Do you always know an entrepreneur when you see one? As a designer, a professor at the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, a hotelier, and an entrepreneur, Jorge Barahona’s appearance nearly disguises the multifaceted and energetically driven person he is. Jorge, an entrepreneurial magnet, began designing websites in 1995 while simultaneously developing other projects, when an impassable opportunity arose and he and his family decided to take the reigns of a small hotel called Hotel Monterilla located in his hometown, Viña del Mar, Chile. They transformed it into a boutique hotel that continues to operate to this day.
During this time, Jorge continued his side web-design projects until the requests exceeded his sole capacity. To attend to his growing client base, he formed AyerViernes in 2000, a web-design agency located in Viña del Mar. Later, the agency evolved to focus on user experience and interactive design within corporate and transaction websites, software, and mobile applications..
AyerViernes began with one part-time employee and, now, 14 full time interaction designers, engineers, a psychologist, and developers are on the full-time payroll. In eleven years, they have completed nearly 300 projects for over 100 diverse clients. “AyerViernes is not a cookie-cutter factory. We take our time and try to do a well thought job. We usually take 5 big clients over the year, so the work load is demanding,” he says, adding: “we always try to be ahead of the client; we stay up late until 2 AM. Now, it feels that all that knowledge led us to my current project: Clerk, hotel management.”
In 2008, Jorge realized that remotely managing his hotel was difficult, even impossible when traveling internationally. He was using $1,800 Spanish software with no online support, low rates of usability, and without the possibility to check reservation statuses of his hotel at his whim.
“And then I remembered the book Getting Real– that the first pages say, “You are your best client.” Meaning that you should try to solve a problem that you have instead of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t affect you,” he details.
He gave the idea a few thoughts, presenting it to the AyerViernes staff who were receptive. The project, unique in its field, moved along swfitly and so much so that Jorge and his wife invested $150,000 dollars to create and design a prototype to develop the project. This resulted in the genesis of Clerkhotel.com, released in October of that year.
Clerk Hotel Management is a freemium web-based, cloud computing service available both in English and Spanish, allowing small, medium and large hoteliers to manage accommodations remotely through a browser. Jorge adds: “Clerk is made by hoteliers for hoteliers. Free users and paid users have the same benefits and access to the same features. A user pays according to how many bookings he has. If he sells less, we charge less.”
Now, nearly 6 months after the release, they have more than 500 users from Chile to Argentina to Spain– even countries as distant as Zimbabwe.
Now, Barahona is seeking someone to invest in or purchase Clerk and, for that reason, he is traveling to the US this April to open the company Clerk Inc. “The idea is to do a roadshow with companies in Clerk’s industry like Expedia, and we’re also looking to meet with VCs,” he explains. Mr. Barahona also reveals that, today, they launched Clerk’s API, a new feature that will allow Clerk to connect with the hotelier’s booking system. In this respect, he is very optimistic after having received a handful of offers from Latin American’s VCs.
To aspiring entrepreneurs, Jorge’s words of experienced wisdom resonate: “I would say that the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Don’t fear going independent. Second, if you have an idea, do it fast, because there are 10 other that have the same idea, already. No one is Da Vinci. And third I would tell them to forget about the money. To be an entrepreneur or to do anything just for the money is useless. You have to focus about doing your things and being happy. If you start your entrepreneurship and you are happy with it, money will come.”