Local Entrepreneurs Urged to Be Authentic
KINGSTON — It was with an audacity of hope (to borrow from a popular book title) that United Kingdom-(UK) based Jamaican singer and chef, Keith “Levi Roots” Graham, in 2007, entered a BBC television show called the “Dragon’s Den."
The show gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of five wealthy investors, dubbed the "Dragons," with the hope of having their ventures financed for a stake in the company in return.
The dreadlocked Graham related that when he faced the high net worth “Dragons” with his “Reggae, Reggae” jerk sauce, influenced by his Jamaican roots, he did not deliver a normal sales pitch.
“They didn’t know what was coming,” he said to laughter and applause from the audience, as he told his story at Friday’s (June 17) trade and investment session held on the final day of the 2011 Jamaican Diaspora Convention in Ocho Rios, St. Ann.
Strumming the guitar strapped over his shoulder, he began to sing a reggae song about “my business, my Caribbean, my Jamaican jerk sauce.”
“When they saw me, all the Dragons must have thought ‘a wha dis Rastaman a do in ya so. Perhaps he should be next door in the other studio where they have a pop idol contest; with a guitar around my waist, certainly not in a show about enterprising businesses,” Mr. Graham said.
“But I did belong there, I did slay those dragons,” he said proudly.
The Jamaican, who many did not think belonged in front of the impressive panel of self-made multimillionaires, made quite an impression and they decided to finance his sauce business.
He informed that within a few weeks his ‘Reggae, Reggae’ sauce was outselling Heinz tomato ketchup in the UK.
“I was a bit scared because I was saying ‘are you allowed to do that. Are you allowed to be a Rastaman with three-foot long dreadlocks from Brixton, from Jamaica, and have a sauce called Reggae, Reggae sauce?, Are you allowed to be outselling Heinz ketchup?” he said.
Mr. Graham said that since then the Levi Roots brand has been the main Caribbean brand in the UK and that “after four years is still being represented by me, the Rastaman”.
He said that having conquered the UK, he is seeking to get into the Jamaican market, informing that he is working with GraceKennedy to get the product into local supermarkets by August.
Mr. Graham’s story, which he related at the session addressed by State Minister in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Michael Stern and chaired by Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, offers undeniable evidence of the power of brand Jamaica.
In fact, he said it was the use of his Jamaican culture as a marketing tool for a Jamaican product, even against the advice of friends, which won over the investors and has gained him success.
“I don’t think the people in the UK are buying the sauce as fabulous as it is; I think they are buying me,” he argued.
“I spoke to Peter Jones, one of my main investors, one of the Dragons that I slew, and I said to him, ‘why did you invest in Rastaman with a guitar and a sauce called Reggae, Reggae and he said ‘you know what Levi, it was about you; it wasn’t about the sauce. You are the reason why I invested’,” the entrepreneur told the audicence.
Mr. Graham, who boasts of his regular meetings at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister, said his advice for young Jamaican entrepreneurs is to be authentic.
“We have to be ourselves. Nobody has passion like the Jamaican people and we are the hardest workers in the world. And, if that doesn’t work then come to and I will write Reggae, Reggae song,” he said, jokingly.
By TRACEY THOMPSON, JIS Editor