How .CO Became a $25 Million Brand

flying pig pic

What is the nation of Colombia most known for? Juan Valdez (the dude with the black mustache dreamed up by Mad men to hawk coffee), FARC–the People’s guerilla army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)–or the Top Level Domain .co, branded by a flying pig to exemplify that “anything is possible”?

That .co, launched only in 2009 by Internet entrepreneur (and native Colombian) Juan Diego Calle is now boasting annual revenues of $25 million, is testament to determination, the power of a simple idea, and hard work. A year earlier, Juan had a “lightbulb moment” in the realization that with good .com names having become scarcer than hen’s teeth, .co–short for “company”–was a no-brainer waiting to happen.

That Calle was a native son made application to the Colombian government a little easier. Going up against against established companies like Verisign and preparing a 1,165 page bid in order to be awarded the business was considerably tougher. But, along with Neustar, an Internet DNS whom he partnered with, Calle scored big, based his new company in Miami and has since racked up 1.4 million dominion registrations.

It certainly was a lucky break when Go Daddy jumped on board in 2010 and made .co its default extension for new domain registrations, following Twitter and AngelList, which had scored and respectively.

Now, Calle has his work cut out for him, looking not just for volume but for the next blockbuster social media or Web start-up to partner with. As a hedge against giants like Google and Amazon, .co has reportedly applied for rights to 13 other TLDs such as .inc, .llc, .law, .book, .web and .law. While Calle is not assured of getting all of these, $25 million in cash flow and a flying pig are betting otherwise.

Brilliantly Bitter Success Story in a Bottle


My parents always had a bottle of this stuff in their liquor cabinet–Angostura bitters. And I could never understand why the label was too big for the bottle. But I remember that I was strangely fascinated with the product, which my father religiously added a few drops of to his weekend Manhattans (recipe to follow).

The reason I’m writing about Angostura bitters, however, is that it represents such a splendid example of brilliant marketing and brand positioning…something anyone in the ad game can learn from, no matter how long you’ve been in it.

First, a little history. This is a very old formulation. Wikipedia tells up that the recipe was developed as a tonic by the German Dr. Johann Siegert, a surgeon general in Simon Bolivar’s army in Venezuela, who began selling it in 1824 and built a distillery for mass producing the bitters in 1830. Siegert was based in the town of Angostura, now known as Ciudad Bolivar, and used locally obtained ingredients, ostensibly botanicals known to the Amerindians of the area.

According to a tour guide at the Angostura bitters factory in Trinidad, two of the brothers (descendants of Dr. Siegert) who were entering their product in a contest were in charge of bottles and labeling, respectively, but did not communicate with one another on sizing. One ordered labels too big, the other bottles too small, and voila–serendipity.

One one hand, you have a singularly unusual product with a formula so closely guarded as to be known to no more than five people. It is not actually “bitter,” but is touted as “marrying” the different ingredients in cocktails, enhancing flavors in a subtle but unmistakeable fashion. The name alone, Angostura, is strange and mysterious.

Any of us would be genius to come up with something so unique that has no apparent competition and is so originally packaged that if you see it once, you’ll never forget it. Even if you can’t pronounce the name and aren’t sure quite how to use it, you probably know it’s for dripping into drinks.

Lesson? Don’t be bitter about your lack of product differentiation. Instead be different, both in formulation (or approach) and in execution. Be brilliantly bitter, and you might just become a legend.

The Perfect Manhattan: 2 ounces rye whisky, 1 ounce Italian vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Stir–don’t shake–with cracked ice so as to prevent foam. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.