Author Archives: Gretchen Erle

.CO Icons & Innovators: Thomas Debass


CO Icons & Innovators_Debass

The .CO Icons & Innovators Series showcases interviews with the big thinkers, crazy dreamers, rule breakers and risk takers who spend their days breaking through boundaries, creating new possibilities, and transforming current realities to build the future online – on .CO, of course!

Who is Thomas Debass?

I’m the Managing Director of the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships in the U.S. Department of State. The office is essentially a public private partnership incubator/accelerator that fosters collaborations aiming to address wicked global problems or enhance U.S. diplomatic and development efforts around the world. I am powered by 4G (loving wife and three daughters). Outside of my day job, I run CoderDojo Northern Virginia, a volunteer-driven community coding club for kids, and serve as the Founding Dean of the Northern Virginia Chapter of The Awesome Foundation.

What are you trying to do in your work?

Global challenges are no longer the sole burden or responsibility of governments. These challenges require unprecedented collaborations across borders and sectors to create effective solutions.

We’re seeing corporations, foundations, civil society groups, and even startups playing an increasing role in diplomacy and development efforts around the world. With that context, my job is to promote the possibility that 1+1>2. We connect dots to make bold lines between unlikely partners and thereby find unexpected solutions (check out P3.CO). We initiate new partnerships as well as incubate ideas from outside. Our “startups” are designed to address major global challenges as well as bridge understanding and friendships among countries.

What does innovation mean to you? 

To put it simply: Innovation is a lethal weapon against poverty of imagination.

Why .CO? 

.CO is a quintessential public private partnership with domain roots in Colombia.  Our entire diplomacy model is promoting .COllaboration and .COoperation; and our partnerships have benefited from memorable .COol names:,,,, and now

What’s next for you?

Global challenges, such as climate change and oceans (check out, offer unique opportunities to the startup community, as they are ripe for disruption.  We’re making increased efforts to work with American startups/entrepreneurs; and connect them with their counterparts (check out and around the world. Startups have great potential to be engine of growth and they can help bridge understanding across borders. Founders and innovators are the new breed of diplomats and dealmakers who are representing the best and brightest of America.

In Startups We Trust.


SXSW 2016: The Wrap Up


Another SXSW has come and gone! Our heads are still spinning from the excitement and we’re still catching up on our sleep, but we couldn’t wait to tell you about our time in Austin during SXSW 2016.

To kick off our time in Austin, Friday night we hosted 100 of our COmmunity members at our Happy Hour event on at The Backspace, where our .COers were treated to delicious pizza, beer and lots of .CO swag. We loved meeting so many of our COmmunity members and hearing all about their #startuplife journeys!

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Saturday we were able to attend several conference sessions and hear industry experts share their insights on a host of different topics. We walked away feeling inspired and energized.

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Steve Case and Frank Gruber

We also awarded a few lucky .COers with their very own conference badges–, and all got hooked up with gold badges.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 4.35.01 PM showing off their SXSW badges 


The IADB team

On Saturday night, our wonderful partner, Springboard ( hosted a lovely dinner that we were lucky enough to attend. Springboard is a highly-vetted expert network of innovators, investors and influencers who are dedicated to building high-growth technology-oriented companies led by women.

It was inspiring to be in a room with so many brilliant minds including Springboard Chairman Kay Koplovitz, author of Been There, Run That – a must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs.


Yummy .CO cupcakes at the Springboard dinner

Sunday afternoon we were thrilled to be a part of Springboard & New York Fashion Tech Lab’s exciting Dolphin Tank event, where selected startups pitched and received feedback from industry thought leaders and judges.

Two fashion-focused .COers—EverApp and TrendAnalytics—both gave remarkable pitches to a packed crowd. is an exciting new service that allows consumers to discover and purchase anything they discover in videos they view. We were also impressed by merchandise intelligence startup—whose Dolphin Tank pitch left a strong impression on everyone in attendance. We look forward to following the success of both of these fashion-tech rising stars.

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EverApp pitching at Dolphin Tank


Trendanalytics pitching at Dolphin Tank

We closed out the weekend at the Startup Celebration where 28 of the most talked about startups from across the globe showcased. .COers Trago, IADB and InstaVR all gave stellar pitches. It was definitely one of the hottest parties at SXSW (the massive line down 6th Street says it all). It was an awesome night—and the perfect way to close out another amazing SXSW!

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Massive line outside the Startup Celebration

There’s nothing we love more than promoting and supporting all of the brilliant ideas that are coming to life on .CO. Through the Happy Hour, the badges we gave .CO-ers and the pitch opportunities we provided, we hope our COmmunity members felt the .CO love!




Why We Still Love SXSW



The .CO team is just days away from landing in Austin for SXSW and we can’t wait to get the party started! We’ll be throwing fun events all weekend long for our .COers, like Friday night’s .COmmunity Happy Hour–RSVP here!

But, although we love hanging out with our .COers and raising our glass, SXSW is so much more than parties and swag. There are several reasons why our team has continues to make the journey to Austin.

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Although the expression “Never stop learning” can apply to anything in life, it’s an absolute must when it comes to evolving a business online. From accessible design to customer acquisition, with a heavy dose of startup advice thrown in, we love attending as many SXSW sessions as we can pack in our busy schedule. This year we’re thrilled that so many .COers are speaking at SXSW! NewCo, Softmatch and Springboard are just a few of the .COers speaking on SXSW panels this year.


In addition to getting up to speed on the latest in all things startup-related, SXSW serves as a point of inspiration that lasts us all year long. It’s so exciting to see the .CO success stories of SXSW each year–and how quickly that lightning bolt moment can go from idea to reality.

The pitch events are especially exciting for us, such as this year’s Springboard Enterprises’ Dolphin Tank which will feature fashion-focused startups and the Startup Celebration. Oh yeah, and we’d be remiss not to mention how much we love hearing keynote speakers from the influencers of the world–like this year’s keynote featuring none other than President Barack Obama!


At .CO, we pride ourselves on being the digital home of the innovators and risk-takers on the Internet. But more importantly, we have always believed in the power of community–or in our case, the power of COmmunity. From arming our .COers with the tools and resources to help them succeed through our unique Membership Program to promotion of .CO websites on and beyond, we put our .COers first. And, we love seeing .COers making connections with like-minded innovators that will last long after SXSW concludes.

We’re super-busy getting ready for the big event, but please be sure to check out where we’ll be this year in Austin. We’d love to meet you and hear your story!


SXSW: .CO Superstars of Years Past


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As a former SXSW underdog ourselves, we can truly appreciate a good SXSW success story. And, over the past 6 years, we’ve proudly watched as thousands of .CO companies have spread their wings at SXSW in Austin.

Mere days remain before the .CO team arrives in Austin yet again, and we’d like to take a walk down memory lane to highlight just a few of the many SXSW .CO standouts of years past.

Squirl is the first location-based book discovery app. It literally brings books to life by placing pins on places on a map that correspond to scenes in books, bridging the gap between books and the real world. It also allows independent authors to increase their reader base by appealing to users of the app who express interest in a particular location that is featured in their books.

Squirl launched at SXSW in 2015 and their grassroots marketing campaign was a smash success. Several team members dressed up in squirrel costumes and set out to the streets to hand out books that were set in Austin. The ingenuity and creativity of Squirl’s premise was reflected in their SXSW marketing efforts, helping the startup to rise above the noise of SXSW and truly stand out.


The Meerkat mobile app that allows users to livestream video to viewers who can only watch it while it’s live completely dominated SXSW in 2015. Everywhere you went in Austin, people were using Meerkat to document the world around them. SXSWers were livestreaming conference panels, recording concerts, capturing Austin nightlife—and everything else in between. Meerkat was everywhere and emerged as the clear breakout star of SXSW 2015, which paved the way to the app’s rapid runaway success around the world.

500 Startups has long been a fixture at SXSW, beginning with its involvement in The Lean Startup Track back in 2011—an official SXSW track about lean startup methods that was a huge success.

The groundbreaking global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator has long been a valued friend and partner to .CO, and in 2014 we joined forces with 500 Startups’ founding partner Dave McClure for the SXSW “Super Fantastic Halfbaked Extravaganza”.

This hysterical improv game assigned two random words to volunteers, which they had to pitch as their new startup’s name – on .CO domains, of course. Not only did our .CO VIP members get free tickets to the party but they also enjoyed an open bar. Needless to say, an endless supply of laughs, drinks and fun ensued.


Springboard Enterprises

We’d be remiss not to include Springboard Enterprises in our list of SXSW superstars. Springboard is a non-profit organization that supports women entrepreneurs in life sciences and technology; since 2000, 599 women-led companies, which encompass 11 IPOs, $7.2 billion raised and thousands of jobs created.

One event that Springboard is famous for is its Dolphin Tank, which takes place in cities around the world— including Austin during SXSW. At a Springboard Enterprises Dolphin Tank event, no sharks are allowed. They believe entrepreneurs need support, constructive feedback and connections. This year, Springboard’s SXSW Dolphin Tank event is fashion-focused, and we’re excited to give one .CO the opportunity to pitch at this event. We can’t wait to hear this year’s pitches!

.CO Internet

Hey, we can’t wrap up this Superstars of SXSW Past post without a little self-promotion! Back in 2011, the .CO team attended SXSW as total newbies. One short year later, .CO founder Juan Calle was speaking on stage with industry influencers, networking with our thriving .COmmunity and spreading the .CO gospel to all of Austin. As the domain of choice to the innovators and influencers of the internet, we respect the lightbulb moment, the moment of inception where big ideas are born—which SXSW is all about.

Will you be in Austin this year? If so, make sure to come say hi—we’d love to hear your story! Read more about where we’ll be here. Oh, and make sure to RSVP to our .COer Happy Hour!

See you in Austin!

SXSW: 6 Years of #StartupLife



For the past 6 years, .CO has made the journey to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. We’ve loved every minute of celebrating our COmmunity, meeting so many innovators, and seeing all of the amazing things being brought to life on .CO domains.

As this year’s festival is rapidly approaching, we can’t help but reminisce about our past experiences. We could spend countless hours sharing 6 years of SXSW stories with you–but instead we hope you’ll settle for our rundown of how .CO has taken on Austin over the past few years.


In 2015, we loved meeting and hearing about what the .CO innovators of the world have been building. We had a blast hanging out with our COmmunity at our Happy Hour and enjoyed seeing .COs such as, and sharing their stories through video interviews. And, from giveaways including goPros and complimentary conference badges, we showed our COmmunity members some serious love!

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Kyle Taylor of shows off his GoPro camera he was surprised to find at the bottom of his .CO swag bag.

Additionally, we were able to learn from the best in the industry, including Dave McClure and Steve Case. As Case shared, “We are in the 3rd wave of the Internet, making Internet more integrated in life than ever before.”


In 2014, the .CO team took on Austin in full force! We treated our COmmunity members to all sorts of programming and treats at our .CO pop-up headquarters. .CO startups, innovators, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts enjoyed networking over drinks, having fun in our .CO photo booth and enjoying Austin’s famous Torchy’s Tacos for lunch.


Sprint’s mobile advertising division, Pinsight Media+ stopped by the HQ to teach attendees how to monetize their apps ‘like a boss’. 

Over 80 .CO companies signed up via our  Membership Program to be SXSW VIPs, which gave them access to a co-working space at our pop-up HQ, premium .CO swag bags and an open bar at Dave McClure’s Half-Baked party. It also put them in the running for the opportunity to have a video interview with Tech Cocktail.

Workshops from and Pinsight Media inspired our guests in the mornings and chats with influencers such as Kelly Hoey (founder of, John Battelle, Gary Vaynerchuk and DJ Skee provided our .COers some food for thought each afternoon. With the exception of Saturday, we wrapped up the day with a fun-filled Happy Hour.

John Battelle ( discussed innovation with Gary Vaynerchuk (


In 2013 we teamed up with our partner UP Global in their #UPGlobalLIVE Lounge. Guests enjoyed mentoring office hours and Q&A with keynote speakers, as well insightful panels with veteran industry speakers–one of which included our VP of Brand, Lori Anne Wardi.


Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos) explains how he’s helping to bring innovation to Downtown Las Vegas during Q&A with Frank Gruber (founder of

Attendees, our team and local artist Tiki Jay also collaborated on a giant 5 x 10 foot canvas. The canvas gave everyone the opportunity to leave their mark (quite literally) on the “Startuplife”!

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2012 was all about supporting, educating and celebrating .CO startups. We were thrilled to award  domain scholarships to deserving entrepeneurs and enjoyed sponsoring some of the most engaging events and programming at SXSW for startups and entrepreneurs to gather, learn, network and celebrate the startup life.

2010 and 2011

Still in its infancy, our team acted as a sponge in 2010 and 2011, soaking up and gaining knowledge from industry influencers. SXSW served as major inspiration for our team as we networked with the best and forged lasting bonds with folks already living the #StartupLife.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way from our meager beginnings–but we still embody #StartupLife.

As we prepare for this year’s trip to Austin, we’ve been hard at work organizing fun events and finding special goodies for our COmmunity.

See for yourself what we’ve  got in store for our .COers this year–and be sure to follow @dotCO on Twitter for up-to-date info on all things SXSW.

We hope to see you in Austin! Cheers!