Some say that entrepreneurs are born out of necessity. Looking at Hernán Jaramillo and Roberto Cuartas, it becomes clear that only perseverance makes them come to life.
The two young men from Colombia are trained industrial engineers and the creators of TareasPlus.com, an online learning portal for young people and adults that is revolutionizing online education in Latin America.
The project was born in a Medellín neighborhood when Jaramillo and Cuartas were students in their fifth semester at the Antioquia School of Engineering and looking to earn some extra money. They started tutoring math, charging $7 per hour.
Their friendship grew with the project. As the founding partner, Jaramillo explains, “I had a network of students. When I could not meet the demand, I would sometimes subcontract work to [Cuartas]. That’s how we became friends.”
But beyond earning cash, the tutoring sessions inspired them to think of a new way to develop the business. “We realized that we could solve one of education’s biggest problems through these tutorials. The key was to stop restricting the amount of time we spent giving explanations, and we needed technology to make that possible.”
In essence, TareasPlus.com is part of the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) phenomenon, which are digital platforms for online courses. They are designed so that anyone in the world can access them online. MOOCs started in 2007 based on the philosophy that knowledge can and should cross borders.
The story of TareasPlus.com is one of trial and error. The seeds of the project go back to 1999, as the pair started creating stories and designs, and calculations. It finally took off in California two years ago. “The project went on for two or three years from the time we began and then we forgot about it. Even though we had support in Colombia, the conditions were not ideal,” explains Jaramillo. “We were always chasing after this dream. One day, after saving enough money with my business partner, we left for Silicon Valley.”
TareasPlus.com has its development team in Medellín, while the company headquarters is in San Francisco. The dream has now become reality by connecting the resources between North and South America.
“I was always sure that it was easier to find resources in Silicon Valley for an idea like this," Jaramillo says. "You don’t have to do as much to convince investors here. It was easier to get the $2 million we needed.”
Today, TareasPlus.com is the answer to one of the biggest problems in education: the limited time to learn. It is made up of more than 7,000 lessons or tutorials and has delivered the equivalent of 100 years’ worth of continuous classes.
“Roberto Cuartas just picked up his tablet and started creating five to seven minute-long tutorials where a whole subject like differential calculus is explained. He is one of the most interesting mathematicians I have ever met,” Jaramillo says.
The site started with tutorials in math and science, but is now expanding into business and technology. All of the courses and subjects are related to the world of numbers. The young Colombians’ idea has made giant advances in the virtual market.
There are now more than 15 million people who have learned with TareasPlus.com and somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 daily visits to the site. About 30% of the visitors are from Colombia, followed by Mexico, Peru, Chile and Spain. The tutorials reach 23 Spanish-speaking countries and even receive visits from Brazil, though for now the courses are still only in Spanish.
A TareasPlus.com application for the iPad was approved recently. “We have had very interesting results," Jaramillo says. "We are able to connect with students from anywhere.”
Even though the future is unpredictable, there are some precise goals for the next two years. “The idea is that whoever wants to obtain a professional certification would see the portal as a destination,” declares Jaramillo. “We want to become the true Amazon of knowledge. First, we will do it in Spanish, then in Portuguese, and maybe after that, in English.”