Martha Sierra, Colombian entrepreneur, a leading woman in the development of technological services, shares her experience managing a startup in Colombia and in the growth of her company. ELine, company with which she seeks to end the ranks.
Tell us about yourself, what do you do at Eline (Bora)?
My role at E-Line is the coordination of the administrative, commercial, and customer service areas.
What do I do as Bora as a company?
Bora Solutions is a technology company whose product line is a platform called ELine, which translates as Easy Line. What it manages is the most precious asset of the human being: HIS TIME. We cannot change the amount of time that an entity requires to serve its customers, but what we can change is how these people wait, avoiding that they have to be physically present, consuming long periods. In this order of ideas, with our platform the users of restaurants, or any service center, only thing they would have to do is: when entering, inform what type of products or services they require from the entity and add their phone number to be notified. Once the entity is ready to serve them, the platform sends notifications either via WhatsApp via text message and/or phone call about the status of the order, turn or place in line. Once the customer is served, they will receive a rating survey about their experience in the establishment whose rating they will be able to know in real-time. Additionally, in the waiting process, we reinforce marketing and/or informative campaigns.
Considering that you have been present since the beginning of Eline, what have the processes been like for the company to grow? What has had to happen? What have you lived through?
We struggled for three years and in the middle of the way the pandemic hit us. Before the pandemic, we created an application that would provide the services mentioned above. Along the way, we realized that getting downloads from an app that doesn’t have enough merchants linked to it is not efficient, and in the end, the user will end up deleting it from their device.
The creation of the application led us to a waste of money and time because we made an investment that reached 70,000,000 COP in an application that today is on hold but fully functional. For this reason, we redesigned the entire technological development and business to become the “All in 1” Web solution that today we deliver to our customers so that users do not have to download anything and recover their most valuable asset!
It has been hard work, we are in the fast food segment, where we re-planned the use of locators for restaurants. This implies a change of culture in the fast food market, both for the owners of the chains and for the users. That process took us time, but today it is our first successful service line with which we have conquered the market in the last two years, generating a change in the culture for our customers and users of the fast food segment in the country. It has been a very interesting learning process for us. But we are now approaching the end of the tunnel.
How have the processes been for the company to grow? What has it been like to enter this world of these restaurant entities that perhaps have everything institutionalized? How has the whole process been?
The first chain we are working with sought us out during the pandemic because the locator discs in the food courts represented a high risk of contagion due to their route of use inside the food courts. On this basis, we managed to rise from the ashes. This helped us, because we, like other companies in the pandemic, thought that the end had come.
In obtaining clients it has been a sometimes very exhausting process because we are not a recognized mega company but a startup that has been sustained over time. However, we have a case of success with one of the three most important fast food chains in Colombia, who have given us their vote of confidence by recognizing the quality of our product and its benefits.
As a result, by 2023 we will achieve organic growth, meeting our goal of positioning ourselves in 40% of the market. At the moment we have more than 100 points of sale nationwide and it has been an incentive to continue advancing in our process of credibility and positioning in the market as a result of our persistence and desire to offer an efficient solution to a real problem.
Do you see a lot of women in the entrepreneurial and technology field? What has that role been like in this sector as well?
I have participated in several Impulsa programs with very bright women entrepreneurs and most of them are young girls. At first, the age issue made me a little uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, if you have passion, believe in what you are doing, persist, and don’t give up, the result will always be good regardless of age. To achieve goals in life there are no age limits. Today I know my product, its scope, and where we are heading, so today is more than a challenge, it is a goal achieved.
What benefits are there in the business environment in Colombia in this area? What benefits do you see in what you have worked to build a company?
Benefits as such, no. In the country, there was a lot of talk about the orange economy but honestly, it was not so real, that is to say, it had many limitations: the benefits burden to have employees is extremely high, also on the part of the government I think there are benefits to which we can not apply. We have been very compliant with all the tax and legal aspects and I have not noticed any benefit. There are many promises, but little compliance, the support is not real. Even in Impulsa Colombia, which is an entity that supports training issues, I also consider that commercial support is necessary. For companies like ours, if an entity like Impulsa proposes to present us before large entities, the growth and commercial projection would be much greater.
Where are you projecting Bora and its relationship with the environment in Colombia? Are you looking to be in other countries?
We are already designing a way of contracting our service in other countries. We have made another quite high investment of money to be able to commercialize the services, that is to say, to obtain the delivery of the license in different countries of Latin America. So, maybe that is going to be something important for us in the short term because the brand can start to be positioned and become known after so many years of struggle.
There is still a lot to do, but the idea is that we can sell the license in different countries, that is my dream.
In 2023 we are starting with the second market segment: Service Centers. We offer our notification service to our on-site customers and the Scheduling service for those who want to make the most of their waiting time. The idea is that you can go and wait in the way and place you feel comfortable without losing your place in line and have YOUR time available.
In general terms, our product is parameterizable to the needs of our customers and increasingly robust.
A term or idea that people should know about tech startups in Colombia.
Resilience. I think it is what is most needed because you fall once, there are days when you say I don’t want any more, I want to shut down and leave. That is why resilience is important because entrepreneurship is not easy. I mean, there is a lot of talk about entrepreneurship worldwide, nobody wants to have bosses, and everybody wants to be independent. But there is a bad concept of that idea because really when you are an entrepreneur you are thinking about it all the time, you dream about it, you talk about it, and all the time you have in mind: how do I perfect the product? how do I position myself? you have to have passion. Now then, psychologically speaking, because of that same passion, when something doesn’t work out, the blow is stronger. When you are passionate, you have all the expectations and you put all your strength into something and it turns out that something does not happen in the time you want, the blow is also quite strong. Then, 70% of the ventures remain in that blow and do not get up again. That is why it is very important to keep in mind that there are good days, not-very-good days, and lousy days when you do not want to do anything at all. But you come back and get up, and that is what I think is missing because many very good ideas are aborted because there is no resilience. That is, there is no ability to fight, persist, insist, and never give up. I think that is the key.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I want to encourage people and tell them that there is no age for entrepreneurship, I have always been an entrepreneur. All my life since I was a little girl I wanted to do things, even married and employed I tried to set up one thing and the other. This is because I have a passion to see something born and make it grow, and above all, to see it bear fruit. And I believe that when you are born that way you die that way. So, I encourage people who suddenly have thrown dirt on projects that are not born. For example, many of my projects never took off and it cost me tears. However, from each of those failed ventures I learned and today I am applying those lessons, because later when I have not continued because of disappointment I look back and say: “if I had continued, where would I be? That is why today I am persisting and persisting, obviously as far as possible so as not to look back and suddenly regret what could have happened. That would be my contribution to those who undertake: it is not an easy exercise, it is very hard, but I also know that it brings a lot of satisfaction on a personal level.