I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Torrenegra, the founder of Torrenegra Labs, a suite of online marketplaces and companies. Part development laboratory, part accelerator, Torrenegra Labs has overseen the creation and or development of 16 different companies, in fields ranging from travel and booking to voice-over talent and translation services.
Born into humble beginnings in Bogota, Colombia, Alex got his start in business at the age of 14, when he charmed a bank manager into giving him a loan to buy a computer to launch his first company, a data entry service to help college students print out their homework. Within a year, he had paid back the loan and hired an assistant. This company eventually evolved into a 20 person IT consulting firm working with small and midsize businesses in Bogota.
When Alex was 19, he and his family moved to the United States. Although he did do some time working at McDonald’s, where he “…learned to make great coffee but really bad hamburgers,” he was eventually able to gain work as a consultant to several tech startups in Miami, including Yahoo in Spanish and Terra Lycos. When he was 22, he co-founded Rentalo, a rental marketplace, which he later sold to his business partner. Then he met Tania, a voice-over artist who later became his wife, and together they founded Voice123, an online marketplace for voice-over talent. This company would be the first of many they would work on together.
With Torrenegra Labs, Alex has been able to realize the vision of becoming a serial entrepreneur. Although he tends to focus his energies on developing one company at a time, at any given moment, he is usually advising on several projects he may have funded or co-founded. Right now his attention is mostly on VoiceBunny (a quick turn-around source for voice-over talent) and WeHostels (an international social booking service for hostels), along with BookingMarkets, a cloud platform that allows people to launch their own local or global booking site for hotels, hostels, b&bs, or vacation rentals.
By starting small, building one company at a time, and then re-investing profits from sales into new project development, Torrenegra has been able to slowly carve out a unique niche for himself and his team. As he likes to say, they have created their reputation “…disrupt[ing] industries by experimenting with online marketplaces,” but they have also very thoughtfully developed an integrated suite of API driven products, with a consistent model of design, service and application.
An admitted tech geek, Alex is currently in development mode, working on some new projects as well as applying for patents to protect existing technologies. It’s an ongoing cycle, from tech phase to business phase and back again, but Torrenegra seems to have created a fertile environment for this dynamic process by surrounding himself with excellent people with whom he loves to spend time.
His challenges have evolved over time. In the beginning, when he was a 17-year-old business owner in Bogota, he had to work very hard to be taken seriously. Donning glasses and ties and a purposefully mature demeanor for meetings, he spent years aging himself. Later on, having added extra years on to his real age for so long, he was delighted to learn that he was actually a year younger than he thought! In the US, it took many years to parse out less than welcoming responses to his business accomplishments, and figure out what was related to reactions to his immigrant status and what was merely pushback from competitors.
All of this seems to have had only healthy results for Torrenegra Labs. Because so many of their startups have technical teams based in Bogota, they ended up co-founding a co-working space there that has been key to the growth of the startup scene in Colombia, something that Alex finds particularly fulfilling. He is enthusiastic about his international network of relationships that continues to foster innovative technology development and business applications, and allows him the flexibility of doing what he really wants to do with people he likes and respects, every single day.
He has a few pieces of advice for would-be entrepreneurs. First off, “Don’t be afraid of sending that email… Contact people that you think you need to contact, no matter how important or busy they may be. If whatever you write makes sense, it’s very likely that they will pay attention to you.” As he said, even if only 1 out of 10 people respond, a 10% conversion rate is very good…
Secondly, (my favorite), make lots of mistakes! “The more mistakes you make, the more you’re going to learn, the more you’re iterating, the more you’re experimenting.”
And of course Alex’s favorite point – “The most important key to success is knowing how to delegate, and the only way you can delegate is by surrounding yourself with amazing people.”
OK, I’m sold…
Listen to the full interview:
Deborah Oster Pannell, a Smith College graduate, is a writer who specializes in the arts, media, holistic health, advocacy and events. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog,She Says Yes. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.