The tendency to pay attention to startups that are targeting huge global markets is a bias of the venture capital culture worldwide, where thinking BIG in terms of market size is the primary focus. For them, it has to be, it’s how they get the return on their invested money when startups exit on the stock market or are sold to bigger players. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, but having a Venture Capitalist finding and funding entrepreneurs, is only one way of thinking about tech entrepreneurship, startups and success story. It’s ain’t the only game in town though people. There are so many other ways and other definitions of what is the tech entrepreneurship success story. With the Caribbean’s startup ecosystem nascent and growing, we have have to be smart about our own definitions – even while we may create regionally and think globally.
We live in a global startup world dominated by messages of unicorns ( startups valued over USD$1 billion dollars) and centaurs ( startups valued at or get an exit at about US$100million), when still, tech-driven or not, the world is still run by small and medium sized businesses. These SMEs, even in this Digital and Connected Age, do create the most jobs and have the greatest impact on economies. In fact it is because of the Internet, that has given rise even more so to even more tech entrepreneurial shades of grey where we now have solopreneurs and small multi-nationals with distributed and virtual teams.
The Caribbean is the same. So while the hype and scarcity of unicorns and centaurs act as massive source of inspiration and attraction to the game of entrepreneurship worldwide – the success stories are more than that. Fact is, what the world needs more of, are entrepreneurs who are solving problems for local, regional and global markets and building standalone and highly profitable businesses because of that focus.
How will the Caribbean Defines its Tech Success Stories?
We must be careful, not to get caught up in the hype of promoting the need for the next Facebook or Google to come from the Caribbean – while diminishing other type and size of startups. Those entrepreneurs with startups, that are aiming to become a US$1million dollar to US$50million dollar profitable business- and may have zero intention to sell. They too must be counted as part of the definition of a startup success story,the Caribbean Tech Startup Success Story.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for a settling, a dumbing down of entrepreneurial dreams – what I am arguing for, is a more comprehensive messaging of what Startup Success can look like. Because, it would be saying to aspiring and current entrepreneurs, that if you cannot be the next Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser or Asafa Powell, then don’t be bothered to try. It would be tantamount to telling them, that if you can’t be the next Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff or Rihanna pack up your voice and lyrics and go chill. This narrow messaging would be limiting, when there are so many others success stories in between – both in sports and reggae – of people who have made a fantastic career, life, money and global impact e.g Shaggy, Diana King, Lady Saw and Sean Paul.
The Other Sides of Tech Entrepreneurship Success
So yes, let’s continue to be confident and be inspired by global unicorns and centaurs, by the Bolts and Rihannas and believe that a few of them, can most certainly be Caribbean-made. But in our process now of growing our Caribbean Startup Ecosystem, let’s be mindful, deliberate even, in how we define and promote tech entrepreneurial success stories – let us define our own narrative and drive our own path.
Let’s make solving problems for profit sexy, cool even – let’s show that bootstrapping and growing a business from customer revenues is also a path to take, and let’s show that raising money from our family, friends, and smart angel investors who think of ROI differently is a possibility.
Let’s continue to think BIG, but define what is BIG – there is BIG in terms of size of market – hence why so many Toyota cars are made each year. Then there is thinking BIG in terms of a Lamborghini which over makes a few hundred cars each year. Do we always have to think mass, why can’t we target premium too?
So, can we create a truly comprehensive messaging of the range of business possibilities of being connected and digital, showcase a world where you don’t have to learn how to f*cking code to launch a tech-driven startup – you simply need to think of problems differently. Because, a tech entrepreneur is simply and yet powerfully, a woman or man who applies their ideas using technology.