Quarter Century, wow. I’m 25!
2015 was a year of transition for me.
The first quarter of the year was personally very challenging. It allowed me to rediscover how supportive family is and I experienced the kindness of friends and strangers. As it turns out, the best time to find out who your true friends are is when life throws you an unwelcome curveball.
I fell out of love, I experienced great betrayal and I fell in love; an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. I was told by a close friend as a teen that the only thing constant in life is change. That thought has stayed with me ever since. So, I welcome change in whatever form it may come. Change has allowed me to rekindle old friendships and create amazing new ones.
In March, I was invited by the World Bank to speak to a group of young professionals at their HQ in Washington DC. It was an amazing experience and I truly enjoyed speaking and interacting with them. I will close 2015 having spoken to more than 3,000 people. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to speak to others and I do jump at it every opportunity I get.
In July I travelled to Canada for the first time for a Global Shapers event. It’s truly a privilege to interact with so many millennials who are doing great things in their respective countries. I left Canada inspired to continue to contribute to Jamaica, the region and the world.
EduFocal continues to grow and I couldn’t be happier. Happy, but I’m certainly not satisfied. Our team is strong and we continue to expand our reach in Jamaica and we have plans for an even larger expansion. In 2015 we made our first multi-million dollar cash acquisition; purchasing a defunct competitor’s content base. This acquisition allowed us to become the largest online GSAT resource in Jamaica. We’re still very much a small company, but 2015 saw us giving back more than $300,000 in cash and kind to students, NGOs, the local tech community and others. This year’s EduFocal Excellence Awards has also been our largest yet.
I’ve been writing my “Year in review” posts for a few years now and it’s been such an interesting and worthwhile exercise for me. It forces me to reflect on the year I’ve had it helps me to plan for the year ahead and it helps me to reflect on the progress I’ve made both personally and professionally.
2015 was a year of challenges and change, but it was also a year of growth and opportunity. The mission continues in 2016 and I know that it will also be a year full of more opportunity and growth.
A big, big thank you to those who continue to help and inspire me on my journey. My family, my better half, my board of directors, friends and even strangers. Thank you to those who are honest with me, those who encourage me and provide invaluable feedback. I truly do appreciate and I look forward to continuing on this journey called life with your guidance and support.
Happy 25th birthday to me!
As usual I want to thank local, regional, international media and others for following our journey. Here are some of the many stories throughout the year:
“Jamaica Hosts First Ever Nexus Caribbean Youth Summit” by Huffington Post
“EduFocal Provides More GSATready Resources” by The Jamaica Gleaner
“GSAT, CSEC Students Top EduFocal Excellence Awards” by The Jamaica Gleaner
“EduFocal Awards top Users” by the Jamaica Observer
First, I have to declare my bias. I love Jamaica, dearly. I have been privileged to visit and explore at least 9 countries and many cities. Each time I travel there’s one feeling I always look forward to, the feeling I get when the plane hits the runway at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston, Jamaica. Oh, what a great feeling that is; the joy of home.
The requirements for happiness varies from person to person. Your requirements may be different from mine. My advice to you? Go where you can find your own brand of happiness. I have found mine in my home country Jamaica.
I am the product of a broken country and imperfect education system. I was educated at Sacred Heart Academy, a small catholic school in Christiana, Manchester, Knox College, a high school in Spaldings, Clarendon, Holmwood Technical High School, a technical high school in Christiana, Manchester and the University of Technology, one of Jamaica’s major Universities. Many of my peers grew up in countries with better healthcare, a better education system, safer environment, but despite that, they are my equals. In March 2015, I was invited by the World Bank to speak to a group of young professionals at their HQ in Washington, DC. A part my talk was encouraging them to acknowledge and leverage their privilege. Because yes, living and working in DC is a privilege. I try to do the same, to acknowledge my privileged life in Jamaica. My success is a privilege that I am acutely aware of.
At 24, I have little to no personal debt and through my company, I am able to fully maintain myself financially and provide temporary and permanent employment for a few others. What is my brand of happiness? My brand of happiness is value creation. Creating value for myself and others. It so happens that in Jamaica, a lot of value needs to be created. I am privileged to own a growing company that is creating value for myself, others and children. A company that can stand toe-to-toe with a similar company in Silicon Valley or anywhere else in the world. In 2014, I was recognized by the Inter-American Development bank (The IDB) as 1 of 10 innovators in Latin America and the Caribbean. I consequently had the opportunity to travel to Brazil to present to the IDB’s board of Governors and President, Luis Alberto Moreno. I don’t do what I do for recognition, but it’s humbling to know that an entity like the IDB can honor and acknowledge the work of a country boy from Christiana and his team; I’ve achieved this in a broken country, imagine the possibilities for me and others if we were even marginally better off. What if I didn’t have to worry about the struggles of a 3rd world Entrepreneur?
In 2013 and 2014 I had the opportunity to travel to Geneva, Switzerland. I visited the World Economic Forum and something that its founder, Klaus Schwab said in regards to his foundation resonated with me. He said “…I am happy, but I am not satisfied”. A shared sentiment; I am happy, but I’m certainly not satisfied. I am not satisfied because the success that I’ve had as a young adult in Jamaica is the exception, not the rule. I am not satisfied because I have been provided with opportunities and support that many others don’t have access to. I am not satisfied because too many Jamaicans go to bed hungry each night. I am not satisfied because too many Jamaicans continue to be victims of crime and violence. I am not satisfied because there’s so much to be done. However, I am happy because unhappy people don’t produce great work, and I want to produce great work. I will always see the opportunities in challenges and I will always seek to create value for myself and others.
Jamaica, I love you. Happy 53rd birthday. Let’s continue working to fix our amazing, but broken country together.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Entrepreneurship and how your environment aids in the success of your business/company.
Entrepreneurship is hard and even in the most ideal environment the chances of a business failing is pretty high. Entrepreneurs the world over have similar challenges, but I think that the challenges entrepreneurs in developing countries face are far more acute.
The third world Entrepreneur has to grapple with a myriad of problems. Bad roads, lack of capital, crime and violence, high energy costs, underdeveloped public transportation system, corruption and government bureaucracy to name a few. The third world Entrepreneur has to contend with most of the problems of the First World Entrepreneur plus the challenges that come with living in a third world country.
Despite these additional challenges, many third world entrepreneurs experience great levels of success; success that rivals that of any first world company. I believe that it takes a certain kind of grit, sheer will, confidence and resolve to succeed in less than ideal situations. The returns of which are not only financial, but can potentially in the short term transform their countries. Problems in developing countries are many and big, but every problem problem is an opportunity. Opportunities that can provide employment and transform lives in a big way.
I believe that Entrepreneurs that thrive in less than ideal environments are super people, people that you could place in almost any environment and they would excel.
I didn’t write this to discount the success of first World Entrepreneurs, it is instead to acknowledge all the Entrepreneurs that make it work despite all odds. So, kudos to all Entrepreneurs who make it work; against all odds.
I was a huge gamer growing up. I loved video games so much that I started a video gaming website, grew it and wrote American video game publishers asking them to send me games to review. That was my strategy for getting the games without buying them.
When I think of video games that I liked, Mario 64 (really loved this!) , Killer Instinct (N64 version), Pokemon ( the Gameboy color versions), and Zelda ( game boy color versions) come to mind. In terms of genre, Role Playing Games ( RPGs) were my favorite. My love for video games and running a video gaming website, I think, has influenced a large part of who I am today. What’s the relationship between video games and failure? Hang on, you’ll understand soon.
In Jamaica, and I would imagine in other parts of the world, failure is a very, very bad word. Nobody wants to fail, nobody wants to be associated with failure. Because if you fail, some may think that you’re inadequate or incompetent and it may limit you in regards to future opportunities.
Here are some definitions for the word failure:
1. lack of success
2. An unsuccessful person or thing
When I think about failure, I think about video games. I recall many hours of my childhood spent playing video games; Mario 64 in particular. Check out the embedded video below to have an idea of what gameplay was like for that game.
I remember that particular level clearly. It’s the level where you had to battle the game’s main antagonist, Bowser. I struggled to defeat Bowser. It was really discouraging when I lost to him and had to start over, but I was determined and I did it over and over and over and over until I got it right. Fifteen years later and I can still breeze through that level with my eyes closed. I didn’t know it at the time, but video gaming taught me the most important thing I could ever have today: grit. What is grit? This article does a good job at explaining it, but this is what it defines grit as “the ability to continue working toward a goal no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. ”
I mentioned earlier my love for role playing games. There is one thing in particular that I loved most about RPGs. The ability to level up. The concept is simple. Execute a task and you’ll earn points. These points go towards leveling up; i.e. earn the points and you’ll move from level 1, to level 2 to level 3 and so on. Every time you execute a task whether or not you were successful you’d earn experience points. As you level up you become stronger thus making the task easier.
That is, in essence, my metaphor for success and failure. You have the opportunity in this life to learn from your experiences. Things may not go the way you planned, but you would have gotten value from it. The onus is on you to use that experience to do and be better the next time around. You’ve only failed when you think that you haven’t gotten any value from your experience and as far as I’m concerned you can extract value from every experience, both good and bad.
Failure is what you make it and I don’t believe in failing. I’m just gaining experience points to level up.
“I don’t believe in failure, because simply by saying you’ve failed, you’ve admitted you attempted. And anyone who attempts is not a failure. Those who truly fail in my eyes are the ones who never try at all. The ones who sit on the couch and whine and moan and wait for the world to change for them.” – Sarah Dessen
A lot of people are offended when one of the first questions you ask them is, “so, what do you do?”. I’m guilty of this, but let me explain. I think what you do to earn money makes up a large part of who you are, no doubt, after all, you spend 8 hours or more per day doing it. So, me asking “so, what do you do” isn’t me trying to pry, it’s me trying to understand what you’re like as a person.
After giving it some thought, I realize that I don’t ask “so, what do you do for a living?” because, I never really think about it that way, I never really think that some people work for a living, because I don’t and I tend to (mistakenly) think that way about others, too. But the reality is that many people work to live and nothing else. They don’t work because they’re passionate about what they’re doing, they do it to literally just pay the bills. In regards to this I think you have 3 sets of people. People who work to pay the bills and because opportunities are scarce, people who work because they have no idea what they want to do with their life and people who work because they are passionate about what they do. The first set, I think, generally lives from paycheck to paycheck, the second doesn’t necessarily struggle, but aren’t sure what they want to do with their life, but know that they have to to maintain a certain lifestyle. These people are either not content with what they do or are indifferent. The last set are doing what they love; sometimes they make a lot of money, sometimes they don’t, but what’s most important to them is that they’re doing what they love and they’re not just doing it to live.
I think I fall in the last set. I eat, sleep and dream entrepreneurship; that’s what I’m passionate about; I’m doing what I love and it has never felt like work, ever. The idea of an enterprise and starting with just an idea and turning it into a big, profitable entity excites me. That’s one of the reasons I wake up each morning excited about life. That is why I can’t write about becoming 24 without talking about what I do. In my 2012, “on becoming 22” blog post I wrote: I think a large part of being an entrepreneur is having confidence. You have to to envision it before you say it (out loud or type it) and you have to believe it before you do it. Two years later and I still believe that to be true. Entrepreneurship can be such a lonely journey, lonely because regardless of how much advice you get, ultimately the decision lies with you; if you think about that too much it can be terrifying. I read a blog post a few months ago titled “Disappearing into the Fire” by Jerry Colonna. I encourage all budding and current entrepreneurs to read that. So, 2014? Wow, what a year! I’m not even sure where to start, but let’s go!
- Selected by the Inter-American Development Bank as one of ten innovators in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Celebrated 5 years in a relationship with my beautiful girlfriend, Francine Derby.
- I travelled to six countries [Brazil, France, Switzerland, Panama, The USA (Washington, D.C.), and Trinidad & Tobago] and they were all amazing and life-changing experiences.
- Partnership with Grace Kennedy’s First Global Bank for an exciting initiative (Flipped Classroom Project)
- Partnership with Versan Educational Services [SAT Prep]
- EduFocal expansion to Trinidad and Tobago
- EduFocal partners with the Jamaican Government to place the service on close to 1000 tablet computers for students
- Curatorship for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Kingston Hub
- Second annual EduFocal Awards successfully staged
It’s been a whirlwind of a year with a lot of emotional highs and lows, both personally and professionally, but at no point did I ever feel defeated. Goal setting is important to me and that helped me to measure whether or not I was making progress on a goal. It also allowed me to adjust my strategy and expectations when I wasn’t getting the kind of results that I wanted. I say “kind of results” and not results because rarely do things go the way you plan. Things generally either work out better than you thought they would or not the way you expected them to be, but nothing beats a plan.
As I close out the year I reflect on the things that I’ve achieved, the things that I can do better and the things I plan to achieve. I’m very excited about 2015 and the things that are in store for me. Here’s to 2015!
P.S I want to thank local, regional, international media and others for following our journey. Here are some of the many stories throughout the year:
Young entrepreneurs take to the web to boost development by the UK Guardian
Young Innovator Educating The Nation’s Youth Online by the Jamaica Gleaner
Swaby’s EduFocal On A Roll Internationally by the Jamaica Gleaner
Gordon Swaby ON ANOTHER LEVEL by the Jamaica Gleaner
EduFocal Does It by the Jamaica Gleaner
EduFocal to help T&T’s CSEC, SEA students by the Trinidad Express
Jamaican innovator to bring Edufocal to T&T by the Trinidad Guardian
EduFocal awards top GSAT, CSEC students by the Jamaica Observer
My friend and fellow World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Jaevion Nelson in his Gleaner column offers a rather cynical perspective on entrepreneurship training. You can find his column here. As an entrepreneur and as somebody who is passionate about entrepreneurship, I feel the need to respond.
To start, I don’t believe that you can create entrepreneurs. I believe there are certain innate traits that are required to at least increase the odds of success in entrepreneurship. I say increase and not guarantee because even with these traits, you’re still not guaranteed any success. The true value in entrepreneurship workshops is helping to identify and develop entrepreneurial talent. Many J’cans are forced into informal entrepreneurship (necessity entrepreneurship) because of a poor job market and/or because they’re not qualified for the job that they want so they decide to “do dem own ting”.
Jaevion’s cynicism, unfortunately only allows him to see a half empty cup. Sure, many will likely attempt to start a business and “fail”, but the upside is that they now have experience that they didn’t have prior and are now more attractive to a potential employer. Many J’cans are successful “hustlers” who have never been taught anything about business. Workshops and training give them the opportunity outside of a formal school environment to see the value in (for e.g) registering their entity as a sole proprietorship, partnership or a limited liability and helping them to understand which is best for them. Why it’s important to have a bank account and to develop a relationship with the bank, why it’s important to keep good accounting records, tax education and so much more; basic information that can potentially mean the difference between $150,000 in monthly revenue or $800,000 in monthly revenue, information that they wouldn’t have had prior.
Jaevion’s cynicism also didn’t allow him to mention in his column how the space has changed so much over the last couple of years. When I started EduFocal in 2012 there was no talk of venture capital or angel investing. Now we have venture capital conferences, Startup Jamaica, Startup Weekend, and so much more. I think I can comfortably say that It’s easier for the savvy school leaver to get equity financing now (which is preferable to debt financing) than it was for them 4 or 5 years ago. There’s so much that needs to happen between coming up with a great idea and getting funding for it and training is a huge part of that process.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody, and that’s fine. It’s nothing to embarrassed about. But entrepreneurial training can still be extremely valuable for people who want to be employees.; it allows them to be intrapreneurs. Something that can enhance and transform the organizations that they are with.
Statistically speaking, most will start a business and it will likely fail, but some will do well, well enough for them to potentially employee thousands of people. I encourage entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, whether you’re an employer or an employee because Jamaica so desperately needs it.