NEW YORK – He launched his first Internet-based business when he was 18, and from there has founded multiple technology companies, four of which have survived.
His latest venture recently raised $6 million in capital. Although he doesn’t like the comparison, Colombian-born Andres Barreto, now 25, is known as the Latin Mark Zuckerberg.
“It’s kind of interesting verging on the uncomfortable,” he says about the comparison. “But what I do like is the idea that now there are role models that are not just soccer players or novela actors or politicians. If being called that is a means to show young people that there are other opportunities and that with technology and the Internet you can change the world, then I’m all for it.”
Barreto is the co-founder and president of OnSwipe, a software platform that enables publishers and advertisers to reach large audiences through touchable devices like the iPad. The company was launched in 2010 with three people and now employs 30.
He and his business partner, Jason Baptiste, 26, were chosen in 2011 to participate in the selective TechStars program, a technology business accelerator, whose admission process is even more competitive that applying to Harvard and Yale.
“The early investors in Google are also our investors,” said Barreto during an interview at the loft-style OnSwipe headquarters in New York.
CNN Money recently listed OnSwipe as one of the seven startups Facebook should buy. But the company is not for sale and the vision is to stay in the market for the long run.
Barreto moved to the Unites States with his parents, an electrical engineer and a dentist, in 1999 when he was 12. The family settled in Florida, where Barreto finished high school.
Later he went to the University of Florida, where his entrepreneurial journey began.
In 2005 he created an online platform where students could share homework and notes from their classes. The same year he started the public relations agency Socialatom Group to help American-based companies to reach the Latin American market and vice versa.
In 2006 he created Grooveshark, an on-demand music-streaming service, to access music anywhere in the world at any time, and in 2008 he launched Pulso Social, a media portal to showcase news about technology, social media and entrepreneurship from Latin America.
He graduated from college in 2009.
What do all of his companies have in common? They all started as solutions to problems that Barreto encountered.
Whether it was help with school work, or the desire of listening to Colombian music before such music was available on iTunes, or the desire to learn about technology entrepreneurs in Latin America, Barreto has applied a simple philosophy to starting a business: find solutions to your own needs.
Even the idea of OnSwipe was born out of a personal need to distribute and monetize content better.
“If you start with your own needs, you are going to have an easier time building a company,” he says.
Barreto didn’t learn about building businesses in college where he studied political science out of his passion for economic development. He says he learned through Wikipedia and blogs.
He also has traveled extensively through Latin America, meeting entrepreneurs, and often spends his weekends there sponsoring “hackathons” (collaborative computer programming sessions).
Barreto advises entrepreneurs not to get hung up on formulating the perfect idea, but to execute as fast as possible developing simple prototypes to test and iterate from there.
Baptiste says Barreto’s comparison to Facebook’s founder is “very cool and well-deserved.”
“I think more like Mark Zuckerberg is the American Andres Barreto,” he said.
Neither of them were using hoodies when they were interviewed.
Mariana Cristancho-Ahn is a journalist, entrepreneur, and co-founder ContentOle.com.
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