Dare to be Different: 4 Best Practices

I was asked recently to present at a Youth Camp under the theme “Dare To Be Different”. The camp was held in the cool hills of NewPort, Manchester. I was overjoyed to share my experience with so many wonderful campers. My first question…
Should we really be different

 

I hope you feel inspired to embrace your difference! Be the change you want to see in the world.

 

At Balcostics our mission is to empower decision makers with the required data and information to make better decisions. Learn more about our full list of research outsourcing services for individuals and companies: Click here

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Who was first? Development or Information

Information goes hand –in hand with development. The most developed countries are the most informed countries (USA, Canada, Germany, Singapore), these countries have readily available data on almost all aspects of their society’s, behaviour, attitude, consumption, economy, internet usage etc.

who was first

The global growth of the internet and social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare ect.) has transitioned us into an era of big data.  The United States (US) have collected so much online data on its citizens, that they are having problems making sense of it – now that’s a good problem to have!

While in developing countries, its extremely difficult to source information in most areas – with the exception of Economic & Government statistics. This is a problem, we at Balcostics are working to solve. It is also aligned with our mission, “to empower leaders with data & information for better decision making”.

We continue to receive requests for data relating to SMEs in Jamaica and several individuals and organizations have expressed their gratitude for our free SMEs Survey Report. We have plans for similar reports in other emerging areas with high data deficiencies.

Have you ever had problems sourcing information in Jamaica? Which area (s) would you like some information on, but having problems finding same? Do share with us your comments.

Written by:

Luwayne Thomas (Co-Founder @Balcostics)

At Balcostics our mission is to empower decision makers with the required data and information to make better decisions. Learn more about our full list of research outsourcing services for individuals and companies: Click here

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When to leave your Job to start a business

This post is inspired by a recent question I was asked by Rory Walker (@redrory) via twitter, about how I made the transition from a full-time job (Research & Development Analyst at Guardian Life Ltd.) to working full-time in my own company (Balcostics Ltd.).

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Factors in Making the decision:

  • Clear major debt –after finishing UWI, as with most graduates these days, I had my Student Loan to repay. Repaying this debt was my highest priority; since certain types of debt limit your ability to take risk (even when great opportunities present themselves). Thus, once I got hired most of my income went to debt repayment.
  • Working part-time on the business, while working full-time day job – My day job covered monthly expenses (food, rent etc.) which provided the opportunity to invest & re-invest most income earned from Balcostics back into the company.
  • Start branding and building relationships with potential customers – these days, it’s very easy to get the word out about your business, with continuous access to social media and low cost web development. Initially, we started investing lots of time and fair amount of money to build a website and develop social media presence. Again, testing our ideas to see if a company (any company) would exchange their cash for the value we were offering (Research outsourcing). Remember, you don’t have a business until you have a paying customer! Get your first customer and learn all you can from them (collect feedback & do your research).
  • Too much to handle, time to go! My final decision to leave Guardian Life came when I started having problems balancing full-time work responsibilities with part-time, start-up opportunities. I was frequently doing 16 hour days and as young and energetic as I am, this lifestyle is not sustainable! In addition, Balcostics was starting to get some press attention and we didn’t want any conflict of interest issues once the company went public (in terms of exposure).

Additional Lessons:

  1. Work for the experience – If your ultimate goal in life is to own a restaurant business, then get a full-time or part-time job in a restaurant (whether you have a UWI degree in law or economics). The best way to learn is by doing!
  2. When you’re leaving a company, leave on the best terms possible! The world is a small place; never disrespect those who gave you opportunities (regardless of past disagreements etc.)
  3. Be thankful & appreciative of those who gave a helping hand – I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity Guardian Life gave me and I was blessed to have a manager who played a significant role in my personal & professional growth. Managing my own business & people, I now fully understand all the troubles she had with me :-).

Since going full-time with Balcostics, throughout all the ups and downs, business continues to get better. We’re now in our 2nd official year as an operating company, and I’m thankful to all our customers, friends, families and colleague who continue to show their support in various ways.

What’s your experience? Did you take a similar route in leaving a job to do business? Or, do you have plans to leave your current job, to focus full-time on your own business? Do share in the comments below,

blessings

Written by: Luwayne Thomas (Co-Founder @Balcostics)

Jamaica’s biggest problems are opportunities

Recently I read a post on LinkedIn titled “We need our brightest people working on our biggest problem “. The post was written by Bill Gates, who made reference to his foundation and their fight to eradicate polio and other global diseases .

Brightest Minds

Problems are opportunities disguised! Living in Jamaica, we can all relate to problems/ issues that militate against our productivity & efficiency. Depending on your perspective, Jamaica’s problems present opportunities for us to make a difference – while making a profit.

The main problem areas

1.High Unemployment & Low Production – opportunities for reducing unemployment & increasing production of goods & services are available in several emerging industries. Areas such as ‘medical marijuana’, ‘health tourism’, ‘sports tourism’, ‘Business process outsourcing’, ‘music production’, ‘Art & craft’ are showing great potential. Jamaica’s highly skilled, yet largely unemployed labour force is providing the impetus for greater investment (outsourcing – business processing, research, animation, graphics design, web development etc.).

2. Education – Education that creates producers not consumers. Education related to independent thinking, business & personal development, cash flow, personal finances and health is a great area of opportunity.

3. Health – Obesity is an insidious problem, related in some ways to a lack of education and indiscipline. Hypertension along with other life style diseases posed a significant problem for our people. According to a World Bank study, 60% of Jamaicans aged 35 to 54 were either overweight or obese. This same study also found that approximately 70% of Jamaican women were overweight, 80% of whom were in the 35-54 age group. Several drugs & medications are prescribed for mitigating the impact of these illnesses but the opportunity for entrepreneurs lie in the prevention of these alignments (Prevention better than cure). A few local companies have started exploiting the business of keeping people healthy & fit, but we still have a far way to go – more opportunities to exploit

4. Energy – we should continue to strive for a solar energy future. As solar panels become cheaper (Solar panel prices down 80%), we should start positioning our country to benefit fully from solar energy – more creative thinking is need to provide affordable solar energy solutions to Jamaicans. Currently most Jamaicans don’t have the wherewithal to install solar energy solutions – what can we do to change this? There is also potential to create employment through conservation & environmentally friendly initiatives.

5. Lack of data for decision makers – This area is under my purview and at Balcostics Ltd we provide research solutions that we hope will make information more affordable & accessible. Yet, we still have a far way to go – more opportunities abound in this field.

6. Inadequate water harvesting & storage – this is evident from Jamaica’s annual island-wide drought problems. In short, the National Water Commission (NWC) needs a competitor!

7. Slow Justice system – recently another US report criticized the sad state of Jamaica’s justice system. What if anything could new graduates & senior legal professionals who are unsatisfied with the status quo do to improve this situation? The ‘so called’ problem of ‘too many lawyers’ will hopefully provide the impetus needed to change the Justice system for the better.

Therefore, which of these problems will you make your mission? Which of these areas can you make just a little better? Which of these issues are you passionate about?

Do you have any to add? Please share in the comments below

Written by:

Luwayne Thomas (Founder, Balcostics Ltd.)

At Balcostics our mission is to empower leaders with the required data and information to make better decisions. Learn more about our full list of research outsourcing services for individuals and companies: Click here

 

NCB SME Conference: Balcostics’ Moments

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Our team at the NCB SME Conference

Contact us today! Ask us how we can help you make informed decisions

Contact us today! Ask us how we can help you make informed decisions

IMG_00000158Our COO explaining what we do here at Balcostics LtdOur COO explaining what we do here at Balcostics Ltd

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Informing persons about our research services

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Abi-Gaye and Luwayne listening attentively at the conference

The Jamaica & IMF Equation

The Equation:

The following outline what I believe to be the most likely economic outcome if an agreement is not reached (soon), between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF):

Further exchange rate depreciation

If the Government of Jamaica is unable to secure a deal – in short order – continued domestic concerns, weakening markets and lower investor confidence could result in increased volatility in the foreign exchange market and further slide (depreciation) in the Jamaican dollar. Note that a slide in the Jamaican dollar would make it more expensive for Jamaicans to transact businesses with U.S exporters – put another way, it would be more costly to buy the new Iphone 5.

The recent fall in the in the Net International Reserves (NIR) by more than US$ 236 million during the June 2012 quarter, could indicate that the movement to safer more stable currencies (US$ and CAN$) might be slowly underway.

Further delays in reaching an IMF agreement will undoubtedly cause an erosion in the value of the Jamaican dollar against the currencies of its main trading partners (US$, CAN$ and GBP). Immediately after, the previous IMF deal was signed in Feburary 2010, the foreign exchange market stabilize and the JMD$ strengthened. Currently, the exchange rate is hovering at and around the $90 JMD : $1 US mark (As Seen in above chart).

Increase Interest Rates / Higher Cost of borrowing

The slide of the local currency coupled with the Government’s high level of indebtedness would likely trigger increases in the domestic interest rates. Higher interest rates would be the only incentive for investors to lend the Government money.

Jamaica’s high debt to GDP ratio (seen in chart above), limits the Government’s ability to pay its bills without having to borrow. Additionally, our economy is not growing fast enough to generate sufficient spending for the GOJ to collect tax revenues and earn money to repay its debt. Without a new IMF deal, the Government would have to find alternative money to pay bills, in order not to default on its obligations. Recently it was made public that the Government borrowed money from both NCB and Scotia bank in order to repay foreign debt owing and had matured – not a good sign.

 Further downgrade of Jamaican bonds by Rating agencies

If Jamaica is unable to sign a new deal with the IMF, a downgrade of domestically issued bonds/debt as well as international debt instruments such as the GOJ Global Bonds (GOJGB) would be inevitable.

These Euro-denominated bonds, if downgraded, would signal to investors that these are risky debt instruments with high likelihood of default by the issuing government (Jamaica). In this context, the GOJ would find it hard to generate well needed capital on the international market as its debt instruments would be undesirable to international investors.

Any downgrade would further make a case for higher interest rates when the government attempts to borrow internationally/ locally given the high propensity for defaulting (low credit worthiness) on these debt repayments – as indicated by the rating downgrade.

 Even slower economic growth/ no growth

The global economy is still precariously positioned, with uncertainty surrounding the Euro-zone and China’s economic growth rate slowing. This all equates to even slower growth forecast for developing countries like Jamaica, who rely heavily on consumer welfare in the developed countries to keep their economy vibrant – tourism, bauxite and cultural exports.

Higher inflation rates

The direct outcome of a declining Jamaican dollar, compounded by higher cost for foreign goods – wheat/ flour price being the most recent to increase.

Further losses on the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE)

During the June 2012 quarter there was a decline across all four JSE indices ranging from 1.1 per cent to 7.9 percent. This fall in equity prices across the indices reflects the weakness in the domestic economy and growing concerns about the impact of the noted slowdown in the global economy.

Steven Jackson recently wrote an article in the Gleaner, which stated that “investors have lost close to J$73 billion of their wealth” on the JSE – Year to Date. This “bear” market will likely continue once an agreement is not reached.

The above arguments only highlight some of the economic possibilities/ scenarios that might occur in the event of further delays in signing a new IMF agreement. Note that the social and cultural impact was not examined, due primarily to the plethora of possibilities that can arise – one thing for sure though, we are a resilient people who have proven time and time again that we can rise above adversities.

Please add a comment and share your opinion on any of the points which were highlighted.

Visionary Entrepreneur

About the author:

Luwayne Thomas Bsc., Msc.

Co-founder  @balcostics

Follow on twitter: @LuwayneThomas

At Balcostics our mission is to empower leaders with the required data and information to make better decisions. Learn more about our full list of research outsourcing services for individuals and companies: Click here

 

Jamaica and ‘Big Data’: The Future of Research

The emergence of ‘big data‘ – the wealth of information being collected daily on customer behaviour and attitude via websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc – will cause a change in research as we know it. Internationally, the ‘big data’ discourse have gone a far way, however no mention has been made regarding its impact locally.

Data collection change:

Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and foursquare to name a few, collect millions of data on customers and website users on a daily basis. Some of the data collected are as follows:

  1. Location – Foursquare or Facebook check in
  2. Feelings/ opinions – Twitter posts about mood
  3. Sentiments – about a company or product
  4. Likes – what you are interested in
  5. Demographic information – age & gender

Among other data that is freely shared by users of these free services. The days of physically walking ‘door to door’ asking questions in order to collect data are numbered, data is constantly being produced and stored, the problem (or opportunity) is now the utilization of this available data – that’s where the alignment of software developers and the statisticians/ or data analyst is critical.

Jamaica has a growing tech community with several graphic designers and application developers all developing solutions they hope consumers will like and purchase. Few have seen the value in strategically developing applications which are data driven, that is, along with providing value to the consumer they actually collect valuable data from them.

Jamaica and by extension the wider Caribbean region is faced with many development problems, chief among them are high crime rates, high cost of justice, low customer service (both public and private sectors), high cost of collecting data, low levels of efficiency in production etc. The above problems represent areas where additional data could help to ameliorate if not solve many of these issues. The nexus between developers and data analyst holds tremendous opportunities for improved efficiency and data gathering throughout the Caribbean. More data, better analysis, more insights and more solutions to current problems.

The change is underway:

IBM, for example offers a text analytics software which allows users to gather and analyze data from Twitter and Facebook postings about a company. That is, using their text analytics software, you can get an overall picture of customer/ user sentiments about a company.

Just consider the implications this might have on the future of polls! Based on tweets and social media sentiments, one could actually be able to predict election outcomes with 0% margin of error – talk about big data!

Companies collecting ‘big data’ will hold tremendous insights relating to its consumers and a country’s population in general. Imagine being able to see attitude change in real-time, to see customer feedback about service and being able to quickly respond to negative sentiments.

CVM came under tremendous pressure from Jamaicans via the social media throughout most of the London 2012 Olympics. This dissatisfaction with the company’s coverage was evident on Twitter days before being published in the local news papers. This is one example of the future potential of ‘big data analysis’ in Jamaica, and its implication for large establishments.

The new age of research will see the rise of the analyst and presenter, persons/ companies skilled in interpreting and gathering insights from large volumes of data. This is especially true for big companies serving large demographics of customers.

share your comments/ views.

Visionary Entrepreneur

About the authorLuwayne Thomas is Co-founder & COO @balcostics

Follow me on twitter: @LuwayneThomas

 

 

 

At Balcostics our mission is to empower leaders with the required data and information to make better decisions. Learn more about our full list of research outsourcing services for individuals and companies: Click here