If anyone were to rank one of the riskiest things to do when facing a crisis, then possibly what could peak at number one is starting a business in the middle of a global pandemic. The year 2020 was known for one thing, and that is the COVID19 pandemic. It has been the greatest disruptor to our way of life and has brought a virtual end to what is considered normal human interaction.
However, a pandemic raging on the outside this did not stop technology entrepreneur Kadia Francis from digging deep inside to find her true calling and make not just a career change but a total mindset change. In 2020, she co-founded the Digital Disruption Agency (DDA) which is a digital literacy and skills training platform. She explains that she always had the idea to start a company and realised that, with the world but more so Jamaica and persons in the Caribbean being forced to move in a completely digital and technology-driven direction, this was her moment.
“It was always an idea I had. I have always wanted to share what I know with people and I had a ‘Columbus moment’ in college while studying law at the University of Technology. I was unable to afford the expensive law textbooks and I observed that with a few good key word searches on Google I could find scholarly chapters, notes, texts that I could use to study and pass my exams. I realised that this was a good resource that people could use, and that’s how I started Digital Jamaica in 2018, which is an information and resource platform dedicated to Jamaicans in tech and digital spaces. From there the Digital Disruption Agency was birthed two years later.”
In August 2020, DDA was officially registered after discussing the concept with another technology instructor Monique McIntosh. The two ladies forged a business partnership and are now co-owners of the company.
Let us not forget that in April, Jamaica was in lockdown mode, its borders were closed and for those who were employed and still making a living, and keeping their job was survival. Kadia explains how she found the drive to launch the company while leaving her permanent job in a law firm. “I left my nine-to-five [job] in the middle of a pandemic. I was already struggling with doing my job and carrying the work from Digital Jamaica on a part-time basis. I was getting a lot of requests for speaking events and presentations, so I had a feeling that this was the right time to do it. I have spoken to several other Jamaicans who had digital-based businesses and they explained that it was during COVID they thrived”.
The technology entrepreneur believes that the advent of the pandemic opened doors for new businesses, as innovation was necessary to stay afloat.
“COVID has been the catalyst for many launches for digital jobs in the Caribbean, as unfortunate as it has been, it has also caused new businesses to be created. We also realised what was happening in the digital space and knew that it was only a matter of time for Jamaica to catch on.” she said.
Despite the brave move, she has some advice for anyone who is thinking about leaving a secure job to open a business.
“I didn’t jump out right away it took me three years before I actually made that decision. I was working with Digital Jamaica on a part-time basis, so it gave me time to fully transition. I would advise anyone not to jump out right away, as you have to make sure that the area you are moving into can be monetised. You need to have money set aside because you won’t start raking in money right away. You have to give yourself time to test the waters to ensure that the market you are going into is responsive to your product and service.”
Ms. Francis explains that starting the business was easy. However, she admitted that their biggest hurdles were when they began the process of registering the company, “The hard part was registering the business. Even if your business does not have a physical location, you still need an address for registration. That process was not as smooth as it could have been because where information was lacking, it was incorrect, we had to do our research to find the correct information. Once we figured out what we needed to do, it was easy and took us four days to actually register with the Companies Office.”
Now a full-fledged business, the Digital Disruption Agency has trained more than three thousand persons in Jamaican and the Caribbean and has hosted over one hundred speaking engagements. Ms. Francis told JIS News that persons need to appreciate what they are getting into before starting a business and not be blinded by the glamour of entrepreneurship.
“I would advise persons that it takes a lot of discipline. You have to make sure that you identify your target audience and your market, whether it is local or international. If it is an online company, then your market has no limit, but you need to ensure that you tailor your brand for the market.”
In addition, she says a lot of research and testing needs to be done and an online presence must be established. “You need to become visible and relevant and this is something that takes time to build because there may be other people offering the same service you have. Next is to build your community. Your community is important because they will support you. Once you realise you have a steady stream of income that is more than what your day-to-day job is paying, then you can jump ship.”
Ms. Francis says she has learnt valuable lessons since starting the business and is humbled by the fact that although the Digital Disruption Agency is young, it continues to be recognised for the work that it does. “I get gratification when I develop a course and then deliver a course; it never gets old. Being able to speak at the first Wealth Summit for the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service was an awesome experience. We were recognised by the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology as women in technology. We were also invited by the United Nations to give a presentation through their local office to talk about bias in media. We have spoken at universities and continue to affect so many people and inform them about the prospects of the digital space.” she added.
Ms. Francis says the company is looking forward to executing the plans that they have in the pipeline, especially on the projects that will delve into untapped markets. “We started out talking about digital, but now we are going more into the hardcore side of technology we are inviting Jamaicans whom we know have the technical expertise and then we are going to be training them on how to instruct people and we are going to help them create programmes and put them on our platforms. We are also coming out with two books – one for release in October 2021, and that is a digital marketing guide for beginners.” She says the company will remain committed to being the go-to digital literacy and skills training hub to learn and earn online.