KINGSTON, Jamaica — When Gordon Swaby pioneered EduFocal, an online tutoring service, in March 2012, he had a clear vision of what he wanted for the company – to establish an innovative exam preparation service for the Caribbean. At 23, the Jamaican tech entrepreneur has received international recognition for his endeavours, but he will readily admit that the two year journey was not without its challenges.
There were many highs and many lows. Fortunately I’ve had more highs than lows in the time that we’ve been operational, or maybe the lows didn’t seem like lows at the time.
— Gordon Swaby
EduFocal is an online learning platform that uses gamification technology to tutor students in Jamaica for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) exams. Courses to prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) are due to be added through a partnership with Versan Educational Services, a brick-and-mortar exam prep company in Jamaica. Later this year, EduFocal will announce an exciting partnership with First Global Bank in Jamaica, and is about to expand its reach into the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago.
Not bad for someone who grew up in the small farming town of Christiana in Manchester, Jamaica, known more for its laidback atmosphere than the birthplace of what may well be the Caribbean tech revolution. A former student of the Sacred Heart Academy, Knox College, and Holmwood Technical high schools, Gordon acknowledges the foundation laid by a strong family life and two very supportive parents. Today, his father also serves a member of EduFocal’s board of directors.
“Nothing that’s worth it in this life is easy,” he stresses. “I love what I do so it wasn’t hard, but it certainly takes a lot of wherewithal and continues to do so.”
Gordon expects his hard work to pay off sooner rather than later. The two year business should break even later this year and become profitable in early 2015.
The program he pioneered has earned accolades from Jamaica’s Education Minister and attracted the attention of international organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Economic Forum, both of which invited him to speak about his technological innovations to audiences in Brazil, Panama, and Washington DC. Gordon will also be attending a leadership conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in August.
“I think in some way it validates the work that we’re doing in Jamaica. It also proves that we’re operating at a world class level. I’m heartened by this and it has definitely pushed me to do better,” he notes.
Doing better also means expanding EduFocal’s services to at least five Caribbean islands. While many see dim prospects for economic growth in the region, Gordon is choosing to keep EduFocal here, seeing even more opportunities as advances in technology continues and become more accessible.
“Having a footprint in the USA and Latin America would also be great, but I’m primarily focused on the Caribbean region. I chose to stay in the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica, because I believe that I can have the biggest impact here. I proudly represent Jamaica when I travel and I know that these opportunities are great to showcase the best of Jamaica,” Gordon adds.
His success has not blinded him to the fact that not all entrepreneurial journeys end up like his. He has sound advice borne from the challenges he himself has faced. Capital is necessary to grow your business, he says, but for entrepreneurs who are struggling to fund their ideas, work on your soft skills in the interim.
“Learning how to manage a team is very important. Following through, negotiation skills, all of these things are very important to the success of your business. And always remember that having a lot of money and not knowing what to do with it is no different than having no money at all.”