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StartUpRobot re-engineers company registrations

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Winston Wilkins, CEO of StartUpRobot.-Contributed

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

At 37, Winston Wilkins, CEO and founder of StartUpRobot (SUR), the company which promises to take the pain out of company registrations, has turned a hobby in IT into a new company.

His previous idea - that of taking the pain out of lunch lines - did not quite catch fire, and was turned down by mentor JJ Geewax, angel investor and Google engineer.

But that's history.

The idea of easing the process of company registration was floated by Geewax and Wilkins set about developing a process flow prototype almost immediately. Later, Wilkins and his partners did the required coding.

Geewax is a chief engineer at Invite Media, a New York-based advertising display company that was acquired by Google for US$81 million in 2010.

He is also the investor who created JGX Labs in Kingston, a business incubator for techies, in 2013. The business accelerator in downtown Kingston provides seed capital, training and mentorship to new technology firms.

Geewax provided seed capital of US$10,000 for development of StartUpRobot's first programme, which automates the process of registering a company.

Wilkins is not new to business. A decade ago, he started a company called Team Willo Productions, which produces TV commercials, music videos, and documentaries, among other media products and services. He launched that venture after graduating from the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) with a diploma in engineering.

His current venture follows further studies at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC).

"One year ago, I completed my MBA at UCC. I was seeking ways to use my new-found skills in business. I was in media production before, but I did not have the capacity nor the local market from which to start," Wilkins recalls.

IT projects, for him, started as a hobby which later became his focus for business ventures.

"I decided that IT was attractive from the point of scalability and market size. I came up with a few ideas and used the lean start-up methodology," he told Sunday Business.

Right person, wrong idea

Wilkins tested his initial lunch-line idea at the GOJ-World Digital Jam 3.0 app contest in March 2014. It was there that Geewax told Wilkins he was the right person with the wrong idea, and nudged him in a different direction.

StartUpRobot was born mid-year 2014 with Geewax's backing. Wilkins' partners in the venture were Oshane Bailey, Kevin Leyow, and David Bain.

Geewax told Sunday Business that StartUpRobot, which has now taken on the challenge of making efiling and company registration a no-brainer for local business entities, is making "very solid progress" and doing much with very little.

Wilkins says StartupRobot provides the most convenient online platform for business persons to incorporate and file their annual returns with the Government - without ever leaving their desks.

"Curiously, if my teammates - Oshane Bailey, technology officer, Kevin Leyow, software engineer and UX developer - and I were in a yearbook together we probably would have been voted least likely to be solving a big, bureaucratic problem," said Wilkins.

"We're all under 40 with diverse backgrounds in coding, product development, film production and engineering and no experience working in government ... . Our efficient approach in designing a seamless and easy-to-use platform in three months came from our ability to engineer results to customer feedback with simple, continuous improvements," he said.

From its online platform at startuprobot.com, StartUpRobot generates all the paperwork required for registration and oversees the approval process, the largely automated, online service completes the registration process in four days.

The team of four checks the business information submitted, fills out the company application form, has it vetted by a lawyer or other professional if needed, asks the Companies Office of Jamaica (COJ) for a review of the application, sends the reviewed document to the applicant for signing, and couriers the signed documents to COJ - all for a fee.

"We are proving that the tool can help middle men - attorneys and chartered accountants," said Wilkins, noting that the professionals will find it a handy resource for their clients.

Geewax said Wilkins and his team have made solid progress in engineering and product development over SUR's few months in operation.

"As with any new company, a critical factor is finding a product-market fit, and based on what I've seen I think Winston is very close to finding that fit," he said.

"I think efiling like this is a somewhat solved problem in the US, with companies like Rocket Lawyer. However, in the Caribbean I suspect this remains a largely unsolved problem. Looking forward, I'd love to see the COJ embrace a home-grown Jamaican start-up and their technical know-how to bring simple online business filing to all Jamaican entrepreneurs," the angel investor said.

In talks with COJ

Judith Ramlogan, CEO of the Companies Office of Jamaica, said COJ and StartUpRobot are in preliminary discussions on how the tech firm's system could assist persons applying for the agency's services.

Those discussions fall in line with a range of solutions under consideration by the COJ to make the registration process easier.

Under a CARICOM project, COJ is also set to participate in an eRegistry system for company incorporation in 12 member states within CARICOM. That system is under development the COJ head said.

According to Ramlogan, who is also the registrar of companies, the service being offered by SUR "could indirectly impact COJ's work since it could be another alternative for business persons completing forms themselves or retaining a professional to undertake that task. The service could have the potential to reduce COJ's rejection rates," she told Sunday Business.

Wilkins confirmed the talks the COJ, saying he is also hunting a business process outsourcing firm as customer-service partner to handle queries that efilers have about the company registration process.

The StartUpRobot team is also looking at writing programmes for filing of tax returns which, he notes, is a problematic area for many Jamaican firms.

His plans to expand services, however, weigh on financing.

Currently, the partners are "bootstrapping it", that is, funding the operations out of their own resources, as the seed capital has been used up.

Wilkins, who holds over 50 per cent of company shares, said both he and Geewax, who is the second largest shareholder, are willing to give up equity for a partner who brings "smart money" to the table, not just one who wants returns without contributing to strategy.

Geewax says so far Wilkins "has been able to do quite a lot with the very little funding that they've raised", saying it speaks to the work ethic of the entire team.

"I'm excited and hopeful that this trend will continue over the next few years," said the investor.

"I hope to see Winston expand to other islands in the region - realising the dream of software as an export for Jamaica," he said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com