Errands company rebrands with eye on Caribbean expansion
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
A little-known start-up based in New York and run by a Jamaican, Marlon Willie, aims to take the hassle out of running errands in Jamaica for persons living overseas but has local ties.
For persons based abroad, Mango Errands provides persons based abroad with legs on the ground in Jamaica to complete menial and major tasks, such as getting an elderly relative to a doctor's appointment and safely back home or buying back-to-school items for children, perhaps to avoid family members diverting well-needed funds to other tasks.
Fees for the service range from US$40 to US$50.
Born from Willie's own need to take care of obligations in Jamaica while he studied in New York, Mango Errands began in January 2014 as Diaspora Errands but was rebranded in June to, Willie said, a more suitable name and with the addition of a few other services. Mango is a favourite Jamaican fruit.
Willie, who is from Spanish Town, St Catherine, moved to the United States in 2008.
"While I was in college, I realised I still had a lot of business in Jamaica to tie up. You could ask your friends and family to do it and they will do it, when they can, but they have stuff doing. They have work and all that," Willie told Wednesday Business.
"I found that as time progressed, if I asked for 10 things to be done, nine would be, then eight, then the number dwindled. They want to help but they can't appreciate the urgency the way you do, because it's you that's in the situation."
He said, too, that based on checks with friends and relatives, overseas Jamaicans were faced with relatives redirecting funds sent for particular purposes to cover other expenses, sometimes resulting in family feuds.
With other local companies offering courier services including bill payment, Mango Errands is attempting to eke out its own niche by adding medical, household errands and handyman services, among other things, which Willie says have given him an edge in the market.
"Let's say you have an elderly relative in Jamaica who needs to go to the doctor, we set appointments; we have person who would pick them up, take them to the appointment, and if you need, we will wait with them then we will take them back home. We will also fill the prescription," he explained.
Willie said he has noted a demand for police records by Jamaicans completing the emigration process in the US, with queries also coming from as far as Japan and Australia.
The company also offers shopping, deliver services and property upkeep.
"If you rent a property in Jamaica and you don't have anybody to go fix your pipe, doors or do maintenance, we have people who can do that," Willie said.
Mango Errands acts like a platform, he said, "So they (clients) don't send the money directly to the contractors, they send it to us and as our people assess the work that has been done, they would send it to us and we pay them."
The staff use debit cards to transact business for clients who can track their spend through the receipts, if they wish, he said.
The cards are seeded by the clients.
"Once our clients disburse funds to us, then we disburse the amount to the team members' cards and they make the purchase," Willie said.
He notes that the company's client base is not large but says it is growing. The company has formed a network of local individuals and third-party companies that carry out the errands on its behalf.
Staffed by six locally, the employees are spread across the island to provide service to all parishes, he said.
Mango Errands' local office is at Lady Musgrave Road in Kingston. There is also a New York office with two team members.
Mango Errands was started with unemployed friends and relatives as staff, but "opened up afterwards" to include university students.
Mango Errands runs background checks on recruits, including their police records.
With a degree in economics and urban studies from the Hunter College University in New York, Willie, who started in banking and communications locally, further plans to expand Mango Errands to the Caribbean.
"We want to master Jamaica," he said. "Once we have built more traffic we will look to Trinidad, Guyana and Haiti."
He also sees potential in the Spanish- and French-speaking Caribbean.
For now, the company is working on developing business partnerships.
"We don't do everything ourselves, so we put our clients in touch with these organisations who will complete the task on their behalf, because we haven't brought them on as partners yet. We are having discussions," he said.
Mango Errands was started with "bootstrap" savings, Willie said.