Koombea hopes Rilo will make Shopify more manageable for store owners. It is the latest project of a small company that has become a leader for an emerging tech hub in Colombia
Colombia unfortunately gets bogged down in international headlines. Its rather successful efforts to tend its crop of startups are obscured by decades of conflict with the FARC rebel group. Yet its government is progressive when it comes to developing that ecosystem. As a hub of South American innovation, it deserves a lot more international investor attention in its own right among economic powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina.
Koombea, a development company specializing in web application framework Ruby on Rails (“Ruby” or “Rails” for short) and Ruby-based selling platform Shopify, exemplifies Colombia’s startup potential. After years of building custom webstores for clients, Koombea just released its new app Rilo to streamline new templates and store customization. But besides becoming a specialist brand for Rails, it has also taken on a leadership role in the emerging local hub of Barranquilla and for Colombia at large.
Rubies off the Rails
“Shopify offers a very simple page editor and rich editor that allows embedding and HTML coding. But it doesn’t allow you to handle the layout of the pages,” CEO Jonathan Tarud told Geektime. “Rilo allows you to insert columns and more complex layouts and easily add media in an intuitive way.”
Rilo uses a drag-and-drop interface with a few layouts available. It might sound like a glorified theme store for Shopify, but it also blends in something akin to MailChimp with fluid block layouts to make your format readable. The Koombea team does not think it’s justified to say that Shopify is behind in democratizing its platform, but it simultaneously claims something like Rilo just wasn’t available before.
“I wouldn’t say that they’re behind. To achieve the desired customized pages, what they basically offer are simple templates. But it still requires someone to hire someone else to do it or to have more knowledge of code. This makes it easy with flexibility.”
Tarud and co. claim double digit growth in users month-to-month. When asked what they are planning for the near term, he kept his cards close to his chest, but promised newer image embedding and smoother HTML editing with Rilo updates.
A Ruby in Barranquilla
The Colombian national government decided years ago that it needed to get its tech industry up to par and expand its venture capital market. Colombia as a whole and Koombea in particular have benefited from government support for developing a local tech hub. That’s not to claim Colombia is at the level of India, Israel, or Singapore, but it’s making strides.
According to Tarud, what started off as tax incentives has ballooned for the country.
“Colombia is already one of the region’s stronger startup ecosystems. Barranquilla, Bogota, and Medellín are the main hubs under development. The hope is that IT and the investments that went into promoting it can diversify into a broader innovation ecosystem.”
“The government has launched a number of public initiatives to address the lack of venture capital in Colombia, currently the biggest ceiling on startup growth.”
The country’s Bank of Foreign Trade supports 27 domestic private equity and venture funds according to a 2014 report. A number of national and local funding initiatives also exist, including the Ministry of Technology’s Apps.co and iNNpulsa. The country had the highest number of private equity investments in Latin America in 2013, which had grown 155% to over $1 billion on 2012.
Koombea is located in Barranquilla, the smallest brother to the capital Bogota and the 2012 ‘Most Innovative City in the World’ Medellín. While the capital has its advantages and Medellín enjoys local venture capital initiatives like Creame and a jealousy-inducing municipal investment of $389 million in emerging tech companies, Barranquilla is hanging tough.
Tarud and his company have emerged as local leaders for other startups, packing a decade of experience behind their own company. In September 2014, Tarud teamed up with the country’s Technology Ministry to foster a program for young entrepreneurs.
“Koombea has taken the leadership role in the startup ecosystem, becoming an active supporter of events such as Startup Weekend, Rubyconf.co and current sponsors of the Apps.co program … among others,” Tarud said.
Koombea has put itself on the map for its Ruby skills and will have the chance to highlight its country’s emerging ecosystem for Rails expertise at the annual industrial conference on the subject (Rubyconf.co) in Medellín on October 16 and 17. Team developer Jonathan Andrés will lead a workshop on refactoring for other hispanohablante attendees.
“Ruby on Rails is still a framework under development in the country. This is the reason why this month Rubyconf.co is showing up to increase the awareness and training.”
Koombea was founded in 2007 by CEO Jonathan Tarud and maintains offices in San Francisco, Miami, Utah, and Colombia. The company has done work for major brands Aetna Health, Samsung, eBay and Motorola among others.