Jamaica Sunday Observer Feature on Bakari Digital

Published on January 4th, 2010

Digitally SHARPE

Bakari Digital CEO says firm poised to soar

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 03, 2010

KHARY Sharpe has been in business for close to five years and has only one regret — that he didn't start earlier.

The delay, he said, was "due to fear and negative influences".

"I should have stuck to the original plan," added the chief executive officer of the Web-based software manufacturing firm, Bakari Digital.

Now the 30-year-old is determined to make up for time lost with his business, which has offices at the Technology Innovation Centre (TIC) on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Technology (UTech) in Kingston.

"Since getting into TIC (June 2009) we have created a five-year business plan and marketing strategy to realise it," Sharpe told Career & Education. "So far, things have been coming together and it looks like we are poised for the best year ever."

To help make it all happen, Bakari Digital has new products on offer for existing and prospective customers with the need to, among other things, reduce capital expenditure while managing the growing costs of not only rent and energy, but also labour and information technology infrastructure.

"Prior to June 2009, we developed customised software solutions for Jamaica Gleaner Company's Go-Local Portal, Jamaica Stock Exchange Web Platform, Caribbean Nettalk VoIP Billing System," Sharpe said. "We no longer create custom software, but now manufacture products for sale."

The new product line is called Lobby Manager, of which, Sharpe said clients can expect good things.

"Lobby Manager allows businesses to track their customers' average wait-time, average service-time and average agent service time," he explained. "This has been implemented in the Companies Office of Jamaica (formerly Registrar of Companies) and has seen them reduce their average wait time from approximately 47 minutes down to 25 minutes — their target."

Office Space, an Internet-based business management tool, is to be launched within the next three months.

"Office Space allows micro, small and medium enterprises to run their operations more efficiently. Out of the box, you get customer relationship management, project management, invoicing and inventory management tools," said Sharpe, who holds a bachelor's degree in Computing and Business Management from UTech.

"It is 100 per cent Web-based so all they need is an Internet connection and they can operate anywhere in Jamaica and, by extension, the world. We are also working on a mobile solution that will allow our services to be utilised from iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones," he added.

Despite his enthusiasm to realise success, he is not oblivious to the fact that challenges lay ahead.

Already he has made sacrifices to take the company to where it is today. He provided highlights of the journey so far.

"[I started out] saving as much of my salary each month as I could, invested heavily in the money market and bought and sold stocks to raise funds. Back then the market was bullish and returns could easily be made. The key was to not get greedy and to set your target return and get out," the man, who started Bakari with about $100,000 in June 2005 told Career & Education.

"I worked from home for as long as I could. When it came time to get additional help, I needed a bigger space to work with a couple of guys I knew," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to get the use of an office after they closed, so that we could meet and develop the software solutions as required."

The struggles did not end there.

"I worked 16- to 18-hour workdays, Monday to Saturday — sometimes even working for as much as three days straight without sleep. I had to cut back on personal spending and personal time," he recalled.

"When working late from the shared office space began taking a toll — especially with rising security concerns — I decided to get a permanent office and hire someone to do development throughout the day and I would take over after I left work," he added.

The Wolmer's old boy was employed to Jamaica Money Market Brokers at the time.

"Planning was key for getting it (the business) off the ground. Every detail from what size office I could afford to how I could maximise the space — we fit four persons in a 100-square feet space at Marketplace — had to be worked out. I built what I could, such as our white board, instead of buying it ready-made. I also figured out how I could reduce the cost of buying equipment without sacrificing too much performance — I had to choose what was essential and not the 'nice to haves'," Sharpe said.

Having registered the business, he then had to find the person who was the right fit for the job, "especially since they had to work alone for most of the day". In addition, he had to create a standard way to develop applications.

To meet those challenges, Sharpe adopted a variety of strategies, all the while with his eyes on the prize — success.

"I tried to learn from other people's mistakes. I bounced ideas off friends and family. I read several books on how to run a business and listened to several audio books. I also searched the Internet to learn how others are doing it (to determine) what was the best practice and (whether) it fit the organisation I am trying to build," noted the young entrepreneur.

And he is well aware that there are more challenges ahead.

Sharpe lists among them:

* letting go and allowing the process to run as designed;

* improving the level of support to customers; in addition to

* standardising company processes.

But already he has come up with at least two ways to overcome them. They include "hiring a dedicated customer support team member and making sure standards are well-documented and are being adhered to", Sharpe said.

Come what may, he is resolved to succeeding — as is reflected in the company name.

"All my given names are African and I wanted the company to have an African name that was symbolic and powerful," said Sharpe. "Bakari is Swahili and it means 'one who will succeed'."

The man, who has been engaged in entrepreneurial activities since his days at Wolmer's Boys, expects that his past experiences will also come in handy.

"I have a passion for doing business and I love Information Technology," he said. "I have been doing business since first form at Wolmer's. I started out selling fancy pens, to running JamNet (Bulletin Board Service) with friends, to selling computer parts, then assembling and selling whole computers, to running a small printing company, to website design and now software manufacturing."

There is, too, his guiding philosophy — 'Always move something forward', and his commitment to exceeding customer expectations.

"When they use our software they must go 'WOW!'" said Sharpe.

Bakari Digital currently has about 10 clients, most of them from the private sector.


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