Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Jomo Cato, partners launch ecommerce platform

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 7:00 AMNeville Graham
Jomo Cato


Jomo Cato, a former marketing executive turned entrepreneur, has launched a new online platform to facilitate online commerce from within the Caribbean.

Cato and partners Gilbert Williams and Anup Ghosh have teamed up to form, saying the platform meant to cater to a geographic market segment that big platforms like Amazon and Alibaba don’t represent effectively.

“We’re building a space in the marketplace that’s neglected.  None of these sites are designed with Caribbean businesses in mind. None of them are designed to take our businesses to the world. They are not thinking about the Caribbean shopper or those who want to buy from the Caribbean,” Cato said.

The platform launched in March facilitates orders and deliveries. It will basically operate as a storefront for companies wanting to reach into the homes of potential buyers.

Cato is not saying how much was invested in the business, which took three years to launch. He serves as the chief operating officer; Williams, an ICT project specialist formerly based in New York, is CEO; while Ghosh, who operates out of the software development office in Kolkata, India, is chief technical officer.  

“Twenty-five years ago and ten years ago nobody knew about eBay or Amazon. What we have in common with these sites is that at one time they were unknown. The difference with us is that in 2017 our route into the consumers’ mind is going to be much faster because we have the power of a vast network of digital media in addition to understanding and access to the diaspora,” he said. can handle as many as 10 million transactions in a 24-hour period, and plans to double that capacity to 20 million per day.

“Initially we could do business to consumer, and now we can go business-to-business (transactions),” Cato said.

It’s unclear what it will take for this type of venture to attain profitability or even its potential turnover. Cato is holding back on those projections, citing ongoing discussions with potential investors and the sensitivity of the information.

“There’s US$20 billion being spent on goods and services across the region and ecommerce is less than US$1 million; so there are a lot of blue skies for us,” he said.

Quikanou signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) in June to boost access to regional and other overseas markets.

“JMA has come on board with Quikanou because right now we have a serious problem with small businesses accessing ecommerce generally,” said JMA Business Development and Projects Manager Paula Hagley.

“To set up that e-shop is where the problem is. The costs involved in say, taking out a merchant account with a bank coupled with payment gateway issues — in fact, just pulling the various elements together along with the costs — have proven prohibitive,” Hagley said.

The payment gateway costs for merchants can be as high as 4.5 per cent plus US 25 cents per transaction. There are other costs associated with back-end activities such as shipping where, according to Hagley, the price of small items can be significantly inflated with rates of US$25 ($3,000) per shipment.

Cato says Quikanou is offering reduced rates and cutting out some charges altogether, through consolidation and deals with shipping services.

“If you’re selling on Quikanou from anywhere in Jamaica, once you’ve received that order our delivery partners will comes to you or wherever you have the goods stored, pick up from you, take it through all the clearances — be it customs security or whatever — and have that product delivered to the customer wherever they are overseas. All you have to do is have the goods ready,” Cato said.

JMA President Metry Seaga sees the partnership with Quikanou as potentially “a game-changer for MSMEs in accessing markets within the Caribbean and further overseas”.

In addition to its Jamaican operations, the ecommerce company is setting up sites in Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, St Kitts-Nevis, and St Vincent & the Grenadines.

“We’re focusing on getting the model right, on-boarding businesses and making sure we satisfy consumers,” Cato said. “We look at companies that already have brand recognition or ones that we can work with. In the second instance we look for companies that want to use technology to take their business to the next level. We also want to be sure that we are working with a management team.”