Gordon Swaby: dedication personified

‘I’m not smarter than anyone else, I’m just more dedicated’

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 10, 2012

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GORDON Swaby stands tall among his peers.

At 21, he is CEO of EduFocal, an online social learning platform he started with a $5m bank loan and a partnership with two web developers who offered their services for two years without pay.

In August 2010, a cousin of Swaby made a suggestion in a conversation they were having on Facebook. It was the idea to start an online social learning company.

"Send me a proposal," the then 19-year-old replied to his cousin.

Together, they set out to work on the idea, aiming to get the company registered and the site up. The cousin, however, preoccupied with getting a Master's degree, pulled out, leaving Swaby on his own.

By November that year, EduFocal was incorporated and this part March, it was launched at the Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston.

"At 16, I plotted out my life for the next 20 or 30 years. One of the things that I wanted to do was to start a company before I left college," Swaby tells Career & Education.

And done so he has.

It isn't his first venture into entrepreneurship, however, as at 16, he started Advanced-gamers.com, a video gaming resource site where featuring reviews, previews, screenshots and cheats on various games. It also included a chat forum.

"I wanted video games. I wanted to play video games and that's the only reason I started," he said, noting that it was profitable.

"I think, in retrospect, that if I were to do advanced-gamers again, with the entrepreneurship knowledge I am equipped with now, I think that's something that would be very lucrative," he said.

Now, however, he looks forward to the growth of EduFocal, even hoping that it will one day be listed on the Junior Stock Exchange.

For a fee of $200 per month or $2000 per year, students studying for the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) can register on EduFocal. The GSAT section will become operational as of next academic year.

"EduFocal is 'game-ified' in the sense that students who are part of it will start at level one in subjects being offered. As students start answering questions created by teachers on the system, they will earn what is called experience points which help them to move towards the next level," Swaby explained.

He might be on the cusp of greatness, but is was a long, hard road for Swaby, a past student of Holmwood Technical who is currently in his third year at the University of Technology (UTech) pursuing a Bachelors degree in computer engineering.

"It was very hard and it continues to be very hard, but I am passionate about entrepreneurship. It is something that I love to do. I like creating opportunities for people and that's what really drives me," he said.

Among the challenges he faces, he said, is some teachers not honouring their commitment to supply the system with questions.

"Teachers have been very interested in the service, committed to creating questions, but they just don't get around to it so the strategy that we have taken is to partner with independent secondary institutions and they supply EduFocal with questions," he said.

Teachers, he said, are paid 25 per cent of EduFocal's profit on a commission basis.

"I have also faced a lot of challenges just dealing with Jamaicans. I have been disappointed a lot. People who I thought I could depend on are not dependable and it's actually acquaintances and people who you are not close to, they are the ones who actually reach out to you and help you," said Swaby, who hails from the parish of Manchester.

He added that it was also an uphill battle with regard to resources and knowing what steps to take to get the company registered.

"There are so many things to do, and it all can be very overwhelming," he said.

Nevertheless, he noted that the struggles have strengthened his dedication as after two years, he is more passionate than ever before.

"A lot of times in life when you see people do great things, it's not because they are smarter or better than you, it's because they are more serious about reaching their goals. I don't think I am smarter than anybody else, it's just that I am more dedicated about reaching my goals," the young entrepreneur said.

He advises other young people who are eager to follow a similar path that it is good to get mentorship and to have role models.

"It's not just about money because there are safer routes I could take to creating wealth for myself, but what is really gratifying for me is starting something from just an idea and building it into something of value, not only for myself but something that affects people in a positive way," Swaby said.

His tips for prospective entrepreneurs:

*Have a mentor.

*Keep focused.

*Be around people who are smarter than you because if you are content with people who are not as ambitious as you are, then they will decrease your ambitions.

*Have great friends; people you can count on, people who will help you and want to see you do well.

*Be confident in what you are doing. You must believe in what you are doing because if you are not confident, other people won't believe in you.

EduFocal, which has an office at Technology Innovations Centre at UTech, currently markets itself through features such referral contests. It will be offering a $60000 scholarship in the summer of 2013 to the student in the system who consistently ranks number one on the leader board.


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