FirstAngelsJA | LoanCirrus Limited - Aiming to become the Salesforce of lending (Pt 2)
LoanCirrus Limited's connection with FirstAngelsJA is a little different from the other companies that have received investment, in that chief executive officer of the company, Michael Claire, is actually an associate member of the angel network, which he was invited to join in 2014.
"They needed people who had expertise in different areas, who could help with the evaluation and assessment of opportunities. I had a lot of general business acumen and technological know-how, so they saw that it would be a good fit to assess and evaluate opportunities that come to them that required more technical evaluation," Claire shared.
"Secondarily, it was also an opportunity to be part of something that will help to build the country. At the end of the day, I'm a big believer that Jamaica is not going to be built because of government programmes, but because of entrepreneurs - people starting businesses and hiring people and creating opportunity. Anything I can do to help that, I'm there, because it speaks to what I truly believe: business is the engine of growth. And it's a great organisation that helps to mitigate risk and provide support to entrepreneurs, so I don't know how I could have not been a part of it."
UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS A GOOD IDEA
As both an investor and investee, Claire knows exactly what Angels are looking for when entrepreneurs approach them seeking financing. The biggest challenge he has noticed is that many entrepreneurs present ideas - not even actual businesses - that are not fully formed or thought out.
"What do you need to do to get somebody to take your idea, in its very nascent form, seriously? The first thing is having some understanding of what a good idea is, and whether that good idea can be a good business," he said.
In the absence of a wealth of life and/or business experience, particularly for young entrepreneurs, Claire suggested that they surround themselves with people who have this kind of wisdom to share, to point out whether or not the idea or business is strong.
"The first thing I would say to an entrepreneur looking to see if their idea is investible is pressure-test it by talking about that idea to other critical business people. What a lot of young entrepreneurs go through is this fear that if they talk about their idea with somebody, they're gonna steal it, and that's just immaturity. Entrepreneurs understand that ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters. And there are very few new ideas anywhere in the world, so it's about somebody's ability to execute an idea well," he said.
"Frankly, if somebody can execute it better than you, then in a true market environment where the fittest survives, they should have the business, not you. Entrepreneurs should focus more on exchanging ideas with people, sharing ideas to see if theirs is actually good. That alone can help you begin the process of getting your idea to become more invest-ible, because now it will benefit from a collective of experiences."
A JAMAICAN PIONEER
Claire noted that the next crucial question is, 'Does the business align well with who I am?' If the answer to this question is 'no', and money is the sole motivation, they should be prepared for a difficult ride.
"One of the most difficult things as an entrepreneur is to be doing something that doesn't fit with you. It's probably not going to work, because what it takes to build a business takes so much of your soul that if it's just money that's driving you, you're gonna give up on it, or it's gonna give up on you," he said.
"When you go to any investor, whether it's an angel or a venture capitalist, or the bank, one of the things they want to see is not only do you believe in this thing that you're trying to do, but does it align well with who you are?"
He pointed to one of his investees, Patria-Kaye Aarons and her company Sweetie Confectionery, as a good example of such alignment.
"Whenever I see dissonance between the person's characteristics, their proclivities, their interests, their competencies, and what they're talking about spending their time doing, it gives me cause for pause," he said.
There is certainly no dissonance where Claire and LoanCirrus are concerned, given his background and commitment to Jamaica. His company is pioneering an entire industry locally, as it is the first global SaaS business built in and operated out of the country. The product was built in Jamaica, from conceptualisation to engineering, and the entire team is based here.
Claire is hopeful that their success will be a catalyst for others in the local techno-logy industry to use as a guide.
"It's not just about building an app. It's not just about building software. It's about building a business around that," he said.
"Where I see a disconnect locally is that you have a lot of people with programming skills, but that's all they have. That's not gonna get you a successful business. What you need to understand is that yes, you can build an app, but that's not the same as building a business. The app is just the product. They need people to help them understand how to take this piece of technology that you've created and figure out how to make that a business. Hopefully, we can help to be an inspiration for that."