Granger on F1RST

My full interview with Kris Granger of F1RST about the company's new web project.
Bloggers and media gather for photographs with the F1RST team at a media dinner at Fanatic Kitchens.
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#900, I conducted an extended interview via e-mail with F1RST’s Kris Granger.
The full interview follows...

BD: Tell me about the status of the project now. You have a working prototype that you began to demonstrate on Thursday night before everything went away (the presentation ended abruptly, apparently due to technical problems). How close to full functionality is the product?

KG: A lot of the functionality has been complete for some time now. Our strategy is to compile rich and valuable content (business details, photos & reviews) to ensure the product will be immediately valuable when someone uses it for the first time.

BD: Do you have a schedule for opening the project to users, even on a limited basis?

KG: We have opened the platform to our team of insiders (we call them Mavens) who populate the website with content everyday. In addition, close friends and family have been using and testing for a few months.
Our plan is to release the product when 100,000 people sign up, however, due to the immense support and ongoing daily requests, our team is considering a closed, invitation-based launch approach. We also have planned a version of our product that will be released through Facebook for all members that have already signed up so be on the look out!

BD: Of the 10,675 people currently signed up, how many have access to the site for testing and trial?

KG: 10,675 and counting! With 30+ Mavens and our internal team, close friends and family, that number is near 100 people.

BD: Do Mavens get paid for all that work?

KG: Oh definitely. As members of the team, they are paid weekly. But financial remuneration is not what motivates these Mavens; they love the brand, and they love being part of the #F1RSTnation movement and putting the Caribbean online.
Furthermore, a number of sponsors have jumped on board to make the Maven experience the amazing one it is.
Courts, SM Jaleel (Turbo, Oasis, and Caribbean Cool), Digicel and Unilever (Dove and Dove Men) have all partnered up with F1RST for a great Maven Programme.

BD: Which islands in the Caribbean will you be starting with?

KG: The concept is that the platform will be able to work and function in any Caribbean country, in the same way that Foursquare and Facebook are available because any user with internet access could add to an online database.
Our team is always working hard to ensure the core features are functional and easily expandable.

BD: What's the breakout of those signup numbers across all the islands that you will be launching with?

KG: We currently have a corporate office in Maraval, Trinidad, with teams also representing in Jamaica and Barbados, so thus far most of the signups and (Facebook) likes have been from those countries.
- 70% of the signups have been from from Trinidad and Tobago
- 30% have been from other Caribbean countries, mainly Jamaica and Barbados.
However we have been also surprised by the number of US and UK visits to the website and Facebook page thus far.
Through the expansion of our Maven Programme to Jamaica and Barbados next, we anticipate further growth in registered members.

BD: How many people are currently using the site in this testing phase?

KG: Each day over 50 people use and test the website, adding new content while identifying likes and dislikes. It’s also important to note that we have allowed website testing through various stages of its development via our internship programmes.
Thus far we have had programmes with COSTAATT, UWI and even Maple Leaf International School where students were exposed daily to the website as early as 2012.

BD: Who are your investors? Has raising capital for development been a problem?

KG: The founders of the company have been the investors to this stage. They have been approached by external investors numerous times already but aim to release the product first.

BD: How many people are involved in F1RST at this stage of its development?Can you list names and titles?

KG: They are...
Nicolas Maloney - Co-Founder
Kyle Maloney –Co-Founder
Kiev Wilkie –Co-Founder
Eesa Mohammed –Co-Founder
Dwight Scott –Director F1RST Jamaica
Yohance Maycock –Director F1RST Barbados
Marissa Badall-Maharaj –Communications and Content Lead
Kris Granger –Product Marketing Lead
Laura Reece –Brand Strategist
Daren Maynard - Portfolio Management Lead
Sasha Anton –Office Manager
Dominique Edwards - Intern
30 Amazing Mavens!
Product development is also supported by teams in California, London, Sofia, Berlin and Jakarta.

BD: What functions do you plan to introduce when the site opens to the public?
Do you plan to have all the promised functionality in place or will you phase in features as the site is developed? I ask because the scope of the project seems impossibly huge to develop for a launch date this year.

KG: We have been working on the development of F1RST for over 2 years so we have a lot to share.
The platform packs a big punch! We will however, definitely release versions of the product in a phased approach especially considering the popularity of certain features over others and our marketing objectives.
- All users will be able to Search for any business, product, service and experience, and even Filter their searches to accommodate features like their location and preferred amenities.
- At one glance, all information about a business is revealed on F1RST, including a Map view of the business address.
- If they cannot find what they’re looking for, they’re free to Add new businesses.
- Similarly, if they see something that is incorrect, they can alert our team, or even edit the business profiles - information will be verified, of course.
- They can also access and upload Photos.
- The Review platform is also very much in demand and will be available.

BD: What has been the response from businesses to the concept?

KG: In one word: magnificent. Having completed 2 weeks of our Maven programme we have introduced the concept physically to over 2,000 local businesses, both in their stores and even sometimes on the street, and they have been very excited.
Most businesses warmly greet our Maven teams upon visits, many times even offering goodies and samples to show appreciation for the concept behind this endeavor.

BD: How hard and fast is that 100,000 signups number before launching milestone?

KG: The number is something we set as a goal for our team and to motivate the Caribbean to support our efforts. We really hope to achieve it, but we will definitely monitor growth and decide upon the best way to introduce the product, irrespective of the goal. We really hope that people continue to support us.

BD: Why has F1RST undertaken this project and what does it hope the outcome will be?

KG: The founders of the company are really just passionate about Technology. Having successfully launched another technology-based company in the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency field in the Caribbean called Novus Tech Limited, they have seen the influence that technology can have on our future.
We hope that F1RST will improve the lives of regular people each day by making anything they’re seeking more accessible. On the business end, we hope that the kind of two-way communication that’s enabled by F1RST will have a positive effect on customer service.
The role that technology plays in the development of any country is undeniable. In the longer term, we hope that F1RST can contribute to driving diversification of the local Caribbean economies, since our islands really do have that much more to offer, creating new areas of growth.

BD: Have there been any concerns that the cross pollination of influences (a little Yelp, a little Facebook, a slice of Foursquare a dash of Groupon) might prove to be a bit confusing to all but the most savvy users?
Particularly since some of these web technologies haven't exactly taken off in T&T yet?

KG: Definitely the concern is there. However there also lies opportunity as many of these companies have provided great lessons because of their popularity.
Looking at the way Caribbean people have embraced technology through Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram, we are very optimistic about the adoption potential and what F1RST can accomplish. Hasn’t the Caribbean been known for our local blends and diversity anyway?
What better way to do it!
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