An underappreciated fact: Latinos are digital trendsetters. More than 70 percent of US Hispanics have a smartphone, a group collectively more likely than other smartphone owners to use mobile apps regularly, to buy tablets, and to upgrade their cellphones. But in all that clicking and snapping, there’s a big problem.
“If I write a comment on Yelp in Spanish, I’ll immediately get attacked with racist comments,” explains Jorge Guzmán, 36. “And if you misspell words and your name is Latino [sounding], you’ll get attacked as well. So the Latino community has retreated from these platforms.”
Versi, a Portland-based start-up launched this April, thinks it may have an answer. Founded by a trio of Mexican-born entrepreneurs—Guzmán, his brother Cesar, and Jonathan Grajales—Versi is essentially a Spanish-language digital Yellow Pages, but one that allows users to discover, review, recommend, and buy directly from Portland-area Latino businesses, restaurants, and services. Businesses can pay for custom versions of the app and use it for loyalty programs like digital punch cards and coupons. Customers can even order food from a business’s Facebook page without downloading the app.
“We’ve also noticed there’s a big need from government agencies to reach these communities effectively,” says Guzmán. The local Mexican consulate and the city of Portland are using the app to spread the word about programs, resources, and events without exposing themselves to racist Facebook trolls.
In September, the two-year-old company landed an investment—amount undisclosed—from local venture capital firm Elevate to expand its user base and feature set. In the longer term, Guzmán says the company would love to expand beyond the Latino community with services to other ethnic communities and groups facing similar issues or isolation.
“If you come to Versi,” he says, “it’s with the understanding that there’s a mix of languages being spoken. It creates a more positive environment.”