On a ferry ride between New Zealand's North and South Islands in the summer of 2011, Santiago Jaramillo was struck suddenly with an idea for a company. "Mobile was taking over the world," says the Colombia-born serial entrepreneur. "But small businesses were really confused about how to use it."
A few weeks later, he started his senior year at Indiana Wesleyan University and launched BlueBridge Digital (named after the ferry) from his dorm room.
BlueBridge targets organizations in niche vertical markets, builds apps for them, and then charges a monthly subscription fee. The rationale for Jaramillo's "apps-as-a-service" model: businesses typically pay mobile app developers top dollar, and then need to pay them again for updates when the IOS or Android operating systems change. With BlueBridge, companies pay a lower price for the original app, and then a monthly subscription fee that can cost between $200 and several thousand dollars, and covers any changes that must be made. "It's a long-term partnership rather than a one time vendor relationship," says Jaramillo.
In his senior year, BlueBridge racked up $100,000 in revenue. It wasn't the first time that Jaramillo had turned a germ of an idea into a profitable enterprise. As a child in Columbia, he started a water delivery business with his Radio Flyer wagon, earning himself "unlimited candy money." And when his family moved to South Florida, he taught himself how to play several instruments, then went into business as a music teacher to earn money for dates. That endeavor evolved into a small chain of music camps, which his brother now operates. Entrepreneurship, he says, "is a sickness I was born with."
That probably explains why he turned down job offers from companies like Google upon graduating as his class valedictorian last May. Instead, he decided to focus on growing his company full time, and hired Adam Weber as head of sales and Mitch Shields as CTO to ramp up his operation. Both are equity partners.
Currently, BlueBridge sells customizable apps into three vertical markets: higher education, tourism, and religious organizations. Customers include city and county convention and visitor's bureaus, universities, and churches. Jaramillo's goal is to have 100 customers in each category. Churches, he says, make up the company's fastest growing market. He was able to partner with the Wesleyan Denomination to produce a devotional app that's now available to thousands of churches. "A lot of churches realize their demographics skew toward older people," he says. "They're pushing for younger people and they've started marketing to them through the tools that they use."
According to Jaramillo, BlueBridge provides an economical and low-maintenance way for customers who are not terribly tech-savvy to enter the mobile world. "They were very competitive in their pricing, but added so much more in terms of helping us understand how to take our product to a mobile platform," says Don Cady of Wesleyan Publishing House. "We're now looking at developing a children's app that would be revenue generating."