My business adventures span over 25 years. The first sojourn into business as ‘Zawdie’ was at the age of 16, starting a t-shirt business while still in high school. That first project initially sold roughly 115 t-shirts in one week in a school population of only about 1000 students. Not surprisingly, I later flunked all my ‘A’ Level exams. Back then I had a love for creativity and entrepreneurship but that wasn’t reflected in my choice of subjects at all. This turmoil continued even as I went on to University of the West Indies…basically doing the same damn subjects.
After one semester, I moved on from UWI, since my presence there was more in the capacity of party promoter than student.
BECOMING A DESIGN & CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL
On a community level and among my peers, I was becoming recognized as a die-hard creative ‘doer’. I was in the Architectural Studies program at the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology Jamaica while producing campus events and design projects for a growing list of clients. Intermittently, there was also some artwork for top reggae industry names outside that university circle. I also managed a few entertainment acts, ‘picked up’ a scholarship and a private pilots’ license…And yes I flew for it. I didn’t ‘buy’ my pilot’s license. In the midst of all this business I still earned the Architecture degree.
My first real recognition came in 2002 with me being an architecture school graduate, stepping into formal business operations as a design and creative ‘guru’ and an early innovator in the field of animation. A quick Google or Yahoo search during this time showed Zawdie Visual Art Studio was one of the most recognizable animation studios in Jamaica. The growth in this phase of my career leveraged the formal training in entrepreneurship I received as a founding tenant at the Technology Innovation Centre, Jamaica – the Caribbean’s first business incubator. There also were opportunities to learn about venture capital and to actually pitch.
In the years since that first phase of my story, I’ve provided advertising, post-production and other creative services to clientele throughout corporate Jamaica, to include top brands such as Red Stripe, Guinness, Appleton Jamaica Rum, National Commercial Bank, Sagicor, and VP Records. At different times I’ve been a creative consultant/contractor to three Ministries of the Government of Jamaica and also a design consultant to UNICEF Jamaica on several projects. To date, UNICEF work remains closest to my heart for its very direct impact on children…on lives.
‘Zawdie’ developed working relationships throughout the entertainment industry. Many of those connections were leveraged to develop Reggae Rocket – a promotional network delivering videos to over 80 countries worldwide. Some aspects of that business quietly continued to generate revenues even in 2016.
From 2008 to 2012, I worked as a ‘consultant’ to the management team of the number one track & field athlete in the world, discreetly working on design, events, e-commerce, merchandising and other special projects. In a very crudely defined business relationship spanning 3 years, I also evaluated prospective film proposals and other opportunities of a value close to US$6m and also directly helped to realize deals leading to the development of one of Kingston’s most popular restaurants – by itself an investment then valued at over US$1.5m. Quite frankly, my work with this athlete was a disaster…but that story deserves its own blog entry. There were tons of lessons for me in that phase that I’ll share when that blog feels appropriate.
Early in 2013, the journey began towards the next and possibly most ambitious business venture – a biofuel-infused adventure tour company. In June 2015, that evolved to Branson Official Entrepreneur status. As a part of this growth, I took on a seemingly illogical social mission, spending time doing motorcycle safety outreach. At first, this was purely as an ‘adventurous’ means of giving back and helping to save lives. After less than a year, Back to Basics (BTB) started attracting a surprising level of support. This included local and international organic media mentions, and government alliances. Our free outreach training was endorsed by the Prime Minister of Jamaica. We also gained support of international coach Keith Code. I chose to put the tourism plans on pause to deal with BTB and absorb the learning experience.
Back to Basic’s grew quite unexpectedly. The success added ‘motorcycle safety expert’ to my list of titles. It is a blessing to have assembled such an exceptional team.
If I sum up my ‘career’ I’ve really been more of an entrepreneur than an architect, pilot or graphic designer. I’m about big “Thinks” in deceptively small packages. The journey continues.