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How Musician Julian Torres Ended Up Rocking the Colombian Startup World

Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro MejiaProfiles
Julian Torres

Julian Torres is a startup founder and contributor to Forbes Colombia. Courtesy of Torres.

Julian Torres wanted to be famous.

A native Colombian and startup founder, Torres started his career as a musician. His strong desire to make something out of himself led Torres to pursue a life of curiosity and make the most out of his time on Earth.

But entrepreneurship suited him, and Torres now spends much of his time internationally as he fundraises and networks for his latest venture, Ontop -- a startup that automates hiring, onboarding and payroll management so companies can have access to the best talent regardless of location.

Since its launch just 12 months ago, Ontop has raised upwards of $6M with the goal of redefining talent acquisition in Latin America and has picked up attention in the U.S. It’s backed by Y Combinator and launched as a member of its Winter ‘21 class.

The Org spoke with Torres to learn more about his journey from musician to entrepreneur and how his experience with music helped him to launch his latest venture.

Julian Torres and Santiago Apracio

Ontop co-founders Julian Torres and Santiago Aparicio. Courtesy of Julian Torres.

When asked to describe himself, Torres opens up on a personal level and says he is a ‘do-er’, passionate about meditation and inspired by purpose. He adds that with experience he has learned many of the things he used to chase, like fame and money, can be short lived and frivolous, and he has changed his focus to finding meaning and purpose.

Torres says many of those experiences he had as a young adult to reach the point he is at now were a series of “spectacular failures.” As a teenager, he leveraged his musical talents and formed a band he thought would help him reach fame. The effort was not in vain, with Torres working as street performer in his spare time during a stint in China where he studied the local language.

A lesson he takes away from his musical experience is that “the principles around composing songs are eerily similar to those of composing businesses,” so that’s what he began doing.

Upon his return home, and in an effort to start a business in Colombia, Torres found himself selling the most innovative Chinese bidets -- mostly to nursing homes and wealthy people. He describes the gig as being like “Will Smith in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness,’ selling stuff that sincerely nobody wants.” Torres understood he needed to change the course of his professional career and sought employment first with a well known headhunter, before transitioning to inQlab -- a company that invests in disruptive startups that are transforming industries in a scalable way throughout Latin America.

Image from iOS

Ontop co-founders. Courtesy of Julian Torres..

Serendipitously, while looking for startups to invest in, he came across an idea he decided to pursue himself. Torres ventured into entrepreneurship with Fitpal, a ClassPass like startup for the LatAm region.

Fitpal was able to raise $3.5M over the course of five years. Torres considers the startup a success because it led him to meet his co-founder, Santiago Aparicio (also his co-founder and CEO at Ontop) and together they expanded into ten countries across Latin America, fostered key relationships with investors and dipped their toes into bootcamps and accelerators that now play a major role in their new business.

In March 2020, just as Torres and Aparicio were fundraising for Fitpal, the pandemic hit and caused a complete halt in operations. The co-founders made the decision to part ways with the startup and try their luck elsewhere.

As the world faced lockdowns and enterprises quickly scrambled to shift their operations to a remote workforce, Ontop was envisioned to solve the adjacent challenges that come with the emergence of distributed teams. Torres and Aparicio received a $50K investment from two highly successful entrepreneurs when the idea was just a powerpoint presentation.

With that, they sought out tech co-founder Jaime Abella to begin developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), with their eyes set on being accepted to Y Combinator’s coveted accelerator program. While working on the beta version, the trio raised a pre-seed round of $350K, and just two months later raised another $700K pre-seed round.

By December 2020, Ontop had already received over $1.1M in funding and reached its main objective of being accepted to YC’s winter 2021 batch. After going through the process and receiving invaluable mentorship and iterating their idea multiple times, Ontop made its debut at Demo Day -- where startups pitch their ideas to eager investors -- and raised a $4.5M seed round led by Point72 Ventures.

Torres defines Ontop as a fintech company that provides banking solutions for the remote workforce. The team is building “the most complete global payment network in the world,” where products and services include onboarding for international workers, compliance services and payment advances.

The best talent is distributed around the world and current employment laws get directly in the way of accessing it. Ontop is eliminating the hurdles of hiring international workers and enabling a better and happier workforce. Ontop counts companies like Rappi, Fanatiz, Frubana and Chiper as loyal clients.

On the subject of fame, even though Torres no longer seeks it, he has obtained international recognition for his achievements. He continues to compose music, is a published author on entrepreneurship and business -- with a second book coming 2022, a columnist for Forbes Colombia and a keynote speaker.

Despite his success, Torres is as relatable as it gets. A constant meditation practice has allowed him to overcome severe anxiety and insomnia, which he used to take medication for. He considers himself a good storyteller, communicator and a great enabler, and enjoys overcoming a good challenge. He says he fears death and wants to make sure he doesn’t waste any time. Curiously however, he is intentional about not accomplishing all of his dreams.

“If you reach all of your goals, you lose hunger, you have to keep chasing something, in my case, purpose,” he says.

For other entrepreneurs -- and anyone in general -- Torres suggests meditation. “The art of sitting down and having no expectations is magical. It translates to life itself, it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

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