Jamaican entrepreneur 'socially buzzing' in South Florida
Every time someone logs into Sociallybuzz, they access a little piece of Jamaica.
That's because the social-media management, marketing and advertising company was founded by Jamaica-born Andre Kay. Originally from Bay Farm Villa, Kay migrated to the United States of America at 16.
"I never thought I would own a business. That wasn't the 'it' thing growing up," Kay said in an interview with The Gleaner last week. "I always had ideas of doing cool things that weren't existing yet, but the thought of forming a business, hiring people and growing it never crossed by mind," he noted. Before he started Sociallybuzz, Kay co-founded Go Media Marketing, a strategic technology marketing and mobile media advertising company.
"Go Media Marketing taught me a lot about marketing and building a company," he said. "We served clients such as Starbucks, Checkers, and the Miami Heat." Under his operation, Go Media Marketing was awarded the number one minority outdoor marketing company in South Florida, the 2009 and 2010 Best of Miami Beach Outdoor Advertising services from the US Commerce Association (USCA).
"We were also the first to introduce texting technology to the US Congress as a way to communicate with their constituents. This was my stepping stone to my future in business," he said. But with such success at Go Media, how did Sociallybuzz arise? Kay describes himself as a God-fearing person, and believes everything happens for a reason.
"Going full-time as an entrepreneur wasn't something I planned for. I was working a regular nine-to-five and trying to run a business on the side with my co-founders," he said. "One day, I got fired from my banking job because I tried to help out a friend. I spent the next six months trying to find a job until I decided it was time for me to do my own thing." Kay and a friend even launched tech start-up TextToParty.
"But if I didn't get fired from that job, I would probably still be working there or just be working for someone else," he reasoned. "So, in reality, getting fired from that job was the best thing that could have happened to me. I believe God knew that I wouldn't quit, so he just gave me a little push. Ever since that day, God has guided my steps and is a major influence to becoming the person I am today." Inspiration hit him again, this time in the shower, when he coined the name Sociallybuzz.
"I was actually in the bathroom and was thinking of names for this new company I had in mind," he laughed. "The name popped in my head and I shouted to my girlfriend, who was in the next room, to search for the name on Godaddy. When she shouted back that it was available, I ran out the bathroom to buy it." Kay said starting a business from scratch is not the most difficult part, running it is.
"I believe everything I learned for the five years before starting Sociallybuzz was what brought me to making Sociallybuzz so successful," he said. "With my banking career, I learned how to be financially responsible, I learned a lot about businesses as a whole, and I learned how to sell." He said he also learned his most valuable lesson - that change is inevitable, and to grow you must learn to accept and predict change.
"With Go Media Marketing, I learned how to run a business, market products and get people to believe in me. With my texting start-up that failed, I built significant relationships and I learned how to develop business strategies," said Kay. "Those three completely different experiences made me a renaissance man, that gave me as much knowledge that I needed to take Sociallybuzz off the ground." He said the biggest issue in starting Sociallybuzz was hiring someone to build out a social-media influencer platform.
"But after three months, he disappeared with my money. I was down thousands of dollars and nothing to show for it," Kay recalled. "I was stuck at a two-way street - either quit and continue trying to find a job or keep going. I kept going and pivoted Sociallybuzz to a human-powered social-media agency." Kay admitted there were weeks that he didn't sleep or eat properly, constantly thinking about the next step. He put everything (he stressed the word) he had into building this company, including sweat, tears and lost friendships.
"Looking back now, I risked everything and if I could, I would do it again. It definitely wasn't an easy road, I had a lot of doors shut in my face and I didn't get a lot of chances," he said. "But even in the darkest and lowest of times, I didn't blame anyone and I didn't look out for any handouts. I kept believing that God had a plan for me and I kept pushing." Kay utilised the Internet to spread the word and convinced business owners he met in previous endeavours to give him a chance.
"Once I started building up some experience, I was able to use that to show other businesses that I knew what I was doing," he said. "At every point of building Sociallybuzz, I made it look way bigger than what it really was. Even the first year of running the business, I was operating out of my bedroom and living room, but everyone thought we had a huge office with hundreds of employees," Kay explained.
The enterprising entrepreneur also studied an industry-related news website so that he knew what his target audience was reading and convinced the owners of the site to make him a guest writer. He delivered weekly for about two years.
"I did a press release on every little thing about the business every month and those two small things gave the business an amazing amount of exposure," he said. "I also made many cold calls and sent out emails and was able to land some of my biggest clients that way." Kay also enrolled in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme in September 2014 to gain new skills.
"Going through the programme opened my eyes and mind to an entire different level and view on how to not only grow a business but sustain it, and put meaning behind why I'm really doing this," he said. Kay developed a viable human resource programme for Sociallybuzz, completed his first employee handbook and implemented a process to automate his payroll and taxes. Sociallybuzz has become a staple in the social-media industry. The company ranks in the top two in Google searches for free social-media service for restaurants, franchises and nightclubs.
"We show up number one or number two in Google for free," he said. "We've helped more than 1500 businesses grow using social media. We have grown from $0 to over $2 million dollars since we launched. We did all that with no investments, no loans and no debts. All together, we have a social community of about 12,000 business that's following our brand." Kay offers service outside the US, but only takes on businesses to which they are sure they can bring value.
Among his awards, Kay was selected as a South Florida 2012 Mover and Shaker Honouree by Business Leader Magazine, as well as being named one of the top 10 black tech innovators in South Florida by the Miami Herald. He is also a social-media speaker for franchise, restaurant and nightlife events and expos.
Sociallybuzz has already started its next phase. Two years ago, Kay invested a huge part of the profits to develop a social-media software. This is a huge risk, but, as always, he's trusting God.
"I will grow Sociallybuzz by providing an easy, simple and affordable way for businesses to manage their social media and reputation from their mobile device," he said. "Based on my business plan and financial projections, I will grow the company to $100 million by 2019." His advice to young entrepreneurs is that anything is possible if you dream big and work hard.
"Find something that you love to do and that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life and work until you make it a reality," he said. "Nothing is promised, no one owes you anything and you're going to have to prove yourself. Last, but not least, always stay true to your vision and your vision will stay true to you."