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How .CO became the hot domain for startups

Domain names ending in .CO are ubiquitous among startups these days. But .CO wasn’t always a popular domain choice. In fact, they couldn’t be registered by businesses outside of Colombia for many years.

So how did we get from a domain used only by people and businesses in Colombia to one used by companies like Twitter, Angelist, 500 Startups, and Bird?

As .CO is about to celebrate its 11th birthday in July, here’s the story behind the domain.

Early history

The domain .CO is what’s called a country code top level domain name. Any time you see a two letter domain name like this (think .IO, .CA), it’s a country-code domain name. Starting in the early days of the web, these were handed out to countries for their stewardship.

Colombia’s .CO domain was originally handed to University of The Andes in Bogota, Colombia. It put in place strict rules about who could register a domain name. The domain was mostly used by Colombian businesses and they could only register domains at the “third level”, e.g. example.com.co instead of example.co.

Over time, the University considered lifting restrictions. Colombia’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications stepped in and went through the process of finding a partner that could make .CO more than just a little-used domain for Colombia. It found this partner in .CO Internet S.A.S., a company formed to bring .CO to the world.

.CO ready for lift-off

Ready for lift-off

In 2010, .CO Internet relaunched .CO as a global domain. It marketed the domain as a simple, short domain name with lots of built-in potential. It helped that people think of co as short for “company”, “corporation,” or “commerce”. It’s also only one letter off from .COM, the most common domain name extension.

The 2010 relaunch was a big success. Domains became available for anyone to register on July 20, 2010, and over a quarter-million .CO domains were registered within the first couple of days.

The launch was helped by big companies getting on board. Twitter began using t.co as the default link shortener for tweets. Amazon bought a.co and Google announced plans to use g.co as a URL shortener.

Marketing

The launch gave the domain some inertia, but .CO Internet had to sustain it. It turned to heavy marketing to get the word out.

The company realized that it was hard to convince companies to switch domains. The easiest time to get a company to select a domain extension was when they were starting out. So why not target startups?

At this time, there was a renaissance of sorts in the startup world. Starting a company became the cool thing to do and a legitimate career path.

.CO Internet marketed where the startups were. It had a presence at startup-friendly SXSW in Austin. It partnered with Startup American Partnership, 500 Startups, Tech Cocktail, Startup weekend, and Startup Bus.

It made an even bigger splash by releasing Super Bowl commercials.

All of this marketing worked. Companies started using .CO domains because they could get short, memorable domains that weren’t available in .COM. By early 2013, there were 1.5 million .CO domain names registered.

This caught the interest of other companies. In 2014, .CO Internet sold itself to another domain company for $109 million.

Still going strong

The TLD .CO continues to be a popular top level domain name for startups, larger companies, and even individuals.

In fact, .CO domain valuations on the domain aftermarket have soared lately, with domains selling for over $10,000 each.

Want to jump on the bandwagon? Search for a .CO domain at Namecheap.

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Andrew Allemann avatar

Andrew Allemann

Andrew is the founder and editor of Domain Name Wire, a publication that has been covering domain names since 2005. He has personally written over 10,000 posts covering domain name sales, policy, and strategies for domain name owners. Andrew has been quoted in stories about domain names in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and Fortune. More articles written by .

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