Lessons from the Outameni entrepreneur
For weeks now the media spotlight on Outameni has centred on the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Outameni lands and whether the NHT misused contributors' funds to bail out a failing business.
That's not the focus of this article. I want to switch gears and explore another issue that has likely occupied the minds of well-thinking entrepreneurs and proponents of innovation and enterprise: Why wasn't the Outameni Experience successful?
It was one of those ideas that encompassed key characteristics of the type of business Jamaica desperately needs - innovative, promotes our culture, earns foreign exchange, targets tourists, creates employment, and would have an overall positive impact on its community. So what went wrong and what lessons can we take away?
I have my own ideas based on the information and facts in the public domain, but I wanted to hear from the horse's mouth. It's why I contacted Lennie Little-White, the conceptualiser and entrepreneur behind Outameni Experience, and invited his comments. Below are some of the questions I posed:
1. What motivated you to create Outameni?
2. What was the value proposition and business model? How did you validate them?
3. What if any research did you undertake?
4. To secure funding for this venture, you would have had to convince bankers/investors of the feasibility of Outameni. How did you do this?
5. Did you do a risk assessment?
6. Your vision for Outameni appears not to have materialised/been sustained, what are the reasons for this?
7. What lessons have you learnt from the Outameni business?
8. What if anything would you have done differently to make the business a success?
9. Would you start Outameni again?
10. What lessons can entrepreneurs learn from your experience?
11. How will you recover from this experience?
UNRESOLVED LEGAL ISSUES
Mr Little-White did not answer any questions relating to Outameni, citing unresolved legal and financial issues and the advice of his attorneys not to comment publicly until such issues have been resolved.
To his credit, he did respond within a day of receiving my email offering to share experiences in his entrepreneurial journey.
I can tell you from experience, it can be difficult to get some business leaders and entrepreneurs to share their knowledge and experiences. There have been occasions when my emails and calls are ignored, particularly when asking about business failures, their wealth creation and practical steps to success.
Although I'm sure Mr Little-White does not want his legacy to be defined by the Outameni Experience, which was a one-off venture outside his core business of video and film productions, Jamaicans are typically harshly critical, condescending and insensitive when it comes to business failures.
Unfortunately, we treat our hard-working athletes, sports personalities and sometimes our very own children in a similar way. Too many of us don't understand that failure is most often necessary, productive and valuable in any quest for success, especially for businesses that want innovation, growth, profitability and longevity.
Vilifying and disparaging the entrepreneurs behind failed ventures scares others from thinking big and taking bold action. It confines us to a country of traders in other people's innovations rather than producers of our own.
Right now, thousands of entrepreneurs across this country are drowning in a sea of debt and despair, and are afraid to face another Monday.
Those who have never failed have nothing to boast about as they were likely never entrepreneurs to begin with - just business owners or overseers.
A country with our immense economic challenges demands innovators and dynamic entrepreneurs, and for its people to practice innovating as a way of life. This will only happen when we encourage and support risk-taking entrepreneurs to learn tough lessons through failures and try again.
Lennie Little-White is not new to entrepreneurship. He is a successful and respected film-maker who returned to Jamaica in 1973 to start Mediamix after completing a Master's Degree in film at Northwestern University.
The company is probably best known for its highly successful series, Royal Palm Estate, but has also created hundreds of television commercials, several documentaries and television productions.
It's clear that Mr Little-White knows how to attract capital and investors, something most entrepreneurs would love to master. So how did he do it? He said, like most other entrepreneurs, when starting Mediamix he struggled to get financing as bankers did not understand the film production business. His break came when an executive at Jamaica Development Bank directed him to a 'venture capital window' and he received a loan to purchase film equipment. They repaid the loan in two years, way ahead of schedule.
His advice for entrepreneurs is: "When looking for financing, you need to find an angel within the financial institution to hold your hand, especially if you are a son or dawta of Marcus Garvey."
Little-White outlines several cases in which finance executives boosted the success of his business, helping him acquire real estate to house a movie studio in the city and then raise the funds to build the studio.
"When the idea for a tangential investment in a built-heritage attraction germinated, new angels came along to provide guidance in the persons of Kingsley Thomas, who was then the head of the Development Bank of Jamaica, and Megan Deane of NIBJ. The development funding had to be husbanded by a commercial bank and the final angel was Ryland Campbell of Capital and Credit Merchant Bank," he said.
If and when the business has a surplus, the best investment is real estate, which appreciates at a much faster rate than leaving your money on fixed deposit.
Make sure your core business is sound before you start investing outside of this arena.
n Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org