UruIT, a Uruguayan software and mobile app development company, entered the Colombian market a little more than two years ago. The firm’s first office was launched in the Ruta N innovation complex in Medellín.
Marcelo Martínez, who heads the team in Colombia, says the experience there was great and really helped them establish operations in the country.
But UruIT has now branched out into a new, independent office in Envigado, just to the south of Medellín. To find out more about the company’s time so far in Colombia and what lies ahead as it expands in the country, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss sat down to talk with Martínez.
Loren Moss: Tell us about your last two years here in Medellin. What have you learned? What is different in your experience as a businessman and as a resident of Medellín and of Colombia? How do you perceive things through your foreign eyes?
Marcelo Martínez: The whole process of arriving to the country was fast, and we learned many things on the run. There was not much time to research all the different aspects regarding the business before, and we had to face big differences from Uruguay in terms of legal and administrative issues.
You must also learn about the culture, especially particular to Medellín, since Colombia is a very big country where culture and customs vary from region to region. We knew beforehand that Medellin attracted talent from other regions of Colombia, and we have noticed that it is true. It’s very well-known for its quality of life. Many people arrive searching for better opportunities or are willing to relocate here from other cities, such as Bogota, which is a more difficult city due to the large population, traffic, and security issues.
“The image of Colombia as a country — and as a knowledge producer — is changing. We’ve had some potential clients that like the fact that Colombia is closer to the United States.” – Marcelo Martínez of UruIT
Today the team includes people from different regions: Medellín, Bogotá, the coast, and almost every region of the country. There is also someone from Venezuela, which is undergoing a crisis, as you know, that represents an opportunity for us because very talented and capable people are searching for new horizons. We are glad that the Venezuelan is working with us. Uruguay is a smaller country in a farther-away location. Even though many foreigners arrive there, too, sometimes the subject of relocation is harder.
Another thing we feared at the beginning — but luckily has changed for good — is the image of Colombia in the United States. When we came here, many of our current clients seemed to be worried about our investment in Colombia, which frightened us a little. But we took the chance. And since last year, we have noticed a shift in the perception and business opportunities.
Clients come to us and tell us they want to work with Colombia, while Uruguay is perceived by them as a faraway land. This opened doors for us. The image of Colombia as a country — and as a knowledge producer — is changing. We’ve had some potential clients that like the fact that Colombia is closer to the United States. They even come and visit us. This also happened in Uruguay — but less frequently.
Loren Moss: I believe that, in Montevideo you have about 100 employees, primarily developing apps? I know you are an agile operation, but what is the difference in the operations and focus here in Colombia compared to your main base in Uruguay?
Marcelo Martínez: We have two basic business models. One is “nearshore” outsourcing or a “staffing premium,” which consists of expanding web development teams for companies in the United States. Many times, they have their own teams, so we help to extend them, and the team grows jointly.
The other model is more project based, and other roles participate, such as management and UX. We can start working with the clients at earlier stages when the product is not yet defined. Many times, those projects are shorter and require other type of skills and a different way of working. Those are the two models we have today.
Then there are the technological aspects. In our project-based work, we usually use whatever technology we consider best for the job. And in the staffing model, many times the client comes to us and lets us know the type of technology to be implemented.
In Uruguay, our strategy is divided: half dedicated to the project-based model and half dedicated to the full-product projects. In Colombia, the idea is to extend the staffing model. Colombia can grow in human talent because it’s a much bigger labor market than Uruguay. When we feel we have broader experience working here in Colombia, we will start implementing the other models here.
We are also focused on web development in Uruguay. The team there is working on that, and we do some hybrid development here in Colombia. A few months ago we had the chance to start working on projects with Python. We hadn’t done this regularly before. Now we have a team, and the idea is to continue growing and offering our clients web development capability with Python.
Loren Moss: We are talking here in your new base in Envigado. It’s very modern and new. But you started two years ago with your office in Ruta N. How has your experience been with Ruta N during these first two years, and what difference has it made for your establishing in Colombia?
Marcelo Martínez: Ruta N was very important during the initial stage of establishing here in Medellín. The concept of Ruta N doesn’t exist in other Colombian cities — not even in Bogotá — and we saw a commitment of the government and local authorities to develop Medellín as a city of knowledge. You could tell there was a big investment behind it.
“When we visited other cities in Latin America and we evaluated the different circumstances, we didn’t notice such support coming from the government. Ruta N was a very strong reason we decided to move here.” – Marcelo Martínez
Ruta N offers foreign companies like ours many alternatives to get set up in Medellin and start working very quickly. Even though most countries of Latin America have too much bureaucracy, in Colombia, it’s very strong. For instance, things as simple as renting an apartment are very difficult for foreigners. I had to suffer this personally — and it’s not that easy for a company either.
Ruta N offers great support because you arrive, they help you out with everything, and they even provide the physical space. They don’t require much in the way of guarantees, and the price is quite reasonable. Having a very agile, flexible environment that allows for growth is fundamental for a company that is just starting.
When we visited other cities in Latin America and we evaluated the different circumstances, we didn’t notice such support coming from the government. Ruta N was a very strong reason we decided to move here.
Once we were here, the relationship was very good. They not only offer you the physical place, but they also provide guidance throughout the whole process. They connect you with different people and provide all the tools needed. They also help you with the positioning of your company through the local media and the export agencies of the country, including ACI Medellín, the Cooperation and Investment Agency of Medellín.
As time passed, we grew and needed more space. They always helped us. Even though we found the new office where we are today, they offered us a bunch of possible places for our new office here in the city. They help you become independent. Even today, though we are not part of Ruta N anymore, we continue being connected in a sort of an alumni network — just like in the universities — where you keep on being involved.
Loren Moss: If a company abroad wants to contact you — for example, for nearshore software development or mobile apps — how can they connect with you?
Marcelo Martínez: The easiest way to reach us and find out about us is our website: UruIT.com. We are also listed in American directories, and we travel a lot to attend events in the United States. During those trips we try to strengthen our networking. We have many clients and a large network in the United States that we have established during these last 10 years.