Gordon Swaby

Advice to Startup Entrepreneurs

My edtech company, EduFocal celebrated its 4th birthday recently. I’ve learned a lot over the last 4 years running the company. I’ve made some great decisions and I’ve made some bad ones. See below for some hopefully valuable advice for you and your company.

 

Entrepreneurship isn’t a hustle
It isn’t, so don’t treat it like one. You’re not in it to make a quick buck. You’re in it for personal and professional growth. You’re in it to make other people’s lives better. If you think about it like a hustle you’re going to treat it like a hustle.

 

Bookkeeping isn’t a distraction
Record everything, everything. This has been a big pain for me. I’ve never been a fan of accounting, and bookkeeping has always felt like a hassle for me, it’s not. Please take it seriously. At the very minimum, put everything through your business’ banking account. Note, I said your business’s bank account, not your personal bank account. It’s never a good idea to mix your personal and professional accounts. Open a checking account specifically for your business. This helps to develop your relationship with the bank and also a paper trail. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting a lot of money through the account or not, just do it. When/if you ever have to raise money or get a loan good bookkeeping will save you a lot of headache.

 

Have a Board of Directors or an advisory board

Part of not treating your business like a hustle is not being an authority onto yourself. You should hold yourself accountable and you should have others to hold you accountable. That’s where your board comes in. Choosing your board of directors/advisors is important as you want to have people who are well connected, experienced and can help to push your company forward. Take it seriously and meet regularly. My board meets on the third Thursday every other month. Having a board is extremely important as they’re not too involved in your company, but they are also not divorced from your company’s operations. Their unique position allows you to get invaluable advice.

 

The media is your friend

And by media I mean traditional media and social media. Twitter is important, Facebook is important and LinkedIn is important. You should have a personal presence on social media, so should your brand. Traditional media helps to establish credibility, especially if you’re a first time Entrepreneur. Don’t get distracted by media attention though. It’s useful, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

 

Join useful networks

When I started EduFocal I joined the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. It was and still is a valuable network to me. I’ve benefitted a lot from the Branson Centre and you can too. I encourage you too join. If not Branson, there are many others valuable networks to join. Do your research and make the right decision.

 

Hire the right people

At some point, you’ll have to hire people. Having the right team is extremely important. Hiring too early is bad, hiring too late can also be problematic. I can’t tell you when it’s right to hire, but growing your business means hiring, but a bad hire can hurt your business. Hiring is an art and you get better at it each time you have to do it.

 

Be honest

Be honest with yourself and others about your challenges. You can’t get help if you’re not honest about the problems you’re having.

 

Negotiate

Humans are not robots. If somebody tells that the price is x, negotiate. Negotiating doesn’t mean that you’re asking them to lower the price, it could also mean that you’re negotiating payment terms or something else. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid of hearing no.

 

Rejection is OK

On the matter of hearing no. You’re going to hear that, a lot. It’s ok, don’t sweat it. Your emails will also go unanswered, people who you’ve met many times will forget who you are and so on and so on.

 

People will let you down

Guaranteed. Your priority isn’t their priority. But, push on.

 

Your existing network is valuable; you’re valuable.

In growing our network we sometimes forget that we already have people in our network who are valuable. It’s important that you pull on that network. Maybe you’re a great marketer, designer or writer. It’s a valuable skill in business. Use it. It means that you won’t need to spend money on that skill because you can do it yourself. We also have family members or good friends who will help us for free or at at steeply discounted price; even if only for the formative stages.

 

Read, everyday.

This is my last tip, but probably the most important. Read everything you can get your hands on. Priority reading? Books and the newspaper. Read the latter daily and the former regularly. You can’t exploit opportunities if you don’t know about them. Being in the know is your responsibility, nobody else’s. You may learn something new from reading a book and you may spot opportunities in the newspaper, you may also spot opportunities for your business. Read, read, read!

When you have little or no money it’s easy to have singular focus on just that; making money, but a part of making money is putting things in place to make that money. A weak foundation can cause a strong structure to crumble.

I hope these tips are valuable. Happy Easter!


The Third World Entrepreneur

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.


Failure and Video Games: Redefining Failure

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. 🙂

 

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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


How to Start a Conversation You’re Dreading 

Peter Bregman:

Next time you have a conversation you’re dreading, lead with the part you’re dreading. Get to the conclusion in the first sentence. Cringe fast and cringe early. It’s a simple move that few of us make consistently because it requires emotional courage. At least the first time.


Sirius Satellite Radio in Jamaica: A guide

Jamaican radio is great ok, but sometimes a little diversity is good.  For those who need that diversity the answer is SiriusXM Satellite Radio 

What is Sirius ?

This is how they describe it:

Welcome to commercial-free music from every genre, live play-by-play sports, the biggest news and talk, and the hottest entertainment at your fingertips, 24/7. Welcome to an All Access package that lets you listen to all of it everywhere — in your car, at home or the office on your computer, or on your smartphone and tablet.

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I’ve always wanted Sirius in my vehicle, but didn’t fully explore how to do it until recently. I couldn’t find any information online regarding getting it done in Jamaica so I had to quiz a friend of mine who had it, hence this guide.

Steps

Step 1: Don’t make the mistake I did, I purchased the wrong device initially 🙁  Sirius comes in different flavors, I got the cheapest one. It’s called the SiriusXM Satellite Radio SSV7V1 Stratus 7 Satellite Radio . You can find it here,on Amazon for about $50 US.  So, theoretically only people living the in USA are supposed to have Sirius, but hey, it works here, so I can’t complain. I made the mistake and purchased this, it’s IMPORTANT that the device has “Sirius” labelled on it. The reason? Sirius and XM, even though they’re the same companies (one bought the other) use different satellites, the latter doesn’t work in Jamaica

Step 2: When you finally have the device in hand, you will need to install it in your vehicle. I couldn’t do it, so I used Auto Traders Jamaica located on Old Hope Road. Of course if you’re savvy enough, you can DIY.

Step 3: The last step, this part gave me some issues. You’ll need to contact Sirius and ask them to send a signal to your radio to activate. Their contact number is a toll free number so you can’t call them from your Jamaican phone, therefore you’ll need to use a VOIP app like Skype, Google Hangouts, Viber or any similar app. You can also visit their website from your phone and ask them to activate via chat. Please note, the radio will need to be on for them to activate  They have different subscription options, you can find them here. I am currently on their Sirius All Access package for $18.99 per month + tax. Their other options are: Sirius Select,  Sirius  Mostly Music, [ Sirius News, Sports & Talk, Sirius Family-Friendly, SiriusXM All-in-One and Sirius A La Carte – These are hidden at the bottom of their page — sneaky bastards ]. Your Scotiabank Visa Debit card or any local dual currency visa or mastercard will work fine. You will however need to use a US address ( I used my shipme address).

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My favorite stations (so far):

  • Howard Stern (101)
  • CNN (115)
  • BBC (118)
  • Wharton Business Radio (111)
  • Joint (Reggae music) (042)
  • Pulse
  • BPM

I hope this helps, if you need any help leave a comment and I’ll try my best.

P.S You can subscribe and listen to Sirius without having the radio in your vehicle. The alternative is listening to it on your phone, tablet or on your computer.

 


Digicel and LIME’s move to ban VOIP apps bad for innovation in Jamaica

The move by Jamaica’s two telecoms to ban voice over internet protocol (VOIP) applications on their networks sets a dangerous precedent and will inevitably stifle innovation in Jamaica.  Skype, one of the applications banned by both networks was founded 10 years ago by non-Americans and was in 2011, sold to Microsoft for 8.5 billion US dollars.

Their decision to ban VOIP almost guarantees that no innovation from that space will come from Jamaica, sets us at a disadvantage and makes our country more uncompetitive.

In a June 29, 2014 Gleaner article, Digicel’s Antonia Graham, head of communications at Digicel is quoted as saying  “Unlicensed VoIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but they do not pay any money for the privilege,” she goes on to say “the unauthorised activity puts enormous pressures on bandwidth – which means customers’ data usage experience is negatively impacted as a result”. As an Internet Entrepreneur, how am I supposed to take that message?

My startup, http://www.EduFocal.com is an online social learning service for GSAT and CSEC students in Jamaica; we offer test prep questions and answers in a fun, unconventional way. We do, however, plan to expand to video content in the near future and offer our service to hundreds of schools across Jamaica and the Caribbean. Thousands of students will be consuming our content on their cell phones, tablets and desktop computers and this will no doubt “put enormous pressures on bandwidth” for Digicel. As a small startup, will I at some point be required hire lawyers to negotiate with Digicel for this “privilege” instead of focusing on innovating?  Are other small Jamaican entrepreneurs who are creating opportunities for others be required to do the same at some point?

Many Jamaican entrepreneurs have used and continue to use the internet to create opportunities for themselves and others. Marc Gayle, Co-Founder of http://www.10poundpledge.com/  and a friend of mine allows users to pay ( via the internet) for an exercise program that can be streamed or downloaded for use in the home is an example of a service that has the potential to utilise above average bandwidth for his product. Marc and I are two examples, but there are many other entrepreneurs who could potentially be affected by this move by Digicel and LIME in the future.

For us to achieve Vision 2030, Jamaican internet entrepreneurs need an open internet where innovation is allowed and encouraged and freedom reigns. A regulated Internet is a comforting thought to internet service providers (ISPs), but a scary thought to entrepreneurs and the ecosystem around them. I hope Digicel and LIME reconsider this decision and explore equitable ways of maintaining and growing their revenue and staying competitive in this ever changing world.


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