Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes of Takub tells us how Covid-19 affected their business and how the team switched to hosting virtual events.
From left to right Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes, Mateo Vélez Gómez, Edgar Santiago Vacca Urrea, Alejandro Aristizabal Londoño and Pablo Andrés Bedoya Solórzano
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: I think this virus not only affects us economically but also as human beings. For me, as a 31-year-old, it was the first economic crisis I faced. The ones that happened before didn’t affect me but my parents. So it was a big challenge in all aspects. We had to change our business model because everything changed within weeks. I am married without kids, so that situation also affected my wife and her business. So it was also a challenge for our relationship. We haven’t shared all the day, all the weeks, and the months that came. I think we are now in a good situation because of the decisions we made at the beginning.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Takub.
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: I am an administrative engineer. My degree doesn’t say much in English, but basically, it’s a major with an emphasis on Math. I am the second one out of 5 kids, all men. My family came to Medellin (Colombia) from a small town called Granada (Antioquia), faced lots of challenges in their lives but came from a small town to a big city with lots of dreams. My family and all the people from Granada are known for being entrepreneurs. It is amazing to see how they all traveled to Medellin and other cities in Colombia to have a better future and what is more beautiful is that they all came together. One went to a big city to try his/her luck, and since they were doing great there, they started to bring their family to work with them. So as a kid, my parents taught me the importance of working and of working by yourself. I worked every Saturday (because during weekdays I studied) and also on holidays. I grew up seeing lots of problems in a company and also how to solve them.
Before doing my degree, I went for a year to live in Australia and study English. That was a fantastic experience not only for the language (which we all study in Colombia) but for my life. I learned a lot about living by myself, making important decisions at work, etc. I also had the chance to meet lots of people from around the world, giving you a wider perception of life. When I came back, I did my studies and decided to have another adventure overseas, this time in France. I knew the importance of having another language (besides Spanish and English), and French was the language of love to me. So I did some classes as an exchange student. That was another experience that changed my life forever, not only for what I learned and the people I met but because I met my wife (a Colombian girl from Bogota, who decided to do the same exchange as me). Before going to France, I worked with some friends at a startup, and I will talk about it later on. When I came back to Colombia, I finished my degree and moved out to Bogotá because of my girlfriend at that time and because it’s the capital of our country and a much bigger market.
The startup we started in early 2011 was with 4 more friends, all from school. We had a great relationship, and we all have one dream in common: to start our own company. The first thing we did, was to bring ideas to the table to see which one would be the best to start with. We had many, and then, we decided to go for an idea of making the store showcase more interactive, to bring more life. So with our dream, the idea, and the team, we started working. We saw a business in making the store showcase tactile with multiple applications. We sold our first product to a company that sells women’s clothes. It was amazing to have someone buy from your idea, but it was a big failure for us. We didn’t allow that failure to bring down our dream, so we started to look at what else we could do. One company we were talking with asked us if we could make them a touch screen, and we said we could. That was the first touch screen we rented, and from there, we started renting and selling more touch screens. With that breakthrough, we started developing apps to use with the touch screen. We started with a product that was known at that time: photo booths. Having the app and the equipment for the photobooth, we began to sell a lot and grow not only in Medellin and Bogotá but in other cities in Colombia. We always love the idea of bringing technology to all that we do, and we were doing it.
We launched more apps that our clients wanted, and we grew our portfolio. We were doubling our sales every year and growing in clients and cities. By the end of 2019, we had offices in Medellin, Bogotá, Cali, and Barranquilla (all major cities in Colombia). We got together to think about the future every December, and in January (which is a very slow time in our business), we traveled together to think about our plan, clear our minds and strengthen our friendship (something we value a lot). In 2020, we had the plan of opening our business in another country, we wanted a bigger challenge, and Brazil and México were our options. We decided to go to México because of the language. Everything was perfect until March 2020, when the virus hit us, and everything changed.
How does Takub innovate?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: Because of the size of our company, I think it is easier for us to innovate. We try to look for new ideas, other ways of doing things. We do it in sales, in marketing, and in all that we do. As a market, we think Colombia follows the trend from other countries. We tried to sell big experiences and innovate big in our industry, but I think the companies don’t have that budget to do it. So we decided to make smaller innovations, small experiences that we could replicate easily to many companies. To innovate, you first have to know your clients and your industry. The second part is to ask you lots of questions, how can we do that better, how can we do it faster, what are we doing this year, what’s our challenge this month, etc. It looks easy to do it, but it’s hard to ask the right questions and to have that mindset of innovation in you and your team. We love to think that the wheel is already invented, meaning that most (if not all) of the problems you’re having are the same problems that others solve. But how can you find those solutions? There are many ways, one of those is by reading and studying a lot.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: The virus changed everything from our business. We worked with most of our clients in internal and external events such as fairs and product launches. As you know, those public events were banned by all the governments because of obvious reasons. We are still having issues with those types of events right now. Just 1 or 2 weeks after the pandemic took place, we made some decisions:
· Close our offices and move our equipment to warehouses to lower the rent we paid. We had to negotiate with all our landlords. We imagined this was going to be for long. The landlords were shocked at what we were doing, and they told us it was not going to last for long, but we stayed with our decision.
· Start working from home, something now we all know about that.
· Start over again. We have a failure with store showcase tactile, and even though this could not be called a failure, we had to start over again, the way we did years ago.
So, in the beginning, we started looking for good ideas that we could make. We launched a platform for small businesses to sell in the pandemic, a platform where doctors could have their appointments with patients, and more ideas. We were doing lots of things, testing if those ideas could work for us. Another idea that we launched was a platform to have virtual events. That’s something a company we were talking to at that time asked us to develop. So as it happened before, our clients showed us the path. That was a success, and we started selling our services not only in Colombia but also to other countries in America and Europe. As it turns out, we did sell overseas. That was our principal goal in 2020.
This pandemic let us bring more services to our portfolio, so now we not only work in events but also do virtual events.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: As described before, we made lots of difficult choices. We learned these lessons:
· Doing nothing is the worst you could do. If something affects you is better to start moving, start thinking, start innovating.
· Focus on the future. We were bringing technology to all the experiences we did. That made us the path easier to innovate in our industry. We didn’t have to start from zero. That didn’t happen by surprise; we decided to work with technology because that’s the future.
· Listen carefully to your clients; they will show you the path. If we didn’t pay attention to our clients or didn’t ask the right questions to them, we wouldn’t have had the company where it is now.
· You should be mentally and professionally prepared for crises. They are going to be harder, faster, and with a bigger impact every day.
· During crises, there are more opportunities than ever before. The market is very volatile and very fast-changing, so you have to be ready to solve the new problems.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: It will sound very cliche, but I think you and your team are the best you could have. If you train yourself and your team to innovate, to change, I believe that is more powerful than any tool or software you could find. Of course, there are other challenges that will arise in this new world, like working from home and not sharing time with the team. But that will always bring new solutions. Every team member of our team gets together with their team in a meeting every Monday to set the goals for the week, and we share those tasks with the team and everyone in the company. We do it because we want everyone to know what every member is doing and what task was completed from last week.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jose Fernando Aristizabal Yepes: In the new business model, we compete with companies not only in Colombia but overseas. There are lots of companies working with virtual events. Our main strength is what has always been: ask the right questions to our clients, listening carefully to those answers, and bringing technology to our solutions. And as technology changes very fast, make new features and adjustments fast too.