This article was originally published in PorColombia.
Love inspires many things, and in the case of Alex Torrenegra, his love for computers motivated him to create his first company when he was just 14 years old. Today, he is the founder of Torrenegra Labs, a technology startup suite which currently works on 12 different projects, including VoiceBunny, a popular crowdsourced service to get professional voiceovers. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Torrenegra has slowly become an example of entrepreneurship and innovation.
“When I was 4 year old I fell in love with computers. I always insisted to my parents that I wanted one so when I was 6-years-old, my father promised me he will give me a computer if I had the best grades in the whole school.” Torrenegra said. “Despite doing so, 28 years later, I’m still waiting for my computer.”
This peculiar event sparked Torrenegra’s creativity, and it propelled him to show his first signs of entrepreneurship. When he was 14, he posted signs offering computer services on the streets of his neighborhood. His real purpose was to calculate the demand for that type of service, because of course, he did not own a computer. After prospective clients began to arrive to his house, he created a document full of projected sales. With this “business plan,” he approached a bank, and against all predictions, the manager agreed to give him a loan.
“After a year of endless nights of hard work, I wasn’t able to pay the last installment of the loan. So when I went to the bank to solve this problem, I was surprised when they told me that there was never an account with my name on their system.” said Torrenegra. “What I realized after that, was that the person who lend me the money was in fact, the manager herself. It was obvious the bank will never lend money to a 14-year old.”
That first investment turned out to be very successful. With that first computer, Torrenegra founded his first company, Apache AX Cibernetic (note the typo) Enterprises Limitada, which will evolve into a larger computer repair and IT support company. At age 18, his company had 25 employees already. Nevertheless, Torrenegra saw that Colombia’s technological development was too slow and that his college education was not as productive as he first thought. That’s when he decided to leave the country and search for better opportunities.
After arriving to the U.S, Torrenegra worked at places such as McDonald’s and Starbucks and faced many difficult cultural changes. He studied Management Information Systems for two years at Florida International University but dropped out eventually. He then worked with companies such as Yahoo! and Terra.
At age 22, he founded Torrenegra, an online marketing consulting company. He also co-founded Rentalo, a successful rental marketplace which he later sold. After meeting Tania, his wife, he co-founded Voice123 which evolved in what it’s known today as VoiceBunny. So far, Torrenegra Labs has grew up steadily and has opened the doors to innovative projects. The company’s slogan “We disrupt industries by creating and investing in online marketplaces” has become the pillar of all its activities.
“Innovation means disruption. If you think you’re innovating, you need to pay attention to what other people say about you, especially negative stuff,” said Torrenegra. “If nobody is mad at you or criticizes what you’re doing, you are not doing anything creative.”
Torrenegra also believes that one of the most important things in entrepreneurship is to work as a team and surround yourself with experienced and talented people such as mentors, advisors and clients. This approach has earned him the recognition of many. He was recently awarded the Colombia TR35 “Innovator of the Year” award from MIT’s Technology Review and people such as the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos have highlighted his career.
“It’s amazing to know that our team is being recognized everywhere. Especially, in Colombia.” says Torrenegra. “I’m very honored but I also feel it is a huge responsibility to keep promoting entrepreneurship in Colombia and Latin America. Plus, I believe that we need to convince ourselves that we can change the world from Latin America, that’s something we need to work on.”
Finally, Torrenegra believes the key to succeed is not be afraid of failing.
“Entrepreneurship in the field of technology doesn’t consist on failing, but to know how to fail quickly and systematically,” said Torrenegra. “This way, we can learn from our mistakes and always find the correct solution.”