The idea behind Jobsity was generated in New York and executed in Ecuador — and now it is expanding in Colombia. From the very beginning, the web development outsourcing company’s two masterminds, Andrés Garzón and Santiago Castro, have dedicated themselves to building a strong foundation and pushing slow, but steady, growth in line with their principles.
To shed more light on their operations, Andrés Garzón and Santiago Castro recently sat down to speak with Finance Colombia’s Executive Editor Loren Moss about their journey from New York to Colombia, the benefits of exploiting niches like Drupal, and how values-based hiring has helped Jobsity grow the right way.
Finance Colombia: What is Jobsity?
Andrés Garzón: We started around 2009 after I went away to New York to do my MBA. I’m originally from Ecuador and when I went to New York, I needed money because New York is very expensive. I tried to find a job as a programmer or as a developer, but my skills were not up to the standards that they needed. So after a while I said, “Maybe I’m not up to their level — but I can get them people from Latin America who are.” And they told me, “Well, let’s give it a try.” And that’s how Jobsity got started.
Above photo: Jobsity’s Andrés Garzón speaks with Loren Moss of Finance Colombia in Medellín’s Ruta-N
Finance Colombia: Wow. So I imagine you started out with people from Quito, from Ecuador, right?
Andrés Garzón: Yes. We started out with people from Ecuador. I know both countries very well. I knew the United States — I had worked with Bear Stearns — so I knew the work culture. And I knew the people from Ecuador. The talent and the grey matter are inside everybody. It’s a question of knowing “who.”
So what I did first was, I had my student loan, and I knew of a developer, a person who worked for IBM who had worked with me before. I told him, “Come with me, I’ll pay you double — two paychecks in advance — if you come with me.” He said: “Ok, let’s go!”
And I took the risk. I took the money from my student loan, and I said, “Here’s my chance.” And so we got started. Yes, that’s how I did it.
Finance Colombia: What kind of clients did you start off with?
Andrés Garzón: We started out in this company with media entertainment. They made educational software and they made educational programs, but for use in the media entertainment industry. So they were magazines for the universities and different institutions in the United States.
Finance Colombia: And the business model was taking talent from Ecuador to the United States or doing outsourcing operations with headquarters in Ecuador, serving clients in the United States?
Andrés Garzón: Yes, both. It started as outsourcing. We provided human capital, or people, to companies there, and also projects started to come up at the same time. So we worked in both ways. Our expertise in technology centers — in open-source and PHP — started to grow so much that they started to call us because of knowledge about the technology more than because of the cost.
We were never the cheapest, because we have always believed in talent — in quality. That’s why we put great emphasis on contracting quality people. And that’s how we started the business model. That model has continued, we have projects and we have outsourcing.
Finance Colombia: Ecuador is known as a country with a certain level of development, but it isn’t known as a great international capital of information technology, like Costa Rica, for example, or Brazil. What’s the talent like? Not the level of talent — because I imagine there are well-trained people — but in quantity?
Andrés Garzón: Well, I studied in Ecuador and I’m from there. So for me, naturally, it was easier to operate in Ecuador than anywhere else in the United States. I knew people, I had a network, and I had friends at the universities.
But you mentioned Costa Rica. Costa Rica is smaller than Ecuador in population, but it has had very advanced talent programs for a long time. There has also been a lot of investment in Ecuador in engineering talent — engineering in general — because of oil. It has had a background in teaching engineering at the universities — civil engineering, mechanical engineering, hydraulic engineering — for the last 20 or 30 years. All of the apparatus in mathematics, physics, and sciences is easily translated to programing, so it has created quite an interesting talent pool.
…Then one day I decided to come here to Medellín. I arrived in Medellín and right away I began to see options. I mean, lawyers came up to me and asked me, “Do you know about Ruta N?” Well, they contacted me, they brought me, I was impressed, and all the prizes that Medellin has won for innovation left me with the idea in my head: “This is it. This is the place.”
But it’s a different model, and I think that it’s not easy to find good talent. But I think it’s the same as all countries. It’s there.
Finance Colombia: And now Jobsity is growing into Colombia. Why did you come here? Why did you choose Medellin?
Andrés Garzón: We’re in three cities in Colombia, in Cartagena, Medellín, and Bogotá. But in Bogotá I don’t have offices — I only have people.
We started out in Cartagena. The reason is very personal. I’ve had many Colombian friends since I was a child. I love Colombia. I’ve had a very nice relationship with it as a country. As an Ecuadorian, I came here with my parents many times, and the attraction was the size of Colombia in comparison with Ecuador. With the difficulty of finding talent in Ecuador, we decided to expand as a company. So the first thing that came to mind was Colombia.
I already had contacts in Colombia, more than in other countries. My father’s friends, my own friends in New York, many of them Colombians, and I started to look for talent to begin operations. That’s how we came to Cartagena.
Then one day I decided to come here to Medellín. I arrived in Medellín and right away I began to see options. I mean, lawyers came up to me and asked me, “Do you know about Ruta N?” Well, they contacted me, they brought me, I was impressed, and all the prizes that Medellin has won for innovation left me with the idea in my head: “This is it. This is the place.”
Finance Colombia: Has your experience here been in line with the reputation? Medellín is always winning prizes for innovation, but now that you’re working here, has the city lived up to its reputation?
Andrés Garzón: Yes. I think the reputation exists for several reasons. The first is that I tried to do this in Bogotá and we didn’t find the people. It’s quite a big city, and there’s a lot of competition. Here too, but accessibility to do things is very easy in Medellín, and we did get that support. The question of talent is complicated anywhere. It’s hard to find good talent, and there’s always the risk we run that they leave.
But if we manage to change a person structurally to have an international vision, it’s a success for us because we’re not interested in simply having a company that makes money. We’re interested in having a creator of talent. That’s why it’s called “Jobsity.” Jobsity is a cross between “job” and “university.”
So it’s a place where you learn. And that’s been the philosophy since it began. Medellín has been, well, it hasn’t been easy. In Cartagena things went better for us. We already have seven people there. Here is it just two. And we don’t have just two here in Medellín because we want to — it’s because we’re just now beginning to try hard to make alliances with the universities and different things. But in Cartagena we had the advantage that the first person we contracted was also a professor at one of the universities there.
Finance Colombia: Cartagena is a very pretty city, but it doesn’t have a reputation as a base of information technology talent. What has your experience been like in operating a technology business in Cartagena?
Andrés Garzón: That’s the thing. I think everyone is looking where everyone can see, right? But this is like in football or in soccer. The talent is hidden. And if nobody is looking in Cartagena, I go and get the best ones — and they’re cheaper because nobody is looking there. There isn’t so much competition and when it comes to talent, we don’t care which the city it’s from, because in three and a half years we’ve developed a hiring process.
We sat down and said: “What business are we in? What are the most important things — the pillars of our company?” And we saw that it wasn’t so much training, and it wasn’t so much knowing about technology. It was: Who are we going to hire? First who. Then where.
We started understand that the most important thing is the hiring process, so now we have a series of tests to be able to come to work in our company. If you don’t pass, you don’t pass. The most important thing is not so much the place but rather the person. And that’s how in Cartagena, within the same process, we’ve managed to have seven people. Because once we’ve sat down, they catch what we’re looking for, and that’s when we begin to look for talent anywhere.
But obviously there are more chances in the cities, because we have certain requirements. For example: they’ve got to speak English. It’s a must. If they don’t speak English, they don’t come in to work. We use a personal profile that’s called the “DiSC profile.” It’s a personality test for hiring, and we look for certain personality traits before they can come in to work. The person can be very technically skilled, but if he’s a despot …
Finance Colombia: If he doesn’t fit in with the team …
Santiago Castro: Yes. That is very important for the company. There are always many cases where we find very good technical talent, with a lot of experience, but if you don’t fit in culturally with the company, we need to change you. So we make sure, within the process, in fact in the first steps of the process we do some “up-skills” interviews where we also evaluate the cultural aspects and personality. Everyone has to be pulling in the same direction.
Finance Colombia: There’s a saying in English — I imagine in Spanish too — but I always see it in human resources departments: “Hire for attitude, train for skills.”
Santiago Castro: Exactly.
Finance Colombia: If the person has the raw talent and can learn — and has the will and he has the attitude — and he’s going to fit in with the team, you can give him more training in Ruby or in something like that.
Santiago Castro: Exactly. But you can’t train how to think or teach values — the deeper things.
We define a series of values, and we recruit on that basis. For example, we have a value that is “Don’t be cheap — be humble.” And “Being weird is O.K.” The people who come in to work love that. We have some very strange people, but they fit in with us and they feel very comfortable working with us because nobody judges you on how you dress. In that respect we’re pretty American. We’re in the culture of the United States when we look for talent.
Finance Colombia: Which is harder: Looking for talent with enough ability in English or looking for talent with enough ability in software development?
Santiago Castro: That’s a very good question. What I think about there is: Who am I looking for? I mean, what is my priority? Am I looking for a programmer who can speak English? Or someone who speaks English who can program?
The main thing is the technical skills, taking into account that the first step is for him to fit in with the values of the company, and after that, the technical skills. Since all programming is written in English, he must know something about English. But you have to know the difference between reading some documentation in English and being able to attend a videoconference in English.
So technical skills are very important and then having workable English. We’ve had cases, in fact in Cartagena, of guys with very basic English but very high-level technical skills who have committed themselves to learning. And in a few months they have a workable level of English and a very good level in technical skills. That justifies the risk.
Finance Colombia: What do you recommend to an engineering student who says: “I want to work in your field. What should I study? What should I focus on? Which languages should I learn?”
Andrés Garzón: I’ll add something to that. The devices are going to change. So the challenge to the company is how to make just one platform that can hook into all this.
I would say that apart from that, I think that you have to put a lot of emphasis on knowing how to program well. Learn the base well then complement that by what’s in fashion. And look for niches.
For example, we are specialists in Drupal. We have done things for Dove Channel, NBC, Bloomberg, and Disney Channel Canada, and this is a niche in the market that is very specific. Drupal is a community of 5,000 or 6,000, but some very big pages are running over Drupal. We specialized in that, and once we were well known, they called us. And we look for more people because we have lost any number of jobs because we didn’t have enough people who knew about Drupal. Everyone says: “Yes, I know how to study Drupal.” Everyone knows how to study Drupal. Who knows how to do it at the enterprise level?
That’s where you start to have opportunities. So another of the pieces of advice that I would give you is that once you have the chance to learn a niche, learn it well. Learn it at the enterprise level. And the way to do it is with the open-source community. For example, we’re working today with a friend of ours, a great contributor to the Drupal community in New York. We said to him, “Look, here you can have two or three of our programmers for free. You can do whatever you want with them. We don’t care.”
Finance Colombia: Like a knowledge interchange?
Andrés Garzón: That’s right. He teaches them and we can take people out. And he knows that, but what we made in Drupal is going to be distributed worldwide, and our name is going to be there — and the name of the person. The good thing about the open-source community is that the company doesn’t get 100% of the credit. The person does, too. And that makes their level of self-esteem rise. They realize that they’re participating in something worldwide, and it makes them proud of themselves.
Finance Colombia: If it’s a content management system, why are there so few people with high-level expertise of Drupal in comparison with WordPress? Some very big sites use it — like one called Whitehouse.gov — but there seem to be very few experts still. Is there a fundamental difference in what the platforms do?
Santiago Castro: I think the big difference is the approach, the main difference is the approach to how Drupal’s base works and how WordPress’s base works as far as approach is concerned.
Now, I think it’s just a question of taste. That’s how I see it. It’s my personal opinion. Based on the experience I have had, Drupal is something very robust, and that’s why we see it in giant pages.
I can give you as examples of the ones where we have worked: Golf Channel, San Francisco Travel, and NY.gov. They are very robust sites. I think people look for Drupal for reasons of robustness, security, and community, right? Maybe it’s not so big, but the community is very active. On the other hand, WordPress is faster, but it is used much more for sites “on the go.” By that I mean, if a Drupal project takes a year, a WordPress project could take two months. That’s how I see it.
Andrés Garzón: I can add something to that because I’ve taken part in very big projects like NBC Olympics two years ago for the Sochi Olympics. It had two billion visits in two weeks. Very big. One of the biggest sites in Europe — and the world. We did all the technology jointly with another agency. We worked jointly with NBC, and what I can tell you is that Drupal is a more mature technology in the sense of the quantity of business rules that you can put into the CMS versus WordPress.
You have to program WordPress yourself, but not Drupal. You add a module and it’s there. You add another module, modify it, and it’s there. It’s not that you don’t have to do it, but it’s much more versatile. And it’s not just me that says so — it’s the trend. NBC changed its whole platform and all its brands to Drupal. Well, not all of them, but the majority, to Drupal. The same goes for the government of the United States.
A big part of this now is because they have a company called Acquia. It was set up by the founder of Drupal, and they have the hosting platform and support. Upon having that capacity, you go on to another scale to be able to manage sites with much more security. So I think that Drupal is a much bigger monster than WordPress. But it’s more difficult — the learning curve is much higher.
WordPress has focused on smaller pages, which is changing. I’m not saying that WordPress isn’t working hard to improve its thing. There are big pages like the Wall Street Journal, but Drupal is really bigger.
This Q&A has been condensed for space and edited for clarity from a longer conversation.