The challenges, though many, have not stopped the young minds behind Intellect Storm (IS), a local IT solutions company, from trying to change how Guyanese access country-specific information with the launch of their mobile software application Directory.gy.
Formed by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rowen Willabus in late 2014 with assistance from friends turned partners Tristian Thompson and Ronson Grey, Intellect Storm is said to be a ‘business of solutions’ that continues to grow and meet the needs of businesses with the help of a diverse group of individuals who possess various ideas relating to problem solving.
Willabus explained that the idea of providing a marketing solutions forum for business services came after analysing the type of services that businesses were receiving and seeing that there was an opportunity for the company to add more value.
Services offered by Intellect Storm include domain registration, website design and development, website hosting, search engine optimisation, computer networking, sever maintenance, product sourcing/online shopping, social media marketing and advertising, videography, graphic design and application development.
However, the road to success is often plagued with challenges and this was no different for the determined members of IS, who had difficulties sourcing funds for their start-up and making do with less than efficient internet connections.
In an environment that is not known to support local start-ups, IS found it somewhat difficult accessing capital. “You may have a great idea but to get the funding to change that idea to reality is a challenge,” Willabus said.
Further, with the core of the company being internet-based, the obstacles were also presented in the form of slow internet speeds and unstable connections. This has since changed in light of the upgrading of internet speed by GTT.
When questioned about how they’ve managed to reach so far considering that Guyana still has some way to go to catch up with the rest of the world in its use of technology, the CEO said that they use technology that the rest of the world does. “We use technologies and solutions that the rest of the world is on par with and it’s just up to us to get Guyana there,” he said.
And with the average age of employees being 25, IS had to break the perception that they were incapable of incapable being taken seriously. “If you take a first glance at us, you may say, ‘Oh, these young ones.’ But when they sit and talk with us, they come to the realisation that we know what we are talking about. We have met with some prominent people and one of the responses they made is ‘it’s amazing that we got people in Guyana who are capable of this and better yet is young people,’” Willabus stated.
“People would just look at you and assume that we were up to no good,” Grey noted, while another team member related personal experiences of being verbally abused and having his photo taken with the threat of being reported to the police as a suspected thief while they carried out field work for their app.
“We were walking around with devices mapping the city and people thought they were thieves because people were not familiar with the devices we were using. We were also verbally abused on several occasions,” the young man explained.
But this didn’t stop them, Willabus noted, saying, “We just downed our heads and worked, perseverance; we have had naysayers who said it’s not going to be possible. Some even questioned where we were going to get funding from, what we could accomplish with the slow internet but we downed out heads and we worked and now we look smart.”
Another challenge when seeking to change the way in which business and services are done locally has also been some business owners who did not want to embrace the possibilities of incorporating aspects of technology in the manner they did business. But not all have been set in their ways and in the end, Intellect Storm eventually saw its returns in the app being downloaded by close to 1,000 persons in the first week of going public.
Directory.gy is the only mobile application in Guyana that functions as a hub of information, ranging from product finding, news, details and locations about utility services, restaurants and entertainment among other categories of products and services.
‘The past, present and future’
Intellect Storm began with three persons, but two years later, much growth has occurred and the initial number has multiplied to include a total of 13 part-time employees.
This is said to include Information system architects, a creative director, business liaisons, marketing manager, videographer and visual consultants.
Willabus indicated that while the company’s achievements are plenty, due to confidentiality agreements it cannot divulge much.
Nevertheless, Grey acknowledged that the projects they are most proud of are those that have contributed to public awareness initiatives, particularly during the general and local government elections.
Their latest success is the launch of the Directory.gy app, which had been almost two years in the making and now allows both locals and those in the diaspora access to everything happening in Guyana. “It’s not that we weren’t expecting a good response but we have had a phenomenal response in terms of persons visiting the site. We have had close to 1,000 downloads in the first week of the launch and that’s more reason to be happy,” Grey said.
The responses have been pouring in ever since and most of it is positive and from persons who were amused by what the company of youths have managed to achieve thus far in light of their limited resources and average age.
Willabus explained that the launch of the app has presented the company with new opportunities. “We are proud to say that we are going to have some additional features for the app, such as the ability to purchase food or movie tickets from your phone; you won’t see this year passing without that being implemented,” the CEO assured.
However, he noted that the ultimate goal would be to change the conversation as it relates to IT and IT-based solutions.
Alluding to the Directory.gy app, Willabus noted that persons have become more familiar with the idea of such an app being created locally. “So they had nothing to compare it with so that caused a lot of shut down immediately but now with the launch, some people are now au fait with what we will do and its easer now. But the fact remains that Guyanese are afraid of change and hopefully we would like to move away from that. Not all change is bad,” he said.
“We don’t want persons to have to think about where they need to go for what or what they need done, it must be that without thinking we are referred to, that’s our primary goal…we want to be the ‘go to’ person for those solutions,” Grey added.
Just as important is being able to actively engage staff in capacity building as in the case of IS partner Thompson, who recently returned home from the Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative. This was an initiative aimed at bringing people from the Caribbean and Latin America together to learn about entrepreneurship and the enhancement of entrepreneurship skills.
Willabus was quick to note that it is in the company’s best interest to expose the team members to different environments to aid in the whole creative process. “Yes, it would be good for us to come up with ideas that is based on Guyana but it would also be good if we have some experienced on what’s going on in the developed world. So every opportunity we get to post one of our people far, far away, we send them,” he said.
Some of the staff who were present at the time of the interview shared similar views with regards to their growth as individuals while being a part of the company.
For IS Creative Director Sade Barrow-Browne, working with IS has been a liberating experience thus far as she claims the experiences help you grow in the career of her choice. “When you come to work, it’s not just work, it’s something you definitely enjoy doing,” she related.
Experiences of growth was also shared by Grey, who expressed gratitude towards IS for the knowledge he has acquired in the business field. “…I haven’t worked so close with such a dynamic team before in such an open environment—that is teaching me a lot, we are all growing with the company,” he said.
Meanwhile, Willabus sees the company as much more than business since he feels it has provided him with a family beyond his immediate family while also showing him that with the right amount of team work and belief dreams can be transformed into realities.
With this in mind, Thompson noted that for any company to grow, there will be a need for “fresh blood,” who will bring fresh ideas.
“What we want to do is use ourselves as an example but not just use ourselves as an example to be looked upon in terms of ‘look, a bunch of young people’ but also in the perspective of being individuals who are giving young persons a chance so when we hire we would want to get people fresh outta UG or high school if possible on an internship programme… once you have the ideas and you are committed to work, we would love to sit down and listen and talk especially the young persons.,” Grey added.
However, he was quick to clarify that the company does not solely function on the actions of its young team players as there are older persons who have active role in the company, particularly mentorship.