Last update: 11-Dec-2013 1:39 am
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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On being young, gifted and techy
It’s hard to get annoyed for long with the team at F1RST, a new technology startup that’s gambling big on creating a Caribbean Internet platform designed to lubricate the schedules of today’s connected limers.
At last Thursday’s private meet and greet for bloggers and the media, they were oozing charm and wit. These model-beautiful young people dress sharply and have a big idea that might just take off if they stop holding onto it so tightly.
The team sort of demoed the project last week, lifting the curtain of the Web site’s placeholder and sign-up page at http://f1rstt.com, but we didn’t actually see more than might be deduced from the promotional material on the existing site or the explanatory video.
It might be best then, to explain exactly what F1RST hopes to do, but that’s something that the team doesn’t seem to have an elevator pitch for.
Instead, they’ve developed a way of talking around the project in delightful arcs and phrases that may have made eager fans of the 30 “Mavens” that they’ve recruited to explain the concept to businesses but that patter won’t satisfy savvy users who are keen to kick the tyres of the site.
F1RST is a little bit Yelp, encouraging users to comment and rate businesses and experiences they find on the site, a dash of Foursquare, allowing you to check in when you’re at a hotspot, a hearty helping of yellow pages, encouraging businesses to register their presence on the Web site along with a garnishing of Groupon, giving those businesses an opportunity to offer discounts to drive traffic.
Since most of these services have only a tentative foothold in the local market relative to social-media gorilla Facebook, F1RST has a chance to become the go-to resource for this type of functionality in the region.
If you have a broadband-connected smartphone, and love to hit the town, this might well be, as they say, the bess ting ever.
So why, then, won’t F1RST let you play with their new Web site?
The company has signed up more than 10,675 people interested in using the site since it launched its placeholder site but intend to launch when it has 100,000 expressions of interest.
This confused me. No, let me be clear, this made my head spin. And I said so. Rather loudly, I must confess.
T&T accounts for 70 per cent of the signups so far, with 30 per cent from their other two major target markets, Jamaica and Barbados. Launch events and Maven-driven #F1RSTnation programmes are planned for those markets soon, so their percentages will probably rise quickly.
But right now, the site is being used by around 50 people each day, part of F1RST’s internship programmes with Costaatt, UWI and the Maple Leaf International School.
According to Kris Granger, the company’s product marketing lead: “A lot of the functionality has been complete for some time now.
“Our strategy is to compile rich and valuable content (business details, photos and reviews) to ensure the product will be immediately valuable when someone uses it for the first time.”
This is exactly the sort of thing that sounds exactly right to business people used to the commonsense approach of preparing a product and then bringing it to market.
The team, co-founders Nicolas Maloney, Kyle Maloney, Kiev Wilkie, Eesa Mohammed and regional directors Dwight Scott and Yohance Maycock have been working on the project for the past two years, spending their own money to bring it this far. A corporate project, Novus Technologies (novustechltd.com) has given them an opportunity to develop this consumer-facing concept, but they are proceeding carefully with F1RST, and it’s too gingerly by far.
F1RST’s beautiful team argue the point with such engaging smiles you almost want to forget that the Internet doesn’t work that way.
Users want to participate in building a social Web site, they want to get some virtual bruises and defend the occasional technology collapse. They want to be champions of a great idea that’s rising from the murk of reality, not the owners of a shiny new toy.
It’s the difference between building a rally car and buying a Porsche and the F1RST team is missing a chance to court the folks most likely to really work on building their Web site while they finesse the details of bringing their shiny new eurocar to market.
What they really need to do right now is to kick down the walls of this well-manicured garden to let more users carve their own desire paths through the site. The insights that early users will deliver will offer them more useful feedback that they will ever get from Mavens and well catered chats with media people because they will see quite clearly what their customers actually want.
But that means forgoing building the perfect structure for the chaos of continuous user intervention.
I think back to last Thursday and those smartly-dressed young men and women and I wonder if they have what it takes to endure the scrappiness of living in a house while it gets built.
• Read a transcript of my interview with F1RST’s Kris Granger here: http://ow.ly/adAll
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