In 2006 her father passed away and her mother fell sick. It was then that Sally Buberman knew she would need to work more hours to keep up the household. She was 22 and a friend broke the news she had been looking for: “An American company is looking for South American people who can speak English and French, who has some knowledge of I.T. and if possible of math, physics and chemistry. The job is to teach American children online”. Sally fulfilled all these requisites, and without even noticing it, Wormhole had been born.
Interviewing Sally Buberman by Emilse Pizarro
Did you become a support for American students?
Yes, it was simple: I had to be online in a fixed time schedule. And if someone showed up with doubts regarding math, biology or chemistry, I was there to help people out. Everything through chat.
What tools did you use?
A very basic one, pretty similar to the Messenger of that time. There was no camera, you couldn’t possibly know who was at the other end. I wondered how I would be able to explain a more or less complex equation, how I would draw a square, I even figured out with which letters to make up something similar to a square! When I was sent the satisfaction survey results later thanking me with words like -“Did ok in the test”, “I passed the year”- I realized it was actually working.
When did this whole project of Wormhole start building up in your head?
I started thinking about our reality. There are many schools with a computer available but they lack teachers. I wondered what might happen if we brought the teachers closer to the classrooms. In 2007, along with Ignacio Frecha (who died in 2012) we started developing the idea in our spare time. Everything looked good on paper, but when trying to bring it up to reality we realized we didn’t know how to program. We then called Ignacio López and Maximiliano Menasches, who joined us as partners.
We learned Microsoft had this world competition for young people aimed at solving the problems that UNESCO deems as serious.
Access to Education, for example?
Exactly. We were invited to participate. We didn’t sleep for the whole weekend, the four of us locked up in my house to be able to deliver the project on time, and we made it through the first stage! We then competed at a regional level (Latin America) and we won! In 2007, for the finals in Korea, we had to choose a name. Nacho came up with Wormhole, which in quantum physics means the connection between time and space, we didn’t win the finals, but we got very good feedback from people who encouraged us to move ahead. We decided to devote to this as a full-time project.
Have you ever thought that you had a great idea and you would get investors in no time?
No. And now, seven years later, if there is something I can tell all entrepreneurs is that they shouldn´t worry about looking for money, they should worry about selling. The only factor giving you real support in the short, mid and long term is the customer, who pays for what you are doing.
Who was your first customer?
Grupo Profesional, a law firm that provided training. They had customers abroad who needed to take courses without travelling to Buenos Aires.
Any entrepreneur wants to achieve the ideal. But, especially in the field of technology, obstacles come up, for instance the bandwidth or connection speed, mainly in Latin America. Is this against your ideals?
We put our efforts into that idea, but understanding the context. One always desires the best, but we’re not in Europe or United States of America; the Latin American reality is a different one. My objective is that people can study and make progress, and that companies do better. That’s my actual ideal, and I use technology as a means to achieve it.
All businesses demand banking. Where is Latin America in that respect?
A bit behind regarding online collection, because people are still afraid of using their credit cards. In Mexico, for instance, the level of fraud is very high. But we managed to incorporate methods of payment and that made things a lot easier.
Have you had any other doubts, like “this is surely not going to work”?
We thought that, especially in Brazil, where it is said that you don’t stand a chance without a local partner. What actually happened was quite the opposite. People were eager to try out Latin American products, a bit because of their sense of belonging, and also because they’d had bad experiences with North American products which are not thought to fit in with our idiosyncrasy. It’s commonplace that when you want to talk to a person, you end up speaking to a machine instead. We Latins need to be answered by a person if we’re going through a problem. That’s why, in Wormhole there’s always someone on-duty.
What are the oddest things you’ve been asked for?
Two cases from Spain come to mind: A woman who read tarot cards and another who was a mediator in online divorce judgements.
Did the tarotist use the platform?
Yes, she still does. Another usage which surprised us was an institute of old languages in Chile that teaches Latin and Aramaic.
Is there a ranking for Wormhole users?
Surprisingly, doctors are who use Wormhole the most. They instantly get hooked with the live dynamic remote interaction. For instance in the kinesiology area at Hospital Municipal de Vicente López, in Buenos Aires province, doctors meet to discuss cases every Saturday morning. They share x-rays, prostheses, etc. There are also people at Yale University, in America who dictate surgery classes to the Argentine Ophthalmologic Council through videos.
Do you feel things were harder for you because you are a woman?
It never happened to me. Sometimes we are the first to discriminate ourselves.
The hobby that turned into a business
- Wormhole is a Live Learning Argentine platform that started out in 2007 as a hobby.
- In 2012, after a tough start up, they were elected as “Emprendedores Endeavor” (Endeavor entrepreneurs).
- Today they have more than 1000 active customers, more than 150000 participants all over the world, they have more than 80000 visits to their website and their last turnover was U$D 1 million.
- Countries where most customers come from: Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Chile.