Jaime Manteiga and Janse Lazo grew up in Cuba without a computer, or as the young entrepreneurs say, “We were from poor families.” It’s a curious statement to qualify a social status in a country where scarcity is the norm.
“The first computer I had belonged to my sister. I was about 14 years old, and I used to play programming,” Manteiga recalled. “It seemed magical to me that if you put a certain programming language in a device, it could reach a result. I was excited when I saw that it was open to creating whatever you wanted.”
Decades later, already in the United States, Manteiga and Lazo are proof that when entrepreneurship is part of your nature, you only need to notice an absence in the market to take advantage of an opportunity and create a new product.
A tour of the technology conference circuit was enough for the entrepreneurs and programmers to notice that when somebody handed them a business card, they often lost it. Also producing thousands of paper cards isn’t environmentally friendly and has become obsolete for many people.
“Seven out of 10 cards are never used. They are simply thrown away,” said Manteiga in his Kendall office, talking about the beginnings of the startup TapTok, a platform to help businesses connect with their audience he created in Miami a few months before the pandemic began in March 2020, when avoiding direct contact between people became a necessity.
Thus, TapTok’s flagship product is the digital business card, “which goes to the phone of the person with whom you want to share the contact information,” said Manteiga, using Lazo’s phone to show how a “tap” on the card, which looks like a credit card, allows you to transfer everything you want that person to have about you: your website, social media networks, the Google map of your office, in case the person needs to get there using the GPS.
All that information available in a second, and without the person you give your data having to download an application or have special technological skills. And best of all, the electronic card avoids using tons of paper.
A passion that was born in Cuba
Manteiga and Lazo are from Casino Deportivo, a Havana neighborhood. In fact, they did not handle a computer with an acceptable speed until they met in the Joven Clubs, centers where young people could interact with computers.
“We made the largest chat room in Cuba,” Manteiga said. “Back then there was no internet and connecting people was magical.”
Cubans did not have access to the internet on their phones until 2018, so the chats created by the programming enthusiasts were the opportunity to “chat” with a girlfriend, exchange ideas with another lover of information technology or share game statistics.
“We began to create game servers to which people could connect and there they had all the game statistics, and it started to grow,” saidLazo, explaining at first they did it out of “passion,” but since “they had to earn a living” they started building computers and selling them.
The first business Lazo started in Cuba got him off the island. His venture won the 10x10KCuba contest, sponsored by the United States, and he was able to go on a tour that took him to Silicon Valley and Stanford University and to visit the headquarters of Google, Facebook and Twitter. At the end of the tour, he came to visit his relatives in Miami and decided to stay.
“We have always had this mentality that we have to fight for what we want. We don’t like that limits are imposed on us,” said Lazo, now TapTok’s chief operating officer.
Three years after staying in Miami, Lazo launched his first company, a digital marketing firm, with the help of Manteiga, who had arrived earlier.
Manteiga found the possibility of leaving Cuba at the age of 16, thanks to his blood relationship with Galicia, the land of his grandfather. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, in Spain he completed a master’s degree in programming, with a specialty in information security.
“I did very well there, and I came to the United States to make it better for me,” said Manteiga, who formed his first company in Miami eight years ago to advise businesses on security issues.
A new venture in Miami
Regarding the beginning of TapTok, Manteiga said he decided to change the services he offered with his first company, because it was difficult to scale. He then started TapTok with Ana Suárez, now its vice president of operations, and gave the company its name before the popularity of the video social media network TikTok exploded.
“I was immediately passionate about it. Four months later the number of clients was growing, and it was too much work,” recalled Manteiga, who then called his friend Lazo, who contributed his experience in advertising.
“The key is to understand the audience, their desires and dreams, and take the message out there,” said Lazo about the success of TapTok. Several times the company has everything in its digital store in a few weeks.
The Cuban entrepreneurs’ company has seven employees, but it needs about 50, said CEO Manteiga. That’s why the business is looking for investors.
In addition to electronic business cards, TapTok offers the possibility to create minipages, a website businesses or professionals can design from their cellphone.
Another advantage is that, if there is a change in the company’s data, it can be edited digitally without the need to discard hundreds of physical products. This is very useful for businesses such as restaurants, which frequently change the menu.
Also, entrepreneurs or professionals can have multiple business profiles and link them on the TapTok platform. It is also possible to generate QR codes people can read with their phones and then go directly to the minipage or website of the business that is advertised.
Electronic cards are also protected against data theft, because if its owner loses it, the TapTok platform has a functionality allowing data to be blocked.
Lazo said products can be selected in the TapTok online store, along with plastic or metal cards, and the card design. You can incorporate the company logo, or create a new one, plus information about the business. The electronic cards are sent by mail to customers who then set up the cards with their phones.
“We have been expanding and now we have a mobile app. If you are meeting a person who has a paper card, you take a photo with the TapTok app, which digitizes this paper card and the data, using artificial intelligence,” Manteiga said.
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