Business culture about posers not results — JJ Geewax
JJ Geewax, founder of JGX Labs, a local-based technology incubator, described the culture of business in Jamaica as containing posers more concerned with appearances than solid results.
This culture of hype and debt startled the American millionaire who invested some US$100,000 in local business during the 12 months since starting JGX Labs.
"There seems to be this huge attachment to image and flashiness," he indicated in his address to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Thursday morning. "I feel that we are so concerned about image and appearance that we get to the point where we are not thinking about what is most important for our business."
Since last year, JGX Labs has injected capital to provide office space, legal support, technical and business mentoring to the start-up companies.
Geewax is a chief engineer at Invite Media, a New York-based advertising display company that was acquired by Google for US$81 million ($8.2 billion) in 2010. He notes that Jamaica offers competitive advantages in terms of low cost of labour and talent.
"We need to stop caring about what people look like and focus more on results," he said. "It's really not important how many times someone ends up in the newspaper. It's way more important to know how many clients they stole from the people too busy partying."
Geewax wants start-ups to avoid paying big salaries and acquiring consumer debt in order to invest in the business. He recalled paying himself "zero salary" during the first year of forming his company.
"The typical response [to local entrepreneurs] is 'oh I have bills so I have to be paid first'," he said of start-ups. "I don't see a lot of sacrifice where kids are saying its OK if it's not glamorous. Rather it has to be fun it has to be one big party."
JGX Labs already has four local companies, owned by young Jamaicans, including Blaze Payment Ltd, EduFocal, HireForge and Checkpoint.
"We expend inordinate amounts of money trying to look fancy. You can actually get loans to finance your carnival costume. I cannot say that I understand that in the slightest," he said which results in sustained murmurs from the over 100 corporate Jamaicans in attendance. "They would buy a fancy car and get locked into these loan payments and I would ask why. I don't feel that we ask why anymore. Nobody is asking why."
Blaze Payment is a mobile payment tool allowing persons to "top up" their account, either with a credit card or by purchasing credit from a friend, and use this credit to buy meals and other items from the Blaze Network of merchants.
An online learning website, EduFocal is focused on training and test-taking to prepare students in Jamaica for GSAT and CSEC exams.
HireForge is an online application tracking and hiring pipeline system targeting small businesses.
Labelled as an "internal version of Twitter", Checkpoint.io is focused on helping small companies or teams keep track of what members are doing on a day-to-day basis, using daily reminders and team summary e-mails.