I have heard several politicians, businesswomen, laymen, and entrepreneurs consider Jamaica the Caribbean country that is best poised for innovation. I may have even read an article or two on the very subject over the years. Yet, in the past 10 years, can we name even 5 Jamaican startups that have now become household names? Or can we name more than two local entrepreneurs with frequent and consistent media presence and company growth in that time frame? That’s more difficult than it should be, partially due to the challenges that are inherent in launching a company in the developing world (which we touched on last week), but I think culture plays a role in it too.
Firstly, we must realize that profitable startups are built to address a pain-point, and can be fashioned based on:
Need speaks more to “pure” innovation, wherein the product or service may be inspired by completely unrelated structures but primarily comes as a response to unfavourable circumstances. For example, we can think of mosquito netting. The first nets were designed to catch fish and other prey, keeping them inside the net. However, the mosquito net was designed to do the opposite, and decrease the chances of being bitten. Its construction came from a need, and so did the constructions of the fishing net.
Is the space saturated with similar products or companies? Makes it harder to stand-out unless you’re bringing something unique.
Analogs set the tone for many ideas and are concepts within the same industry that are being adopted by the competitor. An example would be Instagram creating Instagram Videos in response to Vine Videos a few years ago. Both existed in the social media space and wanted to capitalize on the users’ desires to view and create short pieces of video. Entire companies can be analogous too, for example Digicel and Flow.
What does any of this have to do with culture?
Jamaica is a country that is rich with history and culture, both of which socialize its people in a more uniform way than happens in countries with significantly higher rates of immigration. The music, the food, the language, while rooted mostly in West African culture, has become uniquely Jamaican. This fact is more pervasive than we think, and shapes our businesses too.
Over the years we have seen the rise and fall of several music apps catered specifically to Jamaican artists and listeners, event apps catered to our desire to dance and live freely, and social media apps catered to our yearning for connections and “links”. Our culture makes many of us like-minded, so we see many of the same opportunities. The industry then becomes saturated, and coupled with the lack of local funding, these startups and products struggle to go even a moderate distance, all while competing for the same users.
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So there is a lot to consider when you wonder if your business idea will stick in Jamaica. Here’s a quick list:
The concept itself
Is it “good”/”bad”? Why or why not?
Will it be received well by Jamaican users?
Critical if the idea is based on analogs built overseas. Different audiences will respond differently.
Is the space saturated with similar products or companies?
Makes it harder to stand-out unless you’re bringing something unique.
Your ability to execute
The most brilliant of ideas mean nothing if you can’t make them a reality. Be pragmatic in your approach, discard the outlandish ideas, then either:
Table certain ideas for a later date when you can handle them
Build a team to help you achieve your goals now
Our last tip is to never be too eager. The first idea you come up with may not be the best, so really spend some time to think about it. At Ja++ we’re more than happy to have those conversations with you, and if you’re ready to invest more heavily in your current business, let’s start with a website.