Yahoo, MSN and a number of

others and we left that running and it actually started growing

organically, all on its own. We weren’t even paying attention to it.

We started picking up a lot of traffic from users in Brazil, Argentina and

Mexico and around the end of 2002, early 2003 one of my tech guys who I was

still in contact, Tom Lackner, we started looking at it again and we saw

all this and we’re like, oh wow, interesting, very cool. We gave it another


We started again, but this time we had no resources so we actually had to

build the company thinking about what’s our model? How are we going to make

money? How are we going to fund the grow of the company? How are we going

to deliver truly a valuable product to our customers? That’s where PPC was


So GoTo.com, you may remember back in those days, GoTo was having a lot of

success with a fully automated platform where you could log in, create your

ads with a credit card, pay for those ads and essentially pay per clicks on

search engines. We built something very similar, but for local use, for

those countries and those languages with payment options for those

countries and the company started growing really, really quickly.

If there’s one big takeaway that I can share with your audience, is a lack

of resources is actually a good thing sometimes. It’s actually very

valuable not to have money. It makes you think about things in a different

way. It makes you think through the problems in a much deeper way than just

to throw resources at it.

If back in 2001 we would’ve addressed the problems that we faced in 2003,

2004 by simply throwing resources and people at it, that’s not the right

way to do it. If you want to truly innovate you have to solve problems in a

creative manner with the least amount of resources as possible. That’s when

creativity truly comes out.

Andrew: Can you give me an example of something that you did, a step

forward that you took when you didn’t have money just to help me understand

how scrappy you were when you didn’t have the resources, when you didn’t

have the cash to solve problems and you had to use cleverness to do it?

Juan: It comes to my mind very quickly, it’s sitting down next to Tom

Lackner, our CTO, way into the night, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning and just

hacking away at stuff. I’m not a programmer, so just sitting really

literally next to him building a product until the wee hours of the night.

Again, if it had been 2001 or 2000 I would’ve just been throwing people at

it, throwing resources at it trying to get products built while I went home

to sleep comfortably at night. The lack of resources is really a valuable

thing. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Andrew: What about the product? How is that different in the early days

because you didn’t have any money?

Juan: That’s a very important point. I think the product itself really

evolved into something valuable because of the lack of resources, so it had

to be fully automated. It had to be low touch. The previous product was

very, very high touch, very demanding of having support staff.

The second generation product was entirely, entirely automated, so our

customers would log in and do everything on their own. So just having to

think through those processes and how our customers would interact with the

site without us having to provide support for them was extremely valuable.

Essentially, we built the same company that we had built 2 years before, or

3 years before with 2 or 3 employees while we had maybe 20 or 30 in the

first version and did a lot more with the second version. The process of

having to think through things in a really deep way was very helpful.

Andrew: I’m wondering about mind game that’s a part of this. We’ve all seen

someone who’s determined to go on a diet and then they find a cookie and

they break their with a cookie and they redefined themselves, their sense

of self and they say I’m not someone who can go on a diet and then they

just give up on the whole thing. Entrepreneurs too, they have this being

set back and they say, I’m not one of those people who I hear on Mixergy or

see on the cover of Forbes Magazine, it’s just not me. I failed for a

reason I’m going to go and do something else. That didn’t happen to you,

how do you overcome that bad self-identity when you’ve had this big


Juan: I think it’s just a willingness and a deep interest in wanting to be

part of something that has an impact, so it doesn’t really matter the

number of setbacks you have as an entrepreneur. It’s irrelevant, I mean,

you just have to get up in the morning and keep going and trying to have an

impact with whatever you do. And that’s what got us up in the morning, just

wanting to do something cool and I think most entrepreneurs share that, I

really do.

Andrew: Who did you admire as a kid? For me it was E.C. Forbes, the Forbes

Magazine guy who comes in from Scotland with nothing, decides that he’s

going to create a magazine which back then you needed a lot of money to

launch a magazine, you needed connections. He didn’t have either of them,

and he built up Forbes Magazine. What about for you? Who are your heroes

that you said I want to leave a mark like they did?

Juan: Sure, so definitely the first person that comes to mind and this

might sound corny and all but it’s my farther. My farther came up from

nothing and financially he was literally poor. His family could barely

afford buying shoes. So, he came from a very, very small town in Colombia

and through hard work and entrepreneurship, he’s the greatest example of an

entrepreneur that I have. So, I grew up seeing how entrepreneurship was

possible and sitting down at dinner tables and having long discussions

through dinner about the next thing that he was going to be working on or

idea that he had in a very nuts and bolts kinds of ways, right. Not how

I’ve been able to do things which is . . .

Andrew: Like what? What’s a nuts and bolts conversation that you guys had?

What business was he in, and what was an example of one of them?

Juan: Just basic things like negotiating the purchase of a piece of land

for cattle ranching. But his core business is actually in liquor

distribution so he owns a large company distributing liquor and Red Bull

and a few other products, mass consumption products in South America. And,

just seeing the process how he built that company from nothing to what it

is today has been incredibly inspiring yeah.

Andrew: The company that we talked about earlier was called terrispondo.com

[SP], right?

Juan: That’s right.

Andrew: What happened to it?

Juan: So 2003, 2004 literally between those two years which we grew

exponentially from my garage again, lacked resources. From my garage in

Miami, we set up a small little call center and had two or three employees

calling companies in Brazil. From Miami to Brazil speaking in Portuguese

where you can find a few Portuguese speaking people here in Miami. Calling

people in Mexico and Argentina and Colombia and getting them to sign up as

customers. So, real quickly we then went to Brazil, I set up shop in Brazil

for about a year, the end of 2003 all the way to the end of 2004 and then

started hiring.

We grew to about 55 employees towards the end of 2004 and already at the

time Google and Yahoo were competing head on in a very aggressive war to

dominate the PPC space, so, you know, Google with Ad words and then Yahoo

having acquired Overture they were very aggressively competing for a market

share, and when they came to Latin America both companies saw that we were

there, that we had a dominant position in this space and we sold the

company to Yahoo in 2005.

Andrew: For how much?

Juan: It’s never been disclosed.

Andrew: No, it really hasn’t. My researchers tried to come up with a number

and we couldn’t.

Juan: To be fair, I wasn’t going to retire from that sale, but it was more

than anything a rewarding experience having gone through the process of

essentially bankruptcy to being able to say that we sold the company to

Yahoo is very rewarding for all of us that were involved in that.

Andrew: Were you a millionaire as a result of it?

Juan: I suppose.

Andrew: OK. What is I suppose mean, by the way? I said OK, like I

understood, but I don’t get it?

Juan: Yeah.

Andrew: You are OK. This is 2005, you own the company completely at that

point or was it still the old investors who put up money?

Juan: 2005?

Andrew: Yeah, because you did go through essentially, you said, a

bankruptcy and then . . .

Juan: So, essentially at that time by 2005 when we sold the company the two

major shareholders were my co-founder, Daniel Chavaria [SP] who was the CFO

of the company and myself, the CEO, and then a few of our employees. So, we

at that point we haven’t really raised money. Yeah a little . . .

Andrew: It was a brand new company even though you had the old server that

launched you.

Juan: Yeah, brand new company, yeah.

Andrew: OK.

Juan: Incorporated, brand new corporation and everything and we did raise a

little bit of money from friends and family, specifically my family who’s

helping out. For everything that I’ve done, I owe everything to my family

and so, yeah, fortunately by the time we sold we really didn’t really have

a long list of shareholders.

Andrew: I think we’re going to get a sense of what your family was like

when I ask you later on about the Playboy Magazine and catholic school,

especially about your dad, but let’s hold off on that until later on in the

interview. I want to understand what happened next and it seems what

happened next is 2005 you founded Strat Investments, a virtual real estate

company is how my researcher put it, right?

Juan: So, Strat started off as virtual real estate and now has moved on a

little bit to expand into real real estate, actual physical real estate and

continues very involved in virtual real estate so . ..

Andrew: What is virtual real estate?

Juan: Essentially, we started buying very, very high value premium domain

names in dotcom.

Andrew: Like ParisHotels.com, NewYorkHotels.com, LondonHotels.com, that

gives us a sense of it.

Juan: That gives you a sense of it so these are generic terms with a lot of

value just because people are searching for the term on Google, Yahoo,

whatever or social media. If you’re going to Paris the first thing you

search for most likely is hotels in Paris or Paris hotels and having the

matching keyword, at the time, was incredibly valued and continues to be

incredibly valued. So, through Strat we learned a lot about the value of

domain names and investing in domain names, so it’s worth nothing that

there’s this whole side of the domain world which is cyber squatting inside

and, and we stay very far away from that, and I like to make the


I want your audience to understand that there is a difference between the

cyber squatting side, the people who buy thousands of domain names related

to trademarks and domain investors where actually people that are buying

generic terms and building cool stuff on that. So, so yeah we build the

company around these names and the travel space. It’s now called Federated

Travel, has its own team, where there’s about 20 people working on it.

Federated Travel, it has its own CEO. So, that was the first, I guess,

incubated company that came out of Strat.

Andrew: And was it the only one?

Juan: No, dotco is also . . .

Andrew: Oh, really?

Juan: . . . by Strat. It was the next big project that we had through Strat

but again, you know, now dotco is its own entity. I’m the CEO of dotco, and

Strat now has its own lead person in charge who’s Jose Rasco [SP] great,

great partner of mine, yeah.

Andrew: Was Strat self-funded?

Juan: Strat was self-funded yeah, so from sale of Teraspondo we funded the

initial investments in that Strat has made. So, all of the stuff in the

portfolio domain names, some of full angel investment that we’ve done since

in companies, like, invest in FastRabbit.com, GetAround.com, a few other

cool companies out there that we’ve invested in. But that’s all through


Andrew: By the way, it seems to me like this dream that you had as a young

entrepreneur who launches first business is being realized, isn’t it?

Juan: Well, yeah.

Andrew: You know, not the jets but . . .

Juan: No, yeah, not the jets and I got to tell you the jet is no longer

part of the . . .

Andrew: Right, but the idea that you can bring a company to life. That you

could have all these people be a part of your company, the idea that you

could make an impact on the world, I mean we haven’t even gotten to the

dotco part where you clearly are making an impact in the way that we talk

about dotcoms, on the way that, not dotcoms, top level domains, the way

that we don’t just think of dotcoms. The way that dotco seems to be more

respectable now than dotnet even though dotnet has been around for much

longer. You do seem to be having this impact. Do you feel it or am I

exaggerating because I’m getting lost in your story here?

Juan: No, no, absolutely not, I do feel it and it’s what keeps me very

motivated in the mornings when I’m on my way to work. So, except for that

period between 2000, 2001 and getting caught up in the bubble, except for

that piece, I always been passionate about building stuff, just building

cool stuff. And that’s why I studied industrial engineering, why I tried to

study industrial engineering. I actually couldn’t graduate but just

building stuff is very, very exciting and when I see, when I look back, you

know, things like federated travel or, or what we’re doing with dotco and

seeing how it’s being built that’s cool, that’s very, very cool, very


Andrew: We talked to Lori in your office to prep for this interview, and

she said that the idea for the dotco top level domain came as a result of

looking around and seeing how challenging was to come up with a web domain.

Juan: Yeah, so in the whole period between 1999 to 2007 when I first

learned about the opportunity to do something with dotco, I had gone

through the problem, which I’m sure millions of people go through which is

going to a website like GoDaddy.com or NetworkSolutions and whatever,

trying to find a name for that dream business or the big idea that you had

and in middle of the night and you woke up sweating at 2:00 a.m. and you

get up and try to register the name and it’s taken. Right?

Andrew: Yep.

Juan: How many times have we all gone through that? So, there’s 100,000,000

dotcom domains registered, 100,000,000 a lot. Most of them, I would argue

are, are crap, they are just sitting there in a waste land. So, I really

think that we identified with the fact that there had to be an alternative

that could solve that big problem. So in 2006, 2007, or late 2006 maybe

early 2007 a colleague in the domain industry came up to me and said, “Hey,

you’re Colombian, did you know about dotco?” I’m like, “What are you

talking about? I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” But then he said,

dotco, considering the saturation of dotcom and dotnet and these extensions

could be really, really cool. And immediately, I mean, just boom, light

bulb moment kind of thing and started from that day on, I started pursuing

in a pretty aggressive way.

Andrew: Now, I say to the audience, I can imagine already what you guys are

thinking, the guy gets dotco. Of course, it’s going to be a success. But

guys, think about your own personal portfolio of domains. We all have them

because we’re all hoarding them for just in case we ever launch an idea.

How many of you have dotbiz because that was going to be the big one? How

many of you have dotnet because you were getting it just in case dotnet

might eventually do well? Or dot I don’t know what Jason Calacanis, a buddy

of mine, had dotis as his website. It was launch.is because that seemed

like it was going somewhere. A lot of these didn’t end up going anywhere,

it’s not just because you have a top level domain, boom, you’re going to do

well, there’s still some marketing and we’re going to get to the marketing.

First, I want to get to how do you get to run a business around this?

Because first of all, before they even considered you for a long time,

Colombia didn’t want outsiders to have, to have websites on their domain,


Juan: Yeah, so back in 1999, I got again the, this idea wasn’t mine, back

in 1999 the government was already toying with or had identified that they

had an incredibly valuable asset in dotco. That was already evident back in

’99 particularly in the middle of the bubble. Companies were, were flying

to Colombia and, and proposing deals of millions and millions of dollars to

do something attractive with dotco. At the time it was run by a university.

It was a private university and it tried to issue an RFP to try to

commercialize dotco globally and the government stepped in and said, hey,

wait a second, you’re a private university, we don’t think you have the

regulatory oversight to do this, because really it’s an asset of the

country of Colombia.

So, for the next ten years the space was in this legal limbo, who does

dotco belong to and how should it be run? There were all of these different

public forums where eventually we participated starting in 2007. You’d have

twenty, thirty different companies participating in the forums and helping

the government shape how dotco should be run. By 2008, they came out with a

new policy on how dotco should be run, and it was clearly evident that it

had moved from this very restricted space, limited to Colombian use to

becoming or at least they implemented the policies that allowed it to

become this massive domain extension that it is today. So, that was 2008.

In 2009 the government issued an RFP and invited participants from all over

the world. We obviously participated. I partnered with a company called

Newstar, a U.S. based public company that runs a telecommunications

infrastructure and a few domain extensions. So, they have a lot of hardcore

technology to run DNS, essentially. So, we participated in the bid and won.

Andrew: I understand what they bring to it, they run DNS, they understand

how to deal with the tech side of this very tech heavy business, and they

have experience. What was the part that you were bringing?

Juan: So, the Internet marketing side was clearly our value add in the

venture, and the vision of how they should be run.

Andrew: You knew how to get people like me interested enough to do an

interview on a top level domain. Essentially, you knew how to get people to

want to buy this and be a part of it.

Juan: We had a big vision of how it should be run, I think that’s what

enticed Newstar to actually partner with us. What is interesting is, back

in the days of the public forums, 2007, 2008, anybody who was interested

would go to the forum and you’d have twenty or thirty people hanging out

trying to figure out… it was like playing chess… trying to figure out

who are you and what do you bring to the table? Should we partner or not

partner? A lot of back and forth and interesting discussions taking place

before the government actually submitted the bid.

So, what we said was, look, we have a big vision to really ingrain Dotco

into the fabric of the Internet. We want to build Dotco into a global

brand. So, we painted a very big picture of what we wanted with Dotco and I

think that motivated a company the size of Newstar… Newstar is a very,

very large company… to say, OK, we’ll partner with you to do this. We’ll

provide DNS, we’ll provide a lot of that hardcore infrastructure that runs

Dotco throughout the world.

Andrew: A big company that also bid, that you guys out bid and beat, was


Juan: Yeah.

Andrew: One of the things that my researcher found was… well, here’s what

she said, and I can’t tell if this is Ari or Andrea who put this research

together, sorry guys, but it’s really good research on Juan that I have

here. Basically, it says the bureaucracy gave Kaya [SP], the local man, the

contract. And what we were seeing online was basically that because you’re

Colombian, it helped you win. Now, that I’ve got you here, how big of a

part did that play? Honestly.

Juan: It was huge.

Andrew: It was?

Juan: Absolutely. It was absolutely huge. There are soft reasons for that

and hard ones. Let’s talk about the soft ones. First, the soft reason is

very simple, dotco is a matter of national pride to our country. So, it

landing in the hands of someone who wasn’t Colombian wouldn’t care for it,

from that standpoint, from the standpoint of national pride that would be

detrimental to the asset. And then that, I’m mixing in a little bit of

personal opinion in there as well, but I would think that offal’s in

Colombia also felt the same.

But then there are hard reasons for it as well. The bid clearly spelled out

that if you were, if the component, if the company proposing to run Delco

was largely Colombian, you would be awarded more points. There was a

specific scale where if you were 25% owned by Colombian, you would get this

number of points. If you were 50, 75 or 85 you would get more points.

Andrew: And you were part of the group of people who pushed for that to


Juan: Yeah, absolutely. Pushed for it very aggressively long ways. Again,

obviously, a lot of the Colombians that were participating in the process

were pushing for that. It was just common in any government political

procurement process. You want a local partner to have a say in how the

local asset is being run.

Andrew: You know what, if I were going to, if I saw this opportunity, and I

knew that it was the government that was in control of it, I would just

walk away. I would say these guys are just not as rational as me. It’s

going to be about this whole bureaucratic draconian system that I don’t

want to be a part of. I want to be a part of the Internet where I can just

come up with an idea and put it online but then I would have missed out on

this big opportunity that you saw. You’re smiling, you recognize this

attitude. What did you see? Help me understand how you, a guy from the

Internet, were able to accept this process so that maybe I can jump on an

opportunity like this in the future instead of having this attitude towards

the government.

Juan: I think you nailed it. Definitely the fact that this was a public

procurement process really scared many entrepreneurs away. But then again,

the companies that we were competing against, or the companies in the

states all have experience with government. So, we know VeriSign had a lot

of experience with governments. New Star handles a huge contract with the

Department of Commerce so there’s already a lot of experience from the big

guys. It’s really entrepreneurs who shy away, like you said; the Internet

guy shy’s away from this sort of environment. Now, I think we, the reason

why we were able to overcome that fear, that annoyance of having to deal

with bureaucracy was the end game, right? The vision and seeing, oh my

gosh, there’s this ginormous opportunity to have an impact, a really big

impact on the Internet and we’re just going to have to learn to deal with

the public procurement side.

So, we dug in. I personally had some digging to understand hoe procurement

works, its super super complex, particularly in Colombia it’s very legal to

stick when they are joint ventures, international joint ventures involved,

international treaties involved, that’s one thing. Very enriching

experience but very intense in terms how you can learn something new in

something very quickly. So, between 2007 and end of 2009 I pretty much had

to learn the entire public procurement law of Colombia to be able to

participate in this successfully.

Andrew: We ask Lori Jeremy, our producer did, what’s the first step you

took? And that’s a usual question that we ask entrepreneurs and usually it

has something to do with technology that they build. Their talking to

customers and that’s the first step. Her answer surprised me. It was, one,

put the team together to learn to sway public policy and he put it was a

lot of team building here. Who did you need to put together to know that

you can make this all work and then guys, I promise, we’re going to get

next to promotion and how you did you launch. But, who’d you get on your


Juan: Yeah, so, we understood early on that we didn’t have, we had a lot of

experience running marketing companies online and building technology

around marketing. But we didn’t know anything about iCam. For example, an

iCam is sort of the U.N of the Internet. They assign domain extensions and

that’s a whole other hour of conversation, but I didn’t know anything about

(?), and that was an important piece of this, and didn’t know anything

about, again, public procurement and the legal side of public procurement

in Colombia and international joint ventures. The first guy, going back to

these forums, I had early-on identified a guy that clearly seemed to know a

lot about I-can, and about running all of the regulatory aspects of running

a domain extension. He happened to be in Colombia. His name was Eduardo

Santollio[sp], and he had run dotpe, the country code for Peru. He happened

to be Colombian, which was fantastic. I started having conversations with

him, and we reached an agreement. He came on board. He was the first guy in

the company, senior guy. He actually has a little bit of grey hair.

Andrew: [laughs]

Juan: [laughs] He’s been with us ever since, so he’s now our Vice President

in the company, and co-founder. He helped me really understand the big

picture of what the regulatory side is, and that made the process that much


Andrew: That’s something that I need to learn more of and maybe need to

emphasize more in these interviews, that people like you who get things

done that you’ve never done before, you partner well. You find the one

person who has, who you can team up with. You find the one company that has

the credibility or the experience, and you team up with them. I tend to

think of entrepreneurship as more of this ‘one man against the world’, or

‘a two man team against the world’, and that’s not what I’m hearing in the

interviews. I need to spend more time on that.

Juan: Yeah. I definitely think that’s one of the valuable lessons that I’ve

learned, is whenever I try to do something entirely on my own, I fail. I’ve

learned to partner well, and we have great people in the company, and I owe

all of the success of the company to them.

Andrew: All right. It was a three stage launch, and I want to understand

the three stage launch, and then I want to understand why anyone else who

just hears this three stage launch and tries to duplicate it is going to

fail, because there’s some magic there that it doesn’t capture. But first,

we have to get the basics down. The three steps were Sunrise, number one,

Landrush, then… here. I’ll put my fingers up. Sunrise, Landrush, and

General Launch. Sunrise was what?

Juan: We’re talking 2010 now. We’d been awarded the opportunity to run .co,

and we’re going to launch. You’ve got to keep in mind that prior to us, .co

was very restricted, you could only register names. For example,

google.com.co. That’s literally the web address that Google uses for

Colombia, and continues to use. Any company in Colombia uses .com.co. What

we were launching is dotco, in and of itself, just the letters C-O.

Andrew: Just Google.co instead of Google.dom.co?

Juan: Exactly, or g.co, or 500.co, so it’s essentially launching a brand

new space, and in doing so, you have to combine, I guess, two things very

carefully, and very tactical needs. For example, addressing trademark

concerns, which is one of our biggest issues in all of this, is trademark

abuse. How do you protect trademarks?

Andrew: You didn’t want me buying Google.co, and then going to Google and

saying, “Hey, guys. Got some cash for me? Hey, guys.”

Juan: Exactly.

Andrew: Yeah.

Juan: [laughs] “Hey, guys.”

Andrew: [laughs]

Juan: So, how do you protect that? But you also have to combine that with

marketing biz, and generating excitement prior to the launch. Think of it

as doing an IPO. As much as Facebook tells you that this is their IPO on

Friday, or whenever, is a non-issue, they’ve been marketing it in a very

subtle way, and building excitement.

Andrew: Tell me about your subtle way. We’ll get back to these three steps.

If there was a behind the scenes, and even before all of this, this buzz

generating, I have to learn it. What did you do to create buzz?

Juan: It was a very clear thing we did, which was find high-profile use

cases, very, very high-profile use cases before we launched.

Andrew: For example?

Juan: Twitter.

Andrew: You knew that you wanted T.co for Twitter because?

Juan: Or rather, we knew that we wanted high-profile use cases, and Twitter

happened to play ball.

Andrew: OK.

Juan: Overstock played ball, and a number of other high-profile

entrepreneurs, for example, Naval Ravikant from AngelList. He wanted to

build a network of angel investors and companies who wanted to come

together under one roof.

Andrew: So you put together a list of all these high profile companies that

you wanted, a hit list, and then started talking to them?

Juan: Pretty much, yes. A very, very long list. Very few responded to us.

Andrew: Very few?

Juan: Oh yeah. It was, we would call some of these companies and tell them

we were launching .co and it was like, why, there’s already .com and .biz

why are you going to be successful or .info? So a lot of skepticism, a lot,

and that was probably the most challenging aspect of launching the company

is just the adverse reactions we would get from people before we launched

and Oh, you’re from Colombia? What do you mean you’re from Colombia?

Andrew: What kind of deal did you give Naval from Angel List?

Juan: So what we did was to get these early adopters excited we created the

co-founder’s program, right? The play on co and word founders and there

were terms and condition and we would send them the terms and conditions

and we would tell them look, you will have access to a few very premium

names but only if you build something cool on them before we launch.

Andrew: And they had to run this cool thing by you?

Juan: We had a specific launch date of July 20, 2010 which happens to be

the day of the Independence of Colombia.

Andrew: Cool.

Juan: And we had set that date very clearly from the very beginning, six

months before, and we told these entrepreneurs or these companies and we

said you have to launch something big before July 20, 2010 and if you do

your in terms and conditions and you get the name. So, for example, a guy

in the mall Angle.co which is now an amazingly thriving website, Twitter

got t.co for the URL shortener and a number of those.

Andrew: So, they get it for free but they have to do something big on it.

Juan: Yeah, they had to do something big.

Andrew: And they’d run that by you beforehand. You have to talk to them and

if they say, hey you know what, on t.co we’re going to have our Internet

for all the Twitters and we promise we’re going to have 1,000 people

working the Twitter scene. Say now that’s not exactly what we’re looking

for, how about, but there was this negotiation?

Juan: Literally, how you put it?

Andrew: And it was for free?

Juan: It was a back and for discussion on what are you going to build? Is

it going to have a big impact on the .co brand? Is it going to be something

positive for the .co brand and we would say yes or no. Yeah, of course it

was free.

Andrew: OK and you can’t buy the kind of recognition you get and the

credibility that comes from every tweet being every URL in a tweet

basically going through you.

Juan: That’s right. That’s right. So before we launched, going back to

those subtle things we did, it appeared to be subtly but it’s not so subtle

and there was a massive effort behind to get these companies on board using

.co before we launched but what makes it subtle is sort of the little press

release that comes out and says hey, Twitter is going to do this and [?]

and oh, how cool and people start asking questions, oh what .co? Oh, yeah,

something launching July 20th and so, we and we started fueling that with

online media. So, started [?] with a very clear message of the .com URL is

coming. So it’s, again, this wave of expectation. What do you mean the .co

URL is coming? What does that mean? And it worked. It worked really well.

The first minute after our launch we registered I think 8,000 domains in

the first minute and then by the end of the first 24 hours we were up to

200,000 names.

Andrew: 233,000 Lori told us. Lori’s good. So the three stages were

sunrise, where you went to big brands like Nike, BMW and you said guys,

we’re going to give you your .co. We’re not looking to allow anyone to rip

you off and to impersonate you online. This is going to be a legitimate top

level domain and you make sure that they had it. 80% of the top fortune 500

brands locked in their .co. That was the first stage. Second stage was the

land rush; this is before the general public had a chance to buy domains.

You sold the high value name like shoes.co and shirts.co and these guys had

to pay a premium for that right?

Juan: That’s correct and then showing that for the first few [?] for

sunrise for trademarks. We actually identified the top companies of

trademark owned in the world and we actually gave the name to them. We

didn’t charge them. We know that Nike is not going to rebrand to Nike.cove.

They’re going to keep using Nike.com, Apple is going to keep using

Apple.com. We didn’t want those names to end up in the hands of a cyber-

squatter and we didn’t want to extract money from the brands because all of

a sudden we were launching this thing called dot cove. We identified those

companies. We [??] big consultancy, helped us identify who they were and we

just gave it to them.

Actually, 100% of the list that we created said yeah, we’ll take the name

and protect it. It ties into something to an important piece of all of

this. We know that the last 25 years of Internet were built on dot com.

We’re not going to change that. What we can change is the next 25 years.

How do the next 25 years get built? We’re hoping that the web gets built on

dot cove, that’s what we’re shooting for.

Moving on to the next stage, that was Sunrise, moving on to Landrush. This

was a month before the actual launch and it was an opportunity for people

to identify needs that they really felt that were valuable and they could

say, that they could claim them by saying I want that [??] name, but if

there was a competing interest or a competing bidder that they would go to

an auction. So we sold names that obviously were, you know, in thousands of

dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

Andrew: What was the most expensive one?

Juan: During Sunrise, I’d say, sorry, during Landrush, I’d say, I don’t

recall, but at least $50,000, 45 to $50,000.

Andrew: I got “mesothelioma”. I guess that term sold for $80,000.

Juan: There you go, that shows you how time flies around here.

Andrew: Oh, the Lord is good, but I’m surprised that anyone would expect a

potential claimant to type in mesothelioma perfectly dotgov, but I guess

they did. Aspen.gov sold at auction and so on. Then the third stage was

launched, that was when anyone got to go in. This was July 20, 2010.

80,000, as you said, names sold within the first minute, excuse me, 8,000

within the first minute. Yeah, I saw the look in your face. I said I got to

go back and look at my data, right. 8,000. Lori also told us that you guys

did not sleep during any part of this. What about this fear, said that 2 to

3 hours of sleep were normal, 2 a.m. phone calls was normal? How do you

function at that point? How do you get people to keep going at that point?

Juan: Yeah, so we made a big bet in January, 2010 and that was to establish

a launch date. We said we’re launching July 20, rain or shine. That set up

the entire processing in a very fixed manner, right? There were no, very

little flexibility to move dates, but the value of doing something like

that and I think that this is valuable feedback to any entrepreneur. It

allows people to focus on that date, not only your employees, but your

partners, your investors, and your future customers. They actually mark

that date in their calendar and they say that product is going to launch on

such and such date and they mark it in their calendars.

That was very, very valuable to us, but the challenge of doing something

like that is, if you want to be credible you have to stick to the date and

that things at Intek [sp]. We all know that things fall apart and [??]

don’t happen that the way that you think they’re going to happen, so there

were a lot of sleepless nights to meet the…

Andrew: The final question is this, since we’ve been losing the connection

on and off, the story from Catholic school. The one about your early

entrepreneurship, what was it?

Juan: Sure, it’s kind of embarrassing. So, back when I was maybe 8 or 9, I

don’t know the exactly the age, we used to, in the neighborhood back in

Colombia. There was a little security, sort of a little cabin in a corner

where we used to wait for the bus and in that cabin the security guards had

porn magazines. So, that was my first venture. I was in the business of

page views.

Andrew: You bought this magazine or you took the magazine from the guard?

Juan: I would borrow it.

Andrew: Borrow it and then what would you do with it?

Juan: I would borrow it and, while in the bus on the way to school, I would

rent them out to very willing, curious young friends of mine who were just

learning about the world of porn. So, we were 8 or 9. It was beautiful. It

was my first real entrepreneurial experience. Not proud of it.

Andrew: Did you get in trouble?

Juan: Yes. It didn’t last very long. It lasted six days. Until one of the

teachers on the bus discovered the whole venture and called me up to the

front of the bus and said. “Hey, let me see your bag” and she pulled out

the material. I got suspended from school. They called my mom in to talk to

the principal. Keep in mind this is a very hard core Catholic school. My

family very hard core Catholic. And my mom came in bawling hysterically in

front of the nun who was scolding me for my sinful acts.

And obviously, it was a tough moment for my mom. But then I went home and I

thought my dad is just going to spank me “I’m dead”. He’s never going to

see me again. I had been told to go to my room. Lock myself, that kind of

thing, until my dad came home. Finally, he comes home late on that day from

work and he knocks on my door and I’m freaking out. Freaking out. What is

he going to do. And he walks up, he smiles at me and gives me a high five

and walks away. That’s it.

Andrew: Like you said, he was supportive of entrepreneurship.

Juan: Absolutely. Yeah. So I guess he realized his son was on the right


Andrew: You’ve really come a long, long way since then.

I’m going to end the conversation here and not because I don’t want to talk

anymore but because we’ve had some tech issues towards the end and I don’t

want to risk it. Plus I’ve kept you on way longer than we intended because

I was so into the story. I’m going to do what I hope what everyone in the

audience does at some point here, which is I’m going to say thank you for

coming in here and doing this interview.

I know that you didn’t do it because, frankly, you in the first day of

selling domains probably sold more than you are going to get from just

doing this interview. But I’m hoping that my audience, in the good will

that you built with them, will come through over the years and this time

that you’ve invested in us worthwhile for you. And I’m going to say what I

hope many of them will say, which is thank you for doing this interview.

Juan: Thank you so much, Andrew. I really, really appreciate it. If

anything, I hope a few people, a few more people learn about dotco and how

we’re changing the Internet. It’s pretty cool.

Andrew: Between you and me, if anyone in my audience didn’t now about

dotco, they do not belong to be in my audience. It’s like if, earlier on I

said, it was dotnet and they go, “dotnet?” A few said, “Ask [??]” and I go,

“Ask who now?” There are certain things we just expect you to understand as

you come into these interviews. Anyway, dotco is one of them and I

appreciate you doing this interview about how you built it up.

Juan: And if you want to see more, some of the sites using it, go to Go.co.

Andrew: Go.co. I will, of course, link it up.

Thank you all for watching and, Juan, thank you for doing this interview.

Juan: Thanks a lot, Andrew. I appreciate it. Take care.

Andrew: Bye.

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