- How did Platzi become the leading education platform in Latin America?
- Who is John Freddy Vega?
- Who is Christian Van Der Henst?
- Their first project together: "Improving the Web"
- Joining efforts with a mission: educate in technology
- A new purpose: revolutionize online education
- From Latin America to Silicon Valley: Platzi
- Keys to Platzi's success
How did Platzi become the leading education platform in Latin America?
The protagonists of this story are John Freddy Vega and Christian Van Der Henst, two Latin Americans who, from a very young age, aroused a great passion for technology and online education.
Who is John Freddy Vega?
On the one hand, Freddy Vega is a Colombian entrepreneur, born in Bogotá on March 26, 1986. From a very young age, he showed his interest in anime, video games, and business. When he met Nintendo, it was clear to him that his lifelong dream was to create video games. At the age of 12, inspired by Pokémon, one of his favorite animes, he started his first business: a board game with Pokémon cards, manufactured by himself and that he sold among his group of friends and classmates. college.
Although this idea did not turn out to be so profitable, it marked what would be the beginning of a life dedicated to entrepreneurship.
Upon finishing high school, he studied systems engineering at the Universidad Piloto. It was while he was studying this career that, excited by the Internet boom and already 17 years old, he locked himself in his room for a full month to create his first digital project. His goal and motivation were to teach, but also to learn together with other people who are passionate about technology. This is how the “Cristalab” community was born.
By 2007, this community became a benchmark in interactive design, web development, and programming, receiving more than 6 million unique visits per month, which for that time was a truly impressive figure.
Cristalab ‘s income came 100% from advertising with Google AdSense.
Thanks to his project, he was able to travel and tour different countries meeting enterprising people and generating new ideas.
Who is Christian Van Der Henst?
On the other hand, Christian Van Der Henst is a Guatemalan entrepreneur, born in Guatemala City on March 9, 1982. At the age of 16, he decided to create the site “Maestros del web “, as a space on the Internet to share knowledge about web development. This project eventually gave rise to “Foros del web”, which would become one of the largest communities of webmasters and developers in the Hispanic world.
In 2006 he was the coordinator of the virtual education portal of the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, and he was already an expert in electronic business, positioning, digital media, and virtual communities. He also gave lectures and courses in countries such as Argentina, Spain, the United States, and Mexico, among others.
Van Der Henst and Vega were direct competitors since from different geographical points both tried to offer the same thing with their portals and create communities of people who had a passion for learning about web development and new technologies.
The two met in 2005 at a Campus Party in which Cristian participated as a speaker.
As Freddy himself has confessed in various videos and conferences, initially they did not get along very well; but little by little they developed a friendship based on the interests they shared.
Their first project together: “Improving the Web”
In June 2008, Freddy and Christian participated in Campus Party Colombia. From there they began to make videos under the name of “Improving the web”, to discuss those topics that were of interest to their communities of designers and developers. Freddy had chosen the name as a parody of Christian’s first project, without imagining that it would become something big and that he would have to change it in the future.
Months later, Freddy traveled to Guatemala and from Christian’s house, they decided to give the project a new approach. In the videos, they would now analyze websites submitted by their users and give tips to optimize them. These videos became very popular, but they were also heavily criticized by users who did not share the way the entrepreneurs expressed themselves in the videos.
In 2009, they were invited by the Google company to attend their “ Google IO ” event in San Francisco, California. From there they made some videos for “Improving the web”. In their videos, they no longer analyzed websites but instead devoted themselves entirely to talking about tips on design, web development, usability, and search engine optimization, in addition to dealing with current technological issues.
After the event, they returned to their countries and continued to work separately on their web portals, but the financial crisis that had hit the world in 2008 had a significant influence on the advertising revenue of both entrepreneurs, with Freddy being the most affected. His income had fallen by more than 80% in the last 24 months. In addition to this, on a personal level, his situation was also complicated due to the illness of his grandmother, who was the person who had cared for him since he was a child while his mother worked.
Amid this crisis, he was forced to look for ways to earn extra money. He then decided to start teaching face-to-face courses. He took what savings he had left and rented a computer lab-style classroom for 20 people.
“During the day I worked at Cristalab. At night she taught Flash and Actionscript classes. At dawn I took care of my grandmother. It was very different from what I did before. Ten times harder than my life in Cristalab’s prime. Little by little I was paying my debts.” Freddy tells.
During this time, the entrepreneur also had the opportunity to work on projects for large companies such as Virgin Mobile and Caracol TV, but he says that, due to his inexperience and the crisis, he charged too cheaply.
In the meantime, Christian lived in Japan for a while and then moved to Argentina to start studies in gastronomy. From there he continued to update Web Masters and manage Web Forums. He also tried to create a gastronomy social network, but eventually abandoned the project.
Joining efforts with a mission: educate in technology
It was the year 2010 and Freddy had already taught 6 courses in his city. When Christian found out about his classes from him, he contacted him to tell him that he was “thinking very small” because by that year many people had a laptop and he could teach larger courses without a lab.
“Christian had something very interesting that I definitely didn’t, and that was thinking big. I wanted to do courses for 20 people and Christian told me: why don’t we do courses for 150 people?” Freddy told during a live.
It was there that Christian invited Freddy to Argentina to teach a face-to-face course on SEO and Online Marketing.
They needed at least 50 students in their course to recover their investment, but only about 40 people signed up. Frustrated, Vega had to return to Colombia and continue running his website and teaching small courses. Van Der Henst, for his part, had not given up and continued with the idea of making larger courses.
After much prodding, Christian managed to convince Freddy to try again.
They chose Mexico as the venue for their new course. They split costs and started promoting it. With 80 students they would recover their investment.
Despite all kinds of setbacks before and during the course, they managed to get more than 100 people to sign up. Thanks to these results, they not only recovered their investment and made a profit, but also gained the confidence to continue with the idea of expanding the size of their courses.
At the same time, they continued to work on “Improving the Web”, which had become a weekly live program on technology and web development. These live shows allowed them to quickly expand their community. The project changed its name in 2011 to “MLW.IO”, but shortly after it changed again to “ Mejorando.la”.
As their online community grew, so did the number of attendees at their in-person events and courses.
A new purpose: revolutionize online education
Between 2011 and 2012 they toured 20 cities in 12 countries, giving classes to more than 2,500 people. Between each trip they planned the creation of an online education platform from scratch that would effectively teach technology to the entire region since they had realized that traditional education was difficult to scale and did not adapt to the pace of evolution of the modern world. . However, to create the platform they had in mind, they would need capital; so they decided to reinvest 100% of the profits obtained from their face-to-face courses to start it up.
While they continued teaching face-to-face courses and saving, they took advantage of their free time to shape the first courses that they were going to teach on their online platform. They hated popular MOOCs with many enrollees but few graduates. They wanted to create a meaningful online experience in which students will not only find videos but a whole series of tools that allow them to interact with each other and with teachers. His goal was to completely revolutionize the concept of online education that had prevailed in the world until then.
“To be an entrepreneur, you must want to change the world. We did not create Platzi thinking of being entrepreneurs, but because we wanted to redefine education and give access to populations at risk.” –Freddy Vega said in an interview for El Tiempo .
At the end of 2012, they launched their first online courses on web design and development through the courses. improving. la platform. This platform integrated videos, live sessions, an online discussion system, practical examples, shared files in real-time, supporting readings, and direct connection between students. At the end of a course, the student had to develop their project and take an exam to obtain their completion certificate.
The platform started to work from a small office in Bogotá. There they recorded their first courses.
For the next 2 years, they dedicated themselves to improving their platform and launching new courses.
In August 2014, they opened a new office in Mexico City, marking the start of the company’s international expansion.
From Latin America to Silicon Valley: Platzi
They would soon realize that, if they wanted to have a large-scale impact in the global market, they would have to find a way to enter Silicon Valley and obtain an injection of capital to expand the company, something that for a Startup in Latin America was a daunting task in back then, and that had only been achieved by a few Startups in the region, such as Open English.
“It is not necessary to be in Silicon Valley to create a great company, but the most important creators of technology live here. We want to connect those people who are creating the future of the Internet with our students.” –The entrepreneurs commented on the company’s blog.
They then decided to apply to the Y Combinator acceleration program and were accepted in January 2015, thus becoming the first Latin American startup to do so up to that point. Of more than 60 thousand companies that apply each year, they only accept 3% to support them with financing and training for 3 months. Companies like Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Hacker News, among others, have also been part of Y Combinator, so this was, without a doubt, a huge step for Mejorando. la on the way to its international consolidation.
With the entry to Y Combinator, the company announced that it would change its name to “Platzi” since Mejorando. la sounded good in the Hispanic market, but they needed a global name to position themselves in other markets. This new name arose from combining the German word “Platz”, which means place, with the “I” of the Internet.
That same year, they launched a new learning system called “Careers”, which they developed based on the needs of companies for technological talent. Until then, the student simply took the courses of interest to him individually; but, with careers, he could specialize his learning process to train in an area highly demanded in the labor market.
By the beginning of 2016, the company had 170,000 students in 12 countries and received an investment of 2.1 million dollars, from investors such as Omidyar, 500 Startups, Nazca Ventures, Amamsia Ventures, and Y Combinator itself.
Thanks to these investments, Platzi implemented several improvements to its platform and considerably expanded its academic offer, reaching a total of more than 100 programming, design, business, and marketing courses. In addition, it announced that it would launch new courses in English hand in hand with renowned entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley, such as Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator; Kevin Hale, founder of Wufoo; and Dave McClure, creator of 500 Startups.
In 2017, the Platzi team understood that the way to prepare for the professional and business world had changed. Although the careers helped thousands of people to train for the labor market, there were many students with completely different objectives than “find a better job” each student had their own goal in mind and a unique way of learning, this led them to experiment with what they called “Learning Paths”, a concept that sought to guide the education process towards what the student wanted to achieve. For example, if the student had as an objective “to create a digital content company”, their learning path was different from that of someone who had the goal of “becoming a digital strategist”; Although both objectives may require some similar knowledge, in the end, the ideal is to have a personalized training process for each one. At first, these routes were simple infographics that each student could create with Platzi’s advice, but today it is a functionality that is integrated into both the web platform and its applications for mobile devices.
In 2019, the company already had more than 700 thousand students from 60 countries and made a new round of financing led by Silicon Valley’s Foundation Capital, in which it managed to raise 6 million dollars allowed it to accelerate its expansion process in the Brazilian market.
It was a fact: that online course platform that was born between the trips of two entrepreneurs passionate about the world of the web, had escalated to become a powerful company that was revolutionizing online education in the world… but, where does the success lie? of Platz?
Keys to Platzi’s success
Platzi has managed to get more than 70% of his students to complete his courses, while on other platforms, such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and Udacity, this figure only reaches 10% or 20%.
In addition to this, 70% of its users double their income 1 year after studying on the platform; and 20% of its users create their own technology company or startup, demonstrating that Platzi ‘s education effectively and meaningfully advance the careers of its students.
En cuanto a su modelo de negocios, inicialmente la plataforma vendía los cursos individualmente, pero eventualmente desarrollaron planes de suscripción mensuales y anuales que permiten a los estudiantes acceder a la totalidad de los cursos disponibles para realizar los que deseen según sus objetivos e intereses.
Currently, Platzi has three offices located in Bogotá, Mexico City, and San Francisco. Then it has more than 130 workers of 15 nationalities, of which 80% were certified by taking courses on the same platform. In total, the platform offers more than 600 courses organized in 54 careers that cover various topics of professional technical training. But the company has not only limited itself to creating courses but also maintains a constant update of free content on platforms such as YouTube, where it has more than 800,000 subscribers. In addition, every Thursday they carry out a free live broadcast called “Platzi Live” (which is the evolution of “Improving the Web” ), in which they talk about the latest news from the technological world, industry trends, and topics of interest to digital entrepreneurs.
For his part, Freddy serves as CEO and Cristian as president of the company. Both, in addition to being teachers of several of the platform’s courses, continue to work day after day with the determination to make Platzi the best online learning platform globally. One of the short-term goals of these entrepreneurs is to train more than 1 million new programmers, and business or marketing experts from each Latin American country, thus helping countries like Colombia and Guatemala not only focus their economy on the export of raw materials but rather change their model to the export of technological services.
Thus we conclude the inspiring story of John Freddy Vega and Christian Van Der Henst, two young people passionate about technology who, after traveling through many countries teaching and providing knowledge, learned from their mistakes and managed to materialize their dreams in one of the virtual education platforms most successful in the world. In Freddy Vega‘s own words:
“Part of our values is to never stop learning, and that will become mandatory for all professionals in the present in which we live. Absolutely everything we do is dominated by software or technology, and if we’re not constantly learning, we’re just going to be replaced by those that are.”