Santiago Jaramillo’s career as a CEO began when he was seven. He launched his first business armed with a bike, a Radio Flyer wagon, and a plan.
Growing up outside the city of Cali, Colombia, Jaramillo would often see a Coca-Cola truck pulling into his neighborhood to deliver drinkable water. Every time, maids from nearby houses would have to pick up the water and haul it back. So Jaramillo convinced the truck driver to sell to him so he could deliver the water for just two dollars more. As it turned out, people were willing to pay.
“I had unlimited candy money,” Jaramillo said. “I was like, ‘This is sweet. I like this.’ ”
Now 22, Jaramillo is the founder and CEO of BlueBridge Digital, which produces mobile apps for iPhone and Droid smartphones. His first app, a news aggregator for people who wanted to follow the Occupy Wall Street movement, got tens of thousands of downloads as soon as he put it online. A few months later, BlueBridge released four apps for Indianapolis’ own Super Bowl XLVI, all of which ranked among the top five most popular Super Bowl apps in Apple’s App Store.
But Jaramillo’s real passion is helping businesses communicate with their consumers in a radically changing information environment.
“Every business has struggled with, ‘How do we have a good Web online presence?’ for the last 15 years,” Jaramillo said. “The next 15 years, our businesses are going to be struggling with, ‘How do we have a mobile presence? Do we have an app? Do we have a mobile site?’…Every consumer is using their smartphone to look up information, and 97 percent of businesses have nothing.”
A 2012 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Jaramillo moved to the United States when he was 11 years old. His family had barely missed getting kidnapped by a guerrilla organization that targeted their church.
“In Third World countries — there’s no ‘I want to do what I love’ or ‘I want to follow my dream or my passion,’” Jaramillo said, “because you don’t have that luxury. You just do whatever’s going to get you ahead in life, because most people don’t make it…it’s not about doing what you love, it’s about doing what you need to do to feed your family.”
The family settled in Florida. In eighth grade, Jaramillo got a scholarship to a highly selective private high school that prepped him for the Ivy League. He worked hard in high school, getting good grades while running a small music teaching business on the side. A number of Ivy League schools accepted him, but Jaramillo decided he wanted a Christian education instead.
During his senior year in high school, he struggled with intellectual questions about his faith: “I just sort of decided, “God, I’m going to go to a Christian school and this is my last try with this whole thing.’ ”
He’d never really heard of IWU before he started college hunting. He stopped by on his way back from another campus visit. If there was any one factor that tipped the scales for IWU, Jaramillo said, it was the community.
“It was probably actually McConn,” he said. “I didn’t even like coffee, but it was just the fact that it was like 8 or 9 p.m., and it just was completely open, and it was filled with people, I loved that, because I’m a people person. I just loved that there [were] people around. Other colleges were just sort of dead at night… It really was a feeling of, ‘this place could be home.’”
Through religion classes at IWU, he was able to engage with some of the things that were bothering him about faith: “I realized it was more of a process and a journey that I didn’t need to know — it wasn’t an algebra equation to where if I didn’t have one variable, the whole thing fell apart.”
Jaramillo started out majoring in religion and music, with the goal of becoming a worship pastor: “I knew that I was either going to do full-time business, part-time ministry, or I was going to do full-time ministry, part-time business,” he said. “I told God, ‘Open doors which way you want me to pursue,’ and he started opening doors with business.”
He founded BlueBridge in the fall of his senior year, after a summer of trying and failing to sell apps in Indianapolis: “I knocked on doors, hundreds of phone calls, tons of visits to companies, and sold nothing,” he said. “I was just sick of learning through failures. I was like, ‘I want to learn through a success. I’ve worked really hard to where something should click.’”
He decided to build a portfolio. After his free Occupy Wall Street app took off in October, he designed a version with a few more features that sold for $1.99. When he was able to advertise that he’d created an app with tens of thousands of downloads, potential clients took notice.
Jaramillo wants to focus BlueBridge on two major areas: universities (through their site collegeapps.me) and convention and visitor’s bureaus (through visitapps.me). They’re working on an app for IWU Athletics, which will make IWU the first school in the NAIA with a mobile app offering live streaming video of basketball games.
At the same time, he’s still finding ways to run his business with Biblical values. BlueFoundation is a BlueBridge initiative which donates 10% of all net profits from BlueBridge business to an organization called charity: water.
“How do I tangibly express my faith through my business?” he said. “Obviously, it’s all the normal stuff of being a witness when I am at work and treating everyone with honesty and integrity and all that, but to me, that’s all sort of given. That’s not anything above and beyond.”
The mission of charity:water, according to charitywater.org, is to bring “clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.”
“They’re really catering to my generation that’s sort of jaded against most nonprofits,” Jaramillo said.
As a producer of mobile apps and an adjunct professor teaching app development at Ivy Tech Community College, Jaramillo meets a lot of people who think that becoming a software billionaire takes little more than a laptop and an idea.
“I think a lot of people only read the success stories, and they don’t realize how much work it takes,” Jaramillo said. “Most entrepreneurs fail a bunch of times before they ever succeed…it really isn’t about the money.”
Maybe someday Jaramillo will come up with a “killer app” that takes over the mobile universe. But if he never becomes a billionaire, that’s fine with him: “I’d rather be poor and love what I do. I think that’s success to me, is getting to do what I love every single day of my life.”