I am a first time startup founder. Everything that I know about starting a company is from reading books (I highly recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and the one I am currently working through The Startup Checklist by David Rose CEO of Gust), searching for articles on Google or listening to Ted Talks and Youtube videos. These resources have been invaluable so far in my quest to become a business owner – especially in a market that is pussyfooting around with the opportunity to become the hub of Caribbean innovation and the place everyone wants to start a company.
Yes, Jamaica is poised to become the Singapore or Israel or Silicon valley of the Caribbean. We have the hustle and grit as a people. We have strong work, a qualified english-speaking workforce and most importantly, Jamaica is geographically positioned for success. A quick flight and you are in the United States. Why then is it still so hard to start a business and get the support needed to become a high-growth company? There area a few reasons including but not limited to outdated policies, lack of financing and a startup support infrastructure, stringent requirements and my personal belief, a pervasive “nowism” and quick money culture that makes up our startup ecosystem.
Nowism: The present, what you are feeling at this exact moment. A life style as well as outlook on life.
As a very early stage company trying to validate that it is needed in the Jamaican entertainment market, Atendify faced two major problems because of this cultural trait:
- Because we had no money to hire employees and pay salaries while bootstrapping the company we only had equity to offer which peaked the interest of none of the developers I approached in the local market.
- Because of the above, we had to consider contracting out the work but couldn’t afford 95% of the developers because they were more expensive than a 4 year student loan and wanted money today.
We reached out to approximately thirty local developers and every single one turned us down on the equity offer. Our only recourse was to find the money to hire a contractor to do the work for us. But even that proved to be a rollercoaster ride. Nobody believed in the idea of “differed payment” or “line of credit”. Developers who had just graduated and had little to no experience quoted astronomical figures. One guy told me point blank and I quote, “I don’t work on projects with a budget below $5,000 US.” Another told me his going rate was between $10k-15k JMD per page and “I should either take it or leave it”.
I was both shocked and amused at the same time. I had to double check to see if Jamaica had moved to Silicon Valley.
Luckily, I was able to find someone through a mutual friend who was willing to work with my budget and fluctuating payment schedule and we have forged (I hope) a good working relationship so far. As the days went by, I quickly realized that I would not find the help I needed from developers in my own country. They were not interested in working with the small guy or building for the future. Getting money now was more important than using their skills to help to build a company that has the possibility to generate wealth for years to come. Money was king and I wasn’t able to give it. My startup would have failed on day one if I had to depend on my own countrymen and I wasn’t alone. Currently, I know many entrepreneurs with great ideas who are looking for developers to help them build out their companies and cannot find anyone.
I wanted my company to be “made in Jamaica by Jamaicans” but I was young very naive – hopefully I am bit wiser now! Nonetheless, I am still hopeful for the future when my people will start thinking bigger and better. When we begin to work together and kill the nowism and quick money mentality that is hampering innovation and growth. Only together can we grow our economy, provide jobs and build billion dollar businesses right on our little piece of paradise.
I was lucky to have made a friend over a PitchIt Caribbean Challenge weekend who is now working with me to build out Atendify for launch in July. Like many developers in Jamaica he is working on his own company while holding down a full-time job in Trinidad. Troy, like my other co-founder (a female – and I point that out for a reason) and UX/UI designer who is an invaluable source of knowledge and guidance was able to see the benefits of building for the future and not for temporary financial gain.
Jamaica is poised to become. Let’s not derail our own train before they hit the tracks.