„We want to change higher education in Latin America. There are 18 million students and many more who want to study, but all of them have the same problem: they have no efficient preparation for the entrance test. So many young people fail at these pre-exams and never go to university. Our vision is to prepare and allow more of them to be able to study.“
On first steps
„Most of the time when you start something, you don’t have all the skills, information, or ideas you need to be successful. All you need to do is to take action. Buy a book, ask for money at the bank, just get started. Then you can start facing the challenges that bring you further. What seems like a very big challenge in the beginning becomes smaller with every step you take.“
failed with his first company & is now revolutionizing Ecuador’s education system
It was one of the online-articles I wrote for an Austrian newspaper that attracted the attention of an Austrian girl named Lisa Schittenkopf. Even though she has never met me in person, she was instantly helpful by recommending me to the company of Guillermo Zarate in Quito. They are connected through CISV International, a global network dedicated to educating and inspiring for peace through building inter-cultural friendships. Although I had already been to Quito, I made a second stopover happen in order to meet Guillermo and his company Cuestionarix.
„My first step was to sell my motorbike and stuff I didn’t need to get money for my idea.“
When Guillermo was in high school, his teacher Carlos prepared him for the entrance test at university. Guillermo was lucky as this important preparation is not mandatory at all. It is rather a privilege for those who can afford private schools. Guillermo passed the exam and started his business studies. „I was one of only a few students who didn’t want to work for the big enterprises. I wanted to be an entrepreneur myself“, Guillermo told me. He realized early that the lack of preparations for the entrance test is the key factor keeping many young people from the opportunity to study. Guillermo was 21 years old when he started his first business from scratch – his co-founder was his former teacher Carlos. Today, Guillermo is 25 and tells us about his first steps: „We started a traditional school to prepare students for university. We developed a good methodology, but with the traditional form we couldn’t reach out to many people. The idea was good, but the method was not the best. We had classes of only 20 people, that was it. We soon realized that to leave the local stage and make a big impact, we needed to go online.“
Guillermo failed with his first business and lost a lot of money
„I lost a lot in realizing that first idea, but the dream remained alive“, the young entrepreneur continued his story. In retrospect, the words „lost“ and „failed“ are wrong here anyways:
„In our first approach to realizing that idea we learned so much about students, business, different channels and ways to communicate. That was my best university, the most encouraging education of my life. Without this first failure I would not at all be where I am today.“
Today, Guillermo is the CEO of his company Cuestionarix, an online-platform to prepare young people for their entrance tests before they can go to university. Since 2014, more than 250.000 students benefited from his services – 80 percent passed the exam! The pass rate before Cuestionarix was around 14 percent. Guillermo employs a team of 15 people – six of them are interns from all over the world. Cuestionarix has won several awards, amongst them the most important social impact award of Ecuador.
„My first step was creating a good team!“
Guillermo already had Carlos: „I started Cuestionarix with my former teacher in the academy department and another co-founder in technology. I was responsible for strategic and business tasks.“
Surrounding himself with great people is what Guillermo calls the key factor to his success. „Most important is a strong relationship with the co-founders to go through all highs and lows together. Because the lows will come inevitably and a great team can not only push through hard times, but grow from them together in a way average teams can’t.“
I’ve recently read a great article about how important it is to surround ourselves with the right people. Not only in business, but especially in relationships and friendships. If you are curious to get a bit deeper into this, read „Surround yourself with people who hold you to a higher standard than you hold yourself“ by Benjamin Hardy.
Low-cost-barrier and scholarships for the poor
A full course including 3 live classes a week, 124 video lectures, private groups and exam simulations is 85 Dollars, a one time payment. That’s affordable for many. For those who still can’t cover the costs, Cuestionarix runs a special program: „We make diagnostic tests and a survey of their economic situation, family background, and other parameters. If they have skills and potential but just not enough money, we give away scholarships. A partnership with the foundation of a big bank in Ecuador makes that possible.“ Cuestionarix gives away 800 scholarships every year.
The biggest challenge: limited trust in online services and no credit cards to pay for it
Cuestionarix receives governmental support in public relations and supplies the federal department of education with relevant data about students, teachers, and schools. They don’t get any money from the government though. “In Ecuador it’s difficult to get public support for an internet product. For some reason, Ecuadorians don’t trust e-Commerce and Online-Platforms. It’s just not that developed yet and that is a huge challenge for us and other startups in Latin America.“ Also most people don’t have credit cards, the most important tool of online payment. Cuestionarix started collaborating with banks and small shops. „The process works like recharging your prepaid sim-card. You go to the grocery shop, pay cash for your course and the money is transferred to us. Making the payment barrier as low as possible was a very important step for us. Many payments come in like this now.“
„I don’t have many skills, but two I have for sure: Creative thinking and taking action!“
Guillermo knew that this would be enough for him to get started. „If there is one strong quality you definitely need as an entrepreneur, it is the decisive will to take action.“ It all started with his dream of improving the status quo of education in Ecuador, although he admits: „In the beginning I had no idea how to do that. The only way of learning the ‚how to’s‘ is taking the necessary steps, learning about the field, getting involved in the process – and progressing.“ With the growth of his company, something else also grew immensely: Guillermo’s vision.
„Our success proves that we are on the right path.
We want to improve the education system in all Latin America.“
I had a brief conversation with Sebastián Nankervis, the strategy director of Cuestionarix. He gave me the promising feeling that this vision is anything but unrealistic reveries. It rather seems to be a viable future: „Guillermo’s sense for new opportunities is highly tuned. In Spanish, we call them ‚Inquietos‘ – somebody, who is always thinking about and searching for new possibilities. He bites more than he can chew and sniffs out opportunities all the time. Even if we are not ready for it, he wants to do it. We wouldn’t have the growth we experience without him challenging the boundaries and pushing us forward like this.“